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Thread: Assyria a History from Rise to Fall3635 days old

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    Default Assyria a History from Rise to Fall

    Author: Godspeed, George

    By 700 B.C. the era of small states had ended with the emergence of the Assyrian empire. The great contribution of the Assyrians was the forcible unification of weak, unstable nations and the establishment of an efficient imperial organization.

    Language And Literature

    The discoverers of the long-buried memorials of Assyria and
    Babylonia were at first and for a long time unable to read their message.
    But side by side with the work of the explorer and excavator went
    continually the investigations of the scholar. The objects sent back by
    European excavators and installed in museums immediately attracted the
    attention and enlisted the energetic activity of many students, who gave
    themselves to the task of decipherment. Beginning with Georg Friedrich
    Grotefend, of Hannover, who, in 1815, published a translation of some brief
    inscriptions of the Achemaenian kings of Persia, this scientific activity
    was immensely stimulated by the discoveries and investigations of Sir Henry
    Rawlinson, who, after more than fifteen years of study in the East,
    published, in 1851, his "Memoir on the Babylonian and Assyrian Inscriptions"
    containing the text, transliteration, and translation of the Babylonian part
    of the Behistun inscription, which records the triumph of Darius I. of
    Persia over his enemies. During the same period the brilliant French savant
    Jules Oppert, the Irish scholar Edward Hincks, and the Englishman Fox Talbot
    had been making their contributions to the new linguistic problem. In 1857
    the accuracy and permanence of their results were established by a striking
    test. Copies of the inscription of Tiglathpileser I. of Assyria, recently
    unearthed, were placed in the hands of the four scholars, Rawlinson, Oppert,
    Hincks, and Fox Talbot, and they were requested to make, independently of
    one another, translations of the inscription in question. A comparison of
    these translations showed them to be substantially identical. A new
    language had been deciphered, and a new chapter of human history opened for
    investigation. Since that time these and other scholars, such as E.
    Schrader, Friedrich Delitzsch, Paul Haupt, A. H. Sayce, and many more in
    Europe and America have enlarged, corrected, and systematized the results
    attained, until now the stately science of Assyriology, or the organized
    knowledge of the language, literature, and history of Babylonia and Assyria,
    has a recognized place in the hierarchy of learning.

    23. The Babylonio-Assyrian writing, as at first discovered in its
    classical forms, appears at a hasty glance like a wilderness of short lines
    running in every conceivable direction, each line at one end and sometimes
    at both ends, spreading out into a triangular mass, or wedge. From this
    likeness to a wedge is derived the designation "wedge-shaped" or "cuneiform"
    (lat. cuneus), as applied to the characters and also to the language and
    literature. Closer examination reveals a system in this apparent disorder.
    The characters are arranged in columns usually running horizontally, and are
    read from left to right, the great majority of the wedges either standing
    upright or pointing toward the right. These wedges, arranged singly or in
    groups, stand either for complete ideas (called "ideograms," e.g. a single
    horizontal wedge represents the preposition in) or for syllables (e.g. a
    single horizontal crossed by a single vertical wedge represents the syllable
    bar). It would be natural that, in course of time, the wedges used as signs
    for ideas would also be used as syllables, and the same syllable be
    represented by different wedges, thus producing confusion. This was
    remedied by placing another character before the sign for a particular idea
    to determine its use in that sense (hence, called a "determinative;" e.g.
    before all names of gods a sign meaning "divine being") or, after it, a
    syllabic character which added the proper ending of the word to be employed
    there (hence, called "phonetic complement"). In spite of these devices,
    many signs and collocations of signs have so many possible syllabic values
    as to render exactness in the reading very difficult. There are about five
    hundred of these different signs used to represent words or syllables.
    Their origin is still a subject of discussion among scholars. The
    prevailing theory is that they can be traced back to original pictures
    representing the ideas to be conveyed. But, at present, only about fifty
    out of the entire number of signs can be thus identified, and it may be
    necessary to accept other sources to account for the rest.

    24. The material on which this writing appears is of various sorts.
    The characters were incised upon stone and metal, - on the marbles of
    palaces, on the fine hard surfaces of gems, on silver images and on plates
    of bronze. There are traces, also, of the use as writing material of skins,
    and of a substance resembling the papyrus of ancient Egypt. But that which
    surpassed all other materials for this purpose was clay, a fine quality of
    which was most abundant in Babylonia, whence the use spread all over the
    ancient oriental world. This clay was very carefully prepared, sometimes
    ground to an exceeding fineness, moistened, and moulded into various forms,
    ordinarily into a tablet whose average size is about six by two and one-half
    inches in superficial area by one inch in thickness, its sides curving
    slightly outwards. On the surface thus prepared the characters were
    impressed with a stylus, the writing often standing in columns, and carried
    over upon the back and sides of the tablet. The clay was frequently moulded
    into cones and barrel-shaped cylinders, having from six to ten sides on
    which writing could be inscribed. These tablets were then dried in the sun
    or baked in a furnace, - a process which rendered the writing practically
    indestructible, unless the tablet itself was shattered.

    25. This prevailing use of clay was doubtless the cause of the
    disappearance of the picture-writing. The details of a picture could not
    easily be reproduced; circles gave way to straight lines joined together;
    these were gradually reduced in number; the line was enlarged at the end
    into the wedge, for greater distinctness, until the conventional form of the
    signs became established.

    26. This method of writing by wedges was adopted from Babylonia by
    other peoples, such as those of ancient Armenia, for their own languages,
    just as German may be written in Latin letters. A problem of serious moment
    and great difficulty has arisen because of a similar use of the cuneiform in
    Babylonia itself. Side by side with cuneiform documents of the language
    represented in the bulk of the literature which has come down to us, and
    which may be called the Babylonio-Assyrian, there are some documents, also
    in cuneiform, in which the wedges do not have the meanings which are
    connected with them in the Babylonio-Assyrian. In some cases the same
    document is drawn up in two forms, written side by side, in which the way of
    reading the characters of one will not apply to those of the other, although
    the meaning of the document in both forms is the same. Evidently the
    cuneiform signs are here employed for two languages. What the philological
    relations of these languages may be, has given rise to a lively controversy.
    On the one hand, it is claimed that the two show marked philological
    similarities which carry them back to a common linguistic ground, and
    indicate that they are two modes of expressing one language, namely, the
    Semitic Babylonia. The one mode, the earlier, which stood in close relation
    to the primitive picture-writing, and may be called the "hieratic," was
    superseded in course of time by the other mode, which became the "common" or
    "demotic," and is represented in the great mass of Babylonio-Assyrian
    literature. The former had its origin in the transition from the
    ideographic to the phonetic mode of writing, - a transition which was
    accompanied with "the invention of a set of explanatory terms, mainly drawn
    from rare and unfamiliar and obsolete words expressed by the ideograms." It
    was later developed into an "artificial language" by the industry of
    priestly grammarians (McCurdy, History Prophecy and the Monuments, I. sects.
    82 f.). On the other hand, the majority of scholars maintains that the
    earlier so-called "hieratic" is an independent and original language whose
    peculiar linguistic features point decidedly to a basis essentially
    different from that of the Semitic Babylonian. This language they regard as
    hailing from a pre-Semitic population of Babylonia, the "Sumerians," whose
    racial affinities are not yet satisfactorily determined. The Semitic
    Babylonians, coming in later, adopted from them the cuneiform writing for
    their own language, while permitting the older speech to continue its life
    for a season. Divergence of view so radical in regard to the same body of
    linguistic facts can have only one explanation, - the facts are not decisive
    and the fundamental questions must await final adjudication till a time when
    either new documents for philological investigation are discovered, or light
    is obtained from other than linguistic sources.

    27. As the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates formed the common home of
    Babylonians and Assyrians, so the two peoples possessed a common language,
    and their literatures may be regarded as parts of one continuous
    development. Centuries before the name of Assyria appeared in history, the
    Babylonians possessed a written language and developed an ample literature.
    Both language and literature passed over to the later nation on the upper
    Tigris, and were cherished and continued there. Comparatively slight
    differences in the forms of the cuneiform signs, and a greater emphasis upon
    certain types of literature are all that distinguish the two peoples in
    these regards. Indeed, the kings of Nineveh filled their libraries in large
    part with copies of ancient Babylonian books, a practice which has secured
    to us some of the choicest specimens of Babylonian literature. In sketching
    their literatures, therefore, the typical forms are the same and serve as a
    basis for a common presentation.

    28. Religion was the inspiration of the most important and the most
    ample division of the literature of Babylonia. Scarcely any side of the
    religious life is unrepresented. Worship has its collections of ritual
    books, ranging from magical and conjuration formulae, the repetition of
    which by the proper priest exorcises the demons, delivers from sickness, and
    secures protection, to the prayers and hymns to the gods, often pathetic and
    beautiful in their expressions of penitence and praise. Mythology has been
    preserved in cycles which have an epic character, the chief of which is the
    so-called Epic of Gilgamesh, a hero whose exploits are narrated in twelve
    books, each corresponding to the appropriate zodiacal sign. The famous
    story of the Deluge has been incorporated into the eleventh book. Less
    extensive, but of a like character, are the stories of the Descent of Ishtar
    into Arallu, or Hades, of the heroes Etana and Adapa, and the legends of the
    gods Dibbara (Girra) and Zu. The cosmogonic narratives are hardly to be
    separated from these, the best known of which is the so-called Creation Epic
    of which the fragments of six books have been recovered. The poetry of
    these epics is quite highly developed in respect to imagery and diction.
    Even metre has been shown to exist, at least in the poem of creation. Among
    the rest of the religious texts may be mentioned fragments of "wisdom" and
    tables of omens for the guidance of rulers.

    29. If the Babylonians had a passion for religion, the Assyrians were
    devoted to history, and the bulk of their literature may be described as
    historical. The Babylonian priests, indeed, preserved lists of their kings;
    business documents were dated, and rulers left memorials of their doings.
    But the first two can hardly claim to be literature, and the royal texts, in
    fulness and exactness, are surpassed by those of the Assyrian kings. The
    series of Assyrian historical texts on the grand scale begins with the
    inscription of Tiglathpileser I. (about 1100 B.C.), written on an eight-
    sided clay cylinder, and containing eight hundred and nine lines. The
    inscription covers the first five years of a reign of at least fifteen
    years. It begins with a solemn invocation to the gods who have given the
    king the sovereignty. His titles are then recited, and a summary statement
    of his achievements given. Then, beginning with his first year, the king
    narrates his campaigns in detail in nearly five hundred lines. The
    description of his hunting exploits and his building of temples occupies the
    next two hundred lines. The document closes with a blessing for the one who
    in the future honors the king's achievements, and a curse for him who seeks
    to bring them to naught. This, for its day, admirable historical narrative
    formed a kind of model for all later royal inscriptions, many of which copy
    its arrangement and almost slavishly imitate its style. Its combination of
    summary statement with an attempt at chronological order, somewhat
    unskilfully made, is dissolved in the later inscriptions. They are of two
    sorts, either strictly annalistic, arranged according to the years of a
    king's reign, or a splendid catalogue of the royal exploits organized for
    impressiveness of effect, and hence often called "laudatory" texts.
    Examples of one or both forms have been left by all the great Assyrian
    kings. The most important among them are the inscriptions of Ashurnacirpal,
    Shalmaneser II., Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal.

    30. Closely connected with the historical documents is the diplomatic
    literature. An example of this is the so-called "Synchronistic History of
    Assyria and Babylonia," a memorandum of the dealings, diplomatic or
    otherwise, of the two nations with one another, from before 1450 B.C. down
    to 700 B.C., in regard to the disputed territory lying between them. To the
    same category belong royal proclamations, tribute lists, despatches, and an
    immense mass of letters from officials to the court, - correspondence
    between royal personages or between minor officials. Such correspondence
    begins with the reign of Khammurabi of Babylon (about 2275 B.C.), and is
    especially abundant under the great Assyrian kings from Sargon to
    Ashurbanipal. Not belonging to the epistolary literature of Assyria and
    Babylonia, but written in the cuneiform character, and containing letters
    from kings of Assyria and Babylonia as well as to them, is the famous Tel-
    el-Amarna correspondence, taken from the archives of Amenhotep IV. of Egypt,
    - in all some three hundred letters, - which throws a wonderful light upon
    the life of the world of Western Asia in the fifteenth century B.C. The
    numerous inscriptions describing the architectural activities of the kings
    belong here as well as to religious literature. Among the earliest
    inscriptions as well as the longest which have been discovered are the pious
    memorials of royal temple-builders. The inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar II.
    the Great deal almost entirely with his buildings.

    31. The literature of law is very extensive. While no complete legal
    code for either Babylonia or Assyria has been discovered, some fragments of
    a very ancient document, containing what seem to be legal enactments,
    indicate that such codes were not unknown. Records of judicial decisions,
    of business contracts, and similar documents which are drawn up with lawyer-
    like precision, attested by witnesses and afterwards deposited in the state
    archives, come from almost all periods of the history of these peoples, and
    testify to their highly developed sense of justice and their love of exact
    legal formalities.

    32. Science and religion were most closely related in oriental
    antiquity, and it is difficult to draw the line between their literatures.
    Studies of the heavens and the earth were zealously made by Babylonian
    priests, in the practical search after the character and will of the gods,
    who were thought to have their seats in these regions. In their
    investigations, however, the priests came upon many important facts of
    astronomy and physical science. These materials were collected into large
    works, of which some modern scholars have believed an example to exist in
    the so-called "Illumination of Bel," which, in seventy-two books, may go
    back to an age before 2000 B.C. Other similar collections are geographical
    lists, rudimentary maps, catalogues of animals, plants, and minerals. The
    ritual calendars which were carefully compiled for the priests and temple
    worshippers illustrate the beginnings of a scientific division of time.
    Education is represented also in grammatical and lexicographical works, as
    well as in the school books and reading exercises prepared for the training-
    schools of the scribes.

    33. Of works in lighter vein but few examples have been found. The
    epics indeed may be classed as poetry, and served equally the purposes of
    religious edification and entertainment. Besides these, fragments of folk
    songs have been found. Folk tales are represented by some remains of
    fables. Popular legends gathered about the famous kings of the early age;
    an example of which is the autobiographical fragment attributed to Sargon I.
    of Agade. In comparison, however, with the tales which adorn the literature
    of ancient Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia were singularly barren in light

    34. The word "literature" in the preceding paragraphs has been used
    with what may seem an unwarranted latitude of meaning. Neither in content,
    nor in form, nor in purpose could much of the writing described be strictly
    included in that term. But, in the study of the ancient world, scrap of
    written evidence is precious to the historian, and these crude attempts are
    the beginnings, both in form and in thought, of true literary achievement.
    The form of literature was fundamentally limited by the material on which
    books were written. It demands simple sentences, brief and unadorned, -
    what might be called the lapidary style. Imitation and repetition are also
    characteristic. The royal inscriptions have a stereotyped order. In
    religious hymns and prayers, epithets of gods and forms of address tend
    constantly to reappear from age to age with wearisome monotony. Lack of
    true imaginative power, and, at the same time, a realistic sense for facts
    show themselves; the one in the grotesqueness of the poetical imagery, the
    other in the blunt straightforward statements of the historical
    inscriptions. Yet even in the earliest poetical composition, the principle
    of "parallelism," or the balancing of expressions in corresponding lines,
    was employed, a device which, supplying the place of rhyme, became so
    powerful a means of expression in the mouth of the Hebrew prophet. A
    progress in ease and force of utterance is traceable also in the royal
    inscriptions, if one compares that of Tiglathpileser I. with those of
    Esarhaddon or Ashurbanipal. Babylonia and Assyria, indeed, in this sphere
    as in so many others, were great not so much in what they actually wrought
    as in the example they gave and the influences they set in motion. They
    planted the seeds which matured after they themselves had passed away.

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    They are akkadian I know. but its good info about geography-timing I think.

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    Quote Originally Posted by IstenmeyenTuy View Post
    They are akkadian I know. but its good info about geography-timing I think.
    What is the timeline supposed to be of exactly? It looks like it's about Aramaic, but sort of talks about non-Aramaic things as well.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Also, why revive such an old thread?

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Apple View Post
    What is the timeline supposed to be of exactly? It looks like it's about Aramaic, but sort of talks about non-Aramaic things as well.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Also, why revive such an old thread?
    I actually did it to activate such topics. Today I tried to active old non-euro topics to make the forum alive. Suceed it with an Arab language thread not much here. That seems like it turned to be more political and euro-centric place here.
    So, I bored and made reading in old topics for sometime. It more worthy to spend time that way.
    I took the image from Aramic language related topic on somewhere hehe

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