Tuesday, April 30, 2013

History Mystery: Ur The Legendary City Of Abraham Part.IV

The children of the poor toiled beside their parents in field or workshop from an early age, unless their father and invoked his right to sell them as slaves. School, called the ‘house of writing tablets’, was open only to the children of the rich. Gaining a education involved learning the 600 odd signs of Sumerian cuneiform script, and was a long and costly process. Every day, each child would study a tablet which the master had written out the day before, and attempt to copy it. The texts included epic tales, legends, hymns, and sayings, as well as simple groups of words such as the names of animals, vegetables, and minerals, and of countries and towns. Teachers also instructed pupils in grammar and mathematics. At the lunch time meals, a ‘holder of the whip’ ensured strict discipline. One Sumerian schoolboy has left a rather miserable account of a day at school. On his arrival, he was whipped for gazing around in the street; then for being ‘improperly dressed’. During the course of the day he received four more beatings: for talking in class, for standing up, for walking outside the gate, and for producing bad work.

From this austere discipline emerged a class of scribes on whom the entire Sumerian religious an administrative system was based. Writing was a cherished and exclusive skill, which must have seemed magical to the mass of the people. Writing tablets give the names of 500 scribes and their origins, adding up to a roll-call of privilege. The list includes the sons of civic officials, ambassadors, governors, temple officials, priests, scribes, archivists, accountants, tax collectors, officers, ships’ captains, foremen, and stewards. Only one woman is mentioned in the entire list. Perhaps she was educated at home, for chilling seems to have been a male prerogative. The scribes formed the apex of the administrative hierarchy in Ur, headed by the sovereign himself. Promotion within the administration depended perhaps as much on political muscle and royal favour as on ability. Nonetheless, there seems to have been considerable social mobility. The humble role of courier, carrying messages or escorting convoys between capital and provinces, launched many and ambitious scribe on a career, came to head the whole courier service, and later also acquired the post of an ensi (governor) of six towns, and a shagin (prefect) of the eastern provinces. The wealth of Ur came partly from the tributes it received from subject towns and from the estates owned by king and priesthood. But the city also profited from industry. Wool was mass-processed in workshops by female spinners using fleeces and goats’ hair. Linen was also woven, though it was reserved for use by priests. A group of male artisans formed a class of their own, the eren.

A craft was generally passed of from father to son, and residential quarters were allocated to specific trades, such as carpentry or engraving. Guilds of goldsmiths and other metalworkers were closely supervised by state foremen. Generally free men, they worked not for themselves but for the state, which supplied them with raw materials and took charge of the finished goods. Finished artifacts were handed over to the workshop manager, who issued a receipt. A chief controller examined the item to make sure that none of the original ore had been sold off for private gain, then countersigned the receipt. Goldsmiths, like other workers, were paid in measures of barley. At the bottom of society were the slaves – prisoners of war, bankrupted free men, or people who had been sold off by their parents, usually to pay debts. The slaves’ lot was not totally abject: they had the right to set up in business, to own property, and to buy their freedom. They could also marry free citizens, and their children would be born in liberty. In Third Dynasty Ur, the state owned much of the land, as well as all of the industry.

 Most Sumerians were not city dwellers but field workers who farmed the alluvial plain. Much of the work revolved around maintaining the irrigation system: clearing channels, repairing dykes, and operating sluice – gates in times of drought. Fields were ploughed with wooden ploughshares fitted with funnels through which the seed was sown. This apparatus was the first known seed drill, which was a testament to the Sumerians’ extraordinary inventiveness – no comparable devices was used in Western Europe until the Englishman, Jethro Jull, reinvented the seed drill in the 18th century AD. A whole mythology of germination, death, and rebirth accompanied this seasonal toil. Ceremonies were held in honour of Dumuzi, the god of vegetation, whose autumn death and descent into the underworld was celebrated by a procession of female mourners, who grieved his passing to the sound of a flute. Other festivities marked Dumuzi’s resurrection, when he grew once again amid and new crop of wheat.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

History Mystery: Ur The Legendary City Of Abraham Part.III

But in about 2334 BC, everything changed. A Semitic king, Sargon of Akkad, overthrew the ruler of Uruk (then the leading city), and from his capital near Babylon, went on to conquer Mesopotamia. The realm founded by Sargon lasted less then 150 years, but shortly after it fell, Ur became the leader of the Mesopotamian community. Under its Third Dynasty of rulers (2113–2001 BC), the city reached the pinnacle of its glory as an imperial capital of Sumer. This outstanding period in Ur’s history was inaugurated by the reign of Ur-Nammu (2113-2095 BC), who built on Sargon’s realm to carve out an empire of his own.Trade extended Sumer’s influence still farther. Ships from Ur traded along the Arabian coast, sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, around Iran, and into the Indus Valley. Wealth poured into Ur-Nammu’s city. Wood, previous stones, and silver flowed down the Euphrates from Lebanon and the Amanus mountains (Nur Daglari) in Hatay province of modern Turkey.

From Arabia came gold and incense, and a great trading depot grew up on Dilmun, theisland of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. Tin and lapis lazuli reached Ur from Iran and the Caucasus. Copper arrived from Oman, a place known to the Sumerians as Magan. From Meluhha, the Indus region, came timber and beads of agate, carnelian and ivory. Merchants arriving at Ur would first have passed through the immense mud-brick ramparts erected by Ur-Nammu to product his capital. They completely encircled the city, ‘like a yellow mountain’, in the king’s own words.The capital was also almost entirely surrounded by water. A man-made canal, acting as a moat, extended the natural course of the Euphrates which washed the western walls. Two harbours lay to the north and west of the city, with bustling docks, warehoused, and quays.Ur-Nammu was a builder of astonishing energy. Monuments dedicated by him during his reign have been found throughout the city, which covered an oval area of some 60 ha (148 acres), and housed an estimated population of 24,000 people. Towering above all other buildings in the city was a great staged pyramid dedicated to the Moon god, Nanna, patron deity of the settlement.

The pyramid was a ziggurat, the characteristic staged tower of Mesopotamian civilization - a raised sanctuary, protected against floods. Despite the erosions of time, it remains the best preserved ziggurat in all Mesopotamia. The three levels of the monumental structure were joined by a harmonious geometry of stairways and facings. At the top stood a temple dedicated to Nanna. There was a large courtyard around the bottom of the tower, and a smaller one to the north-west. Both were surrounded by shrines for cult worship. The temples had inner courtyards where animals were sacrificed, and cooking areas. The sacred enclosure included workshops, and storehouses for tribute to the Moon god: grain, oil, wool, fruit and cattle. There was also a royal palace used by the king on ceremonial occasions. Just outside the enclosure was another royal cemetery. But the tombs and been extensively plundered, and held no treasures comparable to those of the earlier graves. The streets running through Ur were narrow, some constructed in straight lines, but most simply meandering between small blocks of houses. Sumerian texts describe broad avenues and large public gardens, but the remains of these larger spaces have not been located by archaeologists. The homes of the poorer inhabitants were modest, each arranged around a courtyard. The houses of the wealthy may have had an upper storey, with room opening onto an internal raised gallery made of wood. The richest families possessed whole suites of rooms, with bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, washrooms, servants’ quarters, and often a private chapel. Furniture was scanty. The most common items were high stools, sometimes collapsible, or high-backed chairs.Low tables were also used. Household goods such as pots and plates were stored in chests. Floors were generally paved with unbaked bricks or mud plaster and covered with reed mats or hides. Documentary material found engraved on clay tablets provides a vivid picture of domestic life at Ur. The father enjoyed a privileged position in the family, according to a complex system of legal codes drawn up by Ur-Nammu and his successors. If a husband wanted to separate from his wife, he only had to pay a fixed sum in silver. But if a wife wanted a divorce, ‘she must be thrown into the river’. If a married woman took a lover, she was put to death; but a husband could take concubines and philander to his heart’s content.

( Cont....)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

History Mystery: Ur The Legendary City Of Abraham Part.II

Sumer had no rocks or forests, so its merchants had to trade the produce of its fields and the creations of its artisans for stone, timber, and metal ores. Commerce created its own needs: writing became a essential skill, and a system of arithmetic had to be devised. From about 300 BC onwards, a cluster of city-states grew up in Sumer: Ur, Uruk, Eridu, Lagash and Nippur among them. Further upriver, other trading partners, such as Mari, shared many of their achievements. These cities had become true urban communities ruled by centralized administrations, with temples, palaces, and specific quarters allocated to groups of craftsmen. Because of its position on the Euphrates, Ur must have been an important warehousing centre. At that time, too, the city was probably on the sea-coast at the head of the Persian Gulf – sediments carried down by the Tigris and Euphrates have since then pushed the coastline further south. By the early centuries of the 3rd millennium BC the city had become prosperous. In 1927, Woolley’s team excavated the royal cemetery to the south – west of the city.

They found 2000 graves dating from between 2600 and 2100 BC, within what is known as the Early Dynastic period. The tombs were densely packed – often one on top of another. Many had been plundered by grave-robbers, but from the few that had survived intact, the excavators reaped a golden harvest of fine artifacts. Many of the tombs contained rich grave offering, and 16 pit graves with funerary chambers of stone or brick yielded startling contents. The tomb of Queen Puabi, who lived around 2500 BC, contained a wooden chariot decorated with mosaics of coloured stone and white shell. Nine fantastic headdresses were found, shaped from lapis lazuli and carnelian and hung with gold beaten flat in the shape of beech and willow leaves.

 The glister of gold was everywhere. Even a bundle of spears bore heads tipped with the precious metal. All of the artifacts were of the most exquisite quality. With these riches came evidence of macabre burial rites. The royalty of the Early Dynastic period seem to have been interred with their entire households. The golden spears were in the hands of skeletal soldiers, and the fantastic headdresses framed the skull of sacrificed women. From the tombs, Woolley reconstructed the grim majesty of the ceremonial burials. With a handful of attendants, each royal body had been laid to rest at the bottom of a long, sloping shaft. The chamber was then sealed up, and a doomed procession of courtiers, soldiers, servants, and musicians followed down the shaft. In their gorgeous apparel they were, in Woolley’s haunting words, ‘part of the tomb furniture’. Each figure bore a cup containing a lethal potion, which they drank as they prepared themselves for eternity. The musicians played on to the end before taking the poison, then the grave was filled in. fires were lit above ground and funeral banquet held. The 16 royal tombs all contained evidence of mass sacrifice. In some cases as many as 80 people were interred with their sovereign. The largest grave of all was found almost empty, its contents plundered with the exception of one unique relic – a magnificent mosaic made of shell and lapis lazuli on a wooden box 45 cm (17 ½ in) long. The box became known as the Royal Standard of Ur. It is made up of two long rectangular panels with two triangular end-pieces display mythological images. The peace scenes show a royal feast with servants in attendance, and the war scenes depict images of battle, with servants in attendance, and the war scenes depict images of battle, with chariots and light and heavy infantry engaging a naked enemy. The soldiers wear copper helmets and long, hooded cloaks.

 Their weapons and axes and short spears. These were Ur’s shock troops, men who marched right up the Euphrates in the 3rd millennium BC, perhaps as far as the Mediterranean coast. They were needed for the defence of the homeland, too, for even in the Early Dynastic period, nomadic invaders threatened the Sumerian frontiers. For centuries Sumer had been infiltrated by Semitic tribes from the Syrian and Arabian deserts. They had founded their own cities in the heart of Mesopotamia, and traded with those under Sumerian control. The peoples of Mesopotamia, and traded with those under Sumerian control. The peoples of Mesopotamia formed a fairly homogenous culture, but had never been a unified nation. Sovereignty among the cities was exercised by whoever happened to be strongest at the time.

( Cont....)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

History Mystery: Ur The Legendary City Of Abraham Part.I

For thousands of years a sandy hump brooded over the desert of lower Mesopotamia, covering the silent remains of a thriving urban community. It is the site of ancient Ur, a city whose discovery cast light on a forgotten chapter of history. ‘AND THEY SET OUT FROM UR OF THE CHALDEES…’ declares the Book of Genesis, describing how the family of Abraham left their native city for Canaan. The episode is of great significance in Biblical studies, for it was after leaving his place of birth that Abraham made his convenant with God, and from his seed – numberless as the stars – sprang the children of Israel. In the mid 19th century, scholars discovered that some scriptural passages had their origins in real people, places, and events.

Exciting finds at Nineveh and Khorsabad in northern Mesopotamia had cast dramatic light on Assyrian king named in the Old Testament. In this period of awakening interest, an English diplomat, J.E. Taylor, set out in 1854 to explore a site in southern Mesopotamia known to the locals as Tell al-Muqayyar: an ancient mound of mud-brick ramps and terraces. But archaeology was then in its infancy, and sites were studied more for their relics than for the information they could reveal. Taylor’s main hope was to find artifacts to display in a museum.

Head dress of Queen Puabi
After preliminary excavations at the bottom of the mound, Taylor ordered his workmen to the summit. The team found only clay cylinders with cuneiform (wedge-shaped) inscriptions, which were sent to London for examination. When the site was abandoned by the archaeologists, local Bedouins scavenged the mound for bricks, and its contours dissolved into dust and rubble. The depredations continued until the First World War, when a British officer, Major R. Campbell Thompson, once an assistant in the British Museum, tried to restore some of the damage. His enthusiasm had repercussions. The clay cylinders found by Taylor were for the first time given serious attention. Once deciphered, they disclosed that the mound was the site of a tower erected in the 3rd millennium BC by a Mesopotamian king, Ur-Nammu. The name or Ur was well known from the Bible. If the king ruled Ur, this desecrated site had to be the city of Abraham.

In 1923, an Anglo American expedition headed by Sir Leonard Woolley revealed the full grandeur of Ur. The team uncovered temples, storehouses, workshops, spacious residential buildings, and countless articles of everyday life. But the most dramatic discoveries were made in a royal cemetery dating back nearly 3000 years before Christ. Hear, a series of vaults contained a wealth of treasures which ranked for splendour with those of Tutankhamun, discovered in Egypt a year earlier. Yet these were older, dating from some 1000 years before the Egyptian pharaoh came to the throne. Excavations in Mesopotamia were building up a picture of an astonishingly advanced people. The culture with flourished on the lower Euphrated is known as the civilization of Sumer, and marked a turning point in the history mankind. The key to Sumer’s emergence from the shadows of prehistory was the soil – the primary source of the area’s wealth. The long rivers Tigris and Euphrates ran together for some 160km (100 miles) from their respective mouths, depositing rich alluvial silt along he lower reaches on the inland plain. Irregular flooding was hazard, but when the people began to harness the waters with canals, dykes, and reservoirs, the local economy was transformed. Three vital inventions increased the area’s agricultural yield: the ox-drawn plough for tilling the fields, the wheeled wagon for transporting goods, and the milking of animals to provide a sustainable supply of protein.

 These developments liberated some of the population from toil in the fields. Settlements grew into towns, where specialist skills such as pottery, weaving, and metalwork began to flourish. It is possible that the metalworkers of Ur first developed the lost-wax process. This method of creating moulds is thought to have been invented in the 4th millennium BC. An object would be modeled in wax in fine detail, then placed inside an earthen mould and covered with plaster or clay. The clay was then fired, and molten wax flowed out through holes, leaving a finely detailed hollow mould into which molten metal could be poured.

( Cont....)

Monday, April 15, 2013

History of Wales's Pontcysyllte

PontcysyllteIf you were to take a trip down deep into the heart of Llangollen in Denbighshire, you would find, overlooking the beautiful Dee Valley, a little something called the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Okay, so perhaps the word “aqueduct” doesn’t inspire much interest or intrigue in you, but, for this time at least, it should.
What Is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct?
Well, quite obviously, it is first and foremost an aqueduct. However, when something has the nickname “the Stream in the Sky”, you know it’s going to be special. The main part of the aqueduct floats 126 feet in the air, a thin water bridge above the valley.
The History of the Aqueduct
Designed by the famous architect Thomas Telford, with its construction lasting ten years and being overseen by William Jessop, the aqueduct was completed in 1805. Its original purpose was to transport raw materials (obtained from the nearby mines) over the Dee Valley, so it could be further moved through the rest of the British Isles.
It linked Froncysyllte with Llangollen, and it is from the latter township that the aqueduct gets its name – Pontcysyllte is known as the “Bridge of Cysyllte” in English.
How Was It Made?
The bridge itself uses an 11 foot wide trough made of cast iron, and is held up by quarried limestone pillars, 18 in total. The mortar itself has a rather unusual composition – being made of lime and water mixed with ox blood, you’d want to scrub your hands after a hard day’s building!
The trough was actually built just up the road from the aqueduct, at the Plas Kynaston Foundry in Cefn Mawr, which itself was set up purely for the construction of Pontcysyllte.
The Legacy of the Aqueduct
The construction of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct revitalised the industry surrounding the afore-mentioned raw materials, and showed the world how you could use canals to their full advantage.
It is now open to the public, and is a free attraction maintained by British Waterways. It can make for a great day out, and here’s why:
Why You Should Visit Pontcysyllte in Wales
For a start, your average day out at Pontcysyllte is completely free, not to mention unforgettable. Although you’ll need a good head for heights, a walk across the surprisingly narrow, surprisingly high bridge comes very much recommended – the views are beyond amazing from the top.
But why stop there? If you decide to go on a jaunty canal boat holiday, you should make Pontcysyllte one of your stops – you can take your boat all the way across! It’s a bizarre feeling, but only because you’ve never done something like this before. It’s an unmissable experience.
But that experience is only made better by this, the best way to experience Pontcysyllte – horses. Local horse like Togg and Geordie are all too happy to help; you can enjoy a horse-drawn boat trip, starting in Llangollen’s canal wharf, crossing the aqueduct and ending up in Horseshoe Falls.
Take a picnic and a camera: the trip lasts about two hours and you’ll want to document it!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

History Mystery: Nimrud Dagh, A royal sanctuary in Anatolia!

On a desolate peak in southern Turkey, giant statues gaze out across a remote mountain wilderness. Here, the dreams of an ancient king were inscribed in stone. And from here came a god who almost conquered the Roman Empire. Loneley, Bleak, and remote from modern highways, commagene is a place where man is dwarfed by the landscape. Bare mountains rise out of the arid terrain like vast sloping deserts. It is sparsely populated; a few scattered villages provide the only evidence of habitation in this harsh environment, near Turkey’s border with Syria. And yet, on one peak 2000 m above sea level, a mysterious ruin suggests that the region was once heavily populated and powerful.

A conical pyramid of crushed stones stands at the summit, and five colossal statues- the figure of a king among them – are ranged nearby. The giant effigies are flanked by lions and eagles hewn out of the rock. Below them are terraces littered with countless immense carved heads, and a vast altar where sacrificial fires once burned. The pyramid of stones housed the tomb of Antiochus I, ruler of Commagene in the first century BC. Nimrud Dagh, the holy mountain, was his burial place, a testament to his dream of immortality. In ancient times, commagene’s bare landscape was less desolate than it is today. The waters of the upper Euphrates flowed between thickly forested slopes to the east, and its valley was a crossroads for major trade routes leading west into the Taurus Mountains. This great range was a vital source of silver, copper, and leads for the early civilizations of Mesopotamia. The passes across the Taurus range were also strategically important to the imperial powers which swept across Asia Minor in later centuries. Commagene, like the whole of the subcontinent of Asia Minor, was overrun by two mighty empires. First came the [Persians in the 6th century BC; then the Greeks under Alexander the Great in the 4th. These ancient superpowers shaped the development of the remote state.

As Alexander’s realm disintegrated, commagene emerged from obscurity. In about 80 BC the country detached itself from the decaying remnant of his empire and became a new kingdom. When imperial Rome began to annex territories in Asia Minor, Commagene kept its independence through the skilful diplomacy of its great monarch, Antiochus I. The blood of two mighty dynasties ran through the veins of the Commagenian king. On his father’s side, Antiochus traced his ancestry to Darious, King of Kings, one of the greatest rulers of the Persian Empire. On his mother’s side, he was descended from Alexander the great. The monumental effigies surrounding the tomb of Antichus represent his gods and ancestors, and show both Greek and Persian influences. The statues are fashioned in Greek style, bear Greek features, and sometimes represent Greek deities. Yet the clothes and headgear are Persian. The colossal scale of the conception is also in the Persian tradition.

The statues range from 9 meters to 12 meters high; the heads alone are 2 meters tall. Such awesome proportions are alien to Greek statuary, in which sculptors valued harmonious ideals more highly than size. Greek inscriptions composed by the king himself have survived to pass on the meaning of his monumental creation. The sanctuary, the king wrote, was erected in a high and holy place, close to the heavens and remote from the dwellings of mean. The great sepulcher was built to preserve his remains throughout eternity. The effigies of the gods, and the ‘heroic legion of my ancestors’, bore witness to his pious devotion. Antitochus believed that in death he would take his place among the ranks of the gods. His own divinity was clearly a major preoccupation, and many lesser sanctuaries were built throughout Commagene. In each of them, the king is shown engraved in effigy on a great stone slab, extending his right hand towards a deity. The king made elaborate provisions for his worship after death, including the mapping out of the processional routes between the various sanctuaries.

He stipulated that every month, the royal treasury was to finance two feast days: his birthday was to be remembered on the 10th of each month, and his coronation on the 16th. Each feast day, a priest in traditional Persian robes was to adorn the effigies of the King with gold crowns consecrated to the worship of his ancestors. Offerings of incense and aromatic herbs were to be placed on the altars, and sacrifices were to be made. The local citizens and military garrison were to be invited to banquets in honor of the deceased. An abundance of food should be provided, and wine served for a long as the guests remained within the scared enclosure. A new caste of female musicians was to be created to perform at the banquets.

Antiochus obviously foresaw that, over the years, priests might become selfish about the commemorative feasts and perhaps hoard some of the provision for them. Such a grudging attitude was expressly forbidden. Each of the priests could take a share appropriate to their status- but every person present must allowed to enjoy the occasion ‘ without being spied on, eating and drinking to their hearts’ content’.