The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 2. (of 7): Assyria eBook

George Rawlinson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 492 pages of information about The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 2. (of 7).

CHAPTER V.

LANGUAGE AND WRITING.

Greek phrase [—­]—­HEROD. iv. 137.

There has never been much difference of opinion among the learned with regard to the language spoken by the Assyrians.  As the Biblical genealogy connected Asshur with Eber and Aram, while the Greeks plainly regarded the Syrians, Assyrians, and Babylonians as a single race, it was always supposed that the people thus associated must have possessed a tongue allied, more or less closely, to the Hebrew, the Syriac, and the Chaldee.  These tongues were known to be dialectic varieties of a single form of speech the Semitic; and it was consequently the general belief, before any Assyrian inscriptions had been disinterred, that the Assyrian language was of this type, either a sister tongue to the three above mentioned, or else identical with some one of them.  The only difficulty in the way of this theory was the supposed Medo-Persic or Arian character of a certain number of Assyrian royal names; but this difficulty was thought to be sufficiently met by a suggestion that the ruling tribe might have been of Median descent, and have maintained its own national appellatives, while the mass of the population belonged to a different race.  Recent discoveries have shown that this last suggestion was needless, as the difficulty which it was intended to meet does not exist.  The Assyrian names which either history or the monuments have handed down to us are Semitic, and not Arian.  It is only among the fabulous accounts of the Assyrian Empire put forth by Ctesias that Arian names, such as Xerxes, Arius, Armamithres, Mithraus, etc., are to be found.

Together with the true names of the Assyrian kings, the mounds of Mesopotamia have yielded up a mass of documents in the Assyrian language, from which it is possible that we may one day acquire as full a knowledge of its structure and vocabulary as we possess at present of Greek or Latin.  These documents have confirmed the previous belief that the tongue is Semitic.  They consist, in the first place, of long inscriptions upon the slabs of stone with which the walls of palaces were panelled, sometimes occupying the stone to the exclusion of any sculpture, sometimes carried across the dress of figures, always carefully cut, and generally in good preservation.  Next in importance to these memorials are the hollow cylinders, or, more strictly speaking, hexagonal or octagonal prisms, made in extremely fine and thin terra cotta, which the Assyrian kings used to deposit at the corners of temples, inscribed with an account of their chief acts and with numerous religious invocations. [PLATE XXXIX., Fig. 1.] These cylinders vary from a foot and a half to three feet in height, and are covered closely with a small writing, which it often requires a good magnifying glass to decipher.  A cylinder of Tiglath-Pileser I. (about B.C. 1180) contains thirty lines in a space of six inches, or

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The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 2. (of 7): Assyria from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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