Assyrian and Babylonian culture. Mesopotamia. Ancient Costume and Fashion History.
Babylonian and Assyrian dress by Horst Kohler
Babylonian and Assyrian dress, although simple in cut, like that with which we have hitherto dealt, had reached a high degree of excellence in respect of material and trimming. The Babylonian Empire (about 2000 B.C.) had given place to the Assyrian Empire, which by the year 1300 B.C. had become the most powerful Asiatic state, and had absorbed the entire civilization of Western Asia.
The national dress both in Assyria and in Babylonia was a shirt with short, tight sleeves, cut very like the Egyptian kalasiris. The length varied. This was the sole garment of the lower orders for both sexes. Some wore it with and some without a girdle (Fig. 34). Even during the time when the national prosperity was at its height the slaves of the nobles had no other dress than this, and, in their case, it was only long enough to reach to the knee. Men of the higher orders also wore this short-sleeved shirt, but with them it reached to the feet. Most of them wore girdles trimmed with tassels, and, in keeping with the dignity of the wearers, the garments themselves were trimmed and embroidered more or less elaborately. Even the monarch wore this costume, and, in addition to it, on ceremonial occasions he put on a cloak-like over garment, whose shape and trimming underwent many changes as time went on.
Fig. 34. National costumes of Assyria and Babylonia
In its earliest form this garment resembled the shoulder-cape that was from primitive times worn by the nobles of the various peoples (including the Aamu and Ribu) inhabiting Western Asia. It consisted of a large, oblong piece of material of varying colour and pattern. This was either drawn forward under one arm and fastened on the other shoulder with an agraffe or clasp, or openings were made in it for the head and one arm, and it hung over both shoulders, being open of course on one side. As time went on these cloaks became richer and more elaborate. The edges were trimmed with fringes and tassels. But the only change of cut was that the shoulder parts were lengthened so as to reach the middle of the upper arm. To allow this to be done the garment was made in two pieces and sewn together at the top, a hole being left for the head (see Fig. 35).
Fig. 35. Assyro-Babylonian Royal Robe
Both sides were now left open, instead of being open only at the armhole, and the front and back pieces were held together with tapes sewn for this purpose to the inside of the garment. (See Fig. 36.)
The usual badge of rank worn by all higher Court and State officials was a long fringed stole or shoulder-scarf, the ends of which were wound round the person. While rank was sometimes indicated by the amount of trimming on the full-length skirt, it was still more clearly shown by the scarf. The richness of the material and the length (as well, perhaps, as the colour of the fringes and the manner in which the scarf was worn—plain or crossed) indicated the station of the wearer. For example, a scarf with long fringes worn crossed over the breast was the distinctive mark of the prime minister, or vizier. A double scarf with equally long fringes worn crossed indicated the master of ceremonies. The king’s own personal attendants—armour-bearer, cupbearer, etc.—wore scarves with short fringes. Officials of still lower grade, like the parasol-bearer, wore no scarf at all. The monarch himself in early times donned the scarf over all his other attire, but in after days, from 750 B.C. onward, this ceased to be part of his state dress.
Fig. 36. Assyro-Babylonian Royal costume
Fig. 38. (a) Assyro-Babylonian Priestly costume. (b) Royal dress.
The official dress of the priests was quite unlike that of the high Court functionaries, and even the costume worn by the king as head of the priesthood was altogether distinct from that which indicated his royal rank. It is difficult to make out how far the priests’ dress differed from that of ordinary laymen in respect of material and colour, but there is no doubt that there was a difference. In any case, the official costume of the priest was not less magnificent or imposing than that of the courtier. It seems probable that a special material-bleached linen was used by the priests, and by them exclusively.
Fig. 39. Upper Garment of the Priest in Assyria and Babylonia.
There were two styles of priestly costume, used in different ceremonies. In the one case the priest wore the long, short-sleeved shirt, and over it a garment that swathed the body from the feet up to the loins or even to the shoulders. The shorter style (Fig. 38, a) was made of a piece of material in the shape of a right-angled triangle, one of the sides containing the right angle (Fig. 39) being of a length equal to the distance from the waist to the feet.
The other side was considerably longer, and the third and longest side of the triangle was fringed. The garment was put on in this way. It was spread round the person so that the longer of the two sides containing the right angle encircled the waist at an equal height all round. It was kept in place by a cord passing round the body. The fringed side thus encircled the body in an ascending spiral (The double lines in Fig. 39 indicate the sides that were fringed.).
The piece of material, embellished by an embroidered inscription and with a fringe down one side, worn on the high priest’s breast seems to have been made of thick cloth, and was hung over the shoulders, an opening permitting the head to pass through. The lower edge lay on the wearer’s back, and the whole was kept in position by a girdle.
Fig. 40. Upper Garment of the Royal Priestly Costume in Assyria and Babylonia.
The dress worn by the king at the same religious ceremony, though apparently similar to this high priest’s dress, was really very different. Whereas the high priest’s robe was triangular in shape, that of the king (Fig. 38, b) was rectangular, the two short sides being of a length equal to the distance from the loins to the feet. A piece was cut out of one of the two short sides, making two peaks, one rectangular and one triangular, the latter forming part of the lower portion of the garment and fringed all round like the bottom edge (Fig. 40).
This garment was swathed round the body as before, but in order that the bottom edge with the fringe should encircle the body in an ascending spiral the material was kept moving upward and disposed at the top in folds running obliquely round the body. These folds were concealed by a girdle. This swathing process was so carried out that the garment was pulled up across the back, and the back of the excision reached well up to the nape of the neck. The two peaks, held in position by the girdle, were then brought forward over the shoulders so that the triangular peak could be drawn over the right shoulder, covering the upper right arm, while the rectangular peak passed over the left shoulder, hiding almost entirely the upper left arm. The other type of ceremonial priestly dress also included the short-sleeved shirt as under-garment. This did not, however, reach to the feet, but only to the knee. As in all other forms of ceremonial dress, the bottom edge was trimmed with rich braid and with tassels (see Fig. 37).
Fig. 37. Assyrian or Babylonian Priest.
Fig. 41. Cloak of the Assyrian or Babylonian Priest.
The high priests, the head of whom was the king himself, wore over this a cloak-like garment cut all in one piece (Figs. 41 and 42). It was drawn through under one arm and fastened on the opposite shoulder in such a manner that the front fell back over the upper arm. On the open side the back of the cloak was tied to the front with cords sewn to the inside, their tasselled ends hanging low down. This arrangement caused the garment to fit fairly close over breast and back. There are also representations which show members of the priesthood wearing not this cloak-like upper garment, but a long apron of equally costly material.
Reaching from the hips to the ankles, it covered only the back parts, leaving in view the front portion of the short, richly embroidered shirt (Fig. 37). All the edges of this apron, except that at the top, had a double row of tassels and fringes. These were attached in such a way that the tassels hung down behind the fringes, and were therefore visible only on the inside of the garment, while only the fringes could be seen on the outside.
This apron was kept in position round the body by long cords, whose tasselled ends were long enough to reach the feet. Over the shoulders a long scarf or stole with long fringes was worn. The priests occasionally wore a garment slightly different from this one. This was merely an apron reaching from the waist to the knee, adorned with braid and tassels. It was flung round the lower trunk and thighs and kept in place by cords with tasselled ends.
Fig. 42. Priestly Robes worn by King in Assyria and Babylonia.
By Carl Köhler
Characteristic elements of style.
Architecture, costumes, decoration, furniture, weapons.
The Assyrian Empire existed about 1300 years, namely from 20 Century BC. until the fall of the capital Nineveh in 612 BC. Nineveh is located on the left bank of the Tigris River opposite the city of Mosul. From research the Assyrian history has been divided into three periods. The old, the middle and the new Assyrian empire. It was towards the end of the 10th Century BC. into a major power in Mesopotamia and surrounding countries through to Egypt.
The new Assyrian Empire (ca. 932-612 BC) is considered the first empire in world history. The language of the Assyrians was a dialect of Akkadian, which was closely related to the Babylonian. As a scripture the Assyrians used the cuneiform writing.
The Assyrian sculpture.
Left: Bas-Reliefs at an Entrance to a small Temple at Nimroud. Part of one side of the entrance near which stood the bas-relief of the King. The group is believed to represent the god to whom the temple was dedicated, driving out the evil spirit. On the opposite side of the doorway the same figures were repeated.
Middle: Fish-God, Nimroud. Supposed to represent the god Dagon of the Philistines. It formed part of the same entrance as the bas-reliefs last described.
Right: Colossal Lion. From an entrance to a small temple at Nimroud. Its length is eight, and height thirteen feet. At the opposite side of the entrance was a similar Lion.
Assyrian and Persian Ornament.
Rich as has been the harvest gathered by Mons. Botta and Mr. Layard from the ruins of Assyrian Palaces, the monuments which they have made known to us do not appear to carry us back to any remote period of Assyrian Art. Like the monuments of Egypt, those hitherto discovered belong to a period of decline, and of a decline much farther removed from a culminating point of perfection. The Assyrian must have either been a borrowed style, or the remains of a more perfect form of art have yet to be discovered. We are strongly inclined to believe that the Assyrian is not an original style, but was borrowed from the Egyptian, modified by the difference of the religion and habits of the Assyrian people.
On comparing the bas-reliefs of Nineveh with those of Egypt we cannot but be struck with the many points of resemblance in the two styles; not only is the same mode of representation adopted, but the objects represented are oftentimes so similar, that it is difficult to believe that the same style could have been arrived at by two people independently of each other.
The mode of representing a river, a tree, a besieged city, a group of prisoners, a battle, a king in his chariot, are almost identical,— the differences which exist are only those which would result from the representation of the habits of two different people; the art appears to us to be the same. Assyrian sculpture seems to be a development of the Egyptian, but, instead of being carried forward, descending the scale of perfection, bearing the same relation to the Egyptian as the Roman does to the Greek.
Egyptian sculpture gradually declined from the time of the Pharaohs to that of the Greeks and Romans; the forms, which were at first flowing and graceful, became coarse -and abrupt; the swelling of the limbs, which was at first rather indicated than expressed, became at last exaggerated; the conventional was abandoned for an imperfect attempt at the natural. In Assyrian sculpture this attempt was carried still farther, and while the general arrangement of the subject and the pose of the single figure were still conventional, an attempt was made to express the muscles of the limbs and the rotundity of the flesh: in all art this is a symptom of decline, Nature should be idealised not copied. Many modern statues differ in the same way from the Venus de Milo, as do the bas-reliefs of the Ptolemies from those of the Pharaohs.
Assyrian Ornament, we think, presents also the same aspect of a borrowed style and one in a state of decline. It is true that, as yet, we are but imperfectly acquainted with it; the portions of the Palaces, which would contain the most ornament, the upper portions of the walls and the ceilings, having been, from the nature of the construction of Assyrian edifices, destroyed.
There can be little doubt, however, that there was as much ornament employed in the Assyrian monuments as in the Egyptian: in both styles there is a total absence of plain surfaces on the walls, which are either covered with subjects or with writing, and, in situations where these would have been inapplicable, pure ornament must have been employed to sustain the general effect. What we possess is gathered from the dresses on the figures of the bas-reliefs, some few fragments of painted bricks, some objects of bronze, and the representations of the sacred trees in the bas-reliefs.
As yet we have had no remains of their constructive ornament, the columns and other means of support, which would have been so decorated, being everywhere destroyed; the constructive ornaments which we have given in Plate XIV., from Persepolis, being evidently of a much later date, and subject to other influences, would be very unsafe guides in any attempt to restore the constructive ornament of the Assyrian Palaces. Assyrian ornament, though not based on the same types as the Egyptian, is represented in the same way. In both styles the ornaments in relief, as well as those painted, are in the nature of diagrams.
There is but little surface – modelling, which was the peculiar invention of the Greeks, who retained it within its true limits, but the Romans carried it to great excess, till at last all breadth of effect was destroyed. The Byzantines returned again to moderate relief, the Arabs reduced the relief still farther, while with the Moors a modelled surface became extremely rare. In the other direction, the Romanesque is distinguished in the same way from the Early Gothic, which is itself much broader in effect than the later Gothic, where the surface at last became so laboured that all repose was destroyed.
With the exception of the pine-apple on the sacred trees, Plate XII., and in the painted ornaments, and a species of lotus, Nos. 4 and 5, the ornaments do not appear to be formed on any natural type, which still farther strengthens the idea that the Assyrian is not an original style. The natural laws of radiation and tangential curvature, which we find in Egyptian ornament, are equally observed here, but much less truly,—rather, as it were, traditionally than instinctively. Nature is not followed so closely as by the Egyptians, nor so exquisitely conventionalised as by the Greeks. Nos. 2 and 3, Plate XIII., are generally supposed to be the types from which the Greeks derived some of their painted ornaments, but how inferior they are to the Greek in purity of form and in the distribution of the masses!
The colours in use by the Assyrians appear to have been blue, red, white, and black, on their painted ornaments; blue, red, and gold on their sculptured ornaments; and green, orange, buff, white, and black, on their enamelled bricks.
Assyrian and Persian Ornament Description
The ornaments, 12 and 16, from Sassanian capitals, Byzantine in their general outline, at Bi Sutoun, contain the germs of all the ornamentation of the Arabs and Moors. It is the earliest example we meet with of lozenge-shaped diapers. The Egyptians and the Assyrians appear to have covered large spaces with patterns formed by geometrical arrangement of lines; but this is the first instance of the repetition of curved lines forming a general pattern enclosing a secondary form. By the principle contained in No. 16 would be generated all those exquisite forms of diaper which covered the domes of the mosques of Cairo and the walls of the Alhambra.
PLATE XII. 1. Sculptured Pavement, Kouyunjik. 2-4. Painted Ornaments from Nimroud. 5. Sculptured Pavement, Kouyunjik. 6-11. Painted Ornaments from Nimroud. 12_14 Sacred Trees from Nimroud. The whole of the ornaments on this Plate are taken from Mr. Layard’s great work, The Monuments of Nineveh. Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, are colored as published in his work. Nos. 1, 5, and the three Sacred Trees, Nos. 12, 13, 14, are in relief, and only in outline. We have treated them here as painted ornaments, supplying the colours in accordance with the principles indicated by those above, of which the colours are known.
PLATE XIII. 1-4. Enamelled Bricks from Khorsabad. — Flandin & Coste. 5. Ornament on a King’s Dress, from Khorsabad. — F. & C. 6, 7. Ornaments on a Bronze Shield, Ditto. F. & C. 8, 9. Ornaments on a King’s Dress, Ditto. F. & C. 10, 11. Ornaments from a Bronze Vessel, Nimroud. — Layakd. 12. Ornament on a King’s Dress, from Khorsabad.— Flandin & Coste. 13. Enamelled Brick, from Khorsabad. 14. Ornament on a Battering Ram, Khorsabad.—F. & C. 15. Ornament from a Bronze Vessel, Nimroud. — Layard. 16-21. Enamelled Bricks, from Khorsabad. — Flandin & Coste. 22. Enamelled Brick, from Nimroud. — Layard. 23. Ditto, from Bashikhah. — Layard. 24. Ditto, from Khorsabad. Flandin & Coste.
The ornaments Nos. 5, 8, 9, 12, are very common on the royal robes, and represent embroidery. We have restored the colouring in a way which we consider best adapted for developing the various patterns. The remainder of the ornaments on this Plate are coloured as they have been published by Mr. Layard and Messrs. Flandin and Coste.
The ornaments of Persepolis
The ornaments of Persepolis, represented on Plate XIV., appear to be modifications of Roman details. Nos. 3 5 6, 7, 8, are from bases of fluted columns, which evidently betray a Roman influence. The ornaments from Tak I Bostan,— 17, 20, 21, 23, 24—are all constructed on the same principle as Roman ornament, presenting only a similar modification of the modelled surface, such as we find in Byzantine ornament, and which they resemble in a most remarkable manner.
PLATE XIV. 1. Feathered Ornament in the Curvetto of the Cornice, Palace No. 8, Persepolis. 2. Base of Column from Ruin No. 13, Persepolis. 4. Ornament on the Side of the Staircase of Palace No. 2, Persepolis. 5. Base of Column of Colonnade No. 2, Persepolis. 6. Base of Column, Palace No. 2, Persepolis. 7. Base of Column, Portico No. 1, Persepolis. 8. Base of Column at Istakhr. 9-12. From Sassanian Capitals, Bi Sutoun. 13-15. From Sassanian Capitals, at Ispahan. 16. From a Sassanian Moulding, Bi Sutoun. 17. Ornament from Tak I Bostan. 18. 19. Sassanian Ornaments from Ispahan. 20. Archivolt from Tak I Bostan. 21. Upper part of Pilaster, Tak I Bostan. 22. Sassanian Capital, Ispahan. 23. Pilaster, Tak I Bostan. 24. Capital of Pilaster, Tak I Bostan. 25. Sassanian Capital, Ispahan.
Babylonians and Assyrians Military
1, 3, 7, 8, light-armed troops; 2, slingers, 4, 5 kings in war and hunting coat, 6, zither player; 9, king in chariots, siege towers and battering rams, 10, 11, 12, 14 reliefs with royal figures, 13, 15, reliefs with figures of ordinary warriors; 16-19 ornaments.
Babylonian and Assyrian Helmets
1, 7, so-called sacred tree; 2-6, 8-10 Ornaments (3-5 spruce cones, lotus buds and flowers pattern), 11, 13 necklaces, 12, 16, 24-26, 30, from 31.38 to 40 arm & leg rings, 14, 27, 28 tiaras, 15, 23, 29 symbolic jewelry, 42, 43 belt fittings; 44-46 footwear; 47-53 royal mitres, 54-56, 60, 62 simple helmets made of iron and bronze; 57 , 58 helmets of the foot soldiers, 59, 68, helmets of leaders; 61, frontlet, 63 riders helmet, 64, 65 helmets of archers and auxiliaries; 66 helmet crest; 67 balaclava made of riveted plates.
Babylonian and Assyrian Weapons
1 plate armor with rear kilt, 2, 3, 8 gunners shield; 4 braided Hand Shield, 5 flat round shield, 6, 7, 9 -11 deepened round shields with humps, 12, 13, 15, 16 hatchets, 14 double ax; 17-20 daggers; 21 sickle knife, 22 to 28.30 swords and scabbard fittings; 29 dagger handles , 31, 33, 34 darts, 32 shock lance; 35 lance blade, 36-38, 40-42 arrows together with bow and quiver; 39 Arm of a Bogner, 43-47, 55 rod clubs and scepter; 48 bells (or weights), 49 pumping vessel; 50 cup, 51, 56, 57 lights, 52, 53 funnels, 54, 58-60 boiler plates and ornaments.
Babylonian and Assyrian Pottery and Furnitures.
1-9 pottery; 10 -17 glass vessels, 21, 22, 28 Temple vessels; 23-25 altars, 26, 27, 30 parts of throne chairs, 29, 35 stool, 31, 32, 34 seats, 33, 36, 37 throne chairs.
Babylonian and Assyrian Economy.
1, 7 deposits, 2, 3 tables with pedestal; 4,5 tabletops (?); 6 folding chair; 8 Weight (?); 9 scale on pedestals, 10, 11 sideboard tables, 12 table; 13-15 Fire and Incense stand before the altars; 16, 17 harps; 18-21 fronds; 22 carving in ivory, 23 mold for jewelry, 24 Drumm saw; 25 Plough; 26 hoe, 27 bucket, 28, 29 priestly masks; 30-32 idols; 33 chariots with manning, 34, 40, 43, 44 ensigns, 35 King on the war chariot; 36 archers on horseback; 37-39 horse stuff; 41 saddle blanket, 42 barge; 45 warrior on tubes floating boat with chariots.
Babylonian and Assyrian Ceremonial and War.
1, 2 cargo carts with carters, 3, 5 barges, at the back of the building and a tent; 4 raft of beams and air-filled tubes; 6 landscape, archers on horseback and on foot, commander; 7 king and queen at the feast, servants; 8 portal of a royal castle, mobile throne chair. Assyrian King with his entourage, minstrels.
The Palace of Chorsabad, Dur Šarrukin.
T. – Terraces system with wall and towers; 314 meters wide, 344 meters long. P.P. Sequel to the enclosure wall to the city. A. Staircase. B Main portal. C. Main Courtyard of the front building. D-H. Women’s quarters (Harem) J. Middle courtyard of farm buildings. K. Main courtyard of the royal apartment. L. Portal with bull figures as gatekeepers (see picture below). M. Central courtyard of the royal apartment. N. Temple 8?). O. Step pyramid (base area about 43 feet square, with four levels, each with about 6 meters height). R. Entrance for wagon and rider.
Above: Relief and Portal from Chorsabad. Palace of Chorsabad. Built by King Sargon in 710 BC. The palace was the largest ever created residence of the Orient. The residence was not a city in the conventional sense, but rather a citadel, was nearly square created (1760 m to 1635 m) and covers an area of 3 km ². Dur Sharrukin was surrounded by a massive wall with 183 towers and seven gates.
Generalities by Paul Louis de Giafferri.
The luxurious Assyrian Costumes.
It is necessary, in order to understand the origin of Assyrian costume, and the influences and modifications which it has undergone, to study the way in which this vast empire was formed and to know above all the countries which have suffered from its ravages in the first place, and its influence afterwards.
Like the Turks, the Assyrians have above all been conquerors, invaders, and formidable warriors, with the consequence that, excepting the Amazons, their women have been doomed to strict seclusion and enforced inactivity. Later, as they became richer through their conquest, their wealth mad’e them grow calmer and they developed peaceful tastes. The Assyrian-Chaldean people built immense and splendid cities such as Nineveh and Babylon, of which only ruins now remain, although of great beauty. (The hanging gardens of Babylon are famous; the palaces and temples of Semiramis, queen of Nineveh are superb, and it is this queen Semiramis whom our operas have made famous who, in encouraging Assyrian art, has introduced the refined taste of woman.)
In ancient Assyria (of which the greater part, divided up and diminished, became Persian dominions) we have wished to include first of all Chaldea, a biblical land, inhabited by one of the oldest peoples in the world, among whom one finds all the personages of the Old testament (Abraham was born at Ur); and it was in Armenia, on Mount Ararat, that Noah’s ark touched ground. Assyria is also included in our Vol. V; Syria, or the country of Canaan, Palestine, the kingdom of the Jews, Phoenicia, Sidon, Tyre, and Biblos, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Mecca, and finally Susiana and the city of Susa, of which our archaeologist Dieulafoy found the ruins. Then we must say a few words about the Phoenician colonies such as: Sicily, Corsica, Genoa, Venice, Sardinia, etc.; from the point of view of greatest antiquity, but with which we will deal more extensively in the volume which is devoted to them separately.
The descendants of Ham inhabited the land afterwards known as Syria, and became the Canaanite race; while the sons of Shem founded the Assyrian and the Semitic races.
The eleven tribes of Ham have played a considerable part in the history of humanity. They occupied the Mediterranean plains, the banks of the Tigris, and from Arabia extended to the Caucasus, according to the Bible; a fact which was noted some thousands of years later by Herodotus and Strabo.
We have the approximate date of: their existence recorded in an inscription in Egypt of about 2.400 years before our era, when an Egyptian officer was sent by Pharaoh Sephres into Syria to explore the country. No mention of those tribes is made in the report. On the other hand the Bible tells us that at the time when Abraham went to Palestine, that is to say about the 20th century B. C., the Canaanites were already inhabiting the country. The regions of Lebanon were thus occupied by them about the years 2300 or 2100 bei:ore the Christian era. The tribes were subdued in turn by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Hebrews, and the Romans, and left few traces of their artistic life.
Other Canaanites were mariners and took the name of Phoenicians. They were the true forerunners of commercial travelers. They established the union between the East and the West. Their mountains, covered with valuable forests, led them to construct vessels and their country became a veritable storehouse of merchandise. They were the first to construct houses of nine stores.
Their towns were like hives, in which women and workmen wove cloths, made them up, and all at once a swarm sallied forth on a cruise and settled at some point on the Mediterranean; thus we find them in colonies with their families at Tripoli, at Beirut, at Sidon, at Byblos. Traces of them are still found at Tyre. Their centre of operations was Tripoli, where there was no king invested with great authority, for a republican spirit prevailed in Phoenicia. Only their medals reveal the names and the profiles of these President-Kings.
The Phoenicians believed in the Sun-God Baal, principle of life, and another god was Astarte, or night. Their manners were dissolute, similar to those of modern Malabar.
At the fêtes of Astarte especially, women danced and gave themselves to the public. The court of the Phoenicians seems to have been closed to any generous emotion, and the courtiers sensible only to their interests, their own well-being, coquetry, and material enjoyments; the curse resting upon the children of Noah being affirmed in them, his descendants.
It must be pointed out that the arts of the Phoenicians are above all utilitarian. Their architecture is devoted to dykes, aqueducts, etc. It was they who commenced the construction of the temple of Jerusalem. Round their temples they placed long porticoes and enormous cylinders of stone, which are important as regards costume, because these blocks of stone were always adorned with bas-reliefs and human figures, in the style of the Vendome Column. As for their tombs, the walls of the chambers are ornamented with sculpture.
Their artisans executed an enormous number of statuettes in terra-cotta and in bronze, as well as household utensils of pottery etc. in great quantities, and exported them largely; but the real artists were chiefly the goldsmiths, engravers, and Phoenician decorators, weavers, and spinners.
Having colonized the island of Cyprus, the Phoenicians obtained copper from there for their utensils, ornaments, and the jewels of their women. M. de Vogue made some most interesting discoveries in that island.
The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, used for commercial transactions. The Phoenicians were then established at Thasos and exploited gold et silver mines in the islands to the South of Greece. They founded the cities afterwards known as Byzantium or Constantinople, and Phocea or Marseilles, and they established themselves in Cilicia, Rhodes, Crete, Corsica, Sicily, etc. In the third period, a conqueror from Tyre made an expedition, subdued Spain, passed into Gaul, founded Alesia and returned through Italy about the year 1100 B. C. But instead of shedding blood, this Phoenician spread civilization. The colonies of the 3rd period were founded between the 10th and 6th century B.C. They were veritable commercial exchanges which the Portuguese were to reorganize 25 centuries later. When we read in the Bible of the voyage of Jonah, it was in a Phoenician vessel that he embarked. All the facts above stated are supported by indisputable documents, and the results of explorations made in the various places.
One of their best colonies was Sicily, where they founded the city known afterwards as Irapanie. Then they established themselves in Sardinia, and founded Cagliari, and then in Corsica, founding, without doubt, Ajaccio, the city of Ajax; but six centuries before our era, only ruins remained of the towns they built on the heights. They had been expelled by the Phococeans (from Phococea, a Greek city of Asia Minor, destroyed by the Persians). The Phoenicians then, it is believed, founded Nimes, exploited the mines of Morvan, traversed Gaul, and appear to have established themselves at Karnack in Britanny. In Spain, however, most of all, they overran the country, exploited the mines, and increased their wealth. Eventually they established themselves at several points in North Africa.
While the ark, bearing within it the patriarch Noah, his sons, family, and domestic animals, touched ground at Mount Ararat, in Armenia, its occupents were far from imagining what would follow after their generation, that the water flowing under their feet would form the beds of two of the greatest rivers of the world, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which, descending from the snow-covered summits, would run eternally; at first side by side, then in two opposite directions, and eventually would join together to discharge their waters into the sea, at the Persian Gulf. So also peoples with different destinies such as the Hebrew tribes, were to follow the course of these rivers and eventually rejoin one another on the Mediterranean.
Between these rivers, an immense territory extends, the cradle of civilization, and which formed part of the empires of Chaldea and Assyria. This was Mesopotamia. The impetuous Euphrates leaps from waterfall to waterfall, and after leaving the mountains it flows widely and peacefully through Chaldea near to Babylon, now in ruins. The Tigris leaves its rocks from three springs forming lakes, and its course is rapid until it reaches the sea and is so deep that in our own times boats sail on it from Mosul, and steamers from Baghdad.
There the two rivers approach one another and intermingle through canals. The immense expanse of land between two rivers where they are parallel, is Mesopotamia, so called by the Greeks, and known to the Arabs as “the fertile island” or “Aldjezire”. All this land was prosperous when Europe was still barbarous, the Greeks eating acorns, and the ancestors of the Romans were not even in existence: while the women of Nineveh and Babylon
revealed in luxury.
Assyria forms another plain, surrounded by mountains and rocks, with the same climate and fertile soil as Chaldea and Egypt, thanks to an immense supply of labour and to their intelligent systems of waterworks. Some trees are found, walnut, plane trees, oaks, sycamores, the wood of which served to make boxes to hold clothing and jewels.
An important fact which seems to have only a far-off connection with costume, is that their quarries yielded soft sandstone, alabaster, and marble. These stones broke away in flat pieces, and on the tablets so formed the Assyrians cut bas-reliefs, thanks to which we can retrace their costumes. They had also copper, lead, and silver mines. We find all these metals in feminine adornments, in the form of jewels and ornaments.
The Assyrian deserts shelter lions, leopards, gazelles, buffaloes, hares, bears, deer, wild goats, and skins of these animals are found in various parts of the costumes. They had ostriches which supplied feathers, and porcupines whose quills were used in weaving and in dresses.
A Chaldean legend says that according to their priests they had kings for 30,000 years; which is long, but undoubtedly it is one of the most ancient kingdoms of the world, and perhaps the earliest one. In any case, after explorations in the ruins dating from over three thousand years before the Christian era, one can find that the Chaldeans were growing wheat, made terra-cotta models, worked metals, made jewels.
They knew the art of writing, and how to draw, and if they had no spinning mills they at least had weavers at their homes. They wore very complete costumes, built towns and monuments, and in short were as civilized as w e are at the present day.
Houses and palaces were built of unburnt bricks, which disintegrated and left mounds of earth in many places, and it is thus that explorers having had the idea of making searches there, discovered towns. They have thus reconstituted in the low er Euphrates a dozen of towns long disappeared, which we will mention as their names will often occur in this work. They are Our, Eridon, Ourouk, Larsam, Sirtella, and then between the Euphrates and the Tigris, Nippur, Sippar, Agade, and Babylon.
Each town had its temple and its high priest, who was at the same time governor or satrap. The most ancient town is Urea, where during two thousand years kings followed one another, as is shown on the Chaldean cylinders. Chaldea was conquered towards the 23rd century B. C. by the kings of Elam, which afterwards became Suziane, and later was invaded by the Kurds. A French explorer, M. de Sarzec*, discovered there in 1878 the ruins of a palace 53 meters long, 31 wide, with its women’s apartments, its towers, and its walls of bricks cemented with bitumen. The name of King Gudea is inscribed on each brick. Two tombs, and nine statues, were disinterred and permit us to form an exact idea of the costume of those times. These statues are of alabaster, ivory, bronze, and one of the women wears a large robe.
*Gustave Charles Ernest Chocquin (who took the name Sarzec after buying the castle of Sarzec, in Montamisé, in 1880) was a French diplomat and archaeologist born in Rennes on 11 August 1832, died in Poitiers on 31 May 1901.
To the North of Chaldea is situated the kingdom of Assur, in the valley of the Tigris, cradle of the true Assyrians, a poor and warlike people. Into this empire there came, no one knows whence, but doubtless from the Caucasus, some extraordinary women knows as the Amazons, who, intermixing with the Assyrian women, may have made of the latter warriors equal to men.
Their city was Assur, or El Assar, midway between Nineveh and Babylon. In the remotest times, it was a king-priest who led them, a tributary of the kings of Babylon. He organized an army of foot-soldiers and called himself King of the Legions, and made conquest his business. Thus this epoch was almost devoid of any arts.
Then there came the legendary Semiramis*, the beautiful queen of Babylon, and of king Ninus of Assyria. In 17 years, Ninus conquered all Asia as for as India, and had the strong city of Nineveh built.
*After Herodotus (Histories I, 184) she was one of the two queens who ruled all of Asia – the other was Nitokris five generations after her. The gates of Babylon were named after Herodotus by Semiramis, Ninos and Bêlos. The name Semiramis, coined by ancient Greek historians, refers to an ancient Oriental heroine or queen.
But as the Bactrian people, at the west of the Indus, resisted him, be took the field with a million men. There he became acquanited with Semiramis, who it was said, was the daughter of a goddess, abandoned and then fed by doves. She became the wife of one of the governors of the army of Ninus and went on campaign with her husband, a first Joan of Arc, and Semiramis who must have belonged to the race of Amazons, mounts to the assault of the ramparts. Amazed, Ninus carries her off, her husband hangs himself in despair, Ninus marries her, and soon afterwards dies, leaving Semiramis queen of the country.
This energetic woman, who retained all the graces and artistic tastes of her birth, succeeds him, has Babylon reconstructed, and surrounded with 70 kilometres of ramparts, canalises the Euphrates, constructs the temple, lay s out roads, builds towns, goes to Egypt on pilgrimage, but conquers Ethiopia, and departs on an expedition to India. But the king of India, thanks to his elephants, obliges her to retrace her steps. She again cultivates the arts of peace, and one fine day she disappears, and is taken up into heaven in the form of a dove.
It is then that according to Chaldean tradition the pagan deluge occurred: the God Bel, angry at the Crimes of the world, decided to destroy it, but warned the king Xisuthros, who built a ship for himself and his family, painted it with the famous bitumen (called bitumen of Judea) which is found among the Assyrian constructions, and is used in dyeing. The king put his treasure into the vessel, and also specimens of the animals and plants existing, and when the rain ceased and all the waters fell back, the vessel touched ground, on the summit of Mount Ararat, the king and his family came out, and descended the Chaboras and the Euphrates, to the place destined to become Babylon. They built the tower of Babel, or temple of Belus, of which the ruins still exist; at the place called Borsippa.
One of his successors is the famous Nimrod, a great hunter before the Lord, says the Bible. He was destined to lay low the foundations of Nineveh; he may h ave been the precursor of aviation, and in any case he became mad in trying to mount to the heavens on the wings of an eagle. His seat was the town of Ur, in the South of Chaldea, where Abraham was to be born (3000 B.C.). Not far from Nineveh is situated Nimrod, and the finest collection of objects found there is now in the British Museum, brought there by the English explorer, A. Layard*. All the objects showing feminine costumes and adornments came from the palace of Ashurbanipal and date from about the year 662 B.C.
*Sir Austen Henry Layard (* 5 March 1817 in Paris; † 5 July 1894 in London) was one of the leading British archaeologists of the 19th century. He became famous for his excavations in Nineveh and Nimrud in Assyria.
It was about the 13th century, in 1300 B. C. that a king constructed the first palace at Nineveh, and about the 7th century Sanherib (Sin-ahhe-eriba, son of Sargon II, was Assyrian king from 705 to 680 BC.) built another in which precious woods, such as cedar, sandal, ebony, were used jointly with enameled bricks covered with bas-reliefs and inscriptions. Shortly afterwards, Sanherib besieged Tyre, in Phoenicia, and invaded Egypt. Assyria then enjoyed two centuries of prosperity, and was the entrepôt of the world. Boats on the Tigres and Euphrates, and caravans, continually came with raw materials, which, transformed, were exported again. From their booty, the Assyrians brought back vases and furniture, and most of all clothing, carpets, stulfs and also carried olf all the best artisons. Far back as one can trace in their history the costume of their women, it is found almost the same as that of the men and the king and his wife are always attired alike.
Source: Paul Louis de Giafferri*. The History of the Feminine Costume of the World. The Luxurious Assyrian Costumes. Published: 1926.
*Marquis Paul Louis Victor de Giafferri was a costume historian and the author of works on the history of “textiles”. In the 1920s he described male costumes, but above all those of women of all epochs in France and various parts of the world, including Japan, China, Persia, Assyria, Greece, Egypt, India, the East, the countries of the North, the three Americas, and so on. The books were all published in France, only a few were translated and published in English.
- HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE COLLECTION: ASSYRIA. The Oriental Institute.
- Silvia Schroer: Gender and Iconography from the Viewpoint of a Feminist Biblical Scholar (PDF)
- The British Museum : Assyrian sculpture and Balawat Gates.
- Pergamonmuseum Berlin
- Department of Near Eastern Antiquities, Louvre Paris.
- Near Eastern Antiquities in the Louvre – Room 4