On this day, 110 years ago, the Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam (1826 – 16 September 1910) passed away. Hormuzd Rassam was an Assyriologist who made a number of important archaeological discoveries from 1877 to 1882, including the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest literature. He is accepted as the first-known Middle Eastern and Assyrian archaeologist from the Ottoman Empire. Later in life, he emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he was naturalized as a British citizen, settling in Brighton. He represented the government as a diplomat, helping to free British diplomats from captivity in Ethiopia. Dr. David B. Perley wrote a longer review, published in “A Collection of Writings on Assyrians” (pp. 374–379), about Rassam’s book “Asshur and the land of Nimrud”. Below we reproduce the entire review: The Discoveries of an Assyrian Archaeologist(His Quest for Assyrian Ethnic Identity)Asshur and the Land of Nimrod. By Hormuzd Rassam. ny: Eaton & Mains, 432 p., 1897.In the language of the author, a native of Mosul, his book is first an account of his Assyriological finds in the ruins of ancient Nineveh, Nimrod, Ashur and Babylon; and second, it is the narrative of his journeys in the Semitic Orient and Anatolia, where he was employed by the British Government in 1877 to inquire into the condition on the Christian communities and sects in Asia Minor including Armenia and Kurdistan. In short, ASSHUR is the book in which Mr. Rassam gives a detailed account of his observations in both fields. It must be noted that in his archaeological endeavors (1845–1882), the author was Layard’s assistant throughout Layard’s brilliant archaeological career in Assyria; and in 1852, at the direction of the Trustees of the British Museum, he became Layard’s worthy successor in the field. Conscious of his ancestral connection, he wrote in the Preface: “My interest in Assyrian archaeology was great.” This ethnic consciousness led him to a higher consecration. Correctly did Prof. Robert W. Rogers write in the Introduction to the book: “Among all the earlier excavators, Hormuzd Rassam stands forth as a man of distinguished service.”Assyriological DiscoveriesThe historical tablets or documents unearthed by Mr. Rassam in Assyria and Babylonia exceed 100,000 in number. They contain – especially those from the archives of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal and Sennacherib at Nineveh – historical records, astronomical reports, mathematical calculations, medical and legal records, letters of private and public character, military annals, prayers, incantations and psalms, and the Assyrian account of the Creation and Flood legends – admittedly one of the best known and most astonishing in the history of archaeology. Among the principal finds in the library was the Epic of Gilgamesh, said to be the wellspring of all epic poetry.In 1853, the author commenced excavations at Ashur, where he found two clay prisms, inscribed with the annals of Tiglath-Pileser I. There are many other sites he excavated, but the one primarily asso-ciated with Rassam’s name will forever be Nineveh, where his finds contributed to the study of Assyrian antiquity.I cannot refer to every discovery, but I can sum up the three epoch-making triumphs of the explorers, whose long life (1826–1910) came to its natural end on September 16, 1910:1. The unearthing of the Northern Palace at Nineveh where dis-closures were made of priceless relics of art and literature, the prism of Ashurbanipal, inscriptions most astonishing, consisting in a 10–sided baked clay prism, which contain the annals of the Royal-Scholar, and four barrel-shaped cylinders inscribed with an account of Sennacherib’s various campaigns.2. The discovery in 1877 of the Bronze gates at Balawat, a city built by Ashurnazirpal (15 mi. east Nineveh, 9 mi. from Nimrud). The bronze gate-bands are by far the largest and most important monument of this brand of Assyrian metallurgy. The bronze gate is proof positive that engraving was not the only manner in which the Assyrians utilized metal for artistic and pictorial purposes. They also excelled in metal repousse work. The scenes portrayed upon the Gates represent incidents in the life and campaigns of Shalmeneser II (860–825 bc), the first Assyrian monarch to come into immediate contact with Israel.3. The identification in 1879 of the long-forgotten site of Sippar, an ancient Babylonian city on the east bank of the Euphrates, and the “Babil” mound, which suggested the Hanging Gardens of Pliny. (The discovery attracted world-wide attention, and the several academies showered awards upon the Assyrian explorer.) Journeys of InquiryWhen we come to consider his travel-experience, we detect at once a common state of wretchedness, caused by “Kurdish and Turkish lawlessness. Here are but a few typical examples: Nisibin, once the opulent seat of Nestorian missions and learning, is now “a heap of ruins” (p. 233). It is revealed however that the majority of the villages in the province of Nisibin “are Jacobites of Assyrian origin” (p. 249). Aznaghoor, once a prosperous Jacobite village, is now in 1878 reduced to two dozens of huts; so is the city of Urfa, then ancient Edessa; so are the Chaldean Tel-Kaif and Tel-Iskiff.During his journeys, Rassam paid a visit to the Nestorian Assyrians of Tiyari in Kurdistan and their patriarch Mar Shimun with all of whom he conversed in the common language of Aramaic – he called it “Chaldean,” using it synonymously with Aramaic. This appellation demands a definition, but first a few biographical notes become imperative.The author was the eighth and youngest son of Anton Rassam, who called himself a “Nestorian or Chaldean Christian,” claiming to be “of Chaldean race.” Dr. T.G. Pinches, a great English Orientalist and a devotee of Assyriology, on the other hand, asserted that “he was probably of Assyrian descent.”218 Christian Rassam, the author’s older brother, was the British Consul in Mosul. Layard, in his wanderings in the East, chanced to be his houseguest, where he met Hormuzd, aged 19, whose intelligence and character attracted the attention of the guest, aged 23 and, whom he employed for assistance in the ex-ploration and excavation of the ruins of Nineveh (and who frequently and honorably mentions him in his Nineveh and Its Remains. Later on Layard, as his patron, was to lead Rassam to Oxford to study at Magdalen College).On Assyrian SectsIn the realm of Sects, his journeys revealed that the chief Christian sects or millets (subject-nationalities) were Assyrian or Chaldean Nestorian, Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Jacobite and Syrian Catholic – all of whom are “of Assyrian origin” (p. 167). And of the four branches of the Monophysites (Jacobite, Armenian, Coptic, Abyssinian), he ascertained that all retained their national names save alas! the Jacobites, who “style themselves Syrians, which appellation has neither a legitimate meaning, nor an appropriate sectarianism” (p. 168). I agree most emphatically with his conclusions. Rassam has presented the Children of Ashur with an honorable challenge-strikingly intelligent. No matter how confused the situation may seem to appear, the Jacobites are Assyrians through and through. Rassam’s sensible concept of this truth is a matter of record. Wrote he in extreme historic accuracy (p. 170): It is worthy of remark that the so-called Syrian Jacobites and Syrian Catholics are not natives of what is known in Europe as Syria, and there are very few families of their sects in that country… The word Syrian, or Syriannee, as it is called in Arabic, is known in the East simply to denote a religious sect, and not natives of any country in particular; for although some modern geographers have tried to define the limits of Syria, yet it is a known fact that neither the Hebrews nor the Greeks knew exactly what constituted the boundary of Syria, or what is really meant by the Syriac language. In the English version of the Holy Bible, the words Aram and Aramaic are rendered Syria and Syriac, – words which have no similarity to them, either in sound or sense It is conjectured by a number of authors that the word Syria is a corruption of Assyria, as it is mentioned by Herodotus that “this people, whom the Greeks call Syrians, are called Assyrians by the Barbarians.”No matter how you misconstrue the Assyrian malaise in the intoler-able confusion of titles, as do most clerics who originated it, sustain, support, and cherish it now – the Chaldeans are Assyrians! Rassam’s pronouncements are on record. Exclaimed he (p. 168): “What more natural, the, that they should have applied to them the title of Chal-dean, to which they have some claim nationally, in virtue of their Assyrian descent?” All sects have a name for their nationalities but the poor Semitic Christians, no, not even “as much as the slaves who were imported from Circassia or Africa!” (Newman, below pp. 373–4).This pronouncement must be read and construed together, and in the light of further assertion: “Whenever the word Chaldean is mentioned, it means an ancient Christian community in communion with the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 85 N).Rassam further eloquently insisted: “At one time, especially at the latter end of the Assyrian monarchy, Chaldean and Assyrian were synonymous words, and the nation was sometimes known by one name and sometimes by the other, the same as the words English and British are used” (p. 171). “Prior to the 5th century schism, these Semitic Sects belonged to the same stock and held the same belief (Newman, below, p. 367).There is but one national name for the native Semitic Christian sects (without admitting the accuracy of the noun sect) in the Valley of the Euphrates – it is Assyrian. Such is Rassam’s deep-seated con-viction. If you need further assurance, read his Letter of Jan. 1875, in John P. Newman’s The Throne and Palaces of Babylon and Nineveh (ny: Harper, 1896, pp. 367–391).The Everlasting QuestThis interminable review-article must come to an end with these con-cluding remarks. Rassam, whether he realized it or not, succeeded in the quest for the persisting matter of Assyrian national identity, but he left it buried, as it had been for centuries, beneath acquired religious terminology and sectarianism; he failed to establish the col-lective unity and oneness of all Assyrians, regardless of their religious beliefs. He unlocked the door to national identity but did not open it. Possibly the political and psychological atmosphere of the time was responsible for his lack of militancy in his quest, but the indisputable fact remains that he himself repeatedly used the term Chaldean where he should have used Assyrian. He faced, with heroic pride, the bronze gates of Balawat, but he failed to erect with even greater pride an invis-ible monument more lasting that the bronze by identifying modern Assyrians as the posterity of Shalmaneser II, the worthy successor of Ashurnazirpal. If Rassam himself had been consistent in calling members of the various Semitic Christian sects Assyrians, the task of later writers would have been simplified. This lack of militancy had unpleasant results. Only recently, foresooth, did Seton Lloyd in a book on Archaeology call Rassam “Layard’s Chaldean assistant!”Mr. Lloyd is not the only one who has arrested my sense of restoration and security, created by the book under review. His own son Capt. Anthony H. Rassam (British Army) referred in 1931 to his “dis-tinguished” father’s devotion to “Chaldean habits and customs!”220And what is worse, the term “Coptic Christian,” totally erroneous, was applied to Rassam in 1963, by Katherine B. Shippen in her Portals to the Past, a well-known book on Archaeology (Viking, p. 59)!I would to God I could attribute to Dr. Hormuzd Rassam, the venerable apostle of Assyrian nationhood, what was said of Augustus Caesar in relation to his imperial city, that he had found her built of brick and left her constructed of marble! Read all of Dr. David B. Perley’s writings in “A Collection of Writings on the Assyrians“.
On this day, 110 years ago, the Assyrian archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam (1826 – 16 September 1910) passed away.
Hormuzd Rassam was an Assyriologist who made a number of important archaeological discoveries from 1877 to 1882, including the clay tablets that contained the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest literature. He is accepted as the first-known Middle Eastern and Assyrian archaeologist from the Ottoman Empire. Later in life, he emigrated to the United Kingdom, where he was naturalized as a British citizen, settling in Brighton. He represented the government as a diplomat, helping to free British diplomats from captivity in Ethiopia.
Dr. David B. Perley wrote a longer review, published in “A Collection of Writings on Assyrians” (pp. 374–379), about Rassam’s book “Asshur and the land of Nimrud”. Below we reproduce the entire review:
Read all of Dr. David B. Perley’s writings in “A Collection of Writings on the Assyrians“.