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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land by Mogens Trolle Larsen

The Archaeology of Ancient Assyria: Khorsabad, Niveheh, Calah, Assur are some of the places discovered within the pages of The Conquest of Assyria by Mogens Trolle Larsen

 The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land
by Mogens Trolle Larsen
Routledge Press 2006

  I've been trying to read this book since July 6th, 2009. Like many other books from my Amazon Wish List it's expensive- 150 USD new, 30 USD used.  The ancient civilizations of the Middle East are interesting because they have a kind of a double history: Their actual history and then the "discovery" of that history by Western explorers and adventurers in the 19th century.  The rediscovery of the ancient civilizations of the Near East: Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites, the Egyptians, proceeded along multiple tracks.  First, there was the physical excavation of ruins and monuments prior to the creation of archaeology as a discipline.  Second, there was linguistic/philological race to decipher the various languages and understand non-alphabetical forms of writing.  Finally, there was the issue of confronting the fact that these discoveries related to text in the Bible, and had the potential to either 'prove' or 'disprove' Biblical text.

The Assyrian Empire ruled the middle east between 800 to 600 B.C.E.

  The primary figure in the The Conquest of Assyria was Austen Henry Layard, a young man with some education (but not an Oxford degree) who was supposed to be a lawyer but instead decided to set off, overland, to seek his fortune in India/Ceylon.  He never made it.  Instead, Layard became obsessed with the area we now know as Iraq/Iran, and was then part of the Ottoman empire.  Initially, Layard traveled as far east as Baluchistan which was then, as now, extremely dangerous for anyone- including people who were actually from there, let alone outsiders.

  While in Baluchistan he befriended a local sheikh type, who promptly ran afoul of the Ottoman pasha (territoriality governor) and long story short he ends up hooking up with marsh Arabs and raiding the Ottoman army.  From there, he bounced around the Near East before ending up in Northern Iraq, where he was the first to excavate Nimrud and Nineveh.

  Working prior to the point when we understood cuniform script or indeed before archeology existed,  Layard was never more than an interested amateur, but he was also first, and it was his discoveries that essentially created the field.  The great stone human headed lions he painfully had carted back from the desert still stand in a place of honor in the British museum.  He also wrote Nineveh and its Remains: with an Account of a Visit to the Assyrians, and the Yezidis, and an Inquiry into the Manners and Arts of the Ancient Assyrians.  This work did much to popularize Assyria and make the public aware that such a place existed outside the Bible.   This was in 1848-49.

 Layard was also involved in the deciphering of the cuneiform script.  This story is less interesting then running around in the desert and digging up huge temples and mythological beasts, but is clearly a subject near and dear to the heart of the writer- a professor of Assyriology at a Danish university.  For anyone looking to delve into the history of Assyriology, The Conquest of Assyria is an absolute must, even if it takes you five years to get your hands on a copy.

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