Notebook, 1993-

[From: Woolley, Leonard. The Art of The Middle East, including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine. New York: Crown Publishers. 1961.]

1.Geography and History --- 2.Elam --- 3.Sumer --- 4.Sumer and Akkad --- 5.Syria & Palestine --- 6.Hurri & Hittites --- 7.Anatolia

The Art of The Middle East - Including
Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine

Chapter Six

The Hurri and The Hittites
Notes for this Chapter

In tracing the history of the art of Sumer and Akkad down to about 1800 B.C. we have said nothing about the peripheral countries, only insisting that from them came much of the material upon which that art depended. The imports that Sumer required had to be paid for: this meant the constant exchange of goods and often personal contacts, and since Sumer led the way in the development of civilization it was always setting a cultural example to the neighbouring peoples with whom it did trade. Amongst these were the Hurri people, living to the north and north-west of that part of Mesopotamia in which the Sumerian civilization was at home. It was through Hurri territory that there came to Sumer the cedar and hardwoods of the Amanus mountains, and in the villages of the Amq plain, at the foot of the Amanus, first the painted pottery of al 'Ubaid and then the burnished wares of Uruk bear witness to the fact that the timber trade was active even in those early days; soon after 2700 B.C. the king of Alalakh, who controlled the trade-route, adorned the faŔade of his palace with huge columns built of specially-moulded mud bricks, a fashion set by his eastern clients such as those who built the colonnades of Warka and Kish. Further to the east the evidence of Sumerian contacts is, as might be expected, far more plentiful. At Brak, in the fertile valley of the Khabur, the walls of the 'Eye Temple', which is at least as early as the late Jamdat Nasr period, were enriched with mosaics of clay cones like those of Warka, and the altar had a frieze of g old, white limestone and grey shale, while the wall was decorated with eight-petalled stone rosettes like those of the First Dynasty temple at al 'Ubaid; moreover, there were found in the temple innumerable stone amulets in the form of animals--they are really stamp seals, engraved underneath--for the most part identical with those found in Sumer in the Jamdat Nasr levels. All this is borrowed art: but side by side with it come the curious 'eye idols' from which the temple takes its name, little alabaster figures with an almost square body and a neck supporting not a face but two [or sometimes three, four or six] big eyes, with perhaps a polos head-dress above. These have nothing to do with Sumer but are native to the land. Native also are two or three alabaster heads from acrolithic statues which, like the [p. 121] 'eye idols', are dated by the discoverer to c. 2200 B.C.; primitive as they naturally are, they none the less show a formal stylization which implies a school of sculpture rather than any individual experiment, and although they cannot rank high as works of art yet for the history of art they are important documents, for, produced at a time when Sumerian influence was so predominant, they are the first to demonstrate that independent genius which in later ages differentiates Hurri art.

The Hattians of north-eastern Anatolia, the predecessors of the Hittites, were the authors of the earliest Anatolian art worthy of the name. In close touch with the sources of copper, silver and, to a lesser degree, of gold, but too far away to have any direct contacts with early Sumer, their culture was likely to be advanced, independent and original. The treasures found in the royal tombs of Alaca Höyük, together with later discoveries at Horoztepe and Kayapinar HŻyńk, i.e., in the fertile district of Tokat--Amasya, show that they were skilled workers in metal and could turn that skill to good account. Gold vessels, jugs and goblets, are decorated with elaborate geometrical patterns in repoussé work, the shapes and to some extent the patterns being taken over from pottery originals; personal ornaments are executed in gold filigree or in granulated technique. Very remarkable are the animal figures solid-cast in copper and sometimes inlaid with silver, sometimes partly plated by dipping the copper core in an alloy of silver and lead; these oxen and stags are highly conventionalized but still vigorous and true to nature; here again a bulls' head in burnished clay with incised detail shows a similar style in a different medium. Animal figures are in many cases associated with the curious-- [p. 123] and as yet unexplained--'standards' of cast copper, flat circles, half-circles and squares filled in with an open network of criss-cross bars, swastikas, etc., through which may come a stag or a bull; an example from Horoztepe [which is certainly a sistrum] has a procession of deer, ibexes and lions round its rim. Horoztepe has also produced a copper statuette of a nude woman suckling an infant; two rather more crude female figures and one of a child come from a tomb at Alaca Höyük; in all of them there is a very definite feeling for the human body, a naturalness of posture and a softness of curves quite unusual in the primitive figurines of the Middle East; but those are qualities which, like the sympathetic realism of the animal figures, will be recognized again in later Hittite art.

The Alaca Höyük tombs date from about 2200 B.C. and seem to belong to the end of a period, as marked by a stratum of destruction and the burning of the citadel. The culture which the tomb objects illustrate does not continue into the next historical phase, that of Kütepe, but the break does not mean that the ancient Hattians were an isolated phenomenon which had no influence upon other peoples then or afterwards; amongst the objects from Alaca Höyük a fair number of parallels with objects from Sumer of the Early Dynastic period and of considerably earlier date may be explained as being based upon trade imports long treasured by the more primitive Hattians; parallels with objects from Troy II should also imply trade, and where the types of metal weapons are the same at Alaca Höyük and in north Syria or Cyprus one must attribute the invention to the smiths working close to the source of metal supply; --it is a case of the Hattians influencing their business clients; and when a bull figurine exactly like those of the Hattian tombs turns up in the treasure-hoard of Maikop, beyond the Caucasus, we must suppose that Hattian culture had ramifications to the north also.

The 'Treasure of Priam' discovered by Schliemann in Troy II is contemporary with Alaca Höyük and contains connected objects, but is not in itself a product of the same culture; the metal-working technique is much less advanced and the types most characteristic of Hattian art are here lacking. The Anatolian states, isolated by their geographical features were bound to be largely independent in their cultures, as is shown by the discoveries at Beycesultan; and Troy is as individual as Maikop, at any rate in most of its aspects, though, as will appear later, it shared its architecture with other Anatolian sites. Throughout the history of the Middle East it is common to find a petty state achieving for a time wealth and independence, developing an art which may imitate that of the leading centres [with local variations that give it a certain individuality] and then sinking into insignificance and becoming sterile.

Certainly the excavations at Kńltepe have revealed a civilization which, while not very far removed from that of Alaca Höyük in place or in time [its date is 2000-1700 B.C., but the first and last phases are unimportant, so that the period 1950-1800 B.C. is that which concerns us here] seems to have no connection with it at all. It is true that the greater part of the excavations has been confined to the karum, a commercial suburb inhabited by Akkadian merchants, while relatively little has been done in the walled town of Kanesh proper, and the domestic interiors of the foreigners might be expected to reflect their own civilization rather than the Anatolian, but even so the latter is illustrated by many discoveries of objects of art.

The finding in a palace building in Kanesh of a dagger bearing the name of Anittas, who was king of Kussura and conqueror of Hattusas, proves that we are concerned with a time when the Indo-European Hittites were already in Anatolia and making their way northwards to the Halys basin, which later was to be the seat of their kingdom. It is therefore the more interesting to find such objects as Bull's head rhytons in burnished brown clay which carry on the precedent of Alaca Höyük; it means that the older Hattians had not been exterminated [p. 125] but survived under their new overlords to influence with their traditions the historic art of the Hittites. To this tradition we must ascribe the remarkable pottery of the nineteenth century B.C. found in the Karum; magnificent red burnished-ware vessels which clearly owe much to metal prototypes, as when loop handles end in dragon's heads which grip with their teeth the vessel's rim; vases of more truly ceramic shapes with geometrical patterns in black on a reserved buff ground set off by the general red-painted and burnished surface; and a polychrome ware with black and red patterns on white slip, the vases being often theriomorphic, the animals represented with the understanding and sympathy which is characteristic of Anatolian art. Alike in style and in technique these last are unlike anything known from other regions of the Middle East in the early periods; occasionally they show a whimsical spirit, as when the vase takes the form of a shoe: but in the best of the animal pieces the potter seems to base his design on some more ambitious and even monumental work in another material such as copper or gold.

From the karum and from the city ruins there have been recovered vast numbers of seals and seal-impressions. Many of them, belonging to the Akkadian merchants, are, as one would expect, cylinder seals of purely Akkadian type; such need not concern us here. Many others however are locally cut, and these can be classified into two main schools characterized by very different styles.

On the one hand there are both stamp and cylinder seals which are distinctively Anatolian. In them the workmanship is generally crude, and in their subjects animal motives preponderate. On the stamp seals [i.e., seals which are Anatolian in form as well as in content and have no Mesopotamian connections] a single animal is most often represented or, where there are several, they are combined in a single schematic pattern, such as four or more heads revolving round a common axis like the arms of a swastika: on the cylinder seals the stock subjects are files of animals, hunting scenes, war scenes and, less commonly, processions of gods or scenes of worship, and here the design tends to be grossly overcrowded. In both cases the gem-cutter is employing native motives and treats them in a native style; his individual figures owe little or nothing to any foreign models: but for engraving on this minute scale he is still a tyro, experimenting with no definite principles of design to guide him.

The third class of seals consists of the cylinders in what is called the 'Syro-Cappadocian' style, i.e., of the sort that is common in northern [p. 127] Syria throughout the territory of the Hurri. Often very finely cut, they have scenes which are on the whole derived from Mesopotamian glyptic, but the characters portrayed may wear Hittite dress; between the principal figures small secondary figures are introduced, especially animals, including the monkey, and there may be secondary scenes on a small scale, arranged in two registers, and often these are divided by a band of guilloche pattern; gods are frequently shown standing upon the backs of animals, in Hittite fashion. The Hurri were in close touch with Mesopotamia and had learned much from both Sumer and Akkad: and they were in close touch also with the Hittites, to whom they passed on what they had learned from their southern neighbours. The Kültepe seals bear witness to this intermediary r&pcirc;le played by the Hurri at an early date; their influence was to persist throughout Hittite history. We do not possess sufficient material to enable us to define Hurri art as such and to treat of it separately; the Anatolian connections were so close that we are justified in dealing with the art of both peoples, Hurri and Hittite, together, drawing our illustrations from both indiscriminately where objects from the Hurri area are clearly not dependent either upon Mesopotamia or upon central and southern Syria for their inspiration.

In architecture of the early periods it is the northern country that seems to take the lead. The megaron type of domestic building, the large hall with four columns to support its roof clustered round a central hearth, is found in the later phase of Troy II, at Alishar in eastern Anatolia and at Beycesultan in the west; thus widely diffused and clearly therefore native to Anatolia, whence it was to spread westwards [p. 128] and serve as model for the Homeric house, it never penetrated south of the Taurus range. Similarly the postern gate tunnelled through the stonework of the city wall, which is a feature of the defenses of BogazkŻy and of Alishar, and also, in a modified form, of Troy II C, reappears on Greek soil at Tiryns and Mycenae, but not in Syria, with the sole exception of Ugarit on the Syrian coast, where it is more likely to have come from the Mycenaeans than directly from Asia Minor.

Half-timber construction, that in which the foundations of the wall were of stone and the upper part of mud brick or of rubble strengthened by a wooden framework, is certainly native to Anatolia, for in that country nature supplied in abundance all the necessary materials; it was the obvious way in which to build, the dry-stone foundations being needed in a rainy country, the timber framework giving greater solidity than could be obtained with rubble building and being also a precaution dictated by the prevalence of earthquakes. This is in fact the normal method of construction through out Asia Minor. In Syria it was used only in the Hurri area or [later] where Hittite influence was strong, and then only for important structures such as temples and palaces: it was indeed a luxury beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen, so much so that in a private house of the fourteenth century B.C. at Alalakh [Tell Atchana] the walls were frescoed with a design of basalt orthostats and heavy cedar beams whereas the wall itself was of mud brick throughout and contained neither wood nor stone; it was a pretence aping the splendour of kings. [p. 130]

The best-preserved examples of such buildings are found in the Hurri city of Alalakh. The early eighteenth-century palace of King Yarim-Lim is formed of two blocks, the official offices and the domestic quarters, separated by a large walled courtyard, and was of two storeys. Polished basalt orthostats make a dado along the footings of the walls, and above them the construction is in timber and mud brick--only in the servants' rooms are the interior walls of brick alone. Floors were of concrete overlaid with fine white cement. Round cushion-shaped basalt column-bases supported tapered wooden shafts, thicker at the top than at the bottom. In the domestic block the great reception-room was on the first floor, built over magazines; it was approached by a newel staircase and had a three-light window with stone embrasures; it was planned on the lines of the 'chambers of audience' in the official block, being a long room divided into two unequal parts by two columns set between pilaster-buttresses projecting from the side walls; the room was decorated with designs in real fresco. No other palace building of this date and in this style has yet been found, but it is not likely to have been unique. Yarim-Lim's city gate, with its great gate-towers and its triple gates set between heavy stone piers and its entry-passage roofed with a corbel vault, is in plan identical with the contemporary southern gateway of Carchemish and only a little more elaborate than the main gate of BogazkŻy. The palace itself in some details of its plan and in all its constructional features finds a parallel in the [later] palace of Minos at Knossos in Crete--and in its decoration also, for the Alalakh fresco fragments suggest similar subjects to those of the famous Cretan frescoes--bull's heads and wind-blown grasses treated in the most [p. 131] naturalistic way--and the technique of their painting, their colour range and the chemical composition of the colours are identical. That architectural styles were readily copied we know from a letter written to Yarim-Lim by the king of Ugarit; he has heard that the king of Mari has just completed a wonderful palace, and asks for an introduction to that monarch as he is thinking of a new palace for himself and would like to get suggestions from the Mari building. Actually the Mari palace was, as one would expect from the history of the city, laid out on a Mesopotamian plan and built of mud brick, but the wall paintings, executed in tempera on mud plaster, are remarkable. Both in technique and in style they show a curious mixture. The principal scenes are formal and stereotyped--the rectangular framed picture of the king's investiture might almost be an enlargement from a cylinder seal, and it is to be noticed that the outlines of the figures were impressed with a pointed instrument in the wet plaster--the technique of an engraver rather than of a painter. The gryphons, sphinxes and human-headed bulls in compartments alongside are all in a convention long since grown stale, and the frieze with scenes of sacrifice by water and by fire might have been borrowed by an indifferent copyist from the stelae of Gudea and Ur-Nammu. On the other hand the subsidiary figures--a man leading a bull to the sacrifice, a fisherman, a soldier and men climbing tall palm-trees to gather dates--are naturalistic, free and vivacious, and here the outlines were sketched in black paint with an ease and surety that bespeaks practiced skill and original invention. The freshness and humour of these scenes--which are unlike anything in Mesopotamian art--may be thought to show the Hurrian artist following his natural bent when his subject did not force him to conform to Mesopotamian tradition. [p. 133]

Fragments of coloured wall-plaster have been found at BrogazkŻy and it is at least probably that even in older Hatti architecture there was decoration of a kind not likely to leave traces of itself in the scanty ruins of the buildings. Thus, at various sites in the Halys basin there have been found fragments of eighteenth-century clay vases adorned with painted figures in relief; the best of them, called 'the Bitik Vase', has in separate registers processional figures and a scene of a temple [?] interior with architectural details and gods seated under a canopy or balcony. It has been plausibly suggested that such are copies of painted stucco reliefs that formed friezes on temple or palace walls; the suggestion is supported by Mesopotamian analogies of older date, and the [presumably painted] terra-cotta reliefs of the A-anni-pad-da temple at al 'Ubaid give us a very close parallel.

The fifteenth-century palace of Niqmepa at Alalakh preserves most of the architectural features of that of Yarim-Lim but adds an imposing monumental entry with a broad flight of steps leading up to a two-columned hypostyle entrance-chamber; the general continuity shows that this style of building is endemic to the country. It is probably to the middle of the next century that we must assign a series of lion sculptures [found re-used in a later building] which had flanked the doorways of some temple; in that case they would be--as indeed their widely different styles suggest--the first experiments in what was to be the characteristic adornment of Syro-Hittite architecture, adopted later by the Assyrians and the Persians. At about the same time the defences of Hattusas were enlarged by Suppiluliumas, and [p. 134] the three gateways of the new wall give us the first Anatolian examples of gate sculpture. It is noticeable that of the three the most famous, the 'Warror' relief, is simply a relief carved upon the door-jamb; the lions are no more than protomoi, only the sphinxes resemble the Alalakh lions in having their bodies carved on the side of the block, in the reveal of the doorway, with their heads and front feet projecting from the faŔade; -the sphinxes of the Alaca Höyük gateway are of the same sort, imitating at a very slightly later date that Hattusas model which was architecturally most successful.

Another innovation which was to be followed by all later Hittite builders is illustrated by the Alaca Höyük ruins. The stone foundation which originally was purely utilitarian had been developed into an architectural feature by the use of large cut and polished orthostats such as those in Yarim-Lim's palace; these were now elaborated by being carved in relief. Thus in the new architecture the façade of a building, the front of its gate-tower and the sides of the gate recess, would show a continuous line of carving, usually about one metre in height, which might be prolonged into the entry passage; the doorjambs, and sometimes the tower angles, would be carved with lion figures, their heads projecting in the round. The innovation must be credited to the Hittite New Kingdom, but owing to the destruction of the Anatolian city sites it is best illustrated by remains in Syria where the tradition persisted throughout the Syro-Hittite period, [p. 136] from the tenth to the seventh centuries B. C.; at Malatya and Carchemish, at Sinjirli, Sakje-geuzi, Tell Halaf and Karatepe it is the leading architectural feature.

The Bit Hilani, so admired by the Assyrians, was unknown in Anatolia; it was a Hurri invention whose evolution can be followed in north Syria from early times until it was perfected by the Syro-Hittites. The examples that can be cited differ in detail but are alike in essentials. The Hilani is a palace building complete in itself, its plan not modified by any architectural complex of which it may form a part: its standing features are a one-storeyed portico, often approached by steps, with an open front flanked by heavy walls or towers between which would be one, two or three columns of wood [except in the case of Tel Halaf] resting on stone bases; the effect would be rather that of a temple in antis. Behind the portico, entered by a wide doorway [which might have columns dividing the passage] lies the throne-room, in which the throne platform and the rails for a moveable hearth sometimes remain: behind this again are at least two rooms forming a suite of bedroom and bath-room, or two such suites [except at Carchemish, where they are missing], and there is always a staircase, generally placed at one end of the portico, for there was a second storey over the throne-room and the rooms in the rear of it. [1] This type of building, though unquestionably secular in purpose, may have been evolved from an earlier temple form, for the upper chamber overlooking the entrance-hall is actually found in a temple at Alalakh of c. 2500 B.C., while the columned portico is seen in the fifteenth-century palace of Niqmepa. The columns were still of wood, following the ancient tradition, but for the stone column-base the Syro-Hittite architect was prone to substitute something more ornate; the cushion-shape circular base may be preserved but is carved in relief like a flower-calyx with incurving petals, or the plain drum may be set between two lions or two sphinxes which seem to support the shaft, and the best of these are astonishingly fine. At Tell Halaf however a provincial [and bad] sculptor has gone further and has ventured to set up, instead of wooden columns, stone caryatid [p. 137] figures, grotesque deities mounted on beasts equally grotesque. Above the orthostats the wall was carried up either in mud brick or, more often, in the traditional half-timber construction with mud-brick filling; the wall face might be simply whitewashed or faced [partially or entirely] with glazed bricks with polychrome designs, or sometimes, apparently, might be masked by cedar panelling; the top of the wall might be capped with stepped battlements such as were used in Assyria. At one time it was customary to form the dado with orthostats of white limestone and dark basalt alternately; later only basalt was used; but the carved reliefs were touched up with colour and the limestone slabs were generally coated with stucco [to conceal the roughness of the stone] and liberally painted; the effect therefore must have been far more gay than the slabs in our museums would lead us to expect.

Hittite and Hurri architecture was almost entirely rectilinear, and with the exceptions of the corbel-arched gateways of Hattusas and of Alalakh, the sallyport passages of Hattusas and Ugarit, also corbel-vaulted in rough rubble, and Ugarit's finely-dressed tomb-chamber roofs, we know only of flat roofs and lintels; neither in the ground-plan nor in the elevation of its buildings is there any curved line to relieve the rigidity of the design. How far that rigidity was redeemed by balance and proportion it is impossible to say, for nowhere are the walls left standing for more than a metre or two in height, and any reconstruction is therefore problematic. On the other hand, it is clear that in his lay-out the architect aimed at a monumental effect: thus at Carchemish a wide open space faced on the broad flight of stairs that climbed the terraced slope of the citadel mound, passing under a succession of sculptured gateways to the towering mass of the temple and palace on the summit; the faŔade of the lower buildings and the staircase recesses were richly carved, and on the spectator's left a long wall bearing huge slabs of limestone and basalt with a continuous relief of chariots and infantry soldiers advancing to the temple stairs shut off the scene and emphasized the importance of the stairway as the centre of the composition; the planning is admirable, and with the colour supplied by the glazed tiles on the walls the effect must have been splendid.


[Woolley, Leonard. The Art of The Middle East, including Persia, Mesopotamia and Palestine. New York: Crown Publishers. 1961.]



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