National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Ambassador from King Midas Marvels at the WealthofSargon's General ALL THE Assyrian rulers mentioned so far had been mem bers of a single dynasty. The task of gradually rais ing the country to the status of a world power had appar ently absorbed all the energies of its leaders and left little room for internal intrigue and revolt. Toward the end of the 8th century B. c., however, the ancient dynasty had lost its grip on the land. Discontent was rife, especially in influential Ashur. This was the juncture at which a forceful general stepped in to seize the reins and establish himself as king and head of a new royal house. Respecting tradition, he tried to make his subjects forget that he was a usurper. He manipu lated his genealogy and took the name of Sargon (II), "The King Is Legitimate." He sought to give his rule a fresh start by founding a new capital, about 12 miles north of Nineveh. He called the place Dur Sharrukin, or "Fortress of Sargon," Sargonburg. Fate was kind to Sargon at first. In the year 721 B. c. had come the surrender of stubborn Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. The land was converted into an Assyrian province and its name was to disappear as a politi cal designation for nearly 27 centuries, until A. D. 1948. The restless Sargon lacked the temperament to derive lasting enjoyment from his new title and his magnificent new capital. Within less than a score of years he was killed in battle, far from his native land. He had managed in that short time to carry the might and the fear of Assyria to distant places which none of his predecessors had ever seen. Among these were the mountain fastnesses of Urartu, orArmenia, and the districts of Phrygia, ruled over by King Midas. Midas had tosend a delegation to Assyria begging for peace. Thanks to the recentexcavations by the Oriental Insti tute of the University ofChicago atKhorsabad, the site of Dur Sharrukin, we now have many details from that impressive center unknown tothe earlier excavators. Of great importance arethe wall paintings that were found in a residential building.The one here reproduced asthe background for our composition isbased on areconstruction by the Oriental Institute. The residence inquestion was neither a part of the palace nor even the home ofthe vizier. It was merely the houseof ahigh official. The Assyrian's dress isamply attested on contemporary monuments, but the visitor's garb had tobepieced together from a number of scattered sources. He holds astraw fan in his right hand and a partly folded "foreign" cap inhis left. The painting that thePhrygian will talk about when he gets back home shows atthe top agiant triad which con sists of a god with rod-and-ring, receiving the homage of Sargon attended by oneofhis officials. The right hand of the king is raised andthe forefinger extended inachar acteristic gesture of supplication. Winged genii of fertility form the inner border ofthe triad panel, much in themanner ofborders on old Persian carpets. The same genii,but this time inkneeling position, fill two of the three registers inthe lowest ofthe three friezes. The middle register ofthe decoration isgiven over to representations of stylized animals.