CHAPTER 6

THE GERMAN EXPERIENCE: EXCAVATION AND RECEPTION

The excavation of Babylon and its immediate reception in Germany mark a substantial change in the relationship between ancient Babylon and the present. Robert Koldewey’s excavations revealed the monumental architecture at the heart of the ancient city itself, while in Berlin the Assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch rose to great prominence as the academic authority on Babylon and as its chief publicist. This chapter examines the roles of individuals and institutions in the imperial German archaeological experience of Babylon, and the relationship between that experience and older forms of knowledge and representation.

Robert Koldewey

It would be misleading to draw too many parallels between the role of Koldewey in Babylonia and Germany and that of Layard in Assyria and England 50 years earlier (Figure 15). Crucially, Layard himself took charge of the promotion of his excavations to the British public,1 as well as producing the more lavish Monuments of Nineveh volumes.2 He was better known, if not more respected academically, than his peers in the subject, and through his willingness to communicate with the public became the defining figure in both the excavation and English reception of Assyria. Koldewey, by contrast, took little interest in fame in Berlin, and in any case worked in a different academic system within which, whatever his achievements in Mesopotamia, such fame might not have been a possibility. His background was in art and architecture, which he had taught, and he had excavation experience in Italy, Sicily and the Aegean as well as Syria and Iraq prior to his work at Babylon.3 He was not of particularly high academic standing, and in this respect might even have been considered under-qualified for the task eventually allotted to him. He can be seen as the originator of that project, however, if not a great player in engineering the conditions under which it would receive support. Prior to the excavations he had made two previous visits to Babylon and had collected examples of the glazed bricks found on the surface. The second of these trips, in 1897–8, was made with the Berlin University orientalist Eduard Sachau.4 The bricks proved important in Koldewey’s efforts to gain support for the excavations, but the processes leading towards a large German archaeological project in Mesopotamia were really happening independently of him.

At this time, the priorities of the young Germany were mixed, but a general doctrine of the need to strengthen the republic through expansion, Weltmachtpolitik and a stake as a major imperial power were broadly agreed upon.5 Whether the priorities were economic strength or cultural identity as a power to match England and France, the strength of a united Germany needed to find material expression and to be manifested in the world of culture. The political centre in imperial Germany engaged with only a limited part of the German cultural sphere, since unlike in England and France literary and artistic productivity were less concentrated in the political capital: Berlin was not the equivalent of London or Paris. Academic research and science, however, were perhaps exceptions.6 Even before unification Prussia had, through a combination of royal patronage and individual initiative, developed as a leading centre of scholarship. The Humboldt University was founded in 1810; its humanist aims and mixture of teaching and research came to influence the form of modern universities across the world, while Humboldt himself ensured an expansion of the traditional curriculum. Prussian royalty had long supported scolarship – Sophie-Charlotte of Hanover (Electress of Brandenburg from 1688 and first Queen of Prussia 1701–5) was even a protégé of Leibniz. So whilst Berlin was not Germany’s cultural centre to the same degree as the French and English capitals, it was nonetheless the established centre of modern scientific research.

That oriental studies and Near Eastern archaeology fell within this latter category is informative in itself. It might be possible to make comparisons with French imperial savants, but not with a scholarly culture rooted in belles lettres. Nor can an easy analogy be drawn with the English exploration of the Mesopotamian past, in which colonial administrators and gentleman adventurers had played such important roles. In the German case, the key actors were professionals working for and from institutions. The social makeup of this group was largely middle class, liberal and Protestant. Importantly, it was a demographic with a strong vested interest in contributing to German national and imperial culture, as their class prospered in industry and rose in social standing. Bismarck’s careful maintenance of aristocratic, and particularly Prussian Junker, power7 was eroded by rapid industrialization and the economic rise of the middle classes, and a bourgeoisie that sought a major role in national culture emerged. Seen by its instigators, most crucially Bernhard von Bülow (Chancellor 1900–9), as a tool for establishing domestic stability through national unity of purpose, Weltpolitik aimed to service these desires. (Not without a degree of cynicism: von Bülow fully understood the domestic value of imperialist pomp.8)

The Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft was founded with the aim of archaeological acquisition, for Germany, from major excavation projects in the Middle East and particularly within the weakening Ottoman Empire, which in broader political terms seemed at the time an area on which the latecomer on the imperial scene could focus and attempt to gain a foothold. Following great successes at Pergamon and Olympia, German excavations at classical sites in Asia Minor had already multiplied during the 1890s, with much of the new funding coming ultimately from the state.9 The founding at the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft seems in some ways a natural extension of this existing German stake in the archaeology of the western part of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps more interesting than the territorial expansion the society represented, however, was expansion of another kind: into the non-classical Near Eastern past, whose study had previously been restricted in Germany almost entirely to philology and biblical studies. Even here, although Germany had become a centre for textual criticism of the Old Testament, the same could not be said of Assyriological research: until the late nineteenth century German cuneiform researchers – including the young Friedrich Delitzsch – had to do much of their work abroad, predominantly in London among the rapidly expanding cuneiform collections of the British Museum.10 Now ancient Mesopotamia and even Near Eastern archaeology were to share some of the limelight that throughout the nineteenth century in Germany had been reserved almost exclusively for the Graeco-Roman past.

It should be stressed that the society was founded with acquisitions for the nation as an explicit goal. It was modelled on the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum Society (a group formed by collectors aiming to acquire fine art for the state), and was envisaged as performing a broadly equivalent function.11 The main contributors, listed in each issue of the Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient Gesellschaft, were Kaiser Wilhelm II himself and major business figures, and these were the interests that carried the most weight within the society. The picture is complicated by that part of the membership based more on scholarly interest than any substantial ability to invest: scholars, churchmen and other enthusiasts were part of the society, alongside the great industrialists. Nonetheless, the latter were enormously important, and it is notable that many had business concerns in Constantinople, and specifically in the great project of a ‘Baghdad-Bahn’.12

The Baghdad-Bahn was at the economic heart of Germany’s Mesopotamian interests.13 Competing with Britain for control and a leading role in the creation of a strategically important new land route between Europe and the Persian Gulf, the railway as envisaged by Germany would eventually run all the way to Constantinople. In classic imperial fashion, this strategic commercial and military goal quickly acquired the trappings of an altruistic civilizing mission, and just as the new railway would contribute to the economic and technological development of the backward Ottoman Empire, so too German activity in the cultural sphere was conceptualized as beneficial to both parties, bringing progress, friendship and even a ‘spiritual bond’.14 The economic and cultural projects were therefore closely linked, both in theory and in the less altruistic fact that both endeavours were strongly in the national interests of the unified and expansionist new Germany.

Although the membership of the society was diverse, it is perhaps not so mysterious that its early drive and purpose were apparently unified. The interests of scholars, industrialists and the Kaiser could all be served by a large, prestigious German excavation project in the Near East, just at the time Robert Koldewey was looking for support for a project at Babylon. Koldewey’s glazed bricks certainly helped. As he put it:

The peculiar beauty of these fragments and their importance for the history of art was duly recognised by His Excellency R. Schöne, who was then Director-General of the Royal Museums, and this strengthened our decision to excavate the capital of the world empire of Babylonia.15

This is a polite way of saying that they suggested something visually spectacular would emerge from an excavation, and that visually impressive museum pieces were what the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft sought. This position may be less mercenary than it first appears to the present-day reader. Many scholars held that a fairly direct relationship existed between quality of aesthetic production and the historical significance or state of cultural development of a society.16 The belief can be traced directly to Winckelmann, as can the position of classical Greek art as the benchmark for perfection in the aesthetic sphere. There was therefore an intellectual as well as an imperial imperative to access the finest artistic products of an ancient civilization. Of course, the name of Babylon was undoubtedly a great lure, and surely the only project that could match the discovery of Nineveh for prestige and public interest. On the other hand, it presented a risk in two respects. First, although the general location of ancient Babylon was clear, it was not at all apparent prior to Koldewey’s excavations what was and was not Babylon itself. Claudius Rich had already failed to find the massive city wall described by Herodotus, for example,17 and neither Layard nor Botta had managed to replicate their successes in Assyria here. Second, no excavation in southern Mesopotamia had yet proved satisfactory in terms of exposing architecture. The decision to support Koldewey only made sense if one assumed he would be successful. Perhaps his sponsors did, but in reality the young Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft was taking an expensive gamble. Fortunately the gamble paid off, and Koldewey’s work was a success from the very beginning.

Koldewey at Babylon

Robert Koldewey’s work at Babylon from 1899 to 1917 forms the basis of our archaeological understanding of the site today, and his importance in the development of excavation methods in Mesopotamia is enormous.18 The work was conducted on a huge scale. Excavations were concentrated in a scatter along the east bank of the river, in the very centre of the city’s walled enclosure, and focused mainly on the large palaces, temples and fortifications of the inner city (Figure 16). Equally important, the publication of the work was exemplary, far ahead of its time, and included excellent technical drawing and recording.19 Significantly, it also showed something of the detached, impersonal style of writing of the natural sciences.20

Koldewey had used the glazed bricks found at the site to help make the case for excavation, and unsurprisingly he concentrated first on their source. He aimed, in any case, to focus on the city’s centre, where it was presumed that the most important palaces and temples were to be found. Babylon shares with most other early Mesopotamian excavations a concentration on large buildings and centres to the exclusion of ordinary residential areas. The latter have only received greater attention more recently, as research priorities have shifted away from elite political history and towards broader social and economic questions, and as new scientific techniques have made it possible to address these questions more effectively. The scale of earlier excavations relative to their successors, however, means that archaeologists today inherit a pronounced elite bias in the research materials that are available to work with. In addition, the particular interests of Koldewey and his colleagues were in architectural history, meaning the history of monumental architecture. All this said, some private houses were excavated at Babylon, and perhaps their inclusion at all in the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft project is more remarkable than their exclusion from early Mesopotamian excavations in general.

The ability to excavate Babylon’s houses at all was owed, like the project’s success in general, to the technical achievement of the Babylon excavations in carefully tracing and revealing mud-brick architecture. The development of these techniques benefitted Koldewey as well as posterity, since unlike their counterparts in Assyria even the grandest buildings in Babylonia were constructed of mud-brick. Modern buildings were made in the same way, and local workmen probably made a significant contribution to the achievement of successfully tracing and excavating mud-brick walls.21 This is hard to confirm since these workers, never prominent and rarely named even in the personal, travelogue style of Layard, are even more elusive in Koldewey’s writing, although they do appear in Walter Andrae’s paintings22 and some site photographs. There are other occasions when the interpretation of Koldewey himself was informed by his experience of living at Babylon, for example on practical matters such as building layout, where he noted that:

[I]n all the great courts the largest buildings lay to the south, so in each of these houses the principal chamber lay on the south side of the court; and this must have been the pleasantest part of the whole house, as it lay in shadow almost all day. Owing to the peculiar climate of Babylon it is obvious that in laying out a house, only the summer and the heat would be taken into consideration […]. We have observed a maximum of 49½ grades Celsius in the shade, and 66 in the sun, and the heat lasts for many hours of the day […]. Rain is very scanty. I believe if all the hours in the whole year in which there were more than a few drops of rain were reckoned up, they would barely amount to 7 or 8 days.23

This attention to the weather is also to be found in Koldewey’s frequent reports in the Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft zu Berlin, which often end with a short note on climate and environmental conditions. In a similar vein, he debunks the common myth that Babylonia is an obvious and particularly easy place for astronomy to develop based on his own experience:

Owing to excessive dryness, the air is almost opaque at a distance, and the horizon up to a height of 10 or 20 grades is a dusky circle of dust, through which the sun and moon often assume torn and distorted forms, if their setting can be seen at all […]. The greatly-renowned clearness of the Babylonian sky is largely a fiction of European travellers, who are rarely accustomed to observe the night sky of Europe without the intervention of city lights.24

Koldewey’s main interest, owing to his own academic and professional background, was in the ancient city’s architecture, and one respect in which Babylon certainly did live up to its reputation was palatial opulence, at least in terms of sheer scale. The palaces (of which there are three: the ‘Southern’, ‘Northern’ and ‘Summer’ palaces) contain hundreds of rooms and gigantic courtyards and throne-rooms. The largest, the Southern Palace, measured almost 300 metres on its longest side and contained over 200 rooms set around its five major courtyards. As impressive as their dimensions are, however, the Babylonian ruins are of a type that makes their original state difficult to imagine at all, although photographs from the German excavations provided a glimpse of the city in a form more comprehensible to the non-archaeologist, as their exposure of the architecture covered large areas and often revealed high standing walls or foundations. The recording of these standing remains was excellent; even greater care was taken later at Ashur, where Andrae performed what are generally considered the first stratigraphic soundings in Mesopotamian archaeology.25Although borrowed from geology, in some ways stratigraphic excavation was a natural development from excavation with an eye to architecture. Koldewey was interested in identifying the construction phases of buildings at Babylon, resulting in section drawings of walls that were in effect stratigraphic.26

The process of excavation was inevitably a demystifying one in some ways: good for archaeological and historical knowledge, not necessarily for the romantic. The reduction of a legend to the dimensions of a physical place was more than figurative. With Koldewey’s confirmation of what Rich had first observed almost a century earlier, Babylon literally shrank:

In fact, it was natural that several of the early travellers should have regarded the whole complex of ruins, which they saw still standing along their road to Baghdad, as parts of the ancient city; and it is not surprising that some of the earlier excavators should have fallen under a similar illusion so far as the area between Bâbil and El-Birs [Birs Nimrud] is concerned. The famous description of Herodotus, and the accounts other classical writers have left us of the city’s size, tended to foster this conviction; and, although the centre of Babylon was identified correctly enough, the size of the city’s area was greatly exaggerated. Babylon had cast her spell upon mankind, and it has taken sixteen years of patient and continuous excavation to undermine this stubborn belief.27

L. W. King’s phrase here captures an aspect of Koldewey’s work that is of particular relevance in terms of representation: a scholarly thoroughness and detachment brought to bear on this most romanticized of ancient cities. ‘But’, as King goes on to note, ‘in the process of shrinkage, and as accurate knowledge has gradually given place to conjecture, the old spell has reappeared unchanged.’28 He refers here to the archaeological questions excavations had left unanswered, but also to the survival of Babylon’s mystique and of the biblical and classical narratives associated with it. Even in the early twentieth century, with a full-scale excavation, decipherment of cuneiform scripts and languages, the translation of Akkadian texts in particular at an advanced stage and a climate in which a literal adherence to biblical accounts was no longer the only available option when discussing them academically, research still did little to directly contradict the history of Daniel, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or even the physical descriptions of parts of the city found in Herodotus, Ctesias, Xenophon, Strabo, Philo the Paradoxographer of Byzantium29 or Pliny the Elder. Koldewey could offer strong candidates for both the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens. The first was the ziggurat Etemenanki, a cuneiform description of which had already been found by George Smith30 but whose physical remains were only now identified: the tower had been destroyed in antiquity and so much of its rubble re-used elsewhere that little trace remained, hence the tendency of earlier visitors to identify ‘Aqar Quf, Birs Nimrud or Tell Babil as the Tower of Babel.31 For the second, Koldewey proposed the ‘vaulted building’ in the north-eastern corner of the Southern Palace, of which he wrote:

That the identification when studied in detail bristles with difficulties, will surprise no one who has more than once had to bring ancient statements of facts into accordance with discoveries of the present day. We can always rejoice when they agree in the main points.32

The agreement to which Koldewey refers is the unusual presence of stone vaulted arches, tallying particularly with the account of Diodorus but also with those of Berossus, Strabo and Quintus Curtius Rufus.33 There was also a candidate for Ctesias’ picture of Semiramis in the ‘Persian Building’, where Koldewey interpreted the only two human figures seen in relief at Babylon (as part of a hunting scene) as Ninus and Semiramis.34 And although Herodotus’ description of the walls of Babylon makes them too long, his account of their thickness at least was supported by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft’s findings, while his description of bricks interspersed with layers of reed matting had already been confirmed by European travellers (see Chapter 4). As for the biblical descriptions, it remains true that their content is not often of a type on which archaeological investigation would have a great bearing, since they contain virtually no physical description of the city. It is difficult and uncommon for an archaeological investigation to confirm or refute a personal narrative such as the career of Daniel, who is listed as a historical individual alongside Nebuchadnezzar in the writings of early twentieth-century Mesopotamian archaeologists, including Koldewey. This level of compatibility is enough to prompt further speculation. Koldewey felt it obvious that the dragon associated with Marduk related to Bel and the Serpent:

This ‘dragon of Babylon’ was the far-famed animal of Babylon, and fits in admirably with the well-known story in the Apocrypha of Bel and the Dragon. One may easily surmise that the priests of Esagila kept some reptile, possibly an arval, which is found in this neighbourhood, and exhibited it in the semi-darkness of a temple chamber as a living sirrush. In this case there would be small cause for wonder that the creature did not survive the concoction of hair and bitumen administered to it by Daniel.35

The name Koldewey gives as sirrush is now translated as mushhushshu, an onomatopoeic name recalling a serpent’s hiss, whose literal meaning is ‘furious snake’. The dragon is associated with Marduk and his son Nabu, the god of writing and wisdom and another major figure in the Babylonian pantheon. The other animals represented in the glazed bricks of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way are bulls and lions, equally rich in their divine associations. Koldewey might also have been tempted to associate the latter with Daniel and the lions’ den, but shows himself a more cautious interpreter. As regards the lions in relief, he simply notes that ‘The lion, the animal of Ishtar, was so favourite a subject at all times in Babylonian art that its rich and lavish employment at the main gate of Babylon, the Ishtar Gate, is by no means abnormal’.36 Even faced with the decidedly abnormal basalt ‘Lion of Babylon’ (Figure 17), which had already been suggested as a monument to the event raised after Daniel became governor of Babylon,37 Koldewey still resists endorsing the interpretation:

Some see in it Daniel in the lions’ den, and others Babylonia above defeated Egypt. But a concrete past is throughout this period never represented otherwise than in reliefs, and, on the other hand, it is foreign to Babylonian art to take as a basis the representation of an abstract idea.38

These are not the only interpretations Koldewey has to dismiss. He also records a local tradition attached to the lion:

[The left hand of the man being trampled by the lion] has been chopped away by superstitious hands, and he is marked all over by the stones and flint balls that have been, and are still, flung at him; for he is regarded as the much-feared ‘Djin.’ On one side the Arabs have dug out a deep hole in his flanks, which is now filled with cement. The reason of this is as follows. A European once came here, and inquired about the lion, which he had probably read of in the books of earlier travellers. The Arabs showed it to him, and after looking at it attentively, he chose from among the small holes in the basalt the right one, into which he thrust a key and turned it, whereupon his hand was immediately filled with gold pieces. Having accomplished his practical joke, the traveller went his way, unable as he was to speak Arabic. The worthy Arabs, however, in order to render the treasure available, hammered this hole in the lion, which must have caused them immense labour, for the stone is extremely hard.39

The story is meant to highlight the simplicity of those who recounted it, but now appears as a rather telling commentary on contemporary local perceptions of European travellers and archaeologists. The story makes a wonderful allegory, and it is a shame that those telling it could not see the Assyrian-themed silver casket with which Austen Henry Layard had been presented with the Freedom of the City of London in 1854.40 The Europeans certainly did come with knowledge that could be used to convert Iraq’s standing and buried monuments into capital, whether that capital was cultural, social, political, material or a combination of the four. The work of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft was intended very much as a continuation of this process, and Koldewey’s differences from his predecessors are not so great that his work cannot be subjected to many of the same criticisms. Archaeological work in general is intimately bound up with possession, whether through the physical acquisition of objects or the accumulation (and in this case export) of knowledge. Maps and plans are important in this form of possession, but there is also a more personal side to the process, less imperial in motivation but arguably more so in fact. However noble its aims, academic research frequently generates feelings of propriety, ownership and jealousy. It is a sense of ownership for which it is possible to compete, but for which a provincial Ottoman town could hardly have competed with a well-funded research project from imperial Germany. Koldewey’s work inevitably affected the status of local knowledge, both as a source for European visitors and, one must assume, locally as well. Moreover, his practical power and control of the site could be naturalized by his expertise and ownership of knowledge. There is nothing unusual or even particularly avoidable about these processes in such an excavation, but their relationship to more formal and more planned narratives of imperial possession should be noted.

The excavations at Babylon set a number of methodological precedents. The standards of excavation and recording were ahead of their time in Mesopotamia and beyond: the excavators worked ‘with a patience and methodical ingenuity which set an entirely new standard for the conduct of archaeological excavations in all parts of the world’.41 This point deserves attention, because it cannot easily be seen as a necessary consequence of the cultural milieu in which the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft was formed and the expedition conceived. What German archaeologists did at Babylon and Ashur makes little sense from the point of view of what was expected of them in Berlin. They had been engaged, bluntly put, to dig for treasure. Monumental art and inscribed tablets were the concerns of their patrons, who sought national glory, and of the academic establishment in Berlin, whose expertise lay in the study of cuneiform texts and for whom archaeology was still primarily thought of as a means of accessing this material. By contrast, Koldewey is remembered for developing excavation techniques that furthered neither of these causes, and even hindered the large-scale rapid acquisition of tablets and art. In much the same way it becomes easy to forget, looking at Koldewey’s long stay at Babylon, his apparently good relationship with the local population and his diffidence regarding public life in Germany, that he had been sent to Mesopotamia for the glory of empire. His biographers, including Andrae, describe an eccentric, strong-willed personality, fiercely dedicated to his research – and apparently for himself far more than for an organization or state. One is left with the impression that Koldewey was happy to keep a continent between himself and Berlin, removed from the power-play and atavism of the system his work fed. The full consequences of his political disengagement are more complicated than this, however, and will be examined later in this chapter.

Koldewey’s work, as he saw it, was only half-done at Babylon. He had worked almost continuously at the site, mostly on an enormous scale, and had exposed far more of it than any present-day excavation could, but much more remained unexplored. He had already made the site his life’s work, and would gladly have devoted the rest of it to that work’s continuation. The preface in which he stressed the importance of the work’s completion was written at Babylon and is dated 16 May 1912, by which point war in Europe threatened. In April 1914 Gertrude Bell, who had visited the site previously and been deeply impressed by its excavators, made ‘a brief visit to Babylon to pay homage to the work of her friend Professor Koldewey of Berlin before war brought such peaceable pleasantries to an end’.42 War, of course, also brought an end to the excavations, though incredibly Koldewey did continue working at a much reduced level until the approach of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in 1917. Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft fieldwork – indeed European fieldwork generally – was never to resume on the same scale.43

Friedrich Delitzsch

For all his achievements, Koldewey was not the figure with whom Babylon came to be associated for the German public. This honour fell instead to Friedrich Delitzsch, director of the newly founded Vorderasiatische Abteilung (Near Eastern Section) of the Berlin museums. The son of the Lutheran theologian Franz Delitzsch, he had risen to prominence within the academic discipline of Assyriology. His work remains an important part of the subject’s foundations, and he can be seen to be part of a movement that did as much for the study of ancient Near Eastern texts as the excavations at Babylon did for archaeological method. German philologists of Delitzch’s generation produced the dictionaries, grammars and sign-lists that underpin the subject today, and Delitzsch’s personal contribution to the study of both Akkadian and Sumerian was enormous.44 His is also of the generation from which the first great German teachers of Assyriology in America were drawn.45 Additionally, Delitzsch had from an early date recognized and engaged with the potential for his subject to inform biblical studies,46 and had produced a widely acclaimed and explicitly nationalist call for support of the newly founded Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft in Ex Oriente Lux! Ein Wort zur Förderung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft.47

Although already a respected scholar and professor, Delitzsch was a new arrival in Berlin in 1899, being appointed simultaneously to his museum post in the Vorderasiatische Abteilung and to a professorship at Berlin University. Again there is a parallel with Koldewey, in the sense that Delitzsch also benefited from a rise in the prominence of ancient Near Eastern studies driven by forces that had little to do with his own work. Unlike Koldewey, however, Delitzsch became very much involved with these forces. He was uniquely able to do so: his position was a powerful and prestigious one, making him the obvious authority in both university and museum. With his involvement in the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft his influence spanned the full breadth of Near Eastern studies in Germany, from academic philology to the allocation of excavation funding. Given the great personal interest taken by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the ancient Near East, Delitzsch’s position was seen as one of particular influence.

Delitzsch’s authority afforded him a privileged position in presenting ancient Mesopotamia to the public, a task to which he took with zeal. Bohrer argues that in performing this role he relied heavily on the historical precedents of France and England. His chosen vehicle for announcing Koldewey’s early success was the Illustrierte Zeitung,48 a journal designed to follow the format of the Illustrated London News. Layard had risen to fame in the pages of the latter, and the remarkable commercial success of Nineveh and its Remains owed a considerable debt to the sustained and positive coverage the Assyrian excavations received in the Illustrated London News. It has been suggested that the approach was now out of date,49 although perhaps the problem was not the medium as such: in Britain the Illustrated London News itself continued to function as a popular and effective vehicle for communicating archaeological research to the public well into the twentieth century, publicizing the work of Leonard Woolley and Max Mallowan in Iraq and playing its own part in the reception of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.50 It is true, however, that new, lighter publications had emerged and that Delitzsch fared badly in the changed media environment. Poor judgement of the press was only one factor contributing to his loss of face and media victimization, however. The main element was what came to be known as the ‘Babel–Bibel’ affair, and the espousal of views that led to considerable religious controversy.

Babel–Bibel

From 1902 Delitzsch was to give a series of three high-profile lectures on the theme of Babel und Bibel,51 aimed at demonstrating the relevance of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft’s work to Germany. They were not designed to be particularly original in content, but to communicate scholarly research to a wider audience. Perhaps strangely, given Koldewey’s recent successes, Delitzsch did not focus on the excavations at Babylon, but on his own strengths in philology and on discoveries that had been made prior to the Babylon excavations: the many Assyriological discoveries, well known to scholars though not to the wider German public, with a bearing on the Old Testament.

The first lecture52 was delivered on 13 January 1902 to a prestigious audience at the Singakademie, Berlin, and was repeated three weeks later at the imperial palace – the emperor himself attended both performances. In his lecture Delitzsch outlined several ideas already current within the academic community, notably that the Bible was not the world’s oldest literature and that parts of the ancient Mesopotamian corpus bore close similarities to parts of the Old Testament. He went on to attribute a number of supposedly Hebrew innovations, including extant religious narratives and ritual practices, to Babylonia. He was not the first to express these ideas, but he did bring them to a broader (and much more difficult) audience:

The school of Wellhausen dominated the German theology at the time, and its emphasis on a strictly literary/critical approach to an analysis of the Old Testament left little space for the new, predominantly historical evidence. The prevailing view of both the theological professors and the general public was that the monotheistic religion of the Jews was to be seen and understood as a truly unique phenomenon, growing directly out of the nomadic, primitive world of the tribes.53

Delitzsch’s view on these matters was part of a broader intellectual movement, complementing the ‘pan-Babylonian’ ideas of, particularly, Hugo Winckler, who won a substantial following at the beginning of the twentieth century for his arguments that Babylonian culture lay at the root of all later religion and mythology. The first Babel und Bibel lecture was controversial, but did gain Delitzsch and Near Eastern studies a great deal of publicity. It certainly succeeded in its aim of showing the relevance of the field to modern German cultural life: Mesopotamian texts were now at the centre of a national theological argument, given its intensity by the contemporary assumption that there was one overarching truth, to be found at any cost. This was not a question on which the parties concerned could agree to differ.54

The next lecture was delayed in order to allow the situation to calm down somewhat. ‘Richard Schöne, Delitzsch’s superior at the Berlin museums, providentially sent Delitzsch away from Berlin for most of the rest of the year’55 and the second lecture was not given until early 1903.56 Once again he spoke at the Singakademie, and once again with the Kaiser in attendance. Delitzsch now took his assertions of the previous year significantly further. Supported by the Mesopotamian precedents for much Old Testament material, he explicitly denied that the Old Testament was divinely inspired revelation. The preface added to the published version of the lecture is fascinating, and shows the meeting of several facets of Delitzsch’s character: the son of the great theologian, the polemicist, the earnest scientific thinker and, most importantly of all, the man who saw his Assyriological work as intimately bound up with the future spiritual and moral wellbeing of a nation. It is worth quoting at some length. Having first given a particularly fiery quotation from the Book of Isaiah,57 Delitzsch begins:

Surely, both in diction, style, and spirit a genuine Bedouin battle-song and ode of triumph? No! This passage, with a hundred others from prophetical literature that are full of unquenchable hatred directed against surrounding peoples – against Edom and Moab, Assyria and Babylon, Tyre and Egypt – that for the most part, too, are masterpieces of Hebrew rhetoric, must represent the ethical prophets and prophecy of Israel, even at their most advanced stage! The outcome of certain definite events, these outbursts of political jealousy and of a passionate hatred, which judged from the human standpoint, may, perhaps, be quite natural and comprehensible enough – such outbursts on the part of generations long since passed away must still do duty for us children of the twentieth century after Christ, for the Christian peoples of the West, as a Book of Religion, for morality, and for edification! Instead of immersing ourselves in ‘thankful wonder’ at the providential guidance shown by God in the case of our own people, from the earliest times of primitive Germany until to-day, we persist – either from ignorance, indifference, or infatuation – in ascribing to those old-Israelitish oracles a ‘revealed’ character which cannot be maintained, either in the light of science, or in that of religion or ethics. The more deeply I immerse myself in the spirit of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the greater becomes my mistrust of Yahwè, who butchers the peoples with the sword of his insatiable anger; who has but one favourite child, while he consigns all other nations to darkness, shame and ruin; who uttered those words to Abraham (Gen. xii. 3): ‘I will bless those who bless thee, and those who curse thee will I curse’ – I take refuge in Him who, in life and death, taught ‘Bless those who curse you’; and, full of confidence and joy, and of earnest striving after moral perfection, put my trust in the God to Whom Jesus has taught us to pray – the God Who is a loving and righteous Father over all men on earth.58

This was a position Delitzsch would stick to and later firmly entrench with his last work, the openly anti-Semitic 1920–1 Die grosse Täuschung (‘The Great Deception’, referring to the status of the Old Testament as revelation).59 Unsurprisingly the second lecture led to hostility from several quarters, and Delitzsch’s views were the more reviled for apparently influencing the Kaiser. The emperor quickly distanced himself from the affair and from Delitzsch, writing an open letter advising that the latter should not dabble in theological matters to the president of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, Admiral Hollman.60

The third and final Babel und Bibel lecture came in October 1904.61 In some ways the lecture was a penance (delivered this time not in front of the Kaiser in Berlin but to the literary societies of Barmen and Cologne), yet still it contains much that is incendiary. It was here that the anti-Semitism implicit in the first two lectures began to crystallize into something more overt. Drawing on the recent development of scholarship on the (non-Semitic) Sumerian language, Delitzsch argued that the culture, society and religion of ancient Mesopotamia were all Sumerian creations, adopted by the Semitic peoples who later settled in Babylonia and Assyria.62 It was this non-Semitic origin, he contended, that explained many of the virtues of Babylonian society, as exemplified in the Code of Hammurabi, newly discovered by Jacques de Morgan at Susa and popularly celebrated, then as now, as the earliest expression of the very concept of the rule of law.63 He also argued that this was why the morality of ancient Mesopotamian societies was in factsuperior to that of Israel as expressed in the Old Testament. Confusingly, Delitzsch denied that his views were anti-Semitic;64 nonetheless, his explanation for the virtues of Babylonian culture and for the defects he perceived in the Old Testament was clearly and explicitly based on race.

Sardanapal, Historische Pantomime

In the wake of Babel–Bibel, a more traditional emphasis in the representation of the Mesopotamian past seemed essential to the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft. The result was an opera, Sardanapal, Historische Pantomime,65 recently studied in detail by Frederick Bohrer.66 This hybrid production, incorporating a range of influences from biblical narratives to nineteenth-century romanticism to the recent excavations of Koldewey at Babylon and Walter Andrae at Ashur, is a particularly interesting example of the interaction of archaeological and non-archaeological understandings of the past.

Celebrating ten years of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft,67 Sardanapal was supposed to present a vision of Mesopotamia that was as accurate as modern scholarship allowed. Even the opera’s title, however, suggests something more complex. An up-to-date title would have been Assurbanipal (Ashurbanipal), referring to the Assyrian king whom scholars at the time unproblematically identified with the legendary Sardanapalus.68 Neither the name nor the story of Sardanapalus have any root in modern Assyriology; rather they first appear in the Persica of Ctesias, reproduced in the Bibliotheke Historica of Diodorus.69 Ctesias’ description, epitomizing the decay of a powerful pagan empire, provided fuel for the romantic imagination. Sardanapalus had become a particularly popular theme in the nineteenth century, the most famous representations being Byron’s 1821 play Sardanapalus and Delacroix’s 1827–8 painting The Death of Sardanapalus. In using both the theme and the name the Berlin production recalls this trend, and attempts to recapture its success, removed from the controversies of Babel–Bibel.

There is little reason to imagine that Ctesias was considered a more reliable source in 1908 than today. In his late nineteenth-century translation, Gilmore points out that ‘though the ancients generally adopted Ktesias’ chronological scheme, they had a low opinion of his veracity’.70 Once the decision to follow the Sardanapalus story has been made, the Mesopotamia of archaeology and Assyriology becomes at best a source of visual detail for an understanding of the Mesopotamian past that is already established. Even the focus on Babylon is subservient to this aim. Although Ctesias’ description itself had complex origins,71 Sardanapalus is a king of Nineveh, not of Babylon or even of Ashur, the other jewel in the society’s Mesopotamian crown. The sets of Sardanapal, however, aim to create a Nineveh that is also Babylon and Ashur, incorporating detail from the sites and aiming to resonate with German archaeological achievements rather than those of the French and English at Khorsabad, Nimrud and Nineveh. If an Assyrian city is intended to be associated with the production it is Ashur, excavated by Walter Andrae. Andrae’s sketches, commissioned for the opera while he was still in Iraq, were one of the major visual sources for Sardanapal – their grand final form astonished Andrae himself (Figure 18).72

The audience of Sardanapal was not presented with an event that happened to take place in Mesopotamia, but with an epitome of Mesopotamia itself. Sardanapalus was the Assyrian king. In one respect this shows great authenticity, being entirely faithful to the narrative aims of the Greek original in which he is clearly described as a type, representative of the culmination of vices common to all Assyrian rulers from Ninyas onward. The problem is that for all the attention lavished on detail to legitimate the opera as historically accurate (in some cases taken to extremes: the philologist Delitzsch required accuracy in the cuneiform inscriptions used in the play’s sets), that detail is employed not in presenting a new vision of the past but in legitimating a very old one, specifically a Sardanapalus not substantially different to the king described by Ctesias 24 centuries before. Sardanapal’s relationship to the empirical research that informed its sets is superficial. It is as though a cartographer has carefully laid out the gridlines, scales and keys for a map, then drawn an imaginary landmass and claimed it as authentic on the basis of these convincing trappings. Perhaps what should be of most concern is that, at least on the evidence of Sardanapal, the strategy works very well. In the absence of more information the fantastic map seems quite acceptable – its internal coherence and surrounding scholarly apparatus argues for its accuracy. This was the case with the academically sanctioned representation of Mesopotamia, and Sardanapal, Historische Pantomimereceived positive reviews as an accurate representation of the ancient past.73 Its negative press was garnered simply for being dull.74

The Berlin reconstructions, 1927–30

Expertise in architecture is a long-standing strength of German archaeology, and the attention paid to architecture is certainly a striking feature of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft’s work in Mesopotamia. Robert Koldewey and Ludwig Borchardt had both worked with the architect Wilhelm Dörpfeld,75 and Walter Andrae also had architectural training. Through Andrae’s drawings and reconstructions in particular, an expertise and passionate interest is readily apparent. It is fitting, then, that his work should culminate in one of the most remarkable architectural reconstructions ever accomplished: the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way of Babylon in Berlin, opened in October 1930.76 Monumental though it is, the enormous scale of the end product (the reconstructed gate is over 14 m high, the section of the Processional Way reconstructed 30 m in length on both sides) is itself dwarfed by that of the work which lay behind it. Andrae’s team used original bricks to reconstruct the lions, dragons, bulls and other decoration. The bricks’ colouration had survived excellently, but they were nonetheless fragmentary and in need of desalination treatment once excavated. The almost industrial-scale desalination and the daunting work of matching fragments with their original neighbours (in fact, into their original patterns – the repetition of animal forms, originally produced from the same moulds, helped reproduce them accurately, but often prevented the identification of a particular paw with one of many identical lions, for example) (Figure 19), was accompanied by the production of a special kiln to make the modern bricks replacing areas of plain colour as authentic in appearance as possible while still differentiating clearly between ancient and modern elements.77 The first sign of Andrae’s interest in the reliefs’ construction is a short publication in the Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft on the glazed bricks, written in December 1901 and published in May 1902.78 Here he presents two isometric exploded diagrams showing the system of signs on the top and bottom surfaces of the bricks used to ensure that they were correctly fitted together. Later this would become a practical and logistical concern for Andrae himself.

Prior to the First World War Andrae had worked in Iraq. Having worked as Koldewey’s first assistant at Babylon and been given experience of direction there as well as at Birs Nimrud and Fara in 1901 and 1902, he directed excavations at Qalat Sherqat, ancient Ashur, between 1903 and 1914. A proportion of the excavated material from this site was shipped back to Europe – albeit only as far as Lisbon, where it was confiscated when Portugal entered the war against Germany – while the rest was sent to Istanbul according to an agreement made with the Ottoman antiquities authorities when excavation permits were issued.79 Most of the excavated material from Babylon stayed in Iraq for the duration of the war, thus falling under British control with the arrival of the British Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force in 1917.

A 1915 portrait by J. Walter-Kurau shows Andrae standing in front of one of the lions from the Processional Way. On closer inspection Andrae’s own epigram can be seen in the lower-right corner, above Walter-Kurau’s signature, revealing that Andrae was posing in front of his own painting. The initial impression is certainly that he is standing in front of the relief itself, however, and but for the date one would assume that the Berlin reconstructions already existed. In fact at this stage there were only a few individual panels, reconstructed using cases of fragments shipped to Germany in 1903. It took a further eight years after the war for Germany to recover the rest of the excavated material from Iraq and Portugal. Success in both cases came in 1926–7, when the Portugese government accepted an exchange for other material from the Berlin Museums, while Gertrude Bell approached the Vorderasiatisches Abteilung offering to return the material from Babylon in 1926.80 Bell would have supervised the division of finds between Germany and Iraq, but died before Andrae, as Germany’s representative, reached Babylon. Andrae’s series of drafts for the reconstructions are dated 1927. Andrae became director of the Vorderasiatische Abteilung in 1928,81 and presided over the two-year process of desalinating and reconstructing the Babylonian reliefs.

The finished reconstructions are a triumph. Not only visually powerful, they also allow the museum visitor, through reference to smaller architectural models, to gain a sense of the place and scale of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way in their original contexts (Figures 20 and 21). Before 1930, however, there was no public display of Mesopotamian artefacts in Berlin at all, and between 1930 and 1934 the Vorderasiatische Abteilung consisted of only three rooms, the other 13 opening in 1934.82 This is an important contrast with England and France in the mid-nineteenth century, not only because of the greater time-lag itself, but also because in these countries the peak of public interest had coincided with the arrival and display of Mesopotamian antiquities in European museums, as opposed to their actual period of excavation. Andrae’s reconstruction was classically imperial in its demonstration of Germany’s ability to understand and possess an ancient empire, but politically speaking it came too late. Transporting, enclosing and explaining the grandest monuments of another culture, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way reconstructions signified imperial possession and in this sense were not unique at all. The Vorderasiatische Abteilung’s finished reconstructions and superb collections from Mesopotamia would have been highly appropriate to Germany’s nascent imperial culture; however, they were overtaken by world events. By the time of their construction and opening, Germany had been weakened and impoverished by the First World War and the impossible reparations required by the Treaty of Versailles. The stately permanence and paternalistic confidence of the universal museums so befitting a nineteenth-century European empire seems anachronistic in this context. This could be said of the entirety of Berlin’s Museumsinsel, whose plans had been laid prior to the First World War in a burgeoning, supremely confident imperial state. Today the context is very different, and the original goal of matching London and Paris has been achieved, not only because of the grandeur and world class collections of today’s Museumsinsel, but also since the millions of tourists that museums such as the Pergamon, Louvre and British Museum now serve today are unlikely to give much thought to the different histories of the three; they are equally naturalized as parts of their cities’ imperial heritage. To the casual observer, present-day Unter den Linden and Museumsinsel are as convincing as the centre of a great nineteenth-century European empire to the casual observer as their English and French counterparts – more so for their careful preservation and restoration following reunification. In reality, however, their roles in such a context were extremely short-lived, and never matched Germany’s territorial aspirations. The whole as seen today is a true modern cultural capital, but also the reconstructed centre of an empire that never quite was.

The German experience and its consequences

Germany’s interest in Mesopotamia had been conceived as a primarily imperial one, and the work of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft can be seen as the cultural aspect of a much broader imperial ambition. At the end of the nineteenth century the area seemed to hold great commercial promise as part of an overland route between Europe and India, and the possibility of sending German colonists to Iraq was seriously considered.83 The link between imperial and archaeological ambition was so clear as to allow Budge to write that ‘as for excavations in Assyria and Babylonia, many shrewd observers have remarked that Germany only began to excavate seriously in those countries when she began to dream of creating the German Oriental Empire’.84 (The assertion is largely correct, if rather brazen coming from a British Museum Keeper at a time when Britain still held an empire of its own.) It is worthwhile considering the writing of Koldewey, Delitzsch and others as a form of imperial literature, created within the context of a young state’s expansionist ambition, if not necessarily acting consciously to legitimate it.

Delitzsch was well aware of the political implications of his work, and far from perceiving a constraint or conflict of interests in this saw instead a legitimate reason and motivation. Though a scholar, he fell easily and confidently into the strong rhetoric and ambition of the statesman. In Die deutsche Expedition nach Babylon85 he set out clearly his ambition of linking Germany with Babylon just as England was now linked with Nineveh. Although they turned into a great religious controversy, the Babel–Bibel lectures were intended to celebrate Germany’s success in doing just this. They had caused great controversy in practice, but Delitzsch’s goal in giving the lectures had been profoundly conservative and populist: to stake a claim for Assyriology in Germany’s newfound sense of national destiny, and for himself in its public promotion.

Robert Koldewey, by contrast, writes of the site and the excavations themselves almost exclusively. The Excavations at Babylon does not contain any argument for the relevance of Babylon to an expansionist, ambitious Germany. Its style and format make such an inclusion almost unthinkable. Even the bulk of Koldewey’s preface is devoted to the chronology of the excavations and acknowledgements: of the Berlin Museums, the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, the Kaiser, Delitzsch (as a translator) and his most important staff in the field, first among whom is listed Walter Andrae. Koldewey’s silence on politics is at least as interesting as Delitzsch’s forthright imperialism. There are several questions to consider, one of which is particularly intriguing at a biographical level: did Koldewey agree with the purpose of his and his colleagues’ work as expressed by Delitzsch? Others are more interesting from the point of view of historiography. Did Koldewey seek to appear more objective and/or scientific through adopting a consciously self-effacing style in his writing? This seems very likely: his dry but precise style is very much that of the contemporary natural sciences. Personal reflections are few, and the focus is on a thorough description of the site, with abundant plans and technical illustrations. The only exceptions are a few scattered anecdotes, relating usually to local traditions on the ancient ruins such as the story of the foreign visitor and the Lion of Babylon. Even these, however, are rare. The result was that Koldewey’s work, despite its great academic significance, had comparatively little impact on the popular representation of the Mesopotamian past in Wilhelmine Germany.

The separation in the roles of Koldewey and Delitzsch is significant in terms of subsequent archaeological practice and writing. In eschewing the political aspect of his situation to concentrate on the site, Koldewey did what gradually became the norm in archaeology. In effect, he ceded control to the Berlin establishment, and that Delitzsch was his academic senior only matters in this regard insofar as it placed him at the right intersection to speak for that establishment and for the discipline of ancient Near Eastern studies simultaneously. It was Koldewey’s work that became a model for good archaeological practice and publication, and it was a model that tried very hard to place itself outside the political world. This can be a quite admirable trait in terms of Koldewey’s putting research questions above satisfying the imperial ambitions of Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft backers in Berlin, but perhaps also came at a price. Koldewey never wrote about the broader contemporary implications of his work, and lost his right to a voice in the national debate. This in turn gives us the superficial impression that he had no part in these processes, specifically the bolstering of German claims to power in southern Mesopotamia. In addition, the excavator himself and the contemporary world within which he operated are effectively written out of The Excavations at Babylon. This self-effacing style, stressing close description and objectivity, would ultimately replace the less detailed but more open style of men like Delitzsch and of earlier English and French writers on the ancient Near East, though claims of greater objectivity accompanying the trend have met with increasing scepticism.86 The detail and clarity in recording is greatly to be admired, but the format and approach tend towards the loss of information on the social context of excavations.

Within the events above, and particularly Babel–Bibel, there emerged the beginning of another religious controversy within German Near Eastern studies. Although a famous proponent of a pan-Babylonian argument Delitzsch was by no means alone, nor was he the most extreme. In later years his denunciation of the Old Testament was set in the most forthright terms with Die grosse Täuschung, the work in which he would argue not only that Christianity did not need the Hebrew Scriptures but that Christ himself was not a Jew.87 His work supported the idea, current among some anti-Semitic pastors of the time, that Germany needed a new, German Christianity, founded in the New Testament and in celebrations of Germanic heroism such as Wilhelm Schwaner’s Germanen-Bibel.88 In particular, his work tied in well with the views of the nationalist anti-Semitic activist and pastor Friedrich Andersen, who argued that Christ was not Jewish, that the Christian God had little in common with Yahweh of the Old Testament, and that in Germany Jews sought to undermine Christian racial and religious identity.89 Delitzsch himself died in 1922, but his academic assault on the Old Testament, in combination with the use of his conviction that Mesopotamian culture itself was essentially non-Semitic as part of the explanation for the great political and cultural achievements of Assyria and Babylonia, appears in retrospect as an early step in the process which by the 1930s saw a growing section of the German scholarly community producing work that served to legitimate the rising anti-Semitism visible in society at large.

The vanishing moment

By the time of Die grosse Täuschung the Babylon excavated by Koldewey was already beginning to disappear. The achievements of the excavation were not matched by conservation. Once exposed, the delicate sun-dried mud-brick architecture began to deteriorate:

[I]n Budge’s sense, the ‘buildings were laid bare’; and yet to those who visit the site today the result is somewhat disappointing. Here are no tidy and comprehensible ruins, such as one sees in Greece or Egypt; for it is in the nature of mud-brick walls that their remains, once exposed, are difficult to preserve. As a result, save for the dominating outline of the more massive structures, and some recent reconstructions, the site presents for the modern visitor a scene of devastation almost as complete as when first discovered by European travellers.90

Seton Lloyd’s description emphasizes the feeling that destruction and disappearance are somehow fitting here, that in narrative terms they give symmetry to the story and frame it. The event gives the Babylon of the present continuity with that visited by the early European travellers, and this is not the only way in which the description re-connects with older sources. As he wrote, Lloyd was aware that the ‘scene of devastation’ was a part of Babylon, and that it should be included: after all, physical disappearance is common to a great many sites, but rarely is it highlighted in this way. Destruction is part of Babylon’s identity, either explicitly represented or clearly implied in almost every pre-modern source on the city. The return to ruin is more than physical; the city’s destruction is part of its moral meaning, aesthetic and narrative. Cottrell ends his popular description of the Babylon excavations in much the same way, adding with some bitterness that ‘since the Germans left the Arab builders of Hillah have quarried away practically every brick of the Ziggurat of Etemenanki’.91 The aesthetic of ruin is a genre of representation in itself, and one within which Babylon plays a dual role. On the one hand, it can fairly be numbered among the ancient cities that inspire with the distance of their dramatic histories; cities whose very ruin is an integral part of the awe they provoke.92 On the other, this is not the only factor at work in the case of Babylon, whose appeal to travellers, artists and writers also came to be bound up with notions of exoticism and transgression as an outgrowth from the idea of the city’s divine punishment.

As in other aspects of his work, Koldewey is a notable exception to the narrative rule. The very title of his German publication, Das wieder erstehende Babylon (‘Babylon Rises Again’) emphasizes his lack of interest in a melancholy discussion of its fall, something he would also surely have considered to be outside the remit of his work. His avoidance of the established narrative forms and rhetorical flourishes for Babylon in general is as much a part of his move away from the mythic and towards the empiricist and even positivistic as his methodical thoroughness itself.

Koldewey’s book was a success in terms of its influence on archaeological writing, less so in terms of public communication. To quote Seton Lloyd once more:

If any reservation is to be made in praising the Germans [at Babylon and Ashur], it is in connection with the public presentation of their results. Total preoccupation with scientific minutiae robbed their writings of all but academic appeal, and the educative potential of their work suffered accordingly.93

The style Lloyd criticizes here is clearly archaeological, as opposed to historical. Koldewey’s ‘scientific minutiae’ and their dry presentation are the fruit of a process begun in the nineteenth century, when archaeology, or at least questions of evolution and origins, began to move away from the humanities and towards the natural sciences in approach and style.94 The style has a purpose and makes a programmatic statement of its own: it emphasizes the author’s respect for and aspiration to emulate the modern successes of the natural sciences, and implies that such emulation is possible within and appropriate to his subject. This is not to suggest that such a move was purely stylistic: archaeology’s development did indeed rely on and bring it closer in content to the sciences, especially the natural science of geology and the human science of anthropology.95 Particularly notable in the German context is the extent to which this trend served to differentiate the excavators of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft from their classical counterparts in the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. The former were usually younger, and were more likely to have backgrounds in technical disciplines such as architecture and engineering than in classics or philology.96

Of Koldewey’s writing on Babylon, what is remembered, ironically enough, is that which relates to older, more poetic accounts, specifically the unearthing of the city wall described by Herodotus and Koldewey’s suggestion of a location for the Hanging Gardens. This is one good illustration of the extent to which the concerns of classical historians continue to influence patterns of research into modernity. Indeed, the relevance of their interests to our own is demonstrated by the continuing contemporary debate on the location of the Hanging Gardens.97 Of Delitzsch’s arguments, it was the idea of a Christianity that owed nothing to Judaism that eventually proved popular and influential, as part of an ideology that had nothing to do with Babylon.98

The popular success in terms of representing Babylon in Germany is Sardanapal, Historische Pantomime. It was the least accurate and least progressive of the three approaches, but this was no barrier. Quite the reverse: conservatism and a readiness to subserviate archaeological detail to the story of Sardanapalus were the very guarantors of its positive public reception. Sardanapal met expectations by using an established narrative. It did this, however, while simultaneously claiming to be the most advanced and accurate reconstruction of ancient Mesopotamia possible. It would be ridiculous to argue with Delitzsch on the accuracy of the cuneiform inscriptions he specified – if Assyriologists today could criticize them they could do so only because their discipline has built on Delitzsch’s work.99 Nor does it particularly matter that large parts of the Assyria on stage were based on Babylonian models – that such a distinction could be made at all is largely thanks to the German excavations. What matters is that the wealth of detail, the selective but nonetheless painstaking accuracy, was nothing more than a framing device for an Orientalist fantasy, itself drawn from ancient Greece, and some heavy-handed twentieth-century moralizing on the fate of empires, neither of which owed anything to the excavations. The role of archaeology here was not to update the image of Mesopotamia at all, but to validate existing preconceptions.100 This success, of course, is no success at all. It is hollow both as academic communication and as an artistic achievement.

The contribution of Koldewey and Andrae’s work, by contrast, was profound. The systematic excavation of Babylon and the spectacular reconstructions in Berlin required both ability and great stubbornness. Their projects brought a truly new vision of ancient Babylon – the archaeological and architectural – into the academic and public consciousness as never before. On the other hand, they were the product of a grand European imperial project that was among the last of its kind. Even as Koldewey was excavating the world was changing rapidly, and the political context of archaeology with it.

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