Monday, May 1, 2017

Alt-Syrien, revised

The purpose of this Post is to show why, unlike Egypt or Mesopotamia, for example, we have a rough, vague idea of what we mean by Syria, due mainly to its being a geographical designation rather than, really, an ethnic one.  That is, after World War I, the name was given to the Levant (apart from Lebanon, approximately) south of Turkey (that is south of Alalakh), west (more or less) of the upper Euphrates, and north of Damascus.  Its lovely city, Aleppo, was not far south of Turkey and was notable for its cosmopolitan culture.  Its population, in the days of Lawrence of Arabia (but the movie was filmed, as I recall, in Jordan), was, as the adjective itself implies, cosmopolitan.  Compare, perhaps, Bangkok.  But it was not nationalized until after the end of the Ottoman Empire, after World War I, after the Treaty of Versailles, and its modern borders date only from that time.  That is why I mentioned Lawrence of Arabia.  It had long before become urban and largely educated.  Even old Palmyra, though far inland and my no means so Greco-Roman as Baalbek, was as much Roman Imperial as Levantine.  Remember that 'Levant' is just French for Anatolia (Latin for Orient), whence from the Mediterranean point of view, the sun rises, but the name Syria comes from the NW Semitic name used for its Bronze Age immigrants.  By the time I am concerned with here, the 10th to 8th centuries BC, the descendants of those NW Semites, Aramaeans (speaking Aramaic) were among the prevalent peoples in Syria, but the traders we call Phoenician and, in the north, Luvians, who had inherited more than a tinge of sub-Hittite culture, to judge from their art, and doubtless other people, constituted a largely urban population.  If I were a scholar of ancient Semitic languages I might be able to say more, but, so far as it goes, I think that's sound.  Beware of 'sources' that are merely old cut-and-paste; they are prone to saying simply that Syria is the land of the Phoenicians; the American OED provided for online dictionaries is one such.  Today some specialists are not even sure what dialect those sea traders in luxury goods actually spoke.
Every day you hear news reporters alluding to 'Syrians' in terns that leave most of us feeling that families of illiterate or unwashed or anti-western people threaten our civilization.  Folks feel that they all belong to angry Muslims.  True that there are some who are fearsome, but there are many, many more who are dentists or skilled technicians or grocers and bakers, etc.  And of course the children and their mothers and grandmothers are just that, as they can tell us themselves having been taught English and/or French in school.  The world is often a dangerous place.  Everyone should be watchful, but ignorance is most dangerous.  The world is several times more populous today than it was when in the 1940s homeless families had to seek homes where they could.
Anyway, most Syrians are the descendants of the inventors of the alphabet and the first adopters of minted coins as a means of exchange.  There really are very few truly primitive peoples today, and the Levantines rendered homeless by these wars are among the most cultivated of all.
About 15 years ago when I was using the University Prints (then they went out of print and were no longer copyright) instead of one of the overpriced textbooks for my undergraduate courses.  Two years ago I took the syllabus I had made and combined it with fully annotated University Prints.  I used the Blogpost format to put them on line and urged anyone at all to use them.  To that end I edited the verbiage very carefully and told everyone to translate them into any language they preferred, free of charge.  For that reason they are very carefully edited and I cannot by now do the job as well again.  But the 'page' entitled "After the End of the Bronze Age", which I posted April 22, 2014, in TeeGee:TraditionalArtHistory, is saved to be as economical as possible, so it can run on cheap or old laptops (actually, on one of the new iPads, I think, full length), but I am having trouble linking it here.  I'll get it up in this convenient place, with several extra images of my own, if I can.

Here is the original introduction to Alt-Syrien:
You can't imagine how few archaeological picture books there were in the early 1950s.  I mean the kind that have adequate and correct captions, never mind that they looked like newspaper photos.  When in 1952 I took the Survey course in ancient art, the two most useful were Helmut Bossert's Alt-Kreta and Alt-Syrien.  Popular accounts, themselves new, like Gods, Graves, and Scholars, were scantily illustrated and, for that matter, very generalized.

It is Alt-Syrien that remained precious, even after Henri Frankfort's Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient, 1954, one of the very first volumes of the Pelican History of Art; it contained only one slim chapter on Aramaeans and Phoenicians in Syria.  Frankfort had been old when he wrote it, and his devoted successors had to keep his chapters.  So it wasn't surprising that the late, lamented University Prints stuck to Frankfort.  Besides, the profitable textbooks, which had to be used by teachers who still were bewildered (even those who had access to German books of Bossert's generation, or could read German) by what wasn't either just Mesopotamian or Egyptian, there being no illustrations of early Jewish art unless you believed the Providence Lithograph Company, often just skimmed over the material that they were in a hurry to get through the course.  There is still, I must say, unresolved difference of opinion as to the sense in which ancient texts use the epithet Phoenician: whether it is only geographical, or cultural, or linguistic and ethnic; cultural it certainly is, but when very old books speak of the alphabet as Phoenician, questions arise.  Such questions do not excuse journalists' tendency, even in Wikipedia (which is by no means so faulty as folks like to say), to generalizing in terms of who "the Syrians" are, or were.   And, when I found the college textbooks unendurable (after several years they did improve), I was one of numerous professors teaching ancient art in survey courses who put together their own courses using University Prints.
When I had been retired for several years, aware of the horrendous prices of the new textbooks and concerned for students worldwide who might not have affordable access to any orderly corpus to study, I felt that I had to offer my mid-20c (so "traditional" simply because it comprises what the University Prints offered at the Survey level, held together by my outline as free of ideology as I could make it)  and offer it free of charge.
You will notice that the posts are in reverse chronological order.  The University Prints have their own captions (and some of them are very old and corrected in the accompanying texts).  The images from my own teaching collection are hand-held color photos.
You can open to the Introduction page and, from the list at right, go to the page that will help you put Syria in its place in history.

And here are the additional images:
Berlin, StM.  Zincirli (Sam'al).  Orthostat with a sub-Hittite warrior or god.

Berlin, StM.  Zincirli (Sam'al), time of King Barrakub, ca. 720s BCE.  Detail of the Aramaean princess on her grave stele.  Notice her rosette jewelry (typical) and her Phrygian-type (remarkable) dress pin.

 PHOENICIAN.  London, BM.  Ivory plaque from Assyrian palace at Nimrud.  Romantic exoticism in the subject, Phoenician adaptation of late Egyptian style.  8-7 c. BCE.  H. 0.105m.  The inlays are of lapis lazuli and carnelian; it is partly gilded and plated with gold.

PHOENICIAN.  New York, MMA.  Romantic exoticism, Phoenician adaptation of late Egyptian style: note the "Tutankhamen proportions" of the figure and the type of sandals.  From the Assyrian palace at Nimrud.  9 or 8 c BCE.  H. 5 5/16"

SYRIAN.  London, BM.  Ivory head of a woman.  750-700 BCE.  H. 0.044m.  The eyes, with equally curved upper and lower rims and a drilled dot in the center, the round cheeks, the shape of the ears, and the rendering of the hair are all Syrian--nothing Egyptianizing about this.