1885 - Jane Dieulafoy, French Archaeologist
The Frieze of the Archers or “Immortals”
31st December. Hosanna! What events, what joy, what hopes realized! An admirable, a miraculous discovery excited me to such a degree, that from daybreak to nightfall I could not make up my mind to leave the trench. It seemed to me oh, extreme fatuity! That if I Ieft, the gold mine would be exhausted. But then, when evening came, I was to so tired that my eyes refused to remain open. It was useless for me to struggle against it, I was always routed by an invincible sleep, and my notebook remained spotless.
It has been raining for forty-eight hours, I am rested. Make haste, my pen, to tell of our joy, for the master of the rain (Barun sahib, barometer, a word of Susian fabrication) announces the return of the fair weather, and I shall throw you down without regret to pursue my new “amours” and to revive the glorious past of the Great Kings by my efforts.
Like Petit Jean (a character in Racine’s Les Plaideurs) let’s begin at the beginning. Hardly a fortnight ago Marcel [Jane’s husband] sent his workmen to a new trench. Intended to cut across hypothetical dwellings constructed between the apadanam [palace] and the pylone, it was directed towards an eminence the inviolate image of which has tormented us like remorse. We dug, shovelled, worked for several days in succession, without finding a clue to justify our hopes. Nevertheless, one morning the laborers exhumed a funeral urn containing a well-preserved skeleton. This was, no doubt, a very interesting “find”, but not very cheering by its nature. We were approaching the level of the apadanam. Marcel expected to reach it the following day and then to abandon this unfortunate attempt. As we were miserably dragging along the trunk of a statue of sandstone discovered at the foot of the tumuli, Dor Ali came rushing up: “I find an object which is beautiful!“ he cried, quite out of breath; “the workmen assert that it is of gold; but I say: It is a kashy!” By this name the Persians designate the facings of faïence manufactured at Kashan in the twelfth century.
Marcel hurries off and leaves the statue on my hands. At last it is hoisted up on the tumulus; I rejoin my husband.
He holds a block of faïence white as snow; on one of the faces there appears, in high relief, a demi-sphere of a fine yellow enamel, dotted with blue, green and white stars, enclosed in a compartment. A white border runs along the projection. The piece is incomplete, but, such as it is, it is a chef d’oeuvre of ceramics. What can this strange modelling, these magnificent colors represent?
“Our lions”, says Marcel to me “had a white coat, a green mane, and a blue abdomen; this fragment must belong to an apocalyptical panther”. [A frieze of lions had been dug out by the Dieulafoys previously.]
“Perhaps … the blue and green stars bother me.”
“Madame scorceress,” replied my husband, “make your usual incantations: tomorrow you will be better informed.”
I have brought neither retort, nor crocodile, nor stuffed lizard to Susa; caldron, magical wand and diabolical conjuring-books I lack entirely; but I have an infallible receipt for finding the position of a fragment of enamel. Here it is, without dissimulation or treachery.
Around my chamber a series of niches are arranged, used as library, cupboard and “show-case”, in which the small objects are heaped up. When I forget to catalogue one of the innumerable enamels brought to the camp, I place the stray piece in a shelf near my bed, in such a manner, that when I awake it strikes my exe directly and attracts y attention.
I than see it with an extreme intensity; it grows larger; its lines, its breaks stand out clearly, and it is very seldom that I do not, two or three minutes later, discover the origin of the error committed.
The fine brick found by Dor Ali was placed on the fatidical shelf. I doubted that it formed part of a panther, but I had no idea as to what subject it represented; next morning it presented itself to my gaze as the shoulder of a human being clad in a robe of splendid colors.
My scorcery, I hope, will not cause the gates of paradise to close against me.
The new trench was carried down to the level of the foundations of gravel of the apadanam. To his great surprise, Marcel perceived that the brick-pavement was wanting and that the bed of gravel, interrupted in places, made way for walls of clay founded on a lower level. The portions devoid of pebbles were attacked with spade and pickaxe, and soon enormous walls appeared, covered with magnificent enameled bricks. They themselves rested on a carefully built wall of bricks, sustained by solid ruins. The palace of Darius had been reached, burned in the time of Xerxes and buried eighty years later under the mighty level of gravel which bore the palace of Artaxerxes Mnemon.
Every evening the store-room received from thirty to forty slabs, white, compact, solid, the face of which is covered with wonderful enamels. First three bricks appeared, which, on being superposed, gave the outline of a long sleeve; later on, black feet shod with yellow half-boots, black hands and legs.
Aided by the subject and by the cut of the joints, Marcel has restored fragments of persons; then, uniting these fragments, he has succeeded in putting together two warriors in life-size. Unfortunately, two courses, one in the centre of the chest, the other on a level with the face, are still wanting.
The picture represents archers seen in profile, walking, javelin in hand, their bow and quiver on their shoulders. The uniforms, of different colors, are cut on the same pattern: skirt open on the side, short chemise, tightened at the waist by a girdle, vest closed over the breast. The sleeves of the last garments, open from the wrist to the elbow, allow the numerous folds of the chemise to pass through. A rich border runs around the stuff. The head is surrounded by a green torsel recalling the camel-hair cord which still encircles the brow of the Arabs. Ears and wrists are loaded with rings and bracelets of gold; boots, of a fine yellow, are buttoned over the instep. The stuffs of the uniforms are of an astounding richness. The fist of our warriors wears, over a chemise of dark purple, a yellow vest and robe, embroidered with blue and green daisies; the second is clad in a white stuff dotted with black escutcheons on which appears the citadel of Susa. Detached pieces show samples of white robes dotted with flowers or stars, blue boots, and sleeves of plain yellow.
Only the type of person does not vary: the skin is black; the curly beard, with bluish reflections, surrounds thin lips, edged with carmine; the hair is wavy.
What admirable modelling! What a noble and broad design! How surprising is the technique in its simplicity and strength! The development of the head, the shoulders and the thorax, the designing of the feet, the skirt which is draped over the legs, the large folds of the sleeves, recall the Aeginetan art to my mind. When the Greek sculptors bethought themselves of detaching the folds of draperies, they acted and proceeded, it seems, like the Persian modelers. This analogy is not fortuitous, as the art of Persepolis and Susa arose on the morrow of the entrance of the Iranian armies into Ionia and Hellas; but it is exceedingly instructive, for the formulas borrowed from foreign lands by the Achaemenians were set in hieratic moulds on the day when they were devoted to the national art.
Herodotus in hand, we studied the nomenclature of the troops which passed the Hellespont under the eyes of Xerxes, and this done, three details of the costumes of our warriors struck us: the crown, the jewels of gold, and above all, the silver pomegranate in which the javelin terminates.
According to the Greek authors, these were the three distinctive insignia of the ten thousand Immortals, the guards of the Great Kings. They were called the Immortals because they were never more nor less than ten thousand; if one immortal disappeared, he was immediately replaced by another immortal.
The Forty have not done better.
We had already made the acquaintance of these famous warriors at Persepolis and at the tomb of Darius. But there their crown was metallic and of a straight form.
More important differences than this slight modification of the head-dress must however exist between the archers of Susa and those of Persepolis. These were Aryans and of white race; those are black, like the archers which Memnon, son of Aurara, sent to the aid of Priam.
Monsieur Houssay’s interesting anthropological studies of the skeletons discovered in the funeral urns and the measurements of the present inhabitants of Susiana prove the existence of an ancient negrito race at Elam. Our Immortals would then belong to the Susian contingent of the royal guards. The thought came to us at first that the Persian colorists, after the example of the Greeks, might have browned the skin of the warriors intentionally, in order to whiten that of the women by contrast; but a hand cast in the same mould as the black hands, holding a javelin, like them, and yet covered with a fine white enamel, refutes this delusive hypothesis without long discourses.
Whatever their race may be, our Immortals appear fine in line, fine in form, and constitute a ceramic work infinitely superior to the bas-reliefs, so justly celebrated, of Lucca della Robbia.
And yet the materials at the artist’s disposal are of the commonest: as support, a coarse faïence, cast in good moulds and no doubt retouched with the point; a palette of turquoise blue, manganese, yellow, white, and a dash of purple.
If you are an artist, if you are moved by the breath of divine Apollo, these limited means will suffice you for producing powerful works of extraordinary vigor.
When the enameled pieces came out of the ground, still moist from the dampness of the ground, I seemed to witness the resurrection of sapphires and turquoises absorbed by the golden rays of the Susian sun. The bas-relief adorns our poor dwelling and lights it up like a radiant star.
We are not at the end either of our joy or of our labor. The mine is far from being exhausted. “It is a store-house” the laborer say; but diverse soundings indicate that the “vein” of precious stones is continually going deeper and deeper under a thick layer of earth.
Much of the upper stratifications must be cleared away, in order to reach the enamels without danger.
[The frieze of the Immortals is exhibited at the Louvre as frise des archers.]
At Susa, the Ancient Capital of the Kings of Persia …