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Friday, December 30, 2011

Samarra 1911: The End of a Campaign

As taken from Thomas Leisten's book Excavation of Samarra, Volume 1 Architecture. Final Report of the First Campaign, 1910-1912:

*Image Left: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Qaṣr al-Āshiq, View of Barrel-Vaulted Serdab from Above, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
On December 3rd, after a long meeting, both [Friedrich] Sarre and Herzfeld decided to end the current campaign as soon as possible and to return in the following year. This decision changed the original plan, which had included a continuation of the campaign and a series of new excavations after Sarre's arrival.  Various reasons can be suggested to explain why the first campaign was broken off prematurely: for on thing, Herzfeld needed some time off to prepare the excavation of the Dar al-Khilafa, the main project for next year.  Furthermore, he recognized the necessity of reviewing the material recovered so far, to eliminate mistakes and to identify problems that could be dealt with during another visit to the site.  Sarre and Herzfeld also agreed that the attempt the transport the stuccos would fail and thus jeopardize both the continuation of the first campaign and their chance at a second. The fragments temporarily stores in the excavation house were not yet in a condition to be transported, and there were no suitable materials in Iraq to produce sturdy and solid frames.  Bartus had even stopped casting copies from stuccos that could not be removed because he lacked fine gypsum and glue, both of which had to be imported from Germany.  Last but not least was Herzfeld's health, which had been constantly deteriorating under the pressure of exhausting work, quarrels with the authorities, and the full responsibility for the success of the project at Samarra.

According to Herzfeld and Sarre, the transportation of casts and originals to Germany had to wait until after the excavations were completely finished. But while an entirely new schedule of the whole project would undoubtedly have caused some trouble, the new plan was to confront Constantinople, i.e. the Directorate of the Imperial Ottoman Museums, with the fait accompli.  Herzfeld therefore contacted Bedri Bey, whose role in this scheme would be either to convince the Director General, Halil Edhem Bey, to call a temporary halt to the campaign or, even better, to give the official order himself to the Germans to stop the current campaign and inform Constantinople of what had happened only afterward.  Sarre, Herzfeld, and Bedri Bey came to the conclusion that it would be safer to follow the latter plan.

During the first week of December 1911, Herzfeld was still working on the western bank. He finished the leveling of Qasr al-Ashiq and made some test soundings within the palace to clear doors and to determine the extent of the main T-shaped hall.  At the same time he had another clearing made on the riverbank below the palace.  Pottery and debris there indicated  large settlement connected with the palace.  Subsequent to the final investigation at the Qasr al-Ashiq he conducted a reexamination of the central domed chamber of the Qabbat al-Sulaibiyya.  Here, three burials were brought to light that he immediately interpreted as three of the 9th century A.D. caliphs of Samarra.

*Image Right: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Unglazed Ceramic Vessel, Found in the Qaṣr al-Āshiq, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Only now, during the last two weeks of the first campaign in Samarra, were Viollet's finds examined. On the last day before he left on the "Astarabadi" steamer, Bartus by chance found a building on the wet side of the Shari al-A'zam that had been scavenged by the locals. The walls were covered with a set of frescoes showing human figures and various animals, the most interesting so far discovered in this campaign.  On December 20th an excursion was made to al-Istabulat where Herzfeld sketched out a rough plan of the palace.  [...]

On December 25th, Bedri Bey arrived at Samarra and drew up an official letter ending the campaign according to the proposal of both Sarre and Herzfeld. An inventory of all the finds and tools was made and they were prepared for storage. 

 *Image Above: Excavation of Sāmarrā (Iraq): Fragments of Ceramic Vessels with Decorative Motifs, Found in the Qaṣr al-Āshiq and in al-Quraina, House VI, West Room, 1911-1913 [graphic].  The Ernst Herzfeld papers. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

From the Samarra-Archiv Pergamon Museum, Berlin; Ernst Herzfeld's incomplete report on the first campaign:

Considering the vast extent of the ruins, an excavation of Samarra would create a task that could not be brought to an end even within decades of work. But each excavation is an individual case. The different interests by which the site is approached and the local conditions determine the dimension and method of investigation. The latter are quite different when it comes to excavation on Islamic soil in comparison to Babylonian ruins. For my part, the issues of the first campaign appear to have been investigated sufficiently: the excavation in the mosque could be abandoned as soon as the problem with its pier system was solved; the same was true for the exavation of residential buildings as soon as it became clear that the classes of decorative patterns could not be augmented by new groups. The excavation of Balkuwara could be stopped as soon [as] the character of the structure became tangible.

As a task for the second campaign we have two other topics: to investigate the Bayt al-Khalifah, the ancient Djausaq al-Khaqani, the main palace of Samarra, founded by Mu'tasim, which remained the residence of the caliphs until the last days of Samarra. This palace is larger, richer, and more beautiful than any other ruin of Samarra. Based on previous soundings in the right places could reveal more wall paintings, ceramics, and small finds. Sketches of other ruins could be produced - some of them have been made already - that render the types of such structures more clearly.

The second, very work intensive but attractive topic is a meticulous topographic plan of the complete ruin. Its surface is of such quality that - perhaps with the exception of the immediate surroundings of today's city - the course of avenues, narrow streets, and even single hourses can be traced clearly. In addition to this we have in the work of Ya'qubi an ancient, veritable Baedeker of Samarra. The old chronicles recorded the dramatic events that happened in Samarra with so many topographical and cultural details that - if we only had an accurate plan of the ruin fields - we would be enabled to recreate the picture o  the history and culture of this distant past with the liveliness that would not be matched anywhere else, and certainly not in the Islamic world.

Ernst Herzfeld (1879-1948)

Samarra 1911: Squeeze Making and Continued Resistance in Herzfeld's Samarra
Samarra 1911: The Life of an Alleged Spy: Guns, Kissing, and the Excavation of Balkuwara 
Samarra 1911: Excavation of Shabbat al-Hawa, Qasr al-Ashiq, and Qubbat al-Sulaibiyya 
Samarra 1911: Clashes with Authority led to Sabotage 
Samarra 1911: Excavation of the Great Mosque Finishes, al-Quraina Begins
100th Anniversary of the Samarra Excavation by Ernst Herzfeld

Samarra Resource page.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Freer|Sackler Archives

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