Masons’ Marks at AI-Hadhr (Hatra)
MASON’s MARKS.—I also add a few Mason’s marks from the Ram Bagh at Agra:—
H. G. M. Murray-Aynsley.
Masons’ Marks at AI-Hadhr (Hatra).—The following letter appeared in Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology for March 1892, and it is of such interest that I give it you in full.—W. Harry Rylands.
11, Wolverton Gardens,
January 22nd, 1892.
DEAR MR. RYLANDS,
The recent publication, by the Royal Institute of British Architects, of Mr. R. Phené Spiers’ valuable paper on Sassanian Architecture, has re-awakened the interest I have always felt in certain marks met with on the stones of the great building at AI-Hadhr (ancient Hatra). My impression is that there must be some meaning in these marks. Sir Henry Austin Layard appears to be satisfied that they are mere building marks, but they are not on all stones, and when present a certain prominence is given to them so as to at once attract the eye. In “Notes on the Ruins of the Palace at AI Hather” (Hadhr), communicated by the Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Layard, G.C.B., and published by Mr. Spiers, from a MS. preserved in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the writer says as follows:—
” Mr. Ainsworth, in his memoir, has mentioned the peculiar marks which are to be found on almost every stone employed in the buildings of AI Hather, and has given representations of many of them; he seems to attribute some mysterious meaning to them. I have found similar marks on numerous buildings of the Sassanian epoch, for example, at Bisutun and Ispahan. In the latter city I was first induced to look for Sassanian ruins by seeing these marks upon statues employed in modern edifices, and I soon succeeded in finding several fine Sassanian capitals. 1 believe these marks to be purely fanciful, and not to be the letters of any particular alphabet, letters from a variety of alphabets may be traced amongst them. They appear to have been used for building purposes, and not to have reference to religion or astronomy. They are on the face of the stones. in the centre, each stone being provided with one mark.”
Now, I did not attach any mysterlous meaning to these marks, but what I wanted to show was that they had a meaning, and were not, as Sir Henry Layard opines, ” purely fanciful,” or merely “used for building purposes,” although I am by no means so sure upon the latter point. But if so, they would be Masonic, and have not Masonic signs a meaning? Experience shows that the Ancients were not in the habit of using signs without a meaning.
Dr. Ross gives some examples of the writings on the wall at p. 470 of the 10th volume of the Journ. Roy. Geo. Society. (By-the-bye, Mr. Spiers is in errer when he says, “Sir Henry Layard’s description of these details will be found on page 27, and it was to him that both Ross and Mr. Ainsworth were indebted for their drawings.” Now, Dr. Ross visited the place in 1836 and 1837, and the details and ground plan of the city, attached to a memoir by Capt. Blesse Lynch on “the Tigris between Baghdad and Mosul,” were his own. Sir Henry Layard’s and my visit to the ruins was not made till 1840.)
Dr, Ross looked upon these marks, like Sir Henry Layard, as the builder’s number, as,” he adds, “they are seen in the midst of broken walls,” where they could not have been exposed wben the structure was perfect. But this, strange to say, does not agree with what I myself and Sir Henry Layard observed. In a note to my memoir (p. 13, vol. xi., Journ. Roy. Geo. Society), I say, ” the letters were generally about one or two inches in size, and carefully sculptured, one in the centre of the face of each stone;” and in the memoir (penned in 1846) attached to Mr. Spiers’ Paper, Sir Henry Layard says of the marks, letters or signs, “They occur on the face of the stones, in the centre, each stone being provided with one mark.” What I myself said respecting the marks was to the following effect:—
“Every stone, not only in the chief building, but in the walls and bastions and other public monuments, when not defaced by time, is inarked with a character, which is for the most part either a Chaldaic (Khaldi) letter or numeral. But some of them could not be deciphered either by Mr. Rassam (Esau Rassam), or by a Jewish Rabbi of Jerusalem, whom we consulted at Mosul; for it is necessary to remark that the Chaldeans or Chaldees, since their conversion to Christianity, have uniformly adopted the Syriac letters, which were used by the Apostles and fathers of the Church, regarding the pagan writing (or Tergam as they call it), as an abomination. The Jews, however, who learnt it in their captivity, bave retained, except in their Talmud, and some other works written in the Hebrew character, the use of Chaldean letters.
” Some of the letters at AI Hadhr resembled the Roman A, and others were apparently astronomical signs, among which were very common the ancient mirror and handle, emblematic of Venus, the Mylitta of the Assyrians, and Alitta of the Arabians, according to Herodotus; and the Náni (Hyde, p. 92), or Nannaia, (Rawlinson, Journ. Roy. Geo. Society, Vol. IX., p. 43), of the Syrians.
“Mr. Ross makes a mistake, which it is important to correct, when he says that those letters are only seen in the midst of broken walls, where they could not have been exposed when the structure was perfect. It is quite evident, from the prominent situation which they occupy in the interlor of the great halls and sanctuaries, that their object was much more important than a mere arrangement of the stones.
“The characters alone indicate their antiquity, and as to their use, they appear to have a distant relation to practices carried to a further extent by the Asisyrians and Babylonians, and by the Egyptians. In whatever obscurity the meaning of those signs or letters may be now involved, they still possess great interest to the archaeologist as proving the Chaldaen origin of the building in question.”
This latter statement, in view of the general Sassanian character of the building, must be modified. The Sassanians, when in Assyria and Mesopotamia, may have employed Assyrian masons, or they may have used the Assyrian or Khaldi alphabet marks or signs.1 I have given some forty examples of these marks in the memoir above alluded to, and I now enclose a copy from my original note book of the same marks as made on the spot, some by myself and some by Mr. Rassam, so that no error may creep into their representation as engraved.
My object in doing this is to endeavour to obtain your opinion, or that of any of the learned members of the Society of Biblical Archaeology to whom you may be kind enough to show them, as to their meaning, if any.
The art of deciphering ancient writings, as for example in the Hittite inscriptions, has, under the auspices of the Society, attained to a perfection unknown in 1840, and some new light may be thrown upon the marks when seen by competent observer.
William Francis Ainsworth.
1.The “Mission to the Assyrians” under the auspices of His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, have adopted that name both for the Khaldis and the so-called Nestorians. The first were only so called when they were converted to Roman Catholicism, the latter bas been shown to be a misnomer.
Reprinted with permission of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, the Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, UGLE vol v (1892). [pp. 147-49.].