Title


PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 28.

COIN OF BOSEA.
COIN OF BOSEA.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

We completed our exploration of Melah es-Sarrâr in a spirit of high-wrought enthusiasm. We found it an irregular square, surrounded by high walls partly in ruins, with great towers in the walls, in some places grouped two and two, and over sixty feet high. They resembled the towers of Palmyra, but contained no loculi for bodies. Five of these high towers were in a good state of preservation, three more were in a tolerable state, and there were foundations of several others in different quarters.

The ruins were wonderfully crushed together, and "battered by the shocks of doom." Some of the ruins had very lofty doors, and there were a number of very high arches standing among the ruins, the object of which it is difficult to conjecture. On many of the lintels we saw Greek crosses, and we copied eight Greek inscriptions, one of them dedicated to Dusares, a deity much worshipped in Bashan. [341]

The town stands in the midst of a large cultivated plain, which, when looked at horizontally, seems one flat of grey stones, but when you ride through it you find that all the stones are loose, and that the soil among them is all cultivated. Owing to the altitude of the plain, they were still ploughing and sowing a little on the 11th of April. Front one of the towers of Melah es-Sarrâr we counted fourteen other ruins in sight, and most of them inhabited. On the top of a hill, due east, stands a very conspicuous ruin, Deir en-Nasara, the convent of the Christians, which is said, I hope truly, to be the last ruin in that direction.

A large number of Druzes and some Christians burrowed among the ruins of Melah es-Sarrâr. Their sheikh was Husein Abu Muhammed, a son of Nejm, sheikh of Ormân. Husein was not so big as his father, but resembled him very much, and was exceedingly handsome and gentlemanly. From him we learned that the ruin was visited three years previously. We conjectured rightly that it must have been by the indefatigable Waddington, but we were very much chagrined when we found that we could not have even this little corner beyond the bounds of civilization exclusively for our own exploration. Immediately the glory began to fade from colossal tower and massive ruin, and we put the whole thing down as late Roman—in fact, Byzantine.1

1The coins we found were Byzantine, and one of Bosra, with the name Dusaria. [342]

And rightly, too, for one of the Greek inscriptions dates from the middle of the seventh century; and the names of places, such as Deir en-Nasara and Imtan el-Khudr, show that the region attained to eminence during the time that Christianity, victorious, was becoming degenerate.

While we were seated in the guest-chamber with the sheikh and his people, two Arabs arrived, who were a wonderful contrast to the Druzes. They had on them the left-off habiliments of the Jebusites, and they entered the chamber as if going to execution. They cast quick, furtive glances at everybody, without being able to meet any one's look in return. Their voices, a kind of glugging bark, seemed borrowed from the camel, and appeared to sound up out of their boots. They were salt-smugglers from the Jowf.

There are fine beds of salt at Jerűd and Palmyra; but a few years ago the Turks declared the salt to be government property, and forbade any one to carry it away on pain of severe punishment. They did not, however, bring it to the cities themselves, and so the price of salt rose enormously without any one gaining advantage from the high price; and so, while enormous piles of salt, like a frozen sea, lay uselessly at Jerűd, a day's journey from Damascus, these creatures were engaged in smuggling it from the distant Jowf. They entered in the most thievish and sheepish manner, and as soon as they were seated they were presented with a bronze basin of water, of which they drank enormously. The Druzes seemed to look upon these Arab guests with good-natured contempt; and I [343] have no doubt the aristocrats of the desert look down in turn upon the Druzes as upon a plebeian race.

We returned past Ormân, where we waved an adieu to the sheikh en passant, and, joining some men who were waiting for our protection on the road, we proceeded through a fenced country to Sulkhâd, where we pitched our tent for the night.

Sulkhâd is doubtless the Salchah of the Bible, one of the northern boundaries (Dent. iii. 10) of the kingdom of Og. We found the name in a Nabathean inscription on the front of a church now used as a dwelling-house, but the Arabic name is sufficient of itself to settle the identification of the place.

Sulkhâd is a large Druze village containing, according to Burckhardt, eight hundred houses. The town is situated on the south-eastern base of a conical hill which was once it volcano. A magnificent castle now stands on the very crater of the volcano, and the scoriae, or volcanic cinders, are lying about. The castle is Saracenic, and the walls are full of Greek inscriptions rifled from other buildings.

The chief building in Sulkhâd is the mosque, which is made up of beautiful odds and ends from temple and church and shop.

The roof is supported by nineteen arches, which rest on buttresses built of square stones. Light is admitted through windows of beautiful patterns worked in stone, and the roof is composed of long stone rafters, reaching from arch to arch.

Five of the arches in a corner are walled off for the secret [344] meeting-place of the Druzes. It must be a sombre assembly-room, for it has no windows, except a few pigeon-holes among the stones. Across the court from the mosque,

A GROUP OF ARABS.
A GROUP OF ARABS.

there is a beautiful minaret, standing alone, with a belt of white stone round it about half-way up, and on the belt a Kufic inscription, dating from A.D. 1224. [345]

Streets of shops lie open and unused, but show many signs of wear and occupation. A large number of houses in the village have been repaired, and are now occupied. The place was almost unoccupied when visited by Burck-hardt; but the tax-gatherers, and the money-lenders, and other civilizing agencies have driven whole colonies of the Druzes from the Lebanon to these distant and congenial regions.

The Sheikh Muhammed el-Atrash was absent, for troublous times had arrived, and the turbulent spirits were up and moving. I shall never, however, forget the circumstances under which he received us on my first visit to Sulkhâd. We arrived after dark, and pitched our tent in a tempest of rain. The sheikh sent for us, and when we entered his large guest-chamber, we found it packed full of Bedawîn. They were the Isai, who had made an onslaught that day on the Ma'ajal, and had been victorious.

We had at last before us an Arab army, and an Arab army flushed with victory. Their spears were yet red, and they had the trophies of war with them, — thirteen mares, ninety camels, and forty guns. The rain had driven them to seek shelter in the sheikh's house, and he was preparing them a feast. A great fire was blazing in the middle of the floor, and tongues of flame licked the stone ceiling. The smoke was thick and bitter, but we bore it for sake of the heat, as our clothes were drenched through and through.

The dinner could not have been much more savage, and [346] yet there was order. A brass tray, seven feet in diameter, was carried in by four men, and placed in the middle of the floor. On the tray was a great heap of burgal — crushed wheat, boiled. A number of sheep had been cooked together outside in a large cauldron, and two men carried in a pot full of gravy, which very much resembled coal-tar, and poured it over the heap of burgal. My friend naively suggested, "That is the snowy pyramid we read of in the guide-book"; and we held our breath for fear we should be invited to begin.

The animals were torn up, each into four pieces, and built up round the "snowy pyramid."

The sheikh, when everything was ready, mounted a Christian altar, which stood in the corner of the room, and calling out rapidly twenty or thirty names, the men rushed forward as they heard their names and attacked the pyramid. Each caught up a handful of burgal, and, rolling it up in a ball, put it into his mouth, and then, tearing a handful of the flesh from some quivering limb, put that in also. When these had fed noisily for about live minutes, they suddenly fell back into the outer darkness, and another relay advanced at the word of command, with bare, black arms and hungry eyes.

There seems to be this broad difference between all Arab feast and a civilized feast: with civilized people there are courses of dishes, but with the Arabs the men form the courses. And so they advanced, course after course, at the word of command, till, with the seventh course, my muleteers advanced, according to their rank, [347] and fell with great fury —for it was Lent, and they had been fasting — on a great heap of bare bones and greasy burgal. There was a course lower still; to the last the guests advanced with the same hungry look of desperate determination. When the men had all feasted the remains of the feast were carried off and thrown in a heap for the women.

We left Sulkhâd for Kureiyeh by the Roman road, and after a short time, fearing that we had missed the turning to the right, some of our party rode off in search of it, and thus our cavalcade got divided. We soon grew nervous for the safety of our companions, who were strangers in the country, and started off to look for them, and so we wandered about looking for each other in vain; nor was our anxiety diminished by the fact that armed bands of wild-looking men were riding through the land, and firing off their guns. Our muleteers, who had been stealing some growing wheat for their mules, came up breathless, having been chased by "fourteen men" with guns, — perhaps there were four!

At last, weary of climbing over the billows of a rocky ocean, we left our errant companions to their fate, and struck right across the, hills for Kureiyeh. About one-third of the soil was under cultivation, with the stones piled up in cairns. We started a very small black hare and two foxes, and we saw swarms of partridges and storks. The small birds were chiefly wheatears and Persian larks, which screamed a great deal, but had little music. The ground was covered with hyacinths, white daisies, and beautiful dark irises. [348]

We hurried on and reached the brow of a hill, and to our inexpressible relief saw our lost party riding up before us into Kureyeh. We had crossed each other, but how, we could not explain; no doubt we went up the furrow of one wave, and they came down the furrow of another.

We entered Kureiyeh in company with a shepherd, and found that Ibrahîm el-Atrash and most of the important Druzes of the place had gone off to Damascus to try to ward off the coming struggle. We made a hasty survey of the place, and passed on to Bosra.

At first the ground was very stony. By-and-by the stones were gathered out of the fields, and gave place to cultivation; and the latter part of our way was through a broad wavy sea of wheat, with ruins standing up here and there like black islands. The ruins of Bosra stood up massively before us, and we entered the city, passed a large tank built of cut stones, just as the setting sun flung back a golden good-bye to capital and spire of Grecian column and Saracenie minaret.

Bosra was just what we expected it to he, a splendid city in ruins, — palaces, castles, theatres, baths, temples, colonnades, triumphal arches, churches, and mosques, all magnificent, and all in ruins. Bosra was the greatest city in Bashan at the period when Roman rule was leaving its impress upon the land. From the castle we could see the true evidences of Bosra's greatness in the numerous Roman roads that converged to the city from north, south, east, and west. In whatever direction we looked, [349] we saw these roads narrowing in the distance, until they ended in a fine point on the distant horizon.

Bosra proper lies nearly foursquare, its greatest length being east and west, and each side of the rectangular figure is over a mile. It stands in the open plain, but was

BOSRA.
BOSRA.

surrounded by strong walls, and it has a magnificent castle. The outer walls of the castle are Saracenic, and some parts of them are built almost entirely of columns squared, and [350]

COLUMNS AT BOSRA.
COLUMNS AT BOSRA.

[351]

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[352]

placed in the walls with the ends out. They also contain numerous Greek and Latin inscriptions, generally placed with the wrong side of the inscriptions uppermost. The walls of the castle, however, were built round a Roman structure, probably a similar castle, as they contain a Roman theatre in a good state of preservation. "Smith" was busy in Bosra, and he has left engraven on stone over four hundred lines of Greek and Latin inscriptions, the earliest of which date from the second century of our era. In one of these we find that the worship of Dusares, whose name we met elsewhere, was still practised in the middle of the sixth century. On a marble column in the great mosque there is one most interesting Greek inscription, contained within two circular lines. It begins thus: "In the name of our Saviour Christ," etc. It is not without pain that one thus meets the name of Christ as one among many deities of a bygone worship.

In the mosque of Bosra, which Burckhardt says "is certainly coeval with the first era of Mohammedanism," we see a characteristic specimen of Moslem architecture in its palmiest days; and in front of the mosque there are the dakakîn, or little arched shops, which the Moslems built on the sites of Roman boulevards, and in which they squatted beside their piles of wares, and swore and cheated as they do to-day in Damascus.

By the side of this specimen of Moslem architecture there are fragments of architecture from the best days of the Roman dominion. There are columns towering above the ruins to a height of forty-five feet, [353] and, in particular, there are "the four large Corinthian columns" referred to by Burekhardt as "equalling in beauty of execution the finest of those at Baalbec or Palmyra."

To show a fine cultivated taste, we should say here, as at Baalbec, Palmyra, and elsewhere, "Yes, yes, very fine, but too florid for correct taste!"

Evidently we have not yet acquired correct taste, for to us these columns, in the wilderness of ruins, seem wonderfully perfect and surpassingly lovely. What adds to the marvellous effect of the columns is the negligé manner in which they are placed. They stand at irregular distances from each other, and it does not appear, from anything we can see, that they have ever had any connection with any other building.

The cathedral church of Bosra,1 which was built early in the sixth century, is a fine specimen of Christian architecture. It has a general resemblance to the church of St. George in Zerá, but is much larger and finer. A few traces of fresco are still seen on the walls, but there is sufficient to show the idolatrous character of Christianity in Bosra in the sixth century. It would be an instructive chapter that would show how the corruptions of the Christian church prepared the way for the triumphs of Islam.

1This is the church of the monk Boheira, who was believed to have coached up Mohammed in Biblical history.

We spent the first night in Bosra in trying to keep the [354] tent over us, for a terrible hurricane swept over the plain, and seemed to mingle heaven and earth in one great dust cloud. The sand was blown into every place, into our mouths and noses and down our throats, and when we attempted a tea breakfast we had to hold the palms of our hands on the mouths of the cups to keep out the dirt. Sunday morning broke red and lowering through the dust cloud, reminding me of a morning in the Mediterranean after a tempestuous night. The city enjoyed its Sabbath. Doubtless, once there was the roar of Sabbath desecration in this great centre, but at the time of our visit it was as quiet as the grave, —in fact, it was the huge grave of a great, proud, luxurious city.

The captain of the garrison in the castle, spying our tent among the ruins, sent us word that we must remove our tent into the castle, as the country was in such a disturbed state that he could not be accountable for our safety beyond the walls of the castle. We felt that to erect our tent in the castle would entirely interfere with our chief object, and so, resolving to look out for our own safety, we pitched it in a green field, sheltered by a large building with a curiously-arched roof.

We proceeded, however, to the castle, where we found the captain, a handsome young Syrian, drilling his men, and preparing for defence. He had two guns drawn up at the entrance, where there was a guard sufficient to prevent a surprise, and case of the approach of a large force, to close the huge door. At all the weak points he had sentinels, and watchers on the high towers. [355]

The captain conducted us to the commandant, whom we found still in bed. He was a typical little Turk, with bandy legs, and a nose like the scabbard of a Persian scimitar. He occupied a little ruinous chamber at the highest corner of the castle, near the flagstaff. Over the chinks and holes in the walls bits of the Illustrated London News had been pasted, serving as windows, but the violence of the storm had blown them all away.

On a straw mat in the corner, this little Turkish officer had his "shake-down," consisting of a few sheepskins and two leehafs or quilts stuffed with wool or cotton.

Contrary to our wishes, we were obliged to enter the room before the little man had got into his enormous trousers; but without betraying any secrets of the chamber of rest, I am free to express my opinion that such sleeping arrangements ought to be conducive to early rising. The little man was delighted to see us, and a letter from the Wali, which I presented to him, he placed on his head, to show his reverence for the authority behind it; but he was in a most uncomfortable state of mind, for the people of the Hauran had threatened to abandon their homes on the morrow, if the government persisted in their demands.

He declared that they were in a state of siege, and that for the last two weeks all their letters to and from Damascus had been intercepted, and he feared that the people of the Haman might converge on the Turkish garrison at Bosra. He said he would not be surprised to see thirty thousand or fifty thousand armed men appear around the castle at any moment. [356]

RUINS OF BOSRA.
RUINS OF BOSRA.

[357]

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[358]

We asked if he would be able to defend himself, and if the garrison would be able to hold out, and he only answered with Turkish passivity and helplessness, "Allah karîm" (God is honourable).

In contrast with the commandant, the captain was full of confidence and energy. He had been indefatigable the last fortnight iii trying to make soldiers of the garrison, and now he was waiting watchfully for the shock. A battle was expected that day at Mezareeb, and they were listening for the sound of the guns. The wildest rumours were afloat, and the officers assured us that we must not think of leaving for three or four days, as a hundred horsemen could not guard us beyond the walls of the city. This news was most disappointing, for we had resolved to strike across the desert by 'Um el-Jemâl (Beth-Gamul) to Es-Salt, but the disturbances rendered such an enterprise out of the question.

We spent an uncomfortable day at Bosra, and wandered over miles of ruins as far as Bab el-Howa, the Gate of the Wind. Wherever we went, we were dogged by tall, sooty-looking men, with long hair and big clubs. We kept our eyes upon them, and they kept at a respectful distance from us. Beyond the walls of the city proper, the suburbs extended far into the plain, as may be seen from the numerous foundations; but the houses seemed to have been very small, and the streets very narrow, both within and without the walls.

We spent a long and peaceful time iii the ruined mosque, which had only one entrance, and we felt assured [359] sured that no one could enter unseen by us. Evidently our followers had lost our scent, for we were left undisturbed. At last a native Christian entered the mosque. made a casual remark, and slipped away.

It was time for us to be moving once more, for that Christian had been sent to explore us. And indeed for all such business in the Hauran, Christians are employed. At Schwet el-Khudr, Hebrân, and Ormân, we had met

BAB EL-HOWA, THE GATE OF THE WIND.
BAB EL-HOWA, THE GATE OF THE WIND.

Christians bearing the "fiery cross" through the land for their local masters.

As we left the mosque a drumming sound at a little distance attracted our attention. I saw that an attack was about to be made upon us. and T directed my companion to slip quietly down a back way to our camp, [360] and leave me to deal with the mob. As I approached the angle near the four columns, I saw a crowd of eight or ten stalwarts hurrying to intercept me, and, as I could not run past them, I husbanded all my strength to meet them.

They quickly surrounded me, and demanded my money. I told them who 1 was, not an ordinary traveller, but a missionary, and that I had books for them, if they would come to my tent; that I had no money to give away, and that I would not give them any if I had.

I was standing on a high bank, with my back to a wall, and they were all below me, and thus I kept them at bay for a few minutes. At last the leader of the party seized me by the throat, but instantly he fell rolling like a bundle to the bottom of the bank. The thing was so instantaneous that the whole party seemed stunned and paralyzed, and I walked quietly away. I moved off in such a manner that I could see the mob, without seeming to do so, as the eye takes in a wide angle. As I turned the corner of a ruin, I saw that they had collected their thoughts, and were gathering stones and starting in pursuit of me. Having got round the corner, I ran straight for the tent, and with more than my old college pace, I was soon clear of my pursuers.

The Turkish officers visited our tent in the evening, and the watchers were still looking towards the west from the towers. Two or three alarms had been given during the day, when a band of Arabs hove in sight on the horizon; but through the long day of suspense no trustworthy news had reached them. [361]

They urged us to remain, as it was impossible to depart in safety; and when we assured them that we would go if there were fifty battles being fought, they insisted that we should take twelve men as a guard, led by one of themselves.

I verily believed that the little Turk wanted to escape with us to Damascus. We protested in vain, and twelve men were told off to accompany us in the morning. We spent another sleepless night in Bosra, disturbed, however, by no sound except that of the horses crumping their barley, and my companion quoting again and again the Homeric couplet, as rendered by Tennyson, —

"And champing golden grain, the horses stood
Hard by their chariots, waiting for the dawn."

The dawn at last came, and while the morning star "blazed in the forehead of the morning sky," we gave the soldiers the slip, and started for the Druze mountain. On the previous year we went straight from 'Ary to Mezareeb, through a wondrous plain of wheat. On our left, behind and before, the sea of wheat stretched away to the distant hills. When, a few days before, we had looked down from Jebel el-Kuleib we saw what seemed to be little lakes of blood among the wheat.

We concluded it was some phenomenon produced by the setting sun and the mirage, but as we passed along we found that wherever there was a break in the wheat the ground was all ablaze with scarlet poppies.

In working our way over the hill to Kefr el-Laha, we were in doubt about the way, and I struck off to the right to look for the road. Passing over a little hill, a [362] solitary Druze saw me, and rushed straight at me. He had an ox-goad — a long pole tipped with an iron spike —in his right hand, and as he came up close to me he snatched a dagger out of his belt.

According to this man's idea, the battle of Mezareeb had been fought, and the Turks had been beaten, and I was one of the Turkish officers escaped thus far,—a fugitive to be promptly despatched. , H had a good idea of what these men are, on their native mountains, when their blood is up. With head thrown back, and eyes flashing, he bounded up to me like a strong bull of Bashan. He was confounded by my laughing at him.

"Don't you see I am an Inglizi? " I said to him, with a laugh.

His whole demeanour instantly changed, and from being one of the most heroic of men, he became a quiet-looking old patriarch, about sixty years of age or more. He inquired eagerly if I had heard how the battle went; but he was incoherent, and so confused that he sent us on the wrong way. At last we entered Kefr el-Laha at a sharp gallop, and the sound of our horses' feet brought the Druzes out of their assembly-room, swarming like wasps when their nest is touched.

Nothing worse happened than a kiss from the sheikh. We rushed at each other, placed our two hands on the front of each other's shoulders, and reached our heads over each other's shoulders as if we were kissing some one behind each other's backs. Thus we did not in reality kiss, we only fell on each other's necks. [363]

From Kefr el-Laha we might have proceeded by a direct route to Damascus. In a .few hours we should have reached Shuhba, the ancient Philippopolis, a city which gave to Rome the Emperor Philip the Arabian, and gave to the Druzes the princely Koreish dynasty of Shehâb. Shuhba contains many evidences of its former greatness. Temples and columns and ruins of palatial

SHUHBA, ROMAN BATH.
SHUHBA, ROMAN BATH.

buildings abound, and on the ridge is a theatre well preserved. The place is well deserving of a visit, and on the straight way to Damascus there are many other interesting scenes and ruins; but I had been over the route previously, and so we proceeded to Rimet el-Lohf with intent to cross the Lejah from east to west. [364]




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