Unedited Transcripts

Siege Carts! with Lady Oriella Charik

Liz Wilner: hi Ceejay 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: greetings everyone
Ceejay Writer: Hi Liz! And others!
Liz Wilner: hi Wild 🙂
Bess Farley Weaver: Greetings, Wildstar, Liz 🙂
Ceejay Writer: Wildstar! Always a delight!
Bess Farley Weaver: and Ceejay. And Oriella.
Bess Farley Weaver: Looking forward to this evening’s presentation.
Ceejay Writer: Hi Hi!
Liz Wilner: welcome, Toshinami 🙂
Bess Farley Weaver smiles politely at the feathered creature walking by her chair.
Liz Wilner: welcome, Toshiyue 🙂
Ceejay Writer: HEY YOU OUTSIDE THE DOOR! Extinguish your cigars and come on in.
Liz Wilner: Welcome to the March Salon everyone!
Liz Wilner: Today we have Lady Oriella Charik speaking about Siege Carts!
Bess Farley Weaver applauds the speaker.
Liz Wilner: There are refreshments at the back…please help yourselves
Liz Wilner: and please show some appreciation to our speaker…the tip jar is in from of the lectern
Liz Wilner: and without further ado…Lady Charik…please begin 🙂
Ceejay Writer wonders if siege carts are different than shopping carts. Both do battle, after all.
Oriella Charik: All good stories should have a hero, a heroine, and a villain. Spoiler alert – mine has all three.

Sir Henry

Oriella Charik: Let us start with our hero. Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894) was something of a polymath, an Assyriologist, traveller, cuneiformist, art historian, draughtsman, collector, politician and diplomat. Covering all these would take up this entire lecture, so I shall confine myself to the first.

Nineveh Palaces

Liz Wilner: welcome Vicki and Symeon 🙂
Oriella Charik: From 1845 to 1852 Layard conducted excavations in the ruins close to Mosul in modern Iraq and found them to be indeed those of Nineveh, the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. At one point the largest city in the world, it had a 12km wall enclosing several palaces.
Oriella Charik: Our perhaps idealised illustration is from one of Sir Henry’s bestselling books, “The Monuments of Nineveh. From Drawings Made on the Spot (1849)”
Oriella Charik: And here he is doing just that.

On the Spot

Ceejay Writer: Oh, I think I want that book.
Oriella Charik: He struck lucky from the start – luck is an especially useful attribute for archaeologists. Preserved beneath the debris from a fire which had consumed the upper wooden stories he found ground floor rooms filled with well-preserved statues and stone reliefs.


Liz Wilner: nods
Oriella Charik: Our picture shows two of the famous Assyrian winged beasts being prepared for crating up and dispatching to London, where they can be seen in the British Museum. Beyond them are some reliefs and above is Sir Henry himself supervising.
Liz Wilner: welcome, Philip 🙂
Bess Farley Weaver jots down Ninevah in her places-to-visit-someday notebook.
Oriella Charik: One small room had a particularly well-preserved set of relief depicted a single subject. These are also on display in the British Museum, set up as they were originally. The Assyrian army marches in from the left, assaults a walled city in the centre, and defeated citizens beg for mercy from a throned king on the right.

The Fall of Lachish

Oriella Charik: A cuneiform inscription enlightens the viewer: “Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment, before the city of Lachish.”
Ceejay Writer: Amazing detail
Oriella Charik: There are two more cartouches behind the king which inform us that we are seeing the King’s tent and chariot. We can surmise that the King told his stone carver that these state-of-the-art travelling accessories must be included!
Liz Wilner: lol
Oriella Charik: And this is our villain. Sennacherib is one of the best known of Assyrians because of his mentions in the Bible and elsewhere:
Oriella Charik: The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee
Lord Byron
Ceejay Writer: Ada Lovelace’s dad, the poet
Oriella Charik: “Later, when Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish, he sent his officers to Jerusalem with this message for Hezekiah king of Judah and for all the people of Judah who were there.” – (II Chronicles 32:9)
Oriella Charik: “Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.” – (Isaiah 36:1–2)
Oriella Charik: We can even date this campaign, to 701 BCE. When Sennacherib came to the throne Assyria’s vassal states in Palestine had stopped paying tribute, and now it was time to pay up. The coastal cities quickly did so, but King Hezekiah of Judah refused, having prepared for this he was sitting behind thick stone walls with the prophet Isaiah for support. 2 Kings 19 tells the tale.
Oriella Charik: On their way to Jerusalem the Assyrians stopped to attack Lachish, Judah’s second city, stormed and sacked it. Since Sennacherib had directed the attack himself, he thought it merited a prominent memorial. This is what happens to people who fail to pay their taxes!
Ceejay Writer: o.O
Liz Wilner: !
Bess Farley Weaver starts making out that check.
Oriella Charik: I will spare you the rows of impaled Hebrews on the relief
Ceejay Writer: Well THAT’S a relief
Bess Farley Weaver: Whew!
Liz Wilner: haha
Bess Farley Weaver: 🙂
Oriella Charik: By the time the Assyrian army reached Jerusalem it would have been late in the campaigning season, and stone walls don’t come down easily. Then came divine intervention!


Oriella Charik: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.”
Oriella Charik: For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
Lord Byron
Oriella Charik: Six centuries later a Roman army arrived to besiege Jerusalem. It is said that a Roman officer asked a local farmer the name of the hill on which his legion was stationed “We call this the Assyrian camp”, the wily peasant replied, no doubt hoping for a similar fate to befall his questioner.
Oriella Charik: But I digress. There remained a mystery – where exactly WAS Lachish? Plainly it was somewhere in the Shephelah, a region of rolling hills between the Judean mountains and the coastal plain.
Oriella Charik: However, a number of these have ruins of ancient settlements on their summits, indeed the accumulation of broken pottery and other rubbish has considerably added to the height of some of them. There were plenty of candidates.
Oriella Charik: Sir Flinders Petrie, the famous Egyptologist, had turned his attention to Palestine in the 1890s, and in 1932 several of his pupils led by James Starkey stuck out on their own to investigate one such, Tell ed-Duweir.
Oriella Charik: There they found a large city that had been inhabited almost continuously through the Bronze and Iron Ages up until the time of Alexander the Great, after which it had been abandoned. No later construction had therefore disturbed the site, it was a perfect location for archaeology.
Oriella Charik: The expedition found many fascinating items such as the plaintive ‘Lachish letters’, written by the garrison commander on pieces of pottery shortly before the city fell to the Babylonians in 589 BCE but never sent. Here is Starkey showing where the letters were found. The finds are on display in Israel.

Starkey at Lachish

Oriella Charik: And here he is posing with a painted pot.

Olga and Starkey

Oriella Charik: However in 1938 Starkey was murdered by robbers on his way to Jerusalem and the expedition ended. At this point we can introduce our heroine, Olga Tufnell. That is her in the photograph.
Ceejay Writer: Wow.
Liz Wilner: murdered…how awful!
Oriella Charik: Tufnell had no qualifications in archaeology, she had taken employment with Petrie as his fund-raising secretary but impressed by her enthusiasm he had promoted her to supervising on his digs. At Lachish, she was the expedition’s recorder.

Olga Scaffold

Oriella Charik: Miss Tufnell was a keen photographer, here is one from her of precarious site photography at Lachish.
Liz Wilner: very precarious!
Oriella Charik: Back in England, determined that their work should not be forgotten, she spent the next twenty years researching and writing up the excavation report. The result in four volumes (Lachish I-IV) established a stratification of Palestinian pottery that has been used ever since.
Oriella Charik: ‘Stratification’? If something was undatable, a brooch for example, is found next to an Early Bronze Age pot then that dates it. They were the plastic bags of their time, thrown away after use and piling up everywhere.
Oriella Charik: Lachish remained largely undisturbed until 1973, when David Ussishkin of the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology began a major expedition that was to last for twenty years. In 1981 attention turned to the large mound in the southwest corner of the city.

Lachish Ramp

Oriella Charik: Starkey had surmised that this might be the siege ramp constructed by the Assyrians as shown in the reliefs. Ussishkin went further in suggesting that the reliefs might not be a generic picture but a specific illustration of the siege (others have since disputed this). The King had after all been present, he could himself have told the sculptors what to carve.
Oriella Charik: At this point my typist should declare a personal interest, having been a volunteer digger (more often a wheelbarrow pusher actually) on the siege ramp during two seasons.

Nick on Ramp

Liz Wilner: oo!
Bess Farley Weaver imagines archaeologists in the far-flung future, making stratification charts of our grocery store bags.
Liz Wilner: you were actually there!
Oriella Charik: Here is a view of the siege ramp under excavation taken by my typist. The ramps themselves are gone but the rubble used to construct them is visible.

Siege Ramp

Bess Farley Weaver: That must have been exciting.
Oriella Charik: It was!
Oriella Charik: A view from the opposite direction. That is an aerial view but we did not have drones in those days so we sent for the Kiryat Gat fire brigade! Here is my photograph of their platform, I was posing with my petouche (an archaeologist’s trowel) on the hillside pretending to look for arrowheads.

Fire Brigade

Ceejay Writer: Oriella, that’s so amazing that you worked on the ramp.
Oriella Charik: In the background is the modern village of Moshav Lachish, and that would have been where Sennacherib, King of Kings, King of Assyria was sitting outside his tent. Up in air is my friend Dr Nicolas Slope supervising, knees knocking as he suffered from acrophobia. He needed several beers to aid his recovery that evening.

Ramp and Counter Ramp

Liz Wilner: aww…lol
Ceejay Writer: Oh, poor guy.
Bess Farley Weaver: Haha, love these inside stories!
Oriella Charik: Here is a diagram of the area. Lower left is the Main Gate, a complex structure with a ramp leading up to it for wheeled traffic. In green is the siege ramp, at a saddle where the city walls were most approachable from the hill opposite.
Oriella Charik: One question was why the mound is so high. The answers lies in the yellow area in the diagram. It is a counter ramp, piled up by the defenders to prop up the inner wall after the outer had fallen.

Counter Ramp Section

Oriella Charik: It was a considerable undertaking, the excavators had to go down a long way to find the bottom. That was a seriously wobbly ladder which I climbed down once to clean for a VIP visit.
Ceejay Writer: Yeek
Bess Farley Weaver: I hope they offered you some beers too!
Liz Wilner: not me on that ladder…nope…nope…lol
Oriella Charik: My knees were fine
Bess Farley Weaver: Brave!
Liz Wilner: that ladder looks…shall we say…sketchy?
Oriella Charik: Well, time is getting on so I expect you are thinking “but what about the siege carts”?

Siege Engine

Ceejay Writer: How did you know???
Bess Farley Weaver: Slipped my mind 🙂
Oriella Charik: Here is one from the Lachish reliefs. To the left is a section of city wall, at the bottom are archers behind the cart providing covering fire. Assyria had specialised well armoured siege archers. The slope was littered with arrowheads and sling stones testifying to the intensity of the fighting.

Engine Drawing

Oriella Charik: Here is a modern drawing of the same cart. It is a wooden four wheeled structure made in sections, you can perhaps make out the straps joining them together. It would have been covered in leather at the front for protection, and has archers on top. Each cart had its own ramp up which it could be pushed from inside.
Liz Wilner: oh my
Bess Farley Weaver: Ingenious!
Oriella Charik: The walls were made of mud brick, and a large pick with a pointy end is being swung against it to bring it down. The defenders are throwing down torches, and from the cart a ladle is being used to put out a fire.

Siege Ramp

Liz Wilner: goodness…the carnage that thing wrought!
Oriella Charik: A cave was found where the bodies were dumped – there were a lot!
Liz Wilner: bless
Oriella Charik: And here is an imagining of the assault. Further back are slingers and archers with shield bearers to protect them. It was this siege equipment that made the Assyrians so feared by their enemies, no city was safe from them.
Oriella Charik: So there we have it. A Victorian polymath, a mighty King and a determined lady who never actually met. Plot twist!
Ceejay Writer: Wowie!
Oriella Charik: And that concludes my story. For further reading I will add references to the transcription. Wikipedia was as always invaluable in finding them.
Ceejay Writer: I’ll include all references in the transcript at the Salon website too.
Bess Farley Weaver: What a fascinating story that was, Oriella!
Ceejay Writer: Thank you for your diligence in research – this was very interesting.
Ceejay Writer: And so cool that you were THERE
Symeon Siamendes: Thank you for an interesting lecture
Bess Farley Weaver applauds the speaker enthusiastically!
Nika Thought-werk claps happily.
Oriella Charik: Any Questions, we a little time?
Ceejay Writer: Did you personally find anything of interest on the dig?
Toshinami とし波: I just enjoyed being able to make it to Aether Salon today ❤
Oriella Charik: Arrowheads – lots.
Ceejay Writer: Cool!
Oriella Charik: I was asked to bring out a metal detector for the dig, cheaper to buy in England. This totally perplexed Israeli security!
Liz Wilner: did you get arrested?
Oriella Charik: I had to show it was not a bomb by turning it on
Liz Wilner: LOL
Ceejay Writer: Egads!
Liz Wilner: well…that was probably a good thing
Oriella Charik: It beeped reassuringly
Oriella Charik: And proved useless for arrowheads, which are totally rust
Wildstar Beaumont: Israeli security can be very paranoid . A colleague of mine had her laptop disassembled and put back together
Liz Wilner: !!!
Toshinami とし波: oh wow
Symeon Siamendes: I hope it worked afterwards
Ceejay Writer: That’s a bit much
Oriella Charik: It was very good at finding cartridges from the 1948 war, which we were not looking for
Liz Wilner: the Israeli’s don’t mess around!
Bess Farley Weaver: Was the laptop better or worse for the experience?
Liz Wilner: any further questions?
Liz Wilner: Lady Charik…so well done! a round of applause for Lady Charik!
Symeon Siamendes: Yes
Ceejay Writer: For easy reference, I’ll be posting the chatlog at https://aethersalon.home.blog/ within a few days.
Vickie A. Maidstone: BRAVO! BRAVO!
Vickie A. Maidstone: Applause!!
Bess Farley Weaver claps!
Symeon Siamendes: thank you very much for an interesting lecture
Bess Farley Weaver: Very illuminating.
Symeon Siamendes: I need to be off now thank you again for the lecture
Wildstar Beaumont: thank you Ori
Wildstar Beaumont: good bye everyone
Toshinami とし波: Have a wonderful week everyone 😀
Nika Thought-werk waves to Miss Charik. “Thank you!”
Bess Farley Weaver: Thank you once again, Lady Oriella. I learned so much today!
Liz Wilner: Thank you Ori!


Sir Henry Layard and Nineveh



Judith Dekel drawings

Olga Tufnell
Free book

David Ussishkin
Counter ramp article by Ussishkin 1983


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