By Sayce, A. H. (Archibald Henry)
BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA
While the influence of Egypt upon Israel may be described as negative, that of Babylonia was positive. Abraham was a Babylonian by birth; the Asiatic world through which he wandered was Babylonian in civilisation and government, and the Babylonian exile was the final turning-point in the religious history of Judah. The Semitic Babylonians were allied in race and language to the Hebrews; they had common ideas and common points of view. Though Egyptian influence is markedly absent from the Mosaic Code, we find in it old Semitic institutions and beliefs which equally characterised Babylonia.
But the Semites were not the first occupants of Babylonia. The civilisation of the country had been founded by a race which spoke an agglutinative language, like that of the modern Finns or Turks, and which scholars have now agreed to call Sumerian. The Sumerians had been the builders of the cities, the reclaimers of the marshy plain, the inventors of the picture-writing which developed into the cuneiform or wedge-shaped characters, and the pioneers of a culture which profoundly affected the whole of western Asia. The Semites entered upon the inheritance, adopting, modifying, and improving upon it. The Babylonian civilisation, with which we are best acquainted, was the result of this amalgamation of Sumerian and Semitic elements.
Out of this mixture of Sumerians and Semites there arose a mixed people, a mixed language, and a mixed religion. The language and race of Babylonia were thus like those of England, probably also like those of Egypt. Mixed races are invariably the best; it is the more pure-blooded peoples who fall behind in the struggle for existence.
Recent excavations have thrown light on the early beginnings of Babylonia. The country itself was an alluvial plain, formed by the silt deposited each year by the Tigris and Euphrates. The land grows at the rate of about ninety feet a year, or less than two miles in a century; since the age of Alexander the Great the waters of the Persian Gulf have receded more than forty-six miles from the shore. When the Sumerians first settled by the banks of the Euphrates it must have been on the sandy plateau to the west of the river where the city of Ur, the modern Mugheir, was afterwards built. At that time the future Babylonia was a pestiferous marsh, inundated by the unchecked overflow of the rivers which flowed through it. The reclamation of the marsh was the first work of the new-comers. The rivers were banked out and the inundation regulated by means of canals. All this demanded no little engineering skill; in fact, the creation of Babylonia was the birth of the science of engineering.
Settlements were made in the fertile plain which had thus been won, and which, along with the adjoining desert, was called by the Sumerians the Edin, or "Plain." On the southern edge of this plain, and on what was then the coast-line of the Persian Gulf, the town of Eridu was built, which soon became a centre of maritime trade. Its site is now marked by the mounds of Abu Shahrein or Nowâwis, nearly 150 miles from the sea; its foundation, therefore, must go back to about 7500 years, or 5500 B.C. Ur, a little to the north-west, with its temple of the Moon-god, was a colony of Eridu.
In the plain itself many cities were erected, which rose around the temples of the gods. In the north was Nippur, now Niffer, whose great temple of Mul-lil or El-lil, the Lord of the Ghost-world, was a centre of Babylonian religion for unnumbered centuries. After the Semitic conquest Mul-lil came to be addressed as Bel or "Lord," and when the rise of Babylon caused the worship of its patron-deity Bel-Merodach to spread throughout the country, the Bel of Nippur became known as the "older Bel." Nippur was watered by the canal Kabaru, the Chebar of Ezekiel, and to the south of it was the city of Lagas, now Tello, where French excavators have brought to light an early seat of Sumerian power. A little to the west of Lagas was Larsa, the modern Senkereh, famous for its ancient temple of the Sun-god, a few miles to the north-west of which stood Erech, now Warka, dedicated to the Sky-god Anu and his daughter Istar.
Northward of Nippur was Bab-ili or Babylon, "the Gate of God," a Semitic translation of its original Sumerian name, Ka-Dimirra. It was a double city, built on either side of the Euphrates, and adjoining its suburb of Borsippa, once an independent town. Babylon seems to have been a colony of Eridu, and its god, Bel-Merodach, called by the Sumerians "Asari who does good to man," was held to be the son of Ea, the culture-god of Eridu. E-Saggil, the great temple of Bel-Merodach, rose in the midst of Babylon; the temple of Nebo, his "prophet" and interpreter, rose hard by in Borsippa. Its ruins are now known as the Birs-i-Nimrûd, in which travellers have seen the Tower of Babel.
In the neighbourhood of Babylon were Kish (El-Hymar) and Kutha (Tel-Ibrahim); somewhat to the north of it, and on the banks of the Euphrates, was Sippara or Sepharvaim, whose temple, dedicated to the Sun-god, has been found in the mounds of Abu-Habba. Sippara was the northern fortress of the Babylonian plain; it stood where the Tigris and Euphrates approached most nearly one another, and where, therefore, the plain itself came practically to an end. Upi or Opis, on the Tigris, still farther to the north, lay outside the boundaries of primæval Chaldæa.
East of Babylonia were the mountains of Elam, inhabited by non-Semitic tribes. Among them were the Kassi or Kossæeans, who maintained a rude independence in their mountain fastnesses, and who, at one time, overran Babylonia and founded a dynasty there which lasted for several centuries. The capital of Elam was Susa or Shushan, the seat of an early monarchy, whose civilisation was derived from the Babylonians.
In the south the Tigris and Euphrates made their way to the region of salt-marshes, called Marratu in the inscriptions, Merathaim by the prophet Jeremiah. They were inhabited by the Semitic tribe of the Kaldâ, whose princes owned an unwilling obedience to the Babylonian kings. One of them, Merodach-baladan, succeeded in making himself master of Babylonia, and from that time forward the Kaldâ became so integral a part of the population as eventually to give their name to the whole of it. For the writers of Greece and Rome the Babylonians are Chaldæans. It is probable that Nebuchadrezzar was of Kaldâ origin; if so, this would have been a further reason for the extension of the tribal name to the whole country.
The settlement of the Kaldâ in the marshes was of comparatively late date. Indeed, in the early age of Babylonian history these marshes did not as yet exist; it was not until Eridu had ceased to be a seaport that they were reclaimed from the sea. The Kaldâ were the advance-guard of the Nabatheans and other Aramaic tribes of northern Arabia, who migrated into Babylonia and pitched their tents on the banks of the Euphrates, first of all as herdsmen, afterwards as traders. After the fall of the Babylonian monarchy their numbers and importance increased, and the Aramaic they spoke—the so-called "Chaldee"—came more and more to supersede the language of Babylonia.
When first we get a glimpse of Babylonian history, the country is divided into a number of small principalities. They are all Sumerian, and among them the principality of Kish occupies a leading place. The temple of Mul-lil at Nippur is the central sanctuary, to which they bring their offerings, and from which a civilising influence emanates. It is an influence, however, which reflects the darker side of life. Mul-lil was the lord of the dead; his priests were sorcerers and magicians, and their sacred lore consisted of spells and incantations. Supplementing the influence of Nippur, and in strong contrast with it, was the influence of Eridu. Ea or Oannes, the god of Eridu, was a god who benefited mankind. He was the lord of wisdom, and his wisdom displayed itself in delivering men from the evils that surrounded them, and in teaching them the arts of life. But he was lord also of the water, and it was told of him how he had arisen, morning after morning, from the depths of the Persian Gulf, and had instructed the people of Chaldæa in all the elements of civilisation. Eridu was the home of the hymns that were sung to the gods of light and life, and which came to be looked upon as divinely inspired.
It is clear that the myth of Cannes points to foreign intercourse as the ultimate cause of Babylonian culture. It is natural that such should have been the case. Commerce is still the great civiliser, and the traders and sailors of Eridu created tastes and needs which they sought to satisfy.
The small states of Babylonia were constantly at war with each other, even though they shared in a common civilisation, worshipped the same gods, and presented their offerings to the same sanctuary of Nippur. Southern Babylonia—or Kengi, "the land of canals and reeds," as it was often named—was already divided against the north. At times it exercised supremacy as far as Nippur. En-sakkus-ana of Kengi conquered Kis, like one of his predecessors who had dedicated the statue, the store of silver, and the furniture of the conquered prince to Mul-lil. Kis claimed sovereignty over the Bedâwin "archers," who had their home in the district now called Jokha. But Kis eventually revenged itself. One of its rulers made himself master of Nippur, and the kingdom of Kengi passed away. The final blow was struck by Lugal-zaggi-si, the son of the high-priest of the city of Opis. Lugal-zaggi-si not only conquered Babylonia, he also created an empire. On the vases of delicately-carved stone which he dedicated to the god of Nippur, a long inscription of one hundred and thirty-two lines describes his deeds, and tells how he had extended his dominion from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. It may be that at this time the culture of Babylonia was first brought to the west, and that his conquests first communicated a knowledge of the Sumerian language and writing to the nations of western Asia. With the spoils of his victories the walls of Ur were raised "high as heaven," and the temple of the Sun-god at Larsa was enlarged. Erech was made his capital, and doubtless now received its Sumerian title of "the City" par excellence.
The dynasty of Erech was supplanted by the First dynasty of Ur. Erech was captured by Lugal-kigub-nidudu of Ur, and took the second rank in the new kingdom. The position of Ur on the western bank of the Euphrates exposed it to the attacks of the Semitic tribes of northern Arabia, and thus accustomed its inhabitants to the use of arms, while at the same time its proximity to Eridu made it a centre of trade. In Abrahamic days it had long been a place of resort and settlement by Arabian and Canaanite merchants.
How long the supremacy of Ur lasted we do not know. Nor do we know whether it preceded or was followed by the supremacy of Lagas. The kings of Lagas had succeeded in overcoming their hereditary enemies to the north. The so-called "Stela of the Vultures," now in the Louvre, commemorates the overthrow of the forces of the land of Upe or Opis, and depicts the bodies of the slain as they lie on the battlefield devoured by the birds of prey. E-ana-gin, the king of Lagas who erected it, never rested until he had subjected the rest of southern Babylonia to his sway. The whole of "Sumer" was subdued, and the memory of a time when a king of Kis, Mesa by name, had subjected Lagas to his rule, was finally wiped out.
High-priests now took the place of kings in Kis and the country of Opis. But a time came when the same change occurred also at Lagas. doubtless in consequence of its conquest by some superior power. One of the monuments discovered at Tello, the ancient Lagas, describes the victories of the "high-priest" Entemena over the ancestral foe, and the appointment of a certain Ili as "high-priest" of the land of Opis. From henceforward Kis and Opis disappear from history.
A new power had meanwhile appeared on the scene. While the Sumerian princes were engaged in mutual war, the Semites were occupying northern Babylonia, and establishing their power in the city of Agadê or Akkad, not far from Sippara. Here, in B.C. 3800, arose the empire of Sargani-sar-ali, better known to posterity as "Sargon" of Akkad. He became the hero of the Semitic race in Babylonia. Legends told how he had been hidden by his royal mother in an ark of bulrushes daubed with pitch, and intrusted to the waters of the Euphrates, how he had been found and adopted as a son by Akki the irrigator, and how the goddess Istar had loved him and restored him to his kingly estate. At all events, the career of Sargon was a career of victories. Babylonia was united under his rule, Elam was subjugated, and three campaigns sufficed to make "the land of the Amorites," Syria and Canaan, obedient to his sway. He caused an image of himself to be carved on the shores of the Mediterranean, and demanded tribute from Cyprus, Uru-Malik or Urimelech being appointed governor of Syria, as we learn from a cadastral survey of the district of Lagas. A revolt of the Sumerian states, however, called him home, and for a time fortune seemed against him. He was besieged in Akkad, but a successful sally drove back the rebels, and they were soon utterly crushed. Then Sargon marched into Suri or Mesopotamia, subduing that country as well as the future Assyria. It was the last, however, of his exploits. His son Naram-Sin succeeded him shortly afterwards (B.C. 3750), and continued the conquests of his father, Canaan was already a Babylonian province, and Naram-Sin now carried his arms against Magan, or the Sinaitic Peninsula, where he secured the precious mines of copper and turquoise. Building stone from Magan had already been imported to Babylonia by Ur-Nina, a king of Lagas, and grandfather of E-ana-gin, but it must have been brought in the ships of Eridu.
Naram-Sin's son was Bingani-sar-ali. A queen, Ellat-Gula, seems to have sat on the throne not many years later, and with her the dynasty may have come to an end. At any rate, the empire of Akkad is heard of no more. But it left behind it a profound and abiding impression on western Asia. Henceforward the culture and art of the west was Babylonian,—Semitic Babylonian, however, and no longer Sumerian Babylonian as in the days of Lugal-zaggi-si. Sargon was a patron of literature as well as a warrior. Standard works on astronomy and astrology and the science of omens were compiled for the great library he established at Akkad, where numerous scribes were kept constantly at work. Sumerian books were brought from the cities of the south and translated into Semitic; commentaries were written on the older literature of the country, and dictionaries and grammars compiled. It was now that that mixed language arose, or at least was admitted into the literary dialect, which made Babylonian so much resemble modern English. The lexicon was filled with Sumerian words which had put on a Semitic form, and Semitic lips expressed themselves in Sumerian idioms.
Art, too, reached a high perfection. The seal-cylinders of the reign of Sargon of Akkad represent the highest efforts of the gem-cutter's skill in ancient Babylonia, and a bas-relief of Naram-Sin, found at Diarbekr in northern Mesopotamia, while presenting close analogies to the Egyptian art of the Old Empire, is superior to anything of the kind as yet discovered in Babylonia of either an earlier or a later date. As in Egypt, so too in Babylonia, the sculpture of later times shows retrogression rather than advance. It is impossible not to believe that between the art of Egypt in the age of the Old Empire and that of Babylonia in the reigns of Sargon and Naram-Sin there was an intimate connection. The mines of the Sinaitic Peninsula were coveted by both countries.
Sumerian princes still continued to rule in Sumer or southern Babylonia, but after the era of Sargon their power grew less and less. A Second Sumerian dynasty, however, arose at Ur, and claimed sovereignty over the rest of Chaldæa. One of its kings, Ur-Bau, was a great builder and restorer of the temples, and under his son and successor Dungi (B.C. 2700), a high-priest of the name of Gudea governed Lagas, the monuments of which have given us an insight into the condition of the country in his age. His statues of hard diorite from the Peninsula of Sinai are now in the Louvre; one of them is that of the architect of his palace, with a copy of its plan upon his lap divided according to scale. Gudea, though owning allegiance to Dungi, carried on wars on his own behalf, and boasts of having conquered "Ansan of Elam." The materials for his numerous buildings were brought from far. Hewn stones were imported from the "land of the Amorites," limestone and alabaster from the Lebanon, gold-dust and acacia-wood from the desert to the south of Palestine, copper from northern Arabia, and various sorts of wood from the Armenian mountains. Other trees came from Dilmun in the Persian Gulf, from Gozan in Mesopotamia, and from Gubin, which is possibly Gebal. The bitumen was derived from "Madga in the mountains of the river Gurruda," in which some scholars have seen the name of the Jordan, and the naphtha springs of the vale of Siddim.
The library of Gudea has been found entire, with its 30,000 tablets or books arranged in order on its shelves, and filled with information which it will take years of labour to examine thoroughly. Not long after his death, the Second dynasty of Ur gave way to a Third, this time of Semitic origin. Its kings still claimed that sovereignty over Syria and Palestine which had been won by Sargon. One of them, Inê-Sin, carried his arms to the west, and married his daughters to the "high-priests" of Ansan in Elam, and of Mer'ash in northern Syria. His grandson, Gimil-Sin, marched to the ranges of the Lebanon and overran the land of Zamzali, which seems to be the Zamzummim of Scripture.
But with Gimil-Sin the strength of the dynasty seems to have come to an end. Babylonia was given over to the stranger, and a dynasty of kings from southern Arabia fixed its seat at Babylon. The language they spoke and the names they bore were common to Canaan and the south of Arabia, and sounded strangely in Babylonian ears. The founder of the dynasty was Sumu-abi, "Shem is my father," a name in which we cannot fail to recognise the Shem of the Old Testament. His descendants, however, had some difficulty in extending and maintaining their authority. The native princes of southern Babylonia resisted it, and the Elamites harried the country with fire and sword. In B.C. 2280 Kudur-Nankhundi, the Elamite king, sacked Erech and carried away the image of its goddess, and not long afterwards we find another Elamite king, Kudur-Laghghamar or Chedor-laomer, claiming lordship over the whole of Chaldsea. The western provinces of Babylonia shared in the fate of the sovereign power, and an Elamite prince, Kudur-Mabug by name, was made "Father" or "Governor of the land of the Amorites." His son Eri-Aku, the Arioch of Genesis, was given the title of king in southern Babylonia, with Larsa as his capital. Larsa had been taken by storm by the Elamite forces, and its native king, Sin-idinnam, driven out. He fled for refuge to the court of the King of Babylon, who still preserved a semblance of authority.
Khammurabi or Amraphel, the fifth successor of Sumu-abi, was now on the throne of Babylon. His long reign of fifty-five years marked an epoch in Babylonian history. At first he was the vassal of Kudur-Laghghamar, and along with his brother vassals, Eri-Aku of Larsa and Tudghula or Tidal of Kurdistan, had to serve in the campaigns of his suzerain lord in Canaan. But an opportunity came at last for revolt, it may be in consequence of the disaster which had befallen the army of the invaders in Syria at the hands of Abram and his Amorite allies. The war lasted long, and at the beginning went against the King of Babylon. Babylon itself was captured by the enemy, and its great temple laid in ruins. But soon afterwards the tide turned. Eri-Aku and his Elamite supporters were defeated in a decisive battle. Larsa was retaken, and Khammurabi ruled once more over an independent and united Babylonia. Sin-idinnam was restored to his principality, and we now possess several of the letters written to him by Khammurabi, in which his bravery is praised on "the day of Kudur-Laghghamar's defeat," and he is told to send back the images of certain Elamite goddesses to their original seats. They had doubtless been carried to Larsa when it fell into the hands of the Elamite invaders.
As soon as Babylonia was cleared of its enemies, Khammurabi set himself to the work of fortifying its cities, of restoring and building its temples and walls, and of clearing and digging canals. The great canal known as that of "the King," in the northern part of the country, was either made or re-excavated by him, and at Kilmad, near the modern Bagdad, a palace was erected. Art and learning were encouraged, and a literary revival took place which brought back the old glories of the age of Sargon. Once more new editions were made of standard works, poets arose to celebrate the deeds of the monarch, and books became multiplied. Among the literary products of the period was the great Chaldæan Epic in twelve books, recording the adventures of the hero Gilgames, and embodying the Chaldæan story of the Deluge.
The supremacy over western Asia passed to Khammurabi, along with sovereignty over Babylonia, and he assumed the title of "King of the land of the Amorites." So too did his great-grandson, Ammi-ditana. Two generations later, with Samas-ditana the First dynasty of Babylon came to an end. It had made Babylon the capital of the country—a position which it never subsequently lost. It had raised Bel-Merodach, the god of Babylon, to the head of the pantheon, and it had lasted for 304 years. It was followed by a Sumerian dynasty from the south, which governed the country for 368 years, but of which we know little more than the names of the kings composing it and the length of their several reigns.
It fell before the avalanche of an invasion from the mountains of Elam. The Kassites poured into the Babylonian plain, and Kassite kings ruled at Babylon for 576 years and a half. During their domination the map of western Asia underwent a change. The Kassite conquest destroyed the Babylonian empire; Canaan was lost to it for ever, and eventually became a province of Egypt. The high-priests of Assur, now Kaleh Sherghat, near the confluence of the Tigris and Lower Zab, made themselves independent and founded the kingdom of Assyria, which soon extended northward into the angle formed by the Tigris and Upper Zab, where the cities of Nineveh and Calah afterwards arose. The whole country had previously been included by the Babylonians in Gutium or Kurdistan.
The population of Assyria seems to have been more purely Semitic than that of Babylonia. Such at least was the case with the ruling classes. It was a population of free peasants, of soldiers, and of traders. Its culture was derived from Babylonia; even its gods, with the exception of Assur, were of Babylonian origin. We look in vain among the Assyrians for the peace-loving tendencies of the Babylonians; they were, on the contrary, the Romans of the East. They were great in war, and in the time of the Second Assyrian empire great also in law and administration. But they were not a literary people; education among them was confined to the scribes and officials, rather than generally spread as in Babylonia. War and commerce were their two trades.
The Kassite conquerors of Babylonia soon submitted to the influences of Babylonian civilisation. Like the Hyksos in Egypt, they adopted the manners and customs, the writing and language, of the conquered people, sometimes even their names. The army, however, continued to be mainly composed of Kassite troops, and the native Babylonians began to forget the art of fighting. The old claims to sovereignty in the west, however, were never resigned; but the Kassite kings had to content themselves with intriguing against the Egyptian government in Palestine, either with disaffected Canaanites, or with the Hittites and Mitannians, while at the same time they professed to be the firm friends of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Burna-buryas in B.C. 1400 writes affectionately to his "brother" of Egypt, begging for some of the gold which in Egypt he declares is as abundant "as the dust," and which he needs for his buildings at home. He tells the Egyptian king how his father Kuri-galzu had refused to listen to the Canaanites when they had offered to betray their country to him, and he calls Khu-n-Aten to account for treating the Assyrians as an independent nation and not as the vassals of Babylonia.
The Assyrians, however, did not take the same view as the Babylonian king. They had been steadily growing in power, and had intermarried into the royal family of Babylonia. Assur-yuballidh, one of whose letters to the Pharaoh has been found at Tel el-Amarna, had married his daughter to the uncle and predecessor of Burna-buryas, and his grandson became king of Babylon. A revolt on the part of the Kassite troops gave the Assyrians an excuse for interfering in the affairs of Babylonia, and from this time forward their eyes were turned covetously towards the kingdom of the south.
As Assyria grew stronger, Babylonia became weaker. Calah, now Nimrud, was founded about B.C. 1300 by Shalmaneser I., and his son and successor Tiglath-Ninip threw off all disguise and marched boldly into Babylonia in the fifth year of his reign. Babylon was taken, the treasures of its temple sent to Assur, and Assyrian governors set over the country, while a special seal was made for the use of the conqueror. For seven years the Assyrian domination lasted. Then Tiglath-Ninip was driven back to Assyria, where he was imprisoned and murdered by his son, and the old line of Kassite princes was restored in the person of Rimmon-sum-uzur. But it continued only four reigns longer. A new dynasty from the town of Isin seized the throne, and ruled for 132 years and six months.
It was while this dynasty was reigning that a fresh line of energetic monarchs mounted the Assyrian throne. Rimmon-nirari I., the father of Shalmaneser I. (B.C. 1330-1300) had already extended the frontiers of Assyria to the Khabur in the west and the Kurdish mountains in the north, and his son settled an Assyrian colony at the head-waters of the Tigris, which served to garrison the country. But after the successful revolt of the Babylonians against Tiglath-Ninip the Assyrian power decayed. More than a century later Assur-ris-isi entered again on a career of conquest and reduced the Kurds to obedience.
His son, Tiglath-pileser I., was one of the great conquerors of history. He carried his arms far and wide. Kurdistan and Armenia, Mesopotamia and Comagênê, were all alike overrun by his armies in campaign after campaign. The Hittites paid tribute, as also did Phoenicia, where he sailed on the Mediterranean in a ship of Arvad and killed a dolphin in its waters. The Pharaoh of Egypt, alarmed at the approach of so formidable an invader, sent him presents, which included a crocodile and a hippopotamus, and on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, near Carchemish and Pethor, he hunted wild elephants, as Thothmes III. had done before him. His son still claimed supremacy in the west, as is shown by the fact that he erected statues in "the land of the Amorites." But the energy of the dynasty was now exhausted, and Assyria for a time passed under eclipse. This was the period when David established his empire; there was no other great power to oppose him in the Oriental world, and it seemed as if Israel was about to take the place that had once been filled by Egypt and Babylon. But the opportunity was lost; the murder of Joab and the unwarlike character of Solomon effectually checked all dreams of conquest, and Israel fell back into two petty states.
The military revival of Assyria was as sudden as had been its decline. In B.C. 885, Assur-nazir-pal II. ascended the throne. His reign of twenty-five years was passed in constant campaigns, in ferocious massacres, and the burning of towns. In both his inscriptions and his sculptures he seems to gloat over the tortures he inflicted on the defeated foe. Year after year his armies marched out of Nineveh to slaughter and destroy, and to bring back with them innumerable captives and vast amounts of spoil. Western Asia was overrun, tribute was received from the Hittites and from Phoenicia, and Armenia was devastated by the Assyrian forces as far north as Lake Van. The policy of Assur-nazir-pal was continued by his son and successor Shalmaneser II., with less ferocity, but with more purpose (B.C. 860-825). Assyria became dominant in Asia; its empire stretched from Media on the east to the Mediterranean on the west. But it was an empire which was without organisation or permanency. Every year a new campaign was needed to suppress the revolts which broke out as soon as the Assyrian army was out of sight, or to supply the treasury with fresh spoil. The campaigns were in most cases raids rather than the instruments of deliberately planned conquest. Hence it was that the Assyrian monarch found himself checked in the west by the petty kings of Damascus and the neighbouring states. Ben-Hadad and Hazael, it is true, were beaten again and again along with their allies, while Omri of Israel offered tribute to the invader, like the rich cities of Phoenicia; but Damascus remained untaken and its people unsubdued.
The war with Assyria, however, saved Israel from being swallowed up by its Syrian neighbour. Hazael's strength was exhausted in struggling for his own existence; he had none left for the conquest of Samaria. Shalmaneser himself, towards the end of his life, was no longer in a position to attack others. A great revolt broke out against him, headed by his son Assur-dain-pal, the Sardanapallos of the Greeks, who established himself at Nineveh, and there reigned as rival king for about seven years. His brother Samas-Rimmon, who had remained faithful to his father, at last succeeded in putting down the rebellion. Nineveh was taken, and its defenders slain. Henceforth Samas-Rimmon reigned with an undisputed title.
But Assyria was long in recovering from the effects of the revolt, which had shaken her to the foundations. The dynasty itself never recovered. Samas-Rimmon, indeed, at the head of the army which had overcome his brother, continued the military policy of his predecessors; the tribes of Media and southern Armenia were defeated, and campaigns were carried on against Babylonia, the strength of which was now completely broken. In B.C. 812 Babylon was taken, but two years later Samas-Rimmon himself died, and was succeeded by his son Rimmon-nirari III. His reign was passed in constant warfare on the frontiers of the empire, and in B.C. 804 Damascus was surrendered to him by its king Mariha, who became an Assyrian tributary. In the following year a pestilence broke out, and when his successor, Shalmaneser III., mounted the throne in B.C. 781, he found himself confronted by a new and formidable power, that of Ararat or Van. The eastern and northern possessions of Assyria were taken from her, and the monarchy fell rapidly into decay. In B.C. 763 an eclipse of the sun took place on the 15th of June, and was the signal for the outbreak of a revolt in Assur, the ancient capital of the kingdom. It spread rapidly to other parts of the empire, and though for a time the government held its own against the rebels, the end came in B.C. 745. Assur-nirari, the last of the old dynasty, died or was put to death, and Pulu or Pul, one of his generals, was proclaimed king on the 13th of Iyyar or April under the name of Tiglath-pileser III.
Tiglath-pileser III. was the founder of the Second Assyrian empire, which was based on a wholly different principle from that of the first. Occupation and not plunder was the object of its wars. The ancient empire of Babylonia in western Asia was to be restored, and the commerce of the Mediterranean to be diverted into Assyrian hands. The campaigns of Tiglath-pileser and his successors were thus carried on in accordance with a deliberate line of policy. They aimed at the conquest of the whole civilised world, and the building up of a great organisation of which Nineveh and its ruler were the head. It was a new principle and a new idea. And measures were at once adopted to realise it.
The army was made an irresistible engine of attack. Its training, discipline, and arms were such as the world had never seen before. And the army was followed by a body of administrators. The conquered population was transported elsewhere or else deprived of its leaders, and Assyrian colonies and garrisons were planted in its place. The administration was intrusted to a vast bureaucracy, at the head of which stood the king. He appointed the satraps who governed the provinces, and were responsible for the taxes and tribute, as well as for the maintenance of order. The bureaucracy was partly military, partly civil, the two elements acting as a check one upon the other.
But it was necessary that Ararat should be crushed before the plans of the new monarch could be carried out. The strength of the army was first tested in campaigns against Babylonia and the Medes, and then Tiglath-pileser marched against the confederated forces of the Armenian king. A league had been formed among the princes of northern Syria in connection with that of the Armenians, but the Assyrian king annihilated the army of Ararat in Comagênê, and then proceeded to besiege Arpad. Arpad surrendered after a blockade of three years; Hamath, which had been assisted by Azariah of Judah, was reduced into an Assyrian province; and a court was held, at which the sovereigns of the west paid homage and tribute to the conqueror (B.C. 738). Among these were Rezon of Damascus and Menahem of Samaria. Tiglath-pileser was still known in Palestine under his original name of Pul, and the tribute of Menahem is accordingly described by the Israelitish chronicler as having been given to Pul.
The Assyrian king was now free to turn the full strength of his forces against Ararat. The country was ravaged up to the very gates of its capital, the modern Van, and only the strong walls of the city kept the invader out of it. The Assyrian army next moved eastward to the southern shores of the Caspian, striking terror into the Kurdish and Median tribes, and so securing the lowlands of Assyria from their raids. The affairs of Syria next claimed the attention of the conqueror. Rezon and Pekah, the new king of Samaria, had attempted to form a league against Assyria; and, with this end in view, determined to replace Ahaz, the youthful king of Judah, by a creature of their own. Ahaz turned in his extremity to Assyrian help, and Tiglath-pileser seized the opportunity of accepting the vassalage of Judah, with its strong fortress of Jerusalem, and at the same time of overthrowing both Damascus and Samaria. Rezon was closely besieged in his capital, while the rest of the Assyrian army was employed in overrunning Samaria, Ammon, Moab, and the Philistines (B.C. 734). Pekah was put to death, and Hosea appointed by the Assyrians in his place. After a siege of two years, Damascus fell in B.C. 732, Rezon was slain, and his kingdom placed under an Assyrian satrap. Meanwhile Tyre was compelled to purchase peace by an indemnity of 150 talents.
Syria was now at the feet of Nineveh. A great gathering of the western kings took place at Damascus, where Tiglath-pileser held his court after the capture of the city, and the list of those who came to do homage to him includes Jehoahaz or Ahaz of Judah, and the kings of Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Hamath. Hosea, it would seem, was not yet on the Israelitish throne.
The old empire of Babylonia was thus restored as far as the Mediterranean. All that remained was for the Assyrian usurper to legitimise his title by occupying Babylon itself, and there receiving the crown of Asia. In B.C. 731, accordingly, he found a pretext for invading Babylonia and seizing the holy city of western Asia. Two years later he "took the hands" of Bel-Merodach, and was thereby adopted by the god as his own son. But he did not live long to enjoy the fruits of his victories. He died December B.C. 727, and another usurper, Ululâ, possessed himself of the throne, and assumed the name of Shalmaneser IV. His reign, however, was short. He died while besieging Samaria, which had revolted after the death of its conqueror, and in December B.C. 722, a third general seized the vacant crown. He took the name of the old Babylonian monarch, Sargon, and the court chroniclers of after-days discovered that he was a descendant of the legendary kings of Assyria. His first achievement was the capture of Samaria. Little spoil, however, was found in the half-ruined city; and the upper classes, who were responsible for the rebellion, were carried into captivity to the number of 27,280 persons. The city itself was placed under an Assyrian governor.
Sargon found that the empire of Tiglath-pileser had in great measure to be re-conquered. Neither Tiglath-pileser nor his successor had been able to leave the throne to their children, and the conquered provinces had taken advantage of the troubles consequent on their deaths to revolt. Babylonia had been lost. Merodach-baladan, the Chaldæan prince, had emerged from the marshes of the south and occupied Babylon, where he was proclaimed king immediately after Shalmaneser's death. For twelve years he reigned there, with the help of the Elamites, and one of the first tasks of Sargon was to drive the latter from the Assyrian borders. Sargon had next to suppress a revolt in Hamath, as well as an invasion of Palestine by the Egyptians. The Egyptian army, however, was defeated at Raphia, and the Philistines with whom it was in alliance returned to their allegiance to the Assyrian king.
Now came, however, a more serious struggle. Ararat had recovered from the blow it had received at the hands of Tiglath-pileser, and had organised a general confederacy of the northern nations against their dangerous neighbour. For six years the struggle continued. But it ended in victory for the Assyrians. Carchemish, the Hittite stronghold which commanded the road across the Euphrates, was taken in B.C. 717, and the way lay open to the west. The barrier that had existed for seven centuries between the Semites of the east and west was removed, and the last relic of the Hittite conquests in Syria passed away. In the following year Sargon overran the territories of the Minni between Ararat and Lake Urumiyeh, and two years later the northern confederacy was utterly crushed. The fortress of Muzazir, under Mount Rowandiz, was added to the Assyrian dominions, its gods were carried into captivity, and the King of Ararat committed suicide in despair. From henceforward Assyria had nothing to fear on the side of the north. The turn of the Medes came next. They were compelled to acknowledge the supremacy of Nineveh; so also was the kingdom of Ellipi, the later Ekbatana. Sargon could now turn his attention to Babylonia.
Merodach-baladan had foreseen the coming storm, and had done his best to secure allies. An alliance was made with the Elamites, who were alarmed at the conquest of Ellipi; and ambassadors were sent to Palestine (in B.C. 711), there to arrange a general rising of the population, simultaneously with the outbreak of war between Sargon and the Babylonian king. But before the confederates were ready to move, Sargon had fallen upon them separately. Ashdod, the centre of the revolt in the west, was invested and taken by the Turtannu or commander-in-chief; its ruler, a certain "Greek," who had been raised to power by the anti-Assyrian party, fled to the Arabian desert in the vain hope of saving his life, and Judah, Moab, and Edom were forced to renew their tribute. The Egyptians, who had promised to assist the rebels in Palestine, prudently retired, and the Assyrian yoke was fixed more firmly than ever upon the nations of Syria. Merodach-baladan was left to face his foe alone. In B.C. 709 he was driven out of Babylon, and forced to take refuge in his ancestral kingdom in the marshes. Sargon entered Babylon in triumph, and "took the hands of Bel." His title to rule was acknowledged by the god and the priesthood, and an Assyrian was once more the lord of western Asia.
Four years later the old warrior was murdered by a soldier, and on the 12th of Ab, or July, his son Sennacherib was proclaimed king. Sennacherib was a different man from his father. Sargon had been an able and energetic general, rough perhaps and uncultured, but vigorous and determined. His son was weak and boastful, and under him the newly-formed Assyrian empire met with its first check. It is significant that the Babylonian priests never acknowledged him as the successor of their ancient kings; he revenged himself by razing the city and sanctuary of Bel to the ground.
Merodach-baladan re-entered Babylon immediately after the death of Sargon in B.C. 705, but he was soon driven back to his retreat in the Chaldæan marshes, and an Assyrian named Bel-ibni was appointed king in his place. The next campaign of importance undertaken by Sennacherib was in B.C. 701. Palestine had revolted, under the leadership of Hezekiah of Judah. The full strength of the Assyrian army was accordingly hurled against it. The King of Sidon fled to Cyprus, and Phoenicia, Ammon, Moab, and Edom hastened to submit to their dangerous foe. Hezekiah and his Philistine vassals alone ventured to resist.
The Philistines, however, were soon subdued. A new king was appointed over Ashkelon, and Hezekiah was compelled to restore to Ekron its former prince, whom he had imprisoned in Jerusalem on account of his loyalty to Assyria. The priests and nobles of Ekron, who had given him up to Hezekiah, were ruthlessly impaled. Meanwhile Tirhakah, the Ethiopian king of Egypt, on whose help Hezekiah had relied, was marching to the assistance of his ally. Sennacherib met him at Eltekeh, and there the combined forces of the Egyptians and Arabians were defeated and compelled to retreat. Hezekiah now endeavoured to make peace by the offer of rich and numerous presents, including thirty talents of gold and 800 of silver. But nothing short of the death of the Jewish king and the transportation of his people would content the invader. Hezekiah accordingly shut himself up within the strong walls of his capital, while the Assyrians ravaged the rest of the country and prepared to besiege Jerusalem. The cities and villages were destroyed, and 200,150 persons were led away into captivity. But at this moment a catastrophe befell the Assyrians which saved Hezekiah and "the remnant" of Israel. The angel of death smote the Assyrian army, and it was decimated by a sudden pestilence. Sennacherib fled from the plague-stricken camp, carrying with him his spoil and captives, and the scanty relics of his troops. It was the last time he marched to the west, and his rebellious vassal remained unpunished.
In the following year troubles in Babylonia called him to the south. Merodach-baladan was hunted out of the marshes, and fled with his subjects across the Persian Gulf to the opposite coast of Elam, while a son of Sennacherib was made king of Babylon. But his reign did not last long. Six years later he was carried off to Elam, and a new king of native origin, Nergal-yusezib by name, was proclaimed by the Elamites. This was in return for an attack made by Sennacherib upon the Chaldæan colony in Elam, where the followers of Merodach-baladan had found a refuge. Sennacherib had caused ships to be built at Nineveh by Phoenician workmen, and had manned them with Tyrian, Sidonian, and Ionian sailors who were prisoners of war. The ships sailed down to the Tigris and across the gulf, and then fell unexpectedly upon the Chaldæans, burning their settlement, and carrying away all who had escaped massacre.
Nergal-yusezib had reigned only one year when he was defeated and captured in battle by the Assyrians; but the Elamites were still predominant in Babylonia, and another Babylonian, Musezib-Merodach, was set upon the throne of the distracted country (B.C. 693). In B.C. 691 Sennacherib once more entered it, with an overwhelming army, determined to crush all opposition. But the battle of Khalulê, fought between the Assyrians on the one side, and the combined Babylonians and Elamites on the other, led to no definite result. Sennacherib, indeed, claimed the victory, but so he had also done in the case of the campaign against Hezekiah. Two years more were needed before the Babylonians at last yielded to the superior forces of their enemy. In B.C. 689 Babylon was taken by storm, and a savage vengeance wreaked upon it. The sacred city of western Asia was levelled with the dust, the temple of Bel himself was not spared, and the Arakhtu canal which flowed past it was choked with ruins. The Babylonian chronicler tells us that for eight years there were "no kings;" the image of Bel-Merodach had been cast to the ground by the sacrilegious conqueror, and there was none who could legitimise his right to rule.
On the 20th of Tebet, or December, B.C. 681, Sennacherib was murdered by his two sons, and the Babylonians saw in the deed the punishment of his crimes. His favourite son, Esar-haddon, was at the time commanding the Assyrian army in a war against Erimenas of Ararat. As soon as the news of the murder reached him, he determined to dispute the crown with his brothers, and accordingly marched against them. They were in no position to resist him, and after holding Nineveh for forty-two days, fled to the court of the Armenian king. Esar-haddon followed, and a battle fought near Malatiyeh, on the 12th of Iyyar, or April, B.C. 680, decided the fate of the empire. The veterans of Esar-haddon utterly defeated the conspirators and their Armenian allies, and at the close of the day he was saluted as king. He then returned to Nineveh, and on the 8th of Sivan, or May, formally ascended the throne.
Esar-haddon proved himself to be not only one of the best generals Assyria ever produced, but a great administrator as well. He endeavoured to cement his empire together by a policy of reconciliation, and one of his first actions was to rebuild Babylon, to bring back to it its gods and people, and to make it one of the royal residences. Bel acknowledged him as his adopted son, and for twelve years Esar-haddon ruled over western Asia by right divine as well as by the right of conquest.
But a terrible danger menaced Assyria and the rest of the civilised Oriental world at the very beginning of his reign. Sennacherib's conquest of Ellipi, and the wars against Ararat and Minni, had weakened the barriers which protected the Assyrian empire from the incursions of the barbarians of the north. The Gimirrâ or Kimmerians, the Gomer of the Old Testament, driven by the Scyths from their seats on the Dniester and the Sea of Azof, suddenly appeared on the horizon of western Asia. Swarming through the territories of the Minni to the east of Ararat, they swooped down upon the Assyrian frontier, along with other northern nations from Media, Sepharad, and Ashchenaz. While a body of Kimmerians under Teuspa marched westward, the rest of the allies, under Kastarit or Kyaxares of Karu-Kassi, attacked the fortresses which defended Assyria on the north-east. At Nineveh all was consternation, and public prayers, accompanied by fasting, were ordered to be offered up for a hundred days and nights to the Sun-god, that he might "forgive the sin" of his people, and avert the dangers that threatened them. The prayers were heard, and the invaders were driven into Ellipi. Then Esar-haddon marched against Teuspa, and forced him to turn from Assyria. The Kimmerians made their way instead into Asia Minor, where they sacked the Greek and Phrygian cities, and overran Lydia.
The northern and eastern boundaries of the empire were at length secured. It was now necessary to punish the Arab tribes who had taken advantage of the Kimmerian invasion to harass the empire on the south. Esar-haddon accordingly marched into the very heart of the Arabian desert—a military achievement of the first rank, the memory of which was not forgotten for years. The empire at last was secure.
The Assyrian king was now free to complete the policy of Tiglath-pileser by conquering Egypt. Palestine was no longer a source of trouble. Judah had returned to its vassalage to Assyria, and the abortive attempts of Sidon and Jerusalem to rebel had been easily suppressed. True to his policy of conciliation, Esar-haddon had dealt leniently with Manasseh of Judah. He had been brought in fetters before his lord at Babylon, and there pardoned and restored to his kingdom. It was a lesson which neither he nor his successors forgot, like the similar lesson impressed a few years later upon the Egyptian prince Necho.
The Assyrian conquest of Egypt has been already described. The first campaign of Esar-haddon against it was undertaken in B.C. 674; and it was while on the march to put down a revolt in B.C. 668 that he fell ill and died, on the 10th of Marchesvan, or October. The empire was divided between his two sons. Assur-bani-pal had already been named as his successor, and now took Assyria, while Saul-sum-yukin became king of Babylonia, subject, however, to his brother at Nineveh. It was an attempt to flatter the Babylonians by giving them a king of their own, while at the same time keeping the supreme power in Assyrian hands.
The first few years of Assur-bani-pal's reign were spent in tranquillising Egypt by means of the sword, in suppressing insurrections, and in expelling Ethiopian invaders. After the destruction of Thebes in B.C. 661 the country sullenly submitted to the foreign rule; its strength was exhausted, and its leaders and priesthood were scattered and bankrupt. Elam was now almost the only civilised kingdom of western Asia which remained independent. It was, moreover, a perpetual thorn in the side of the Assyrians. It was always ready to give the same help to the disaffected in Babylonia that Egypt was to the rebels in Palestine, with the difference that whereas the Egyptians were an unwarlike race, the Elamites were a nation of warriors. Assur-bani-pal was not a soldier himself, and he would have preferred remaining at peace with his warlike neighbour. But Elamite raids made this impossible, and the constant civil wars in Elam resulting from disputed successions to the throne afforded pretexts and favourable opportunities for invading it. The Elamites, however, defended themselves bravely, and it was only after a struggle of many years, when their cities had fallen one by one, and Shushan, the capital, was itself destroyed, that Elam became an Assyrian province. The conquerors, however, found it a profitless desert, wasted by fire and sword, and in the struggle to possess it their own resources had been drained and well-nigh exhausted.
The second Assyrian empire was now at the zenith of its power. Ambassadors came from Ararat and from Gyges of Lydia to offer homage, and to ask the help of the great king against the Kimmerian and Scythian hordes. His fame spread to Europe; the whole of the civilised world acknowledged his supremacy.
But the image was one which had feet of clay. The empire had been won by the sword, and the sword alone kept it together. Suddenly a revolt broke out which shook it to its foundations. Babylonia took the lead; the other subject nations followed in its train.
Saul-suma-yukin had become naturalised in Babylonia. The experiment of appointing an Assyrian prince as viceroy had failed; he had identified himself with his subjects, and like them dreamed of independence. He adopted the style and titles of the ancient Babylonian mouarchs; even the Sumerian language was revived in public documents, and the son of Esar-haddon put himself at the head of a national movement. The Assyrian supremacy was rejected, and once more Babylon was free.
The revolt lasted for some years. When it began we do not know; but it was not till B.C. 648 that it was finally suppressed, and Saul-suma-yukin put to death after a reign of twenty years. Babylon had been closely invested, and was at last starved into surrender. But, taught by the experience of the past, Assur-bani-pal did not treat it severely. The leaders of the revolt, it is true, were punished, but the city and people were spared, and its shrines, like those of Kutha and Sippara, were purified, while penitential psalms were sung to appease the angry deities, and the daily sacrifices which had been interrupted were restored. A certain Kandalanu was made viceroy, perhaps with the title of king.
Chastisement was now taken upon the Arabian tribes who had joined in the revolt. But Egypt was lost to the empire for ever. Psammetikhos had seized the opportunity of shaking off the yoke of the foreigner, and with the help of the troops sent by Gyges from Lydia, had driven out the Assyrian garrisons and overcome his brother satraps.
Assur-bani-pal was in no position to punish him. The war with Elam and the revolt of Babylonia had drained the country of its fighting men and the treasury of its resources. And a new and formidable enemy had appeared on the scene. The Scyths had followed closely on the footsteps of the Kimmerians, and were now pouring into Asia like locusts, and ravaging everything in their path. The earlier chapters of Jeremiah are darkened by the horrors of the Scythian invasion of Palestine, and Assur-bani-pal refers with a sigh of relief to the death of that "limb of Satan," the Scythian king Tugdamme or Lygdamis. This seems to have happened in Cilicia, and Assyria was allowed a short interval of rest.
Assur-bani-pal's victories were gained by his generals. He himself never appears to have taken the field in person. His tastes were literary, his habits luxurious. He was by far the most munificent patron of learning Assyria ever produced; in fact, he stands alone in this respect among Assyrian kings. The library of Nineveh was increased tenfold by his patronage and exertions; literary works were brought from Babylonia, and a large staff of scribes was kept busily employed in copying and re-editing them. Unfortunately, the superstition of the monarch led him to collect more especially books upon omens and dreams, and astrological treatises, but other works were not overlooked, and we owe to him a large number of the syllabaries and lists of words in which the cuneiform characters and the Assyrian vocabulary are explained.
When Assur-bani-pal died the doom of the Assyrian empire had already been pronounced. The authority of his two successors, Assur-etil-ilani-yukin and Sin-sar-iskun, or Saracos, was still acknowledged both in Syria and in Babylonia, where Kandalanu had been succeeded as viceroy by Nabopolassar. One of the contract-tablets from the north of Babylonia is dated as late as the seventh year of Sin-sar-iskun. But not long after this the Babylonian viceroy revolted against his sovereign, and with the help of the Scythian king, who had established himself at Ekbatana, defeated the Assyrian forces and laid siege to Nineveh. The siege ended in the capture and destruction of the city, the death of its king, and the overthrow of his empire. In B.C. 606 the desolator of the nations was itself laid desolate, and its site has never been inhabited again.
Nabopolassar entered upon the heritage of Assyria. It has been supposed that he was a Chaldæan like Merodach-baladan; whether this be so or not, he was hailed by the Babylonians as a representative of their ancient kings. The Assyrian empire had become the prey of the first-comer. Elam had been occupied by the Persians, the Scyths, whom classical writers have confounded with the Medes, had overrun and ravaged Assyria and Mesopotamia, while Palestine and Syria had fallen to the share of Egypt. But once established on the Babylonian throne, Nabopolassar set about the work of re-organising western Asia, and the military abilities of his son Nebuchadrezzar enabled him to carry out his purpose. The marriage of Nebuchadrezzar to the daughter of the Scythian monarch opened the road through Mesopotamia to the Babylonian armies; the Egyptians were defeated at Carchemish in B.C. 604, and driven back to their own land. From Gaza to the mouth of the Euphrates, western Asia again obeyed the rule of a Babylonian king.
The death of Nabopolassar recalled Nebuchadrezzar to Babylon, where he assumed the crown. But the Egyptians still continued to intrigue in Palestine, and the Jewish princes listened to their counsels. Twice had Nebuchadrezzar to occupy Jerusalem and carry the plotters into captivity. In B.C. 598 Jehoiachin and a large number of the upper classes were carried into exile; in B.C. 588 Jerusalem was taken after a long siege, its temple and walls razed to the ground, and its inhabitants transported to Babylonia. The fortress-capital could no longer shelter or tempt the Egyptian foes of the Babylonian empire.
The turn of Tyre came next. For thirteen years it was patiently blockaded, and in B.C. 573 it passed with its fleet into Nebuchadrezzar's hands. Five years later the Babylonian army marched into Egypt, the Pharaoh Amasis was defeated, and the eastern part of the Delta overrun. But Nebuchadrezzar did not push his advantage any further; he was content with impressing upon the Egyptians a sense of his power, and with fixing the boundaries of his empire at the southern confines of Palestine.
His heart was in Babylonia rather than in the conquests he had made. The wealth he had acquired by them was devoted to the restoration of the temples and cities of his country, and, above all, to making Babylon one of the wonders of the world. The temples of Merodach and Nebo were rebuilt with lavish magnificence, the city was surrounded with impregnable fortifications, a sumptuous palace was erected for the king, and the bed of the Euphrates was lined with brick and furnished with quays. Gardens were planted on the top of arched terraces, and the whole eastern world poured out its treasures at the feet of "the great king." His inscriptions, however, breathe a singular spirit of humility and piety, and we can understand from them the friendship that existed between the prophet Jeremiah and himself. All he had done is ascribed to Bel-Merodach, whose creation he was and who had given him the sovereignty over mankind.
He was succeeded in B.C. 562 by his son Evil-Merodach, who had a short and inglorious reign of only two years. Then the throne was usurped by Nergal-sharezer, who had married a daughter of Nebuchadrezzar, and was in high favour with the priests. He died in B.C. 556, leaving a child, whom the priestly chroniclers accuse of impiety towards the gods, and who was murdered three months after his accession. Then Nabu-nahid or Nabonidos, the son of Nabu-balasu-iqbi, another nominee of the priesthood, was placed on the throne. He was unrelated to the royal family, but proved to be a man of some energy and a zealous antiquarian. He caused excavations to be made in the various temples of Babylonia, in order to discover the memorial-stones of their founders and verify the history of them that had been handed down. But he offended local interests by endeavouring to centralise the religious worship of the country at Babylon, in the sanctuary of Bel-Merodach, as Hezekiah had done in the case of Judah. The images of the gods were removed from the shrines in which they had stood from time immemorial, and the local priesthoods attached to them were absorbed in that of the capital. The result was the rise of a powerful party opposed to the king, and a spirit of disaffection which the gifts showered upon the temples of Babylon and a few other large cities were unable to allay. The standing army, however, under the command of the king's son, Belshazzar, prevented this spirit from showing itself in action.
But a new power was growing steadily in the East. The larger part of Elam, which went by the name of Anzan, had been seized by the Persians in the closing days of the Assyrian empire, and a line of kings of Persian origin had taken the place of the old sovereigns of Shushan. Cyrus II., who was still but a youth, was now on the throne of Anzan, and, like his predecessors, acknowledged as his liege-lord the Scythian king of Ekbatana, Istuvegu or Astyages. His first act was to defeat and dethrone his suzerain, in B.C. 549, and so make himself master of Media. A year or two later he obtained possession of Persia, and a war with Lydia in B.C. 545 led to the conquest of Asia Minor. Nabonidos had doubtless looked on with satisfaction while the Scythian power was being overthrown, and had taken advantage of its fall to rebuild the temple of the Moon-god at Harran, which had been destroyed by the Scythians fifty-four years before. But his eyes were opened by the conquest of his ally the King of Lydia, and he accordingly began to prepare for a war which he saw was inevitable. The camp was fixed near Sippara, towards the northern boundary of Babylonia, and every effort was made to put the country into a state of defence.
Cyrus, however, was assisted by the disaffected party in Babylonia itself, amongst whose members must doubtless be included the Jewish exiles. In B.C. 538 a revolt broke out in the south, in the old district of the Chaldæans, and Cyrus took advantage of it to march into the country. The Babylonian army moved northward to meet him, but was utterly defeated and dispersed at Opis in the beginning of Tammuz, or June, and a few days later Sippara surrendered to the conqueror. Gobryas, the governor of Kurdistan, was then sent to Babylon, which also opened its gates "without fighting," and Nabonidos, who had concealed himself, was taken prisoner. The daily services in the temples as well as the ordinary business of the city proceeded as usual, and on the 3rd of Marchesvan Cyrus himself arrived and proclaimed a general amnesty, which was communicated by Gobryas to "all the province of Babylon," of which he had been made the prefect. Shortly afterwards, the wife—or, according to another reading, the son—of Nabonidos died; public lamentations were made for her, and Kambyses, the son of Cyrus, conducted the funeral in one of the Babylonian temples. Cyrus now took the title of "King of Babylon," and associated Kambyses with himself in the government. Conquest had proved his title to the crown, and the priests and god of Babylon hastened to confirm it. Cyrus on his side claimed to be the legitimate descendant of the ancient Babylonian kings, a true representative of the ancient stock, who had avenged the injuries of Bel-Merodach and his brother-gods upon Nabonidos, and who professed to be their devoted worshipper. Offerings to ten times the usual amount were bestowed on the Babylonian temples, and the favour of the Babylonian priesthood was secured. The images which Nabonidos had sacrilegiously removed from their shrines were restored to their old homes, and the captive populations in Babylonia were allowed to return to their native soil. The policy of transportation had proved a failure; in time of invasion the exiles had been a source of danger to the government, and not of safety.
Each people was permitted to carry back with it its ancestral gods. The Jews alone had no images to take; the sacred vessels of the temple of Jerusalem were accordingly given to them. It was a faithful remnant that returned to the land of their fathers, consisting mostly of priests and Levites, determined henceforward to obey strictly the laws of their God, and full of gratitude to their deliverer. In Jerusalem Cyrus thus had a colony whose loyalty to himself and his successors could be trusted, and who would form, as it were, an outpost against attacks on the side of Egypt.
As long as Cyrus and his son Kambyses lived Babylonia also was tranquil. They flattered the religious and political prejudices of their Babylonian subjects, and the priesthood saw in them the successors of a Sargon of Akkad. But with the death of Kambyses came a change. The new rulers of the empire of Cyrus were Persians, proud of their nationality and zealous for their Zoroastrian faith. They had no reverence for Bel, no belief in the claim of Babylon to confer a title of legitimacy on the sovereign of western Asia. The Babylonian priesthood chafed, the Babylonian people broke into revolt. In October B.C. 521 a pretender appeared who took the name of Nebuchadrezzar II., and reigned for nearly a year. But after two defeats in the field, he was captured in Babylon by Darius and put to death in August 520. Once more, in B.C. 514, another revolt took place under a second pretender to the name of "Nebuchadrezzar the son of Nabonidos." The strong walls of Babylon resisted the Persian army for more than a year, and the city was at last taken by stratagem. The walls were partially destroyed, but this did not prevent a third rebellion in the reign of Xerxes, while the Persian monarch was absent in Greece. On this occasion, however, it was soon crushed, and Ê-Sagila, the temple of Bel, was laid in ruins. But a later generation restored once more the ancient sanctuary of Merodach, at all events in part, and services in honour of Bel continued to be held there down to the time when Babylon was superseded by the Greek town of Seleucia, and the city of Nebuchadrezzar became a waste of shapeless mounds.
Babylonian religion was a mixture of Sumerian and Semitic elements. The primitive Sumerian had believed in a sort of animism. Each object had its zi or "spirit," like men and beasts; the zi gave it its personality, and endowed it, as it were, with vital force. The zi corresponded with the ka or "double" of the Egyptians, which accompanied like a shadow all things in heaven and earth. The gods themselves had each his zi; it was this alone that made them permanent and personal. With such a form of religion there could be neither deities nor priests in the usual sense of the words. The place of the priest was taken by the sorcerer, who knew the spells that could avert the malevolence of the "spirits" or bring down their blessings upon mankind.
With the progress of civilisation, certain of the "spirits" emerged above the rest, and became veritable gods. The "spirit" of heaven became Ana of Erech, the Sky-god; the "spirit" of earth passed into El-lil of Nippur; and the "spirit" of the deep into Ea of Eridu. The change was hastened by contact with the Semite. The Semite brought with him a new religious conception. He believed in a god who revealed himself in the sun, and whom he addressed as Baal or "Lord." By the side of Baal stood his colourless reflection, the goddess Baalath, who owed her existence partly to the feminine gender possessed by the Semitic languages, partly to the analogy of the human family. But the Baalim were as multitudinous as their worshippers and the high-places whereon they were adored; there was little difficulty, therefore, in identifying the gods and "spirits" of Sumer with the local Baals of the Semitic creed.
El-lil became Bel of Nippur, Asari or Merodach Bel of Babylon. But in taking a Semitic form, the Sumerian divinities did not lose their old attributes. Bel of Nippur remained the lord of the ghost-world, Bel-Merodach the god who "raises the dead to life" and "does good to man." Moreover, in one important point the Semite borrowed from the Sumerian. The goddess Istar retained her independent position among the crowd of colourless female deities. Originally the "spirit" of the evening-star, she had become a goddess, and in the Sumerian world the goddess was the equal of the god. It is a proof of the influence of the Sumerian element in the Babylonian population, that this conception of the goddess was never forgotten in Babylonia; it was only when Babylonian culture was handed on to the Semitic nations of the west that Istar became either the male Atthar of southern Arabia and Moab, or the emasculated Ashtoreth of Canaan.
The official religion of Babylonia was thus the Baal-worship of the Semites engrafted on the animism of the Sumerians. It was further modified by the introduction of star-worship. How far this went back to a belief in the "spirits" of the stars, or whether it had a Semitic origin, we do not know; but it is significant that the cuneiform character which denotes "a god" is a picture of a star, and that the Babylonians were from the first a nation of star-gazers. In the astro-theology of a later date the gods of the pantheon were identified with the chief stars of the firmament, but the system was purely artificial, and must have been the invention of the priests.
The religion and deities of Babylonia were adopted by the Assyrians. But in Assyria they were always somewhat of an exotic, and even the learned class invoked Assur rather than the other gods. Assur was the personification of the old capital of the country and of the nation itself, and though the scribes found an etymology for the name in that of An-sar, the primæval god of Sumerian cosmogony, the fact was always remembered. Assur was purely Semitic in his attributes, and, like Yahveh of Israel or Chemosh of Moab, was wifeless and childless. It is true that a learned scribe now and then found a wife for him among the numerous divinities of the Babylonian cult, but the discovery was never accepted, and Assur for the mass of his worshippers remained single and alone. It was through trust in him that the Assyrian kings believed their victories were gained, and it was to punish those who disbelieved in him that their campaigns were undertaken.
In the worship of Assur, accordingly, a tendency to monotheism reveals itself. The tendency was even more pronounced in a certain literary school of thought in Babylonia. We have texts which resolve the deities of the popular faith into forms of one god; sometimes this is Anu of Erech, sometimes it is Merodach of Babylon.
Babylonian worship necessitated a large hierarchy of priests. At the head was the high-priest, who in early times possessed temporal power and in many states was the predecessor of the king. The king, in fact, inherited his priesthood from him, and was consequently qualified to perform priestly functions. Under the high-priest there were numerous classes of ministers of the gods, such as the "anointers," whose duty it was to anoint the holy images with oil, the ordinary "priests," the "seers," and the "prophets." The prophets enjoyed high consideration; they even accompanied the army to the field, and decided whether the campaign would result in victory or defeat. Quite apart from all these were the astrologers, who did not belong to the priesthood at all. On the contrary, they professed to be men of science, and the predictions of the future which they read in the stars were founded on the records and observations of former generations.
A chief part of the duty of the priests consisted in offering sacrifice and reciting the services. The sacrifices were of two kinds, as in the Jewish ritual. The same animals and the same fruits of the earth were offered by both Babylonians and Israelites, and in many cases the regulations relating to the sacrifices were similar. The services were elaborate, and the rubrics attached to the hymns and prayers which had to be recited are minute and complicated. The hymns had been formed into a sort of Bible, which had in time acquired a divine authority. So sacred were its words, that a single mispronunciation of them was sufficient to impair the efficacy of the service. Rules for their pronunciation were accordingly laid down, which were the more necessary as the hymns were in Sumerian. The dead language of Sumer had become sacred, like Latin in the Middle Ages, and each line of a hymn was provided with a translation in Semitic Babylonian.
In appearance, a Babylonian temple was not very unlike those of Canaan or of Solomon. The image of the god stood in the innermost shrine, the Holy of Holies, where also was the mercy-seat, whereon it was believed, as upon a throne, the deity was accustomed to descend at certain times of the year. In the little temple of Balawât, near Nineveh, discovered by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, the mercy-seat was shaped like an ark, and contained two written tables of stone; no statue of the god, however, seems in this instance to have stood beside it. In front of it was the altar, approached by steps.
In the court of the temple was a "sea" or "deep," like that which was made by Solomon. An early hymn which describes the construction of one of them, states that it was of bronze, and that it rested on the figures of twelve bronze oxen. It was intended for the ablutions of the priests and the vessels of the sanctuary, and was a representation of that primæval deep out of which it was believed that the world originated.
One peculiarity the Babylonian temples possessed which was not shared by those of the west. Each had its ziggurat or "tower," which served for the observation of the stars, and in the topmost storey of which was the altar of the god. It corresponded with the "high-place" of Canaan, where man imagined himself nearest to the gods of heaven. But in the flat plain of Babylonia it was needful that the high-place should be of artificial construction, and here accordingly they built the towers whose summits "reached to" the sky.
The temples and their ministers were supported partly by endowments, partly by voluntary gifts, sometimes called kurbanni, the Hebrew korban, partly by obligatory contributions, the most important of which was the esrâ or "tithe." Besides the fixed festivals, which were enumerated in the calendar, special days of thanksgiving or humiliation were appointed from time to time. There was also a weekly Sabattu or "Sabbath," on the 1st, 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of the month, as well as on the 19th, the last day of the seventh week from the beginning of the previous month. The Sabbath is described as "a day of rest for the heart," and all work upon it was forbidden. The king was not allowed to change his dress, to ride in his chariot, or even to take medicine, while the prophet himself was forbidden to utter his prophecies.
The mass of the people looked forward to a dreary existence beyond the grave. The shades of the dead flitted like bats in the darkness of the under-world, hungry and cold, while the ghosts of the heroes of the past sat beside them on their shadowy thrones, and Allat, the mistress of Hades, presided over the warders of its seven gates. The Sumerians had called it "the land whence none return," though in the theology of Eridu and Babylon Asari or Merodach was already a god who, through the wisdom of his father Ea, "restored the dead to life." But as the centuries passed, new and less gloomy ideas grew up in regard to the future life. In a prayer for the Assyrian king the writer asks that he may enjoy an endless existence hereafter in "the land of the silver sky," and the realms of the gods of light had been peopled with the heroes of Babylonian literature at an early date.
The belief in Hades went back to those primitive ages when the Sumerians of Eridu conceived of the earth as floating on the deep, which surrounded it as a snake with its coils, while the sky covered it above like an extinguisher, and was supported on the peak of "the mountain of the world," where the gods had their abode. This primitive cosmological conception underwent changes in the course of time, but the underlying idea of an abyss of waters out of which all things were shaped remained to the end. The Chaldæan Epic of the Creation declares that "in the beginning," "the chaos of the deep" had been the "mother" of both heaven and earth, out of whom first came the primæval deities Lakhmu and Lakhamu, and then An-sar and Ki-sar, the upper and lower firmament. Long ages had to elapse before the Trinity of the later theology—Anu, Ea, and Bel—were born of these, and all things made ready for the genesis of the present world. Merodach, the champion of the gods of light and law, had first to do battle with Tiamat, "the dragon" of "the deep," and her allies of darkness and disorder. He had proved his powers by creating and annihilating by means of his "word" alone, and the conflict which he waged ended in the destruction of the enemy. The body of Tiamat was torn asunder and transformed into the heaven and earth, her springs of water were placed under control, and the forces of anarchy and chaos were banished from the universe. Then followed the creation of the existing order of things. The sun and moon and stars were fixed in their places, and laws given to them which they should never transgress, plants and animals were created, and finally man.
Babylonian literature went back to a remote date. The age of Sargon of Akkad was already a highly literary one, and the library he founded at Akkad contained works which continued to be re-edited down to the latest days of Babylonian literature. Every great city had its library, which was open to every reader, and where the books were carefully catalogued and arranged on shelves. Here too were kept the public records, as well as title-deeds, law-cases, and other documents belonging to private individuals. The office of librarian was held in honour, and was not unfrequently occupied by one of the sons of the king. Every branch of literature and science known at the time was represented. Theology was naturally prominent, as well as works on omens and charms. The standard work on astronomy and astrology, in seventy-two books, had been compiled for the library of Sargon of Akkad; so too had the standard work on terrestrial omens. There was also a standard work on medicine, in which medical prescriptions and spells were mixed together. Philological treatises were numerous. There were dictionaries and grammars for explaining the Sumerian language to Semitic pupils, interlinear translations of Sumerian texts, phrase-books, lists of synonyms, and commentaries on difficult or obsolete words and passages, besides syllabaries, in which the cuneiform characters were catalogued and explained. Mathematics were diligently studied, and tables of squares and cubes have come to us from the library of Larsa. Geography was represented by descriptions of the countries and cities known to the Babylonians, natural history by lists of animals and birds, insects and plants. The Assyrians were endowed with a keen sense of history, and had invented a system of reckoning time by means of certain officers called limmi, who gave their names to their years of office. The historical and chronological works of the Assyrian libraries are therefore particularly important. They have enabled us to restore the chronology of the royal period of Israelitish history, and to supplement the Old Testament narrative with the contemporaneous records of the Assyrian kings. The Babylonians were less historically exact, perhaps because they had less of the Semitic element in their blood; but they, too, carefully kept the annals of their kings, and took a deep interest in the former history of their country.
Contract and other tablets relating to trade and business formed, however, the larger part of the contents of most Babylonian libraries. They have revealed to us the inner and social life of the people, so that the age of Khammurabi, or even of Sargon, in Babylonia, is beginning to be as well known to us as the age of Periklês in Greece. Along with the contract-tablets must be counted the numerous legal documents and records of law-cases which have been preserved. Babylonian law was, like English law, built upon precedents, and an elaborate and carefully considered code had been formed at an early date.
Collections of letters, partly royal, partly private, were also to be found in the libraries. The autograph letters of Khammurabi, the Amraphel of Genesis, have come down to us, and we even have letters of his time from a lover to his mistress, and from a tenant to his landlord, whom he begs to reduce his rent. Boys went to school early, and learning the cuneiform syllabary was a task that demanded no small amount of time and application, especially when it is remembered that in the case of the Semitic Babylonian this involved also acquiring a knowledge of the dead language of Sumer. One of the exercises of the Sumerian schoolboy bids him "rise like the dawn, if he would excel in the school of the scribes."
Purely literary texts were numerous, especially poems, though nothing corresponding to the Egyptian novel has been met with. The epic of Gilgames, composed by Sin-liqi-unnini, has already been referred to. Its twelve books answered to the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and the eleventh accordingly contains the episode of the Deluge. Gilgames was the son of a royal mother, whose son was fated to slay his grandfather, and who was consequently confined in a tower. But an eagle carried him to a place of safety, and when he grew up he delivered Erech from its foes, and made it the seat of his kingdom. He slew the tyrant Khumbaba in the forest of cedars, and by means of a stratagem tempted the satyr Ea-bant to leave the woods and become his counsellor and friend. Istar wooed him, but he scorned her offers, and taunted her with her misdeeds to the hapless lovers who had been caught in her toils. In revenge the goddess persuaded her father Anu to create a winged bull, which should work havoc in the country of the Babylonians. But Gilgames destroyed the bull, an achievement, however, for which he was punished by Heaven. Ea-bani died of the bite of a gadfly, and his spirit mounted to the skies, while Gilgames himself was smitten by a sore disease. To heal it he sailed beyond the mouth of the Euphrates and the river of death, leaving behind him the deserts of Arabia and the twin-mountain where men in the shape of huge scorpions guard the gateways of the sun. At last he found Xisuthros, the hero of the Deluge, and learned from him how he had escaped death. Cured of his malady, he returned homeward with a leaf of the tree of life. But as he rested at a fountain by the way it was stolen by a serpent, and man lost the gift of immortality.
In Babylonia, and to a lesser extent in Assyria, women were practically on a footing of equality with the men. They could trade in their own names, could make wills, could appear as witnesses or plaintiffs in court. We hear of a father transferring his property to his daughter, reserving only the use of it during his life. Polygamy was not common; indeed, we find it stipulated in one instance that in the case of a second marriage on the part of the husband the dowry of the first wife should be returned to her, and that she should be free to go where she would. Of course these rules did not apply to concubines, who were often purchased. Adoptions were frequent, and slaves could be adopted into the family of a freeman.
The large number of slaves caused the wages of the free labourer to be low. But the slaves were treated with humanity. From early times it was a law that if a slave were hired to another, the hirer should pay a penalty to his master whenever he was incapable of work, thus preventing "sweating" or overwork. Similarly, injuries to a slave were punished by a fine. The slave could trade and acquire property for himself, could receive wages for his work when hired to another, could give evidence in a court of law, and might obtain his freedom either by manumission, by purchase, by adoption, or by impressment into the royal service.
Farms were usually held on a sort of métayer system, half the produce going to the landlord as rent. Sometimes, however, the tenant received only a third, a fourth, or even a tenth part of the produce, two-thirds of the annual crop of dates being also assigned to the owner of the land. The tenant had to keep the farm-buildings in order, and to build any that were required. House-property seems to have been even more valuable than farm-land. The deeds for the lease or sale of it enter into the most minute particulars, and carefully define the limits of the estate. The house was let for a term of years, the rent being paid either twice or three times a year. At the expiration of the lease, the property had to be returned in the state in which the tenant had found it, and any infringement of the legal stipulations was punished with a heavy fine. Agents were frequently employed in the sale or letting of estates.
The cities were busy centres of trade. Commercial intercourse was carried on with all parts of the known world. Wheat was exported in large quantities, as well as dates and date-wine. The staple of Babylonian industry, however, was the manufacture of cloths and carpets. Vast flocks of sheep were kept on the western bank of the Euphrates, and placed under the charge of Bedâwin from Arabia. Their wool was made into curtains and rugs, and dyed or embroidered fabrics of various kinds. Even Belshazzar, the heir-apparent of Nabonidos, did not disdain to be a wool-merchant, and we find him lending twenty manehs, the proceeds of the sale of some of it, and taking as security for the repayment of the debt certain house-property in Babylon. It was "a goodly Babylonish garment," secreted by Achan from among the spoil of Jericho, that brought destruction upon himself and his family.
Money-lending naturally occupied a prominent place in the transaction of business. The ordinary rate of interest was 20 per cent, paid in monthly instalments; in the time of Nebuchadrezzar, however, it tended to be lower, and we find loans made at 13-1/2 per cent. The penalty was severe if the capital were not repaid at the specified date. The payment was occasionally in kind, but money was the usual medium of exchange. It consisted of rings or tongue-like bars of gold, silver, and copper, representing manehs and shekels. The maneh was divided into sixty shekels, and the standard used in later Babylonia had been fixed by Dungi, king of Ur. One of the standard maneh-weights of stone, from the mint of Nebuchadrezzar, is now in the British Museum. In the time of the Second Babylonian empire stamped or coined money was introduced, as well as pieces of five or more shekels. This was the period when the great banking firm of Egibi flourished, which anticipated the Rothschilds in making loans to the State.
The Babylonian cemetery adjoined the cities of the living, and was laid out in imitation of the latter. The tombs were built of crude bricks, and were separated from one another by streets, through which flowed streams of "living water." Gardens were planted by the side of some of the tombs, which resembled the houses of the living, and in front of which offerings were made to the dead. After a burial, brushwood was heaped round the walls of the tomb and set on fire, partially cremating the body and the objects that were interred with it within. Sanitary reasons made this partial cremation necessary, while want of space in the populous plain of Babylonia caused the brick tombs to be built, like the houses of the towns, one on the top of the other.
Babylonia and Assyria were both administered by a bureaucracy, but whereas in Assyria the bureaucracy was military, in Babylonia it was theocratic. The high-priest was the equal and the director of the king, and the king himself was a priest, and the adopted child of Bel. In Assyria, on the contrary, the arbitrary power of the monarch was practically unchecked. Under him was the Turtannu or Tartan, the commander-in-chief, who commanded the army in the absence of the king. The Rab-saki, Rab-shakeh, or vizier, who ranked a little below him, was the head of the civil officials; besides him we hear of the Rab-sa-resi or Rabsaris, "the chief of the princes," the Rab-mugi or Rab-Mag, "the court physician," and an endless number of other officers. The governors of provinces were selected from among the higher aristocracy, who alone had the privilege of sharing with the king the office of limmu, or eponymous archon after whom the year was named. Most of these officers seem to have been confined to Assyria; we do not hear of them in the southern kingdom of Babylonia. There, however, from an early period royal judges had been appointed, who went on circuit and sat under a president. Sometimes as many as four or six of them sat on a case, and subscribed their names to the verdict.
The main attention of the Assyrian government was devoted to the army, which was kept in the highest possible state of efficiency. It was recruited from the free peasantry of the country—a fact which, while it explains the excellence of the Assyrian veterans, also shows why it was that the empire fell as soon as constant wars had exhausted the native population. Improvements were made in it from time to time; thus, cavalry came to supersede the use of chariots, and the weapons and armour of the troops were changed and improved. Engineers and sappers accompanied it, cutting down the forests and making roads as it marched, and the commissariat was carefully attended to. The royal tent was arranged like a house, and one of its rooms was fitted up as a kitchen, where the food was prepared as in the palace of Nineveh. In Babylonia it was the fleet rather than the army which was the object of concern, though under Nebuchadrezzar and his successors the army also became an important engine of war. But, unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians had been from the first a water-faring people, and the ship of war floated on the Euphrates by the side of the merchant vessel and the state barge of the king.
Such then were the kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria. Each exercised an influence on the Israelites and their neighbours, though in a different way and with different results. The influence of Assyria was ephemeral. It represented the meteor-like rise of a great military power, which crushed all opposition, and introduced among mankind the new idea of a centralised world-empire. It destroyed the northern kingdom of Samaria, and made Palestine once more what it had been in pre-Mosaic days, the battle-ground between the nations of the Nile and the Tigris. On the inner life of western Asia it left no impression.
The influence of Babylonia, on the other hand, was that of a venerable and a widely reaching culture. The Canaan of the patriarchs and the Canaanitish conquest was a Canaan whose civilisation was derived from the Euphrates, and this civilisation the Israelites themselves inherited. Abraham was a Babylonian, and the Mosaic Law is not Egyptian but Babylonian in character, wherever it ceases to be specifically Israelite. The influence of Babylonia, moreover, continued to the last. It was the Babylonish Exile which changed the whole nature of the Jewish people, which gave it new aims and ideals, and prepared it for the coming of the Messiah. The Babylonian influence which had been working in the West for four thousand years received, as it were, a fresh impulse, and affected the religion and life of Judah in a new and special manner. Nor has the influence of Babylonian culture vanished even yet. Apart from the religious beliefs we have received from Israel, there is much in European civilisation which can be traced back to the old inhabitants of Chaldæa. It came through Canaanitish hands; perhaps, too, through the hands of the Etruscans. At all events, the system of augury which Rome borrowed from Etruria had a Babylonian origin, and the prototype of the strange liver-shaped instrument by means of which the Etruscan soothsayer divined, has been found among the relics of a Babylonian library.