Assyria
Part Five
Author: Godspeed, George

 

Civilization And Culture In The Kassite Period

123. The earliest and by no means the least impressive instance of the
power of civilization to dominate a rude people and mould them to its will
is furnished in the relations of Babylonia to the Kassites. Tribes,
vigorous and wild, hitherto possessing but slight traces of organization and
culture, descended from the hills upon a region in which dwelt a nation of
high social and political development, possessing a long history of
achievements in culture, distinguished for the peaceful acquisitions of
wealth and the enjoyment of the refinements of civilization. The outcome,
it might seem, was likely to be the overthrow of the political structure,
and the disappearance of the high attainment in science and the arts of
life, reached by slow stages through two thousand years, to be followed by
a painful rebuilding of the political and social edifice on new foundations.
In reality the very opposite of this took place. The splendid work of
Babylonian civilization stood intact; the conquerors entered into the
inheritance of its traditions and achievements, and within a century were
found laboring for its advancement and perfection. The Kassites were
absorbed into the Babylonian life without a struggle. They even lost all
attachment to the mountain homes whence they came and to the peoples from
which they sprang, and permitted them, at last, to pass into the possession
of Assyria.

124. The Kassite regime was not, however, without its influence upon
Babylonian history and life. The direct contributions of purely Kassite
elements were, indeed, few. Some words enriched the language; the new
speech became a dialect which must be mastered by the scholars; some cults
of Kassite gods were established and remained. A new racial ingredient was
poured into the already varied complex which made up the Babylonian people,
- an ingredient not without value in infusing fresh and vigorous elements
into the doubtless somewhat enfeebled stock. For the incoming of the
invaders was sufficient evidence that the native population was no longer
able to defend itself against assaults, and the service of Agumkakrime, of
which he boasts in his inscription (sect. 106), is an example of what the
Kassites were to do for Babylonia. That such a work was not only necessary
but appreciated by the nation is abundantly proved by the length of time
during which the Kassite kings sat upon the throne, in spite of the
difficulties which encompassed them.

125. Not as Kassite but as Babylonian kings, therefore, did these
rulers contribute to the development of the land between the rivers.
Entering into the heritage of preceding dynasties, they ruled like them in
accordance with Babylonian precedent, and in many respects were worthy of
the succession. In one thing they surpassed their predecessors; they gave
to Babylonia a common name. Up to their time, the kings had been rulers of
cities whose authority extended over districts round about, a state of
things true even of the age of Khammurabi, when all the land was united
under the sway of the city-state of Babylon. Yet these foreign conquerors
were able to succeed where that great king had failed. They called
themselves kings of Karduniash. This name was not that of a city, and while
it was at first attached to one of the southern districts (sect. 105), soon
came to be applied to the whole country, so that, when later kings of
Assyria would assert their lordship over their ancestral enemy in the south,
they proudly assumed the old Kassite designation "King of Karduniash." This
achievement was significant of the new unity attained under this dynasty.
Reference has already been made (sect. 100) to the religious policy which
guided the unifiers of Babylonia in the days of Khammurabi. It centred in
the exaltation of the city-god Marduk of Babylon, and the systematic
abasement of the other religious shrines, particularly that of Nippur. But
in this period that very temple of Bel at Nippur seems to have returned to
prominence and its god received high honor. The American explorers on that
site note that one of the Kurigalzus rebuilt the ancient ziggurat, another
Kassite king "built the great structure containing the Court of Columns,"
and the memorials of this dynasty, in the shape of votive offerings and
temple archives, are the characteristic and dominating element among the
objects unearthed on the site (Peters, Nippur, II. p. 259 and passim).
Moreover, among the few Kassite inscriptions found elsewhere, are records of
temple-building at other points. Kara-indash built at Uruk, Burnaburyash at
Larsam, and Kurigalzu at Larsam and Ur. These facts have led to the
inference that the Kassites represented a reaction from the systematic
glorification of Marduk of Babylon as god of gods, in favor of the older
deities and the provincial shrines, and that this attitude illustrates their
general position in opposition to the policy of Khammurabi, whereby they
favored the people of the country at large as over against the capital city,
Babylon. It is true that Agumkakrime's inscription is largely occupied with
his services to the temple of Marduk, and that the other kings seem to have
continued to dwell at Babylon, but these facts do not deter an eminent
scholar from summing up the contribution of the Kassite dynasty to the
development of Babylonia in these words: "By restoring the former glory of
Ekur, the ancient national sanctuary in Nippur, so deeply rooted in the
hearts of the Babylonian people, and by stepping forward as the champions of
the sacred rights of the 'father of the gods,' they were able to bring about
a reconciliation and a final melting together of the Kassite and Semitic
elements" (Hilprecht, OBT, I. i. p. 31).

126. The civilization of Karduniash - to use the name characteristic of
this age - was, in the Kassite period, influenced as never before by
international relations. The great nations had come into intimate
communication with one another, and their intercourse demanded a code of
customs for its proper regulation. Hence came the beginnings of
international law. The first treaty known to history belongs to this
period, - that of the Pharaoh Rameses II. with the king of the Hittites,
containing the famous so-called "extradition" clause. Hints of a kind of
compact between Babylonian kings and the Pharaohs are given in the Tel-el-
Amarna letters. We hear now for the first time of the "brotherhood of
nations." "First establish good brotherhood between us" are words contained
in a letter of Amenhotep III. to Kadashman Bel (Winckler, TAL, letter 1).
Ambassadors pass to and fro between the courts on the Euphrates and the
Nile. They carry safe-conducts for passage through the Egyptian provinces
of Syria. Their persons are sacred, and the king in whose provinces an
insult has been offered to them must punish the offender. Between the royal
personages who figure in these letters, it has been thought that the
relations were something more than formal, and the message of a Mitannian
king to Amenhotep IV. on hearing of the death of his father, has a pathetic
ring: "Never did Nimmuriya, your father, break his promises - I have mourned
for him deeply, and when he died, I wished to die myself! May he, whom I
loved, live with God" (Tiele-Western Asia, p. 12).

127. The influence of Egypt upon the life of the Babylonians, resulting
from this enlarged intercourse, cannot be followed into detail with any
materials at present available. Medical science may have been improved.
One might expect that religion would have been affected. The dogma of the
divinity of the Pharaoh might be regarded as likely to emphasize and
encourage claims of the Babylonian kings for like honors not unknown in the
past (sect. 75); yet not only is no evidence presented for this, but it is
even maintained that the Kassite kings definitely set aside the remnants of
the Babylonian usage in the case, and regarded themselves as delegates and
representatives of the gods of whom they were the adopted sons (Sayce, BA,
p. 171). In the sphere of trade and commerce the influence of Egypt was
unmistakable and far reaching. No doubt, at the beginning of the advance of
Egypt into Asia and throughout her domination of Syria, Babylonian commerce
with the west suffered, and was at times entirely cut off. But the traders
on the Euphrates directed their energies only the more toward opening and
developing new markets in the north and east. According to testimony drawn
from the "finds" at Nippur, they brought gypsum from Mesopotamia, marble and
limestone from the Persian mountains, cedar and cypress from the Zagros,
lapis lazuli from Bactria, and cobalt for coloring material, "presumably"
from China (Peters, Nippur, II. p. 134). It is not impossible that the
eastern affinities of the Kassite kings assisted the development of trade in
this direction. On the other hand, when with some possible restrictions
commerce was revived with the Egyptian provinces of Syria under royal
agreements, the unification of these regions under one authority gave at
that time, as often later, a substantial stimulus to trade both in its
security and its extent. This fact is proved by the striking discovery at
Nippur of votive offerings of magnesite, which must have been brought for
the Kassite kings from the island of Euboea (Nippur, ibid.). Egypt itself
had, in its Nubian mines, the pre-eminent source of gold for the oriental
world world, and the letters of the eastern kings to their brethren the
Pharaohs are full of requests for gifts of more of the precious metal and of
better quality, for which they send in return lapis lazuli, enamel, horses
and chariots, slaves, costly furniture, and works of art.

128. From the facts already stated it is clear that Karduniash
flourished under its Kassite rulers. Industry was active. Manufacturing
was represented not only by the objects already enumerated as gifts to the
Pharaohs, but by a multitude of materials found at Nippur and mentioned in
the royal inscriptions. Among the former were the ornamental axe-heads.
These analysis has disclosed to be made of glass colored with cobalt and
copper and resembling in character "the famous Venetian glass of the
fourteenth century A. D.," moulded probably by Phoenician artists employed
at the temple (Nippur, II. p. 134) Agumkakrime's description of his
rehabilitation of the deities Marduk and Zarpanit of Babylon gives a picture
of the superabounding wealth of the king, who clothes the images of the
deities with gold-embroidered robes, heavy with jewels, and houses them in
a cella of cedar and cypress woods made by cunning workmen, its doors banded
with bronze, and its walls lined with strange carved animal figures.
Unfortunately, no large sculptures of these kings have yet been discovered,
nor do the remains of the Nippur temple ascribed to them afford any judgment
as to the architecture of the time. The so-called boundary stones of
Milishikhu and Mardukbaliddin I., carved with rude representations of
animals and of the heavenly bodies, symbols of uncertain significance, were
probably the work of provincial artists (Smith, AD, pp. 236 ff.). It is
strange that these stones are the chief evidence for the legal element in
the life of the time. The inscription on that of Mardukbaliddin I. conveys
a tract of land to one of his officials as a reward. The boundaries of the
tract are carefully stated, the ancestry of the beneficiary is traced to the
fifth generation, witnesses are named, and curses are invoked upon all who
in the future may interfere with this award. Excavations yet to be made on
temple sites like that of Nippur will probably reveal in sufficient
abundance the deeds, contracts, and other documents which were indispensable
in so active and enterprising a commercial and industrial community as was
Babylonia in those days. A similar silence broods over the literature.
Beyond the few royal inscriptions and letters already sufficiently
described, no evidence exists to show either that the masterpieces of old
were studied or that new works were being produced. This gap in our
knowledge will also sometime be filled.

129. If the successful seizure of the Babylonian throne by the Kassites
had given a mighty impetus to the development of Assyria as an independent
kingdom (sect. 112), their continued possession of Babylonia affected deeply
the history of the northern people. The Assyrians were not thereby
alienated from the civilization of the south, for this had already been
wrought too deeply into the structure of their body politic. It is
maintained, indeed, that the Assyrian cuneiform script of the time tends to
resemble the north Mesopotamian forms rather than the Babylonian (Winckler,
GBA, p. 165); but in all that may be regarded as fundamental in a people's
culture Assyria remained in Babylonian leading-strings. The surprising
thing is that, as time wore on, the hostility between the Kassite and
Assyrian rulers did not relax, nor did it yield even when all interests were
in favor of peace. The facts seem to show that the primary part in this
aggressive activity was taken by Assyria. In other words, it became the
settled policy of the northern state to strive for the possession of
Babylonia, even when the actual Kassite element had long been absorbed into
the Semitic Babylonian. The mere lust of conquest will not explain this
persistence. It must have its ground in the political or economic
conditions of the state. The original Assyria (sect. 111) had neither a
natural frontier nor sufficient arable land to protect and sustain a nation.
Hence the people, if they were not constantly to stand on guard, must expand
until a natural barrier was met; they must also reach out to control the
only other source of wealth in the ancient world, commerce. In the way of
the attainment of both these objects stood, primarily, Babylonia. The
Babylonian war was, therefore, a vital condition of Assyria's progress.
Other motives may have entered in, - the feeling that the south was the
home-land, the seat of religion and culture, and therefore must be
recovered. Nor is it unlikely that there was in Babylonia itself a longing
for union with Assyria, and consequently a pro-Assyrian party, always ready
to encourage interference from the north. Yet the deeper motive is that
first mentioned.

130. The fateful influence of this course into which Assyria was drawn
was to intensify a military bent already sufficiently encouraged by physical
surroundings. The king became the warrior, the defender of his people from
wild beasts and from human enemies, the leader of an army. "He breaks in
pieces the mass of his foes, he tramples down their countries," "he scatters
their armies" - are phrases of Adadnirari I. in his own inscription. The
gods were those representing the fierce, wild elements of nature, as Adad
(Ramman), the god of the storm, the wind, and the rain, or Ishtar, the
goddess of Arbela, the fierce companion in arms of the warriors, or the
other Ishtar, of Nineveh, the mistress of the soldier returned from the
wars, the goddess of love and lust. Above them stood Ashur, the divine king
of the military state, of whom the human king was the representative and
servant, - the god, who went out with the army to battle and received the
spoils. The nation, thus affected and inspired, gathered close about its
divine head, and followed the king his vicegerent with unquestioning
obedience. The city where he had his seat, whether Assur or Kalkhi or
Nineveh, became the headquarters of all activity. All other cities, Arbela
excepted, were overshadowed and left to drag out a petty and insignificant
existence, their names hardly known. Here the court with its aristocracy of
warriors, chiefs with their clansmen, formed the centre of national life.
The king usually gave his name to the first full year of his kingship; it
was the limu of the king by which all events were recorded; then followed,
given as official designation to year after year, the names of the warriors
of the court in due succession. As king succeeded king, the limu lists were
preserved, formed a chronological framework for history (sect. 38), and
fostered the self-consciousness of the state as a living organism, having a
past wrought out by men of might, and moving on toward the future. This
system had already been adopted by the time of Adadnirari I., whose stele
was set up in the year when Shalmanuasharid (Shalmaneser) was limu. It was
Assyria's original contribution to historical progress, and passed over from
the east to reappear in Athens, where a similar official was called the
archon eponymos.

131. In this military state all spheres of life felt the impulse to
realize practical results. Religion was at the service of the kings. They
were devoted to the gods, indeed, since they were proud constantly to build
temples. Ashuruballit and his descendant Shalmaneser I. repaired and
enlarged a temple to Ishtar of Nineveh, and Adadnirari I., another to Ashur
at the capital. They were equally proud of erecting palaces. The
Adadnirari stele deals more fully with the warlike achievements of the king
and his ancestors than with his religious foundation. The remains of
literature and art and the evidences of industry and manufacturing in this
age are too scanty to warrant any judgment, the few royal inscriptions, some
alabaster jars, and a bronze sword of Adadnirari I. (Maspero, SN, p. 607),
chariots and horses, lapis lazuli, slaves, and precious vases mentioned as
gifts sent to the Egyptian kings (Winckler, TAL, 15) being about all the
available material, - enough perhaps to indicate that Assyrian scribes and
merchants were following in the footsteps of their brethren on the
Euphrates. Phoenician artists may have wrought in this period the ivory
carvings which were found on the site of Kalkhi, the capital of Shalmaneser
I. (BMG, p. 23). While it is certain from documents of later periods that
the same legal forms were employed in business transactions as were in use
in Babylonia, no tablets of that character belonging to this time, with
possibly one exception, have been found.

132. If the power of an ancient civilization to dominate a rude people
was impressively exhibited in the victory of Babylonian culture over the
Kassites (sect. 123), not less significant was the spectacle of the
renaissance of that culture as the Kassite domination began to wane.
Contemporaneous with the splitting off of Assyria and its incessant inroads
upon Karduniash was the advance of Egypt into Syria and its appearance upon
the Euphrates. The reign of the Semite in Western Asia and the long era of
Babylonian leadership in civilization seemed about to come to an end. But
so deeply rooted and so vigorous was this culture, even in Syria, that the
Egyptian conquerors were compelled to use the Babylonian speech in their
diplomatic correspondence with the princes and governors of the provinces
and to teach it to their officials in the Egyptian capital. And when the
authority of the Pharaohs decayed and their armies disappeared from Syria,
the new kingdom on the Tigris came forward and girded itself for the task of
unifying under its own leadership the Semitic peoples of Western Asia, and
of making that same Babylonian culture prevail from the Persian gulf to the
Mediterranean.

 

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