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Babylonia, A history of ancient Babylon (Babylonia) including its cities, laws, kings and legacy to civilization.

Part Five

Nebuchadnezzar And His Successors


     277. The exact reason for Nebuchadrezzar's haste in returning to

Babylon to secure the throne may not be easy to name, but the fear of

trouble which such an action suggests was prophetic.  A curious passage from

the description of the ceremonial at the rebuilding of the Marduk temple in

Babylon, found in an inscription of Nabupalucur, may throw some light upon

the situation:


     Unto Marduk, my lord, I bowed my neck; I arrayed myself in my gown, the

robe of my royalty.  Bricks and mortar I carried on my head, a dupshikku of

gold and silver I wore; and Nebuchadrezzar, the first-born, the chief son,

beloved of my heart, I caused to carry mortar mixed with wine, oil, and

(other) products along with my workmen.  Nabu-shum-lisher, his talimu, the

offspring of my own flesh, the junior, my darling, I ordered to take a

basket and spade (?); a dupshikku of gold and silver I placed (on him).

Unto Marduk, my lord, as a gift, I dedicated him (II. 59 - III. 18; see ABL,

p. 132).


     278. The struggle of two brothers for their father's throne has already

appeared in Assyrian history.  In this case the younger seems, from this

passage, to have been intended by his father for a special post in the

kingdom; the consecration to Marduk indicated, probably, his elevation to

the priesthood and, in connection with the epithet talimu, suggests to

Winckler (AOF, II. ii. pp. 193 ff.) an appointment as king of Babylon, while

the elder brother was to be ruler of the empire and the suzerain.  Thus the

old problem of Babylonian prerogative reappeared under the Kaldeans.  While

the fully developed theory, as held by Winckler (l. c.), of a division

between the hierarchy and the Kaldean rulers that runs all through the

history of this empire and finally causes its ruin, is improbable, the

existence of intrigue and the danger of dynastic troubles are obvious.  How

to be king of Babylon in all the ancient religious meaning of that term and

at the same time to harmonize the demands of this position with the

administration of the greater state, remained, to the end, the standing

problem of the Mesopotamian dynasties.  Nebuchadrezzar, however, by the

promptness of his appearance on the scene and through the fidelity of his

father's counsellors, overcame whatever opposition may have existed, and in

his long reign (605-562 B.C.) maintained his supreme position with power

undisturbed by revolt and splendor undimmed by rivalry.


     279. If the Kaldean empire was of modest proportions in comparison with

that of Assyria, it had the advantage of relief from the wearisome and

costly wars with mountain peoples.  The absorption of all the northern and

eastern Assyrian provinces by the Manda (Medes), and the firm alliance

between them and the Kaldean king, left him free to take possession of the

more compact and tractable districts which fell to him and to organize their

administration.  How this was done is not very clear, except as it may be

inferred from the details of his relations to the single kingdom of Judah,

as preserved in the Old Testament writings.  Nebuchadrezzar himself has left

no documents of value that bear upon this side of his activity.  But the

long and instructive biblical story of Judah's fortunes, involved, as they

were, with the fate of neighboring peoples, reveals with sufficient fulness

the king's modes of procedure and ideals of administration, as well as the

problems and difficulties that he was compelled to meet.  The study of it is

essential to the understanding of Babylonian history.  Unfortunately the

narratives are not free from confusion and contradictions, the special

investigation of which belongs to the student of Jewish rather than of

Babylonian history.  In general, Egypt was the troublesome factor in this

region.  The twenty-sixth dynasty had succeeded in reorganizing the Nile

principalities into something like unity, and in so adjusting the demands of

the various classes as to occupy a firm seat at the head of affairs.

Accordingly, it proceeded to reassert its old pre-eminence in western Asia.

After Necho's conclusive defeat at Karkhemish, he did not, however, make a

new attempt in force upon Palestine (2 Kings xxiv. 7), but preferred to use

intrigue to induce the communities there to rebel.  Jehoiakim may, in the

beginning, have stood by his Egyptian suzerain and suffered punishment from

Nebuchadrezzar's army on its first advance (2 Chron. xxxvi. 6 f.); but after

his submission he remained faithful to Babylon for three years (2 Kings

xxiv. 1), till 601 B.C.  At last the situation became intolerable.

Palestine was seething with elements of revolution.  The Kaldean army had

been withdrawn.  Bedouin were raiding the border communities, and these, in

turn, were harrying the frontiers of Judah (2 Kings xxiv. 2).  The Kedarenes

were pouring into Syria from the desert at the same time (Jer. xlix. 28), -

the whole movement being the result of the removal of Assyrian pressure,

which, for the last century, had presented an unyielding barrier to the

advance of this last wave of Arabian migration.  So Jehoiakim renounced his

allegiance.  For a year or more he was left undisturbed, until

Nebuchadrezzar apparently was forced to send an army to restore his own

authority throughout the western border.  Jerusalem closed its gates and was

besieged.  Meanwhile Jehoiakim died, and his son Jehoiachin succeeded to the

throne.  Nebuchadrezzar had followed his army in order to settle the affairs

of the west, and, when he appeared before Jerusalem, Jehoiachin gave himself

up to his overlord (597 B.C.).  The kingdom was punished by the deportation

of the king, his court and from nine to ten thousand of the citizens.

Jehoiachin's uncle was appointed king under the name of Zedekiah, and sworn

to faithfulness to Babylon.  During the same campaign it is probable that

the Bedouin were driven back and the other disturbances upon the border

quieted.  The captured king was imprisoned in Babylon, and his people were

settled in central Babylonia near Nippur on the Khebar canal.


     280. But quiet had been only temporarily restored.  Zedekiah found his

people hard to restrain.  The states on the east, Ammon, Moab, and Edom,

were in ferment, and Judah, if faithful to its suzerain, was in danger of

constant inroads from that quarter.  Their ambassadors appeared at his

court, and at the same time emissaries from Tyre and Sidon were present

(Jer. xxvii. 3) to urge common cause against Nebuchadrezzar.  Twice,

apparently, it was necessary for Zedekiah to explain matters at Babylon,

once by sending ambassadors (Jer. xxix. 3), and once by appearing in person

before the king (Jer. li. 59).  The deported Jews in Babylonia were also

intriguing in the interests of rebellion, and even the burning alive of two

of the most outspoken of their leaders, by the order of Nebuchadrezzar,

could not restrain them.  Finally, Pharaoh Hophra, who had succeeded Psamtik

II., son of Necho, in 589 B.C. threw himself vigorously into the cause of

the conspirators and Zedekiah joined them (588 B.C.).  Nebuchadrezzar

bestirred himself and advanced in strong force as far as Riblah on the

middle Orontes.  Thence he sent out a division against Judah, that overran

the country and besieged the three strongholds which held out, Azekah,

Lachish, and Jerusalem (Jer. xxxiv. 7).  The defence of Jerusalem was

particularly desperate; only after a siege of one and a half years was it

taken (586 B.C.).  The usual punishments were inflicted.  The king was

blinded by Nebuchadrezzar's own hand; his sons and counsellors were slain,

the citizens deported, the city was demolished, and the booty carried away.

The people remaining in the land were left under the oversight of a Jewish

noble, Gedaliah, and, when later he was slain by one of his fellow

chieftains, the region was still further desolated and abandoned.  Thus the

old tragedy was re-enacted, and for the last time.  It is true that Hophra

had made a demonstration against the Kaldeans during the siege of Jerusalem

that had compelled a temporary raising of the siege, but the lack of

concerted action on the part of the rebels was followed by the usual

disaster.  Edom and Moab had already made their peace with their overlord.

Ammon and Tyre do not seem to have played any active part in the struggle.

Judah stood alone and perished.


     281. Nebuchadrezzar seems to have proceeded against Tyre and besieged

it.  The siege is said to have lasted thirteen years (585-573 B.C.), after

which the city came to terms, although it was not entered by the Kaldean

king.  The death of its king, Itobaal II., coincided with its submission.

Egypt was attacked by Nebuchadrezzar in 568 B.C., at a the time when Hophra

had been followed by Amasis as a result of internal strife.  Of the success

or extent of the campaign there is no definite knowledge.  It was little

more than a punitive expedition, from which Egypt speedily recovered.


     282. If the knowledge of Nebuchadrezzar's wars and the administration

of his empire must be derived largely from others than himself, the case is

different with respect to his activity in Babylonia.  To this long

inscriptions are devoted, and small tablets, stamps, and bricks from many

famous sites add their testimony.  He describes, particularly, his building

operations in the city of Babylon, the fortifications, the palaces, and the

temples reared by him.  Utility and adornment were his guiding principles,

but not without the deeper motives of piety and patriotism.  In Babylonia at

large, he labored at the restoration of the canal system, so important for

agriculture, commerce, and defence.  One canal which was restored by him,

led from the Euphrates south of Hit directly to the gulf through the centre

of Babylonia; another on the west of the Euphrates opened up to irrigation

and agriculture the edge of the Arabian desert.  The river, as it passed

along before Babylon, was lined with bricks laid in bitumen, which at low

water are visible to-day.  The city-canals were similarly treated.  Those

connecting the two rivers and extending through the land between them were

reopened.  A system of basins, dykes, and dams guarded and guided the waters

of the rivers, - works so various and colossal as to excite the admiration

of the Greeks, who saw or heard of them.  A system of defences was planned

by the erection of a great wall in north Babylonia, stretching from the

Euphrates to the Tigris; it was flanked east and west, by a series of

ramparts of earth and moats filled with water, and extended southward as far

as Nippur.  It was called the Median wall.  Restorations of temples were

made in Borsippa, Sippar, Ur, Uruk, Larsam, Dilbat, and Baz.  More than

forty temples and shrines are mentioned in the inscriptions as receiving

attention.  Bricks bearing the king's name are said to have come from every

site in Babylonia, from Bagdad to the mouth of the rivers.  He may well

stand as the greatest builder of all the kings of the Mesopotamian valley.


     283. An estimate of the policy and achievements of Nebuchadrezzar,

while limited by the unequal amount of information on the various phases of

his activity, and subject to revision in the light of new material, can be

undertaken with a reasonable expectation of general accuracy.  Tiele has

called him one of the greatest rulers of antiquity (BAG, p. 454), and, when

his operations in Babylonia are considered, that statement has weight and

significance.  A century and a half of war, in which Babylonia had been the

field of battle, had reduced its cities to ruins and its fields to waste

lands.  Its temples had been spoiled or neglected, and its gods, in

humiliation or wrath, had abandoned their dwelling-places.  Warring factions

had divided up the country between them, or vied with one another in handing

it over to foreign foes.  The first duty of the king, who loved his people

and considered the well-being and prosperity of his government, was to

restore and unite.  Recovery and consolidation, - these were the watch-words

of public policy for the time, and these Nebuchadrezzar set himself to

realize.  It is no chance, then, that his inscriptions deal so uniformly

with Babylonian affairs, with matters of building and canalization and

religion.  It has been pointed out, also, that his far-seeing policy

contemplated the danger from the Medes, his present allies, and that his

elaborate scheme of defences was intended to make Babylon impregnable in the

conflict which he saw impending.  All this was sagacious and states-manlike.


     284. In the fulfillment of this policy, the king conceived it

indispensable to lay the emphasis on the pre-eminence of his capital, the

city of Babylon.  Here were his most extensive and costly buildings erected.

For its protection the vast system of fortifications was designed.  To

beautify and adorn its streets and temples was his supremest desire, as the

exaltation of its gods was the deepest thought of his heart.  He, or his

successors, even went so far as to destroy the famous temple of the elder

Bel in the immemorially sacred city of Nippur, the sanctuary of the whole

land, an act which has its explanation only in this purpose to glorify

Marduk of Babylon (Peters, Nippur, II. p. 262).  But one title is borne by

him in all his inscriptions, and that is "King of Babylon;" and in them he

declares, "With the exception of Babylon and Borsippa I did not adorn a

single city," and "Because my heart did not love the abode of my royalty in

another city, in no (other) human habitation did I build a residence for my

lordship.  Property, the insignia of royalty, I did not establish anywhere

else" (ABL, pp. 140, 141).  Reasonable question may be raised as to the

wisdom of this procedure.  The Assyrian kings, while they glorified Nineveh,

or Kalkhi, always proclaimed themselves rulers of the state or the empire,

and the title assumed was recognized to entail responsibility.  But

Nebuchadrezzar chose to follow the less laudable feature of the example of

his predecessors, and, when the city concerned was Babylon, with the

jealousies and rivalries which had gathered around it, the preference was

doubtfully wise.  To have developed the religious, economic, and even

defensive significance of the other cities, while indicating his preference

for Babylon, would have removed difficulties which his successors found



     285. The most serious modification of one's high estimate of

Nebuchadrezzar must be made when his administration of his empire is

examined.  The fundamental principles of his policy in this field are

involved in his preference of Babylonia and its capital.  It is true that

the following passage in his inscriptions must be given due weight:


     Far-off lands, distant mountains, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea,

steep trails, unopened paths, where motion was impeded, where there was no

foothold, difficult roads, journeys without water, I traversed, and the

unruly I overthrew; bound as captives my enemies; the land I set in order

and the people I made to prosper; both bad a good among the people I took

under my care (?); silver, gold, costly precious stones, bronze, palm-wood,

cedar-wood, all kinds of precious things, a rich abundance, the product of

the mountains, the wealth of the seas, a heavy gift, a splendid present, to

my city Babylon I brought (EIH, II. 13 ff.).


This however, is the only statement of the kind to be found, and its

limitations are obvious.  The facts, which his dealing with Judah and the

other western states reveals, lower its significance yet more.  For a

century Assyria had maintained its supremacy there with little or no

trouble, with what success can be measured in a single instance.  On good

grounds it has been held that King Josiah's opposition to Necho of Egypt was

inspired by his loyalty to Assyria, though that state was now at its last

gasp.  Its government had been severe, but it had organized and protected

its vassals.  But the Jewish rebellion against Nebuchadrezzar is explicable,

chiefly from the neglect of the Babylonian king to look after the subject

states in the west.  There is no evidence that anything but the most general

supervision was exercised.  Assyrian methods were servilely imitated.  The

punishment of Judah is a most instructive example.  The Jews were deported,

but no peoples were put in their place.  The system of dealing with a

conquered city, developed by Assyria, was employed (McCurdy, HPM, III. pp.

287 ff.), except that the rehabilitation of the wasted and spoiled district

was quite overlooked, and it was practically abandoned.  Thus, while

Babylonia was enriched by spoils of war and captives, a vassal kingdom,

paying tribute and important to the well-being of the west, was annihilated.

Nor did the deportation accomplish the results which the Assyrian system

contemplated.  The Jews, segregated in Babylonia and left practically to

themselves, preserved their national spirit and were a constant trouble to

their master.  On the whole, therefore, it is probable that Nebuchadrezzar

was interested in the empire only as it contributed to the enrichment of the

capital, and where commercial interests were not at stake, he paid little

attention to his possessions outside of Babylonia.  The Euphrates and the

trade-routes to the sea were kept open, because Babylonian merchants

demanded this, and the prosperity of the great emporium at the mouth of the

rivers was involved in it.  Where subject-states not industrially or

commercially of the first importance made trouble, they were demolished.


     286. Nebuchadrezzar was, in truth, a son of Babylonia, not of Assyria,

a man of peace, not of war, a devotee of religion and culture, not of

organization and administration.  His strength as a world-ruler lay in his

inheritance, - the alliance with the Medes made by his father and the

methods of imperial organization which Assyria had bequeathed to him.  His

Babylonian policy had its strong and its weak points.  For the rest, he

manifested the cruelty, the luxury, and the ruthless energy characteristic

of the great Semitic monarchs.  From this point of view, the picture of him

in the Book of Daniel is, in not a few respects, strikingly accurate.  His

inscriptions reveal a loftiness of religious sentiment, unequalled in the

royal literature of the oriental world.  As a pious worshipper of Marduk and

his son Nabu, he utters prayers which, though they may not be of his own

composition, were sanctioned by him and bear witness to the height of

religious thought and feeling reached in his day.  The following is not the

least remarkable of these petitions:


     O eternal prince!  Lord of all being!

     As for the king whom thou lovest, and

     Whose name thou hast proclaimed

     As was pleasing to thee,

     Do thou lead aright his life,

     Guide him in a straight path.

     I am the prince, obedient to thee,

     The creature of thy hand;

     Thou hast created me, and

     With dominion over all people

     Thou hast intrusted me.

     According to thy grace, O Lord,

     Which thou dost bestow on

     All people,

     Cause me to love thy supreme dominion,

     And create in my heart

     The worship of thy god-head,

     And grant whatever is pleasing to thee,

     Because thou hast fashioned my life.




Similar utterances justify Tiele's statement that an Israelite worshipper,

by substituting Jehovah and Jerusalem for Marduk and Babylon, could take

them upon his own lips.  As coming from the kings, they indicate a

remarkable conception of sovereignty, its ideals and obligations, as well as

its source in the righteous character and beneficent will of God Almighty

(Jastrow, RBA, pp. 298 f.).


     287. The instability of the dynasty of Nebuchadrezzar, in spite of his

own vigorous and successful reign, is painfully manifest in the careers of

his successors.  He was followed by his son Amel Marduk (Evil-merodach), who

was slain by his brother-in-law Nergal-shar-ucur (Neriglissar) after a reign

of two years (562-560 B.C.), The latter ascended the throne to rule but four

years (560-556 B.C.), when he was cut off, apparently, by an untimely yet

not violent death.  His son, Labashi Marduk (Labosoarchod), followed him as

king, but, after ruling nine months (556 B.C.), was made away with by a body

of conspirators who chose one of their number, Nabuna'id (Nabonidus), to be

king, the last to occupy that seat as ruler of the New Babylonian Empire.


     288. Nabuna'id has left an instructive commentary upon the political

situation of these years in his stele, recently discovered, descovered,

describing the events connected with his own accession, the character of his

predecessors, and his rule of Babylonia.  According to him, Amel Marduk and

Labashi Marduk had failed to keep the precepts and follow the policies of

their respective fathers, Nebuchadrezzar and Nergalsharucur, and hence fate

carried them away before their time.  The fathers, however, had agreed in

their political policy, and this policy Nabuna'id set before himself as

ruler.  In essential harmony with the testimony of Nabuna'id is that of

Berosus (Jos. Cont. Ap., I. 20), who describes Amel Marduk as "lawless and

impious" and Labashi Marduk as "not knowing how to rule." Such

characterizations of these kings, however, evidently made by their enemies,

are so vague as to leave large room for hypothesis as to the particular

policy they pursued.  Some modern students have regarded them as adherents

of the priestly party and, as such, overpowered and removed by the military

or official party.  For this view support has been sought in the one known

specific act of Amel Marduk, the release of Jehoiachin of Judah (sect. 279)

from prison and his admission to the royal table (2 Kings xxv. 27 ff.).  But

the motive for this act is uncertain, and the exactly opposite hypothesis is

held by others.  All that can be said with certainty is that, beneath the

firm rule of Nebuchadrezzar, intrigues and strifes of parties had been

secretly growing the manifestation of which in the following years threw the

government into confusion and threatened the collapse of the state.  Had

Nergalsharucur lived longer, he might have kept affairs in order and

prolonged the life of the empire, for his inscriptions indicate that he was

a man of capacity, active in the restoration of Babylonian cities and

temples, quite in the spirit of Nebuchadrezzar.  The reign of Nabuna'id

introduces new elements into the final scene of Babylon's downfall and

deserves, therefore, a separate discussion.

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