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[Nebuchadnezzar And His Successors]

[Babylonia Under The Chaldeans]

 

The Chaldeans,  The Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian) Empire

(Neo-Babylonians)

 

History Of The Babylonians And Assyrians

Book:        Part IV: The New Babylonian (Or Kaldean) Empire

Author:      Godspeed, George

 

Babylonia Under The Kaldeans

 

     289. The accession of the Kaldi to supremacy in Babylonia might be

expected to result in the communication of new and original impulses to the

somewhat stationary civilization of that ancient land.  They had proved

their right to exist as a people and their power both to endure hardness and

to rise superior to disaster, by centuries of conflict with the mightiest

organized force that had as yet appeared in the world.  They had even

outlived Assyria and divided her spoils, and, unhindered by opposition, were

now in a position to realize their national ideals in the fairest region of

the ancient world.

 

     290. Materials exist in reasonable abundance from which to gain

knowledge of the contribution made by this regime to human progress and to

estimate its character.  It is true that the ruins of Babylon itself have

not, as yet, been so carefully investigated as to yield much information

concerning the art and architecture of the city in its Kaldean prime,

although this lack will, it is hoped, be supplied by the work of the German

commission now excavating there (1902).  But a thoroughly representative

series of royal inscriptions exists, as an evidence of the literature, and

vast collections of business documents, extending from the beginning to the

end of the period, open up the social life of the people in all its varied

aspect.  The writings of the Hebrew exiles in the land and the reports of

later Greek travellers and historians make additions of no little value.

 

     291. The examination of these sources of information reveals a general

result which is at first thought somewhat surprising.  It discloses a life

and culture which differ in no essential respects from the Babylonian

civilization of the past two thousand years.  The sketch of the society of

2500 B.C. (Part I. chaps. iii., iv.) stands in the main without need of

alteration for the society of 500 B.C.  As in the case of the Kassites

(sect. 123), so in that of the Kaldi the age-long Babylonian civilization

has absorbed the new elements and has moulded them into its immemorial

forms.  The same occupations are followed; the same institutions are

preserved; the same social classes exist; the same principles of legal,

political, and moral action prevail; the same forms of intercourse are

maintained.  There seems to be almost a conscious effort on the part of the

Kaldean leaders to return to the ancient customs.  So marked is this

movement that the period can properly be characterized as the Renaissance of

Old Babylonia.  Its most picturesque exemplar is king Nabuna'id, whose

archaeological activities and his deep interest in them have already been

referred to and will be described in the following chapter (sect. 308).  Not

less manifest is the same tendency in the royal literature, in which, as has

been noted, not only the literary style but even the forms of the characters

are modelled after the inscriptions of the time of Khammurabi.  Winckler has

said that an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar must have made an impression upon

the Babylonians of this period corresponding to what a German of today would

feel in seeing a modern work printed in gothic characters and written in

middle-high-German (GBA, p. 320).  An interesting historical parallel, not

without significance also, is found in the Egypt of the same age which,

under the Pharaohs of the twenty-sixth dynasty, reveals a return to the past

of exactly similar character.

 

     292. It remains for the student of the period to indicate in this

sphere of imitation of the past the distinctive features of the new age,

since no epoch can precisely reproduce the features of one long gone by.  Of

the various occupations followed, industry and commerce seem to have

developed beyond agriculture.  In the centuries of conflict in Babylonia the

farmer suffered most severely, and vast areas of country were devastated.

The Kaldean kings sought to remedy the difficulty by importing populations

like the Jews, who were settled in the country and appear to have been put

to agricultural labor.  Later, in the Persian period, the fertility of the

land was astonishing to the Greek Herodotus, and his testimony illustrates

the outcome of the measures instituted by Nebuchadrezzar (sect. 7).  But

industrial pursuits and their concomitants, commercial activities, the seat

of which was in the cities had grown enormously and were zealously fostered

by the rulers.  Of all the manufactures, the carpets, cottons, and linens of

Babylon were still the most famous in the ancient world.  A development of

trade with the south and southwest is suggested by the building of the city

of Teredon at the mouth of the Euphrates, and any by the spice and incense

traffic carried on through the Arabian city of Gerrha.  The undisturbed

possession of the Euphrates valley and of the trade-routes to the west gave

impulses to larger commercial energy in that direction.  It is

Nebuchadrezzar who is doubtless referred to by Herodotus under the name of

Nitocris, to whom is ascribed the making of the Euphrates to wind about in

its course, that thus its force might be diminished and its use by the frail

boats and rafts still employed for traffic facilitated.  The other

improvements in canals and in the Euphrates itself, and the building of the

quays, not only at Babylon but also at Bagdad and elsewhere by these kings,

point to their recognition of the importance of trade and commerce, which

never was so enormous as in this period.  Ezekiel declares that his people

had been carried away into "a land of traffic" and "set in a city merchants"

(xvii. 4), though he also adds that they were "planted in a fruitful soil"

and placed "beside many waters" and "set as a willow tree" (ibid. v. 5).

 

     293. The pre-eminence of industrial life illustrates other changes

which had come over Babylonian society in this period.  Social life, if it

had preserved its ancient distinctions of noble and common man, was

permeated by the spirit of business.  Even kings and princes appear in

documents describing ordinary business transactions.  Nergalsharucur borrows

money to buy a house.  Belshazzar, son of Nabuna'id, sells wool and takes

security for the payment, as any other merchant.  Indeed, it has been

thought that the old aristocracy had practically disappeared, and that the

merchant princes and ecclesiastical lords had taken its place.  Certain

families, like that of the Egibi at Babylon and the Murashu at Nippur, were

prominent financiers and handed down their talents, both material and

intellectual, through several generations.  Gold and silver were the

standards of value, and it has been calculated that the ratio between the

two was from eleven, or twelve, to one.  Coinage had improved, smaller

portions of the precious metals being stamped as five shekel and one shekel

pieces.  Interest varied from twenty per cent to ten per cent.

 

     294. Accompanying this industrial development was the transference of

the bulk of the population to the cities, and chiefly to Babylon.  In the

capital, doubtless, the refinement and luxury of civilized society in the

ancient world reached its highest point.  Herodotus has an interesting

picture of the Babylonian gentlemen of the time:

 

     The dress of the Babylonians is a linen tunic reaching to the feet, and

above it another tunic made in wool, besides which they have a short white

cloak thrown round them, and shoes of a peculiar fashion, not unlike those

worn by the Boeotians.  They have long hair, wear turbans on their heads,

and anoint their whole body with perfumes.  Every one carries a seal, and a

walking stick, carved at the top into the form of an apple, a rose, a lily,

an eagle, or something similar; for it is not their habit to use a stick

without an ornament (Her., I. 195).

 

To this description may be added that of Ezekiel, who pictured "the

Chaldeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins,

with dyed turbans upon their heads, all of them princes to look upon" (Ezek.

xxiii. 14 f.).

 

     295. The family life continued to be the basis of social organization.

Few changes are traceable, and these were in the direction of a higher

standard of morals.  The practice of polygamy or concubinage appears to be

much restricted, and the custom of marriage by purchase was practically done

away with.  The wife still brought her dowry.  The position of woman was

still as free and as high as before.  The strange statement of Herodotus as

to the religious prostitution of the Babylonian women is, in itself,

incredible, as well as his stories of the marriage-market (I. 196, 199).

The contemporaneous documents bear quite the opposite testimony.

 

     296. The history of the Kaldean regime is a sufficient illustration of

the character of the state during this period.  It differed from the earlier

Babylonian organization, chiefly because the Assyrian Empire had done its

work.  It was more centralized; the king was less of a sacred personage and

more of a warrior and administrator.  Yet there appears here the return to

the old-time conception of the ecclesiastical character of the ruler,

inseparable from a king of Babylon, and in harmony with this renaissance

spirit.  That an imperial administration was possible at all was due to the

Assyrian system already in vogue in the provinces, and to an army which was

chiefly composed of mercenaries gathered from the ends of the earth.

Tradition has preserved the name of a certain Antimenidas, a Greek of

Mitylene, who was a prominent figure among the soldiers of Nebuchadrezzar

(Strabo, XIII. 2, 3).  The character of the soldiery was not high.  The

impression made upon subject peoples is illustrated by the testimony of the

Hebrew prophets.  Habakkuk declares, "Their horses also are swifter than

leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves; and their horsemen

spread themselves: yea, their horsemen come from far; they fly as an eagle

that hasteth to devour.  They come all of them for violence; their faces are

set eagerly as the east wind; and they gather captives as the sand" (Hab. i.

8, 9).

 

     297. The glory of Babylonia, however, was in the arts of peace, and

this age was not behind in the cultivation of science, aesthetics, and

literature.  But there is no evidence that, in this direction more than in

others, was there any endeavor to outdo the past.  The literary art showed,

perhaps, greater elaboration of details, but there was no new thought.  Its

quality and influence are best estimated by the example of the one people of

genius that breathed its atmosphere.  Hebrew literature, of the exile and

after, is in form separated by a great gulf from that of the earlier period.

The peculiarities of the style of Ezekiel and of Zechariah - the

artificiality of form and the grotesqueness of conception - are Babylonian.

But the mechanical correctness of these writers becomes harmony and unity of

presentation in such a literary artist as the author of the second part of

Isaiah.  "His discourse, serene, affluent, and glowing, is an image of a

Babylonian landscape.  As it unrolls itself, we think of fields and gardens

and stately palms and bending willows and gently flowing streams, stretching

away over an ample plain, and all standing out clear in the light of a

cloudless sky" (McCurdy, HPM, III. p. 420).  For a fuller knowledge of the

contribution of the Kaldean period to the artistic development it will be

necessary to await further excavation on the site of Babylon; but already it

is known that the special type of artistic adornment in the Kaldean palaces

was the wall decorated in colors.  Bricks enamelled in colors are among the

commonest articles picked up on the mounds of Babylon.  It is the walls of

Nebuchadrezzar's palace to which Diodorus refers in speaking of "every kind

of animal imitated according to all the rules of art both as to form and

color; the whole represented the chase of various animals, the latter being

more than four cubits high - in the middle Semiramis on horseback letting

fly an arrow against a panther, and on one side her husband Ninus at close

quarter with a lion" (Diod., II. 8, 6).  This description is confirmed by

the recent discovery of the throne-room of the palace with beautifully

colored decorations of this character, which took the place of the bas-

reliefs of Ninevite kings.

 

     298. In the sphere of religion the Kaldean period was most active, and

yet most characteristically conservative.  It was the brief Indian summer of

the faith, cherished through so many centuries in the temples by successive

generations of zealous priests and devout worshippers.  Ancient cults were

revived; ruined shrines restored; old endowment renewed.  Yet the ideas of

the gods and of their place and prerogatives in the pantheon had changed but

slightly.  Mention has already been made of the preference of the kings for

Marduk and Nabu (sect. 284), and of the approach to monotheism and

sprirituality which appears in the prayers of Nebuchadrezzar.  Nabuna'id, it

is thought, sought to raise Shamash, the sun-god, to the level of Marduk and

Nabu, but the attempt only cost him the enmity of the priests of the

capital.  Everywhere priestly control made the cult the dominant element in

the religion; its materialistic features, its demonology, its incantation

ceremonials, and its astrology continued to be the popular elements.  The

condition or morals was fluctuating, affected, it is true, by noble

expressions of faith and devotion such as are found in the hymns and

prayers, but elevated and maintained at a worthy standard far more by the

secular activities of business.  True, it was a commercial and mercantile

morality, but a striking testimony is borne to it by a later writer who

mentions, among the other virtues of the Babylonians, their imperturbability

and their straightforwardness (Nic. of Damascus, Fr. 131), characteristics

of which the Stoics were proud.  The influence of the religion upon outside

peoples was, however, never as potent as in this period.  The international

life of east and west, now so close and reciprocal, afforded the most

favorable opportunity for the extension of the profound cosmological and

theological ideas which, in strange and often grotesque forms, had been

wrought out on Babylonian soil.  The fertile and inquiring Greek mind was

now brought within close range, and the reports of eastern travellers

stimulated the curiosity and the thoughts of the philosophers.  The Jews,

too, drank in the teachings.  "The finishing touches to the structure of

Judaism - given on Babylonian soil - reveal the Babylonian trade-mark.

Ezekiel, in many respect the most characteristic Jewish figure of the exile,

is steeped in Babylonian theology and mysticism; and the profound influence

of Ezekiel is recognized by modern scholarship in the religious spirit that

characterizes the Jews upon the reorganization of their commonwealth"

(Jastrow, RBA, pp. 696 f.).

 

     299. This splendid renaissance of the past, which is the achievement of

the Kaldi for Babylonia, has its shining example and supreme symbol in the

city of Babylon.  The devotion of the great Nebuchadrezzar to his capital

has already been indicated (sect. 284).  To present, however imperfectly, a

general picture of the city as it came from the hands of its Kaldean rulers

is a service due to their memory.  At the same time this supreme interest is

the best illustration of the limitations as well as the height of their

ideals.  It is possible at present, with some certainty, to connect at least

two of the three great mounds on the site of the ancient city, now called

Babel, Kasr, and Amran, with the special structures, palaces, temple, and

gardens which are ascribed to Nebuchadrezzar, even if the many other ruin-

heaps in the vicinity cannot be identified.  The many royal inscriptions of

the Kaldi and the descriptions of the Greek writers permit a sketch of the

Babylon of that day.  The city proper, the nucleus and heart of it, was that

which lay along the east back of the Euphrates and within the inner wall

called Imgur Bel, which stretched in a kind of half-circle out from the

river.  The chief buildings within this wall the temple and the place.

Around this inner wall there ran a second wall called Nemitti Bel, roughly

parallel to it and at a considerable distance from it, constituting the

defence of the larger city.  Its circumference, including the river front,

was about eight miles.  Each of these walls had its moat.  Though of about

the same size as Nineveh (sect. 231), Babylon was much more thickly

populated, the houses being three and four stories in height.  The streets

of the city ran at right angles, and all the spaces about the temple and

between the walls were probably occupied with private houses or buildings

for business.

 

     300. The temple, the centre of the inner city, consisted of a complex

of structures, situated upon its elevated platform and surrounded by its own

wall.  Most conspicuous was the ziggurat, or temple-tower of seven stages,

which the king rebuilt.  Of this Herodotus says: "The ascent to the top is

on the outside by a path which winds round all the towers (stages).  When

one is about half-way up, one finds a resting-place and seats where persons

are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit.  On the topmost tower

(stage) there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of

unusual size richly adorned with a golden table by its side.  There is no

statue of any kind set up in the place." Beside the tower was the shrine of

the god Marduk, E-kua, a magnificent structure whose walls glistened with

gold, precious stones, and alabaster, and whose roof was fragrant cedar of

Lebanon.  At the entrance was the shrine of the goddess, his spouse, and

elsewhere were the sanctuaries of Nabu and other deities.  Of another sacred

chamber Nebuchadrezzar records that:

 

     The shrine of the Fates, where, on Zagmuku, the beginning of the year,

on the eight and the eleventh day, the king, the god of heaven and earth,

the lord of heaven, takes up his residence, where the gods of heaven and

earth reverently pay obedience and stand bowed down before him; a fate of a

far-distant day, as the fate of my life, they determine therein: that

shrine, the shrine of royalty, the shrine of lordly power, belonging to the

leader of the gods, the Prince Marduk, which a former king had constructed

with silver, I decorated with shining gold and brilliant ornaments (EIH, II.

54 ff).

 

From the door of the temple a passage led to the sacred street, A-ibur-

shabu, along which the sacred ships of the gods were wont to be borne on

festal days, while by the temple's side the sacred canal ran from the

Euphrates eastward, bringing water for sacred uses.

 

     301. To the north lay the palace between the canal and the inner wall.

Built or renewed by Nabupalucur, it had fallen into decay and had to be

repaired by his son.  For so great a king, however, it had become too small.

Yet it could not be enlarged without encroaching on the sacred domains of

the god.  Nebuchadrezzar restored it, therefore, exactly after the old

dimensions, but across the inner wall, either to the north or east, within

the outer wall, he cleared a space, and within fifteen days the turrets of

a splendid palace appeared, uniting the two walls and making, with its own

intersecting battlements, a citadel which protected alike the outer and the

inner city.  Upon the furnishing of this palace were lavished all the

resources of his empire.  Cedar, cypress, palm, and other costly woods,

gold, silver, bronze, copper, and precious stones, brick and marble from the

distant mountains, were employed in its construction and adornment.

 

     302. This palace, which was also a citadel, was but one of the many

defences which were devised for the city's security.  The inner and outer

walls were raised and strengthened.  Most imposing of all was the system of

fortifications placed by Nebuchadrezzar quite outside of the walls already

described.  It consisted of a combination of earthworks and water-ways.  A

wall was built of colossal dimensions, four thousand cubits (one and one

half miles? ) east of Nemitti-Bel.  The extremities were connected with

canals or earthworks which reached to the Euphrates; it was itself protected

by a fortified moat.  This was the mighty work which astonished Herodotus.

He gave its height as somewhat more than three hundred and seventy feet, and

its width more than ninety feet.  The summit was lined with battlements and

guard chambers, between which on either side a space was left sufficient for

a four-horse chariot to turn.  The wall was pierced by an hundred brazen

gates (Her., I. 178 ff.).

 

     303. Adornment and practical utility as well as defence were in the

mind of Nebuchadrezzar when he put his hand to the rebuilding of Babylon.

He dug again the sacred canal and lined it with brick; he raised the sacred

street, carrying it by a bridge over the canal and lifting higher the gates

of the two city walls at the point where it passed through them.  He built

up the bank of the Euphrates with bricks, making splendid quays, which still

exist, walled them in and opened the gates at the points where the city

streets came down to the water's edge.  Later historians dwell on his

magnificent hanging gardens, which rose somewhere near his palaces; they

were built in lofty terraces to solace his Median queen for the absence of

her beloved mountains.  Across the river, in the twin city of Borsippa, he

rebuilt the city wall and restored the temple tower of the god Nabu, son of

Marduk.  In time the two cities became more and more united.  It is this

double city which seems to be in the mind of Herodotus when he describes

Babylon as a great square about fourteen miles on each side, the walls

making a circuit of fifty-six miles and enclosing an area of two hundred

square miles.  While the Babylon of the Kaldi was much smaller than this,

their devotion to it manifested itself in these initial works that in course

of time produced the larger and more famous city.  Already it contained at

least two of the seven wonders of the world, and its beauty and wealth made

it for a long time thereafter the chief centre of the east.  "From

Nebuchadrezzar to the Mongol invasion" it was well-nigh "the greatest

commercial city of the world."

 

     304. For Babylon remained, after the wreck of the Semitic domination of

the East, as glorious as before and as imperious in the realm of commerce

and of culture.  She had succeeded to the varying and petty local powers

that, in the beginnings of history, struggled with one another for a

transient pre-eminence.  She had laid, there and then, the foundations of

the state which had endured for millenniums.  She had outlasted the empire

on the Tigris.  She had been the despair of the statesmen of Assyria, and a

decisive element in the downfall of that monarchy.  She had been the pride

of the Kaldean monarchs, and was at last the grave of their glory.  She had

given to the ancient world its laws, its literature, its religion.  In the

words of Professor Rawlinson: "Hers was apparently the genius which

excogitated an alphabet; worked out the simpler problems of arithmetic;

invented implements for measuring the lapse of time; conceived the idea of

raising enormous structures with the poorest of all materials, clay;

discovered the art of polishing, boring, and engraving gems; reproduced with

truthfulness the outlines of human and animal forms; attained to high

perfection in textile fabrics; studied with success the motions of the

heavenly bodies; conceived of grammar as a science; elaborated a system of

law; saw the value of an exact chronology; - in almost every branch of

science made a beginning, thus rendering it comparatively easy for other

nations to proceed with the superstructure. . . .  It was from the east, not

from Egypt, that Greece derived her architecture, her sculpture, her

science, her philosophy, her mathematical knowledge, in a word, her

intellectual life.  And Babylon was the source to which the entire stream of

eastern civilization may be traced.  It is scarcely too much to say that,

but for Babylon, real civilization might not even yet have dawned upon the

earth" (Gt. Mon., III. pp. 75 f.).

 

     305. Upon the people of Israel, too, Babylon left her mark.  Though

mistress of their state and its destroyer, she could not rule their spirits.

Their prophets looked forward to her fall and rejoiced.  To them, the image

of all material prosperity, she was set over against that higher ideal of

victorious suffering, of spiritual achievement, the triumph of which in

their vision was sure.  Thus pictured by them, Babylon has lived on in the

imagination of Christendom as the supreme symbol of the rich, the cruel, the

lustful, the enemy of saints, the Antichrist, destined to destruction.  Who

shall say that, thus seeing, these prophets did not behold clearly the vital

weakness of that ancient civilization in her, its embodiment?  With all her

glory Babylon was of the earth and is fallen; Jerusalem, which is from

above, abideth forever.

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