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In treating of the history, character, and influence of this ancient empire, it is difficult not to speak at the same time of its sister, or rather daughter, country, Assyria. This northern neighbour and colony of Babylon remained to the last of the same race and language and of almost the same religion and civilization as that of the country from which it emigrated. The political fortunes of both countries for more than a thousand years were closely interwoven with one another; in fact, for many centuries they formed one political unit. The reader is therefore referred to the article Assyria for the sources of Assyro-Babylonian history; for the story of exploration, language, and writing; for its value in Old Testament exegesis, and for much of Babylonian history during the period of Assyrian supremacy.


The country lies diagonally from northwest to southeast, between 30° and 33° N. lat., and 44° and 48° E. long., or from the present city of Bagdad to the Persian Gulf, from the slopes of Khuzistan on the east to the Arabian Desert on the west, and is substantially contained between the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, though, to the west a narrow strip of cultivation on the right bank of the Euphrates must be added. Its total length is some 300 miles, its greatest width about 125 miles; about 23,000 square miles in all, or the size of Holland and Belgium together.

Like those two countries, its soil is largely formed by the alluvial deposits of two great rivers. A most remarkable feature of Babylonian geography is that the land to the south encroaches on the sea and that the Persian Gulf recedes at present at the rate of a mile in seventy years, while in the past, though still in historic times, it receded as much as a mile in thirty years. In the early period of Babylonian history the gulf must have extended some hundred and twenty miles further inland. According to historical records both the towns Ur and Eridu were once close to the gulf, from which they are now about a hundred miles distant; and from the reports of Sennacherib's campaign against Bît Yakin we gather that as late as 695 B.C., the four rivers Kerkha, Karun, Euphrates, and Tigris entered the gulf by separate mouths, which proves that the sea even then extended a considerable distance north of where the Euphrates and Tigris now join to form the Shat-el-arab. Geological observations show that a secondary formation of limestone abruptly begins at a line drawn from Hit on the Euphrates to Samarra on the Tigris, i.e. some four hundred miles from their present mouth; this must once have formed the coast line, and all the country south was only gradually gained from the sea by river deposit. In how far man was witness of this gradual formation of the Babylonian soil we cannot determine at present; as far south as Larsa and Lagash man had built cities 4,000 years before Christ. It has been suggested that the story of the Flood may be connected with man's recollection of the waters extending far north of Babylon, or of some great natural event relating to the formation of the soil; but with our present imperfect knowledge it can only be the merest suggestion. It may, however, well be observed that the astounding system of canals which existed in ancient Babylonia even from the remotest historical times, though largely due to man's careful industry and patient toil, was not entirely the work of the spade, but of nature once leading the waters of Euphrates and Tigris in a hundred rivulets to the sea, forming a delta like that of the Nile.

The fertility of this rich alluvial plain was in ancient times proverbial; it produced a wealth of wheat, barley, sesame, dates, and other fruits and cereals. The cornfields of Babylonia were mostly in the south, where Larsa, Lagash, Erech, and Calneh were the centres of an opulent agricultural population. The palm tree was cultivated with assiduous care and besides furnishing all sorts of food and beverage, was used for a thousand domestic needs. Birds and waterfowls, herds and flocks, and rivers teeming with fish supplied the inhabitants with a rural plenty which surprises the modern reader of the cadastral surveys and tithe-accounts of the ancient temples. The country is completely destitute of mineral wealth, and possesses no stone or metal, although stone was already being imported from the Lebanon and the Ammanus as early as 3000 B.C.; and much earlier, about 4500 B.C., Ur-Nina, King of Shirpurla sent to Magan, i.e. the Sinaitic Peninsula, for hard stone and hard wood; while the copper mines of Sinai were probably being worked by Babylonians shortly after 3750, when Snefru, first king of the Fourth Egyptian dynasty, drove them away. It is remarkable that Babylonia possesses no bronze period, but passed from copper to iron; though in later ages it learnt the use of bronze from Assyria.

The towns of ancient Babylonia were the following: southernmost,

  • Eridu, Semitic corruption of the old name of Eri-dugga, "good city", at present the mounds of Abu-Sharain; and
  • Ur, Abraham's birthplace, about twenty-five miles northeast of Eridu, at present Mughair.
  • Both of the above towns lay west of the Euphrates. East of the Euphrates, the southernmost town was Larsa, the Biblical Ellasar (Gen., xiv; in Vulg. and D.V. unfortunately rendered Pontus), at present Senkere;
  • Erech, the Biblical Arach (Gen., x, 10), fifteen miles northwest of Larsa, is at present Warka;
  • eight miles northeast from the modern Shatra was Shirpurla, or Lagash, now Tello. Shirpurla was one of Babylon's most ancient cities, though not mentioned in the Bible; probably "Raventown" (shirpur-raven), from the sacred emblem of its goddess and sanctuary, Nin-Girsu, or Nin-Sungir, which for a score of centuries was an important political centre, and probably gave its name to Southern Babylonia -- Sungir, Shumer, or, in Gen., x, 10, Sennaar.
  • Gishban (read also Gish-ukh), a small city a little north of Shirpurla, at present the mounds of Iskha, is of importance only in the very earliest history of Babylonia.
  • The site of the important city of Isin (read also Nisin) has not yet been determined, but it was probably situated a little north of Erech.
  • Calneh, or Nippur (in D.V., Gen., x, 10, Calanne), at present Nuffar, was a great religious centre, with its Bel Temple, unrivaled in antiquity and sanctity, a sort of Mecca for the Semitic Babylonians. Recent American excavations have made its name as famous as French excavations made that of Tello or Shirpurla.
  • In North Babylonia we have again, southernmost, the city of Kish, probably the Biblical Cush (Gen., x, 8); its ruins are under the present mound El-Ohemir, eight miles east of Hilla.
  • A little distance to the northwest lay Kutha, the present Telli Ibrahim, the city whence the Babylonian colonists of Samaria were taken (IV Kings, xvii, 30), and which played a great role in Northern Babylonia before the Amorite dynasty.
  • The site of Agade, i.e. Akkad (Gen., x, 10), the name of whose kings was dreaded in Cyprus and in Sinai in 3800 B.C., is unfortunately unknown, but it must have been not far from
  • Sippara; it has even been suggested that this was one of the quarters of that city, which was scarcely thirty miles north of Babylon and which, as early as 1881, was identified, through British excavations, with the present Abu-Habba.
  • Lastly, Babylon, with its twin-city Borsippa, though probably founded as early as 3800 B.C., played an insignificant role in the country's history until, under Hammurabi, about 2300 B.C., it entered on that career of empire which it maintained for almost 2000 years, so that its name now stands for a country and a civilization which was of hoary antiquity before Babylon rose to power and even before a brick of Babylon was laid.


At the dawn of history in the middle of the fifth millennium before Christ we find in the Euphrates Valley a number of city-states, or rather city-monarchies, in rivalry with one another and in such a condition of culture and progress, that this valley has been called the cradle of civilization, not only of the Semitic world, but most likely also of Egypt. The people dwelling in this valley were certainly not all of one race; they differed in type and language. The primitive inhabitants were probably of Mongolian ancestry, they are styled Sumerians, or inhabitants of Sumer, Sungir, Sennaar. They invented the cuneiform script, built the oldest cities, and brought the country to a great height of peaceful prosperity.

They were gradually overcome, dispossessed, and absorbed by a new race that entered the plain between the two rivers, the Semites, who pressed on them from the north from the kingdom of Akkad. The Semitic invaders, however, eagerly adopted, improved, and widely spread the civilization of the race they had conquered. Although a number of arguments converge into an irrefragable proof that the Sumerians were the aboriginal inhabitants of Babylonia, we have no historical records of the time when they were the sole occupants of the Euphrates Valley; at the dawn of history we find both races in possession of the land and to a certain extent mixed, though the Semite was predominant in the North while the Sumerian maintained himself for centuries in the South. Whence these Sumerians came, cannot be decided, and probably all that will ever be known is that, after a nomadic existence in mountainous districts in the East, they found a plain in the lands of Sennaar and dwelt in it (Gen., xi, 2). Their first settlement was Eridu, then a seaport on the Persian Gulf, where their earliest myths represent the first man, Adapu, or Adamu (Adam?), spending his time in fishing, and where the sea-god taught them the elements of civilization. It is certain, however, that they possessed a considerable amount of culture even before entering the Babylonian plain; for, coeval with the first foundations of their oldest temples, they possessed the cuneiform script, which can be described as a cursive hand developed out of picture-signs by centuries of primeval culture. From whence the Semitic race invaded Babylonia, and what was its origin, we know not, but it must be noted that the language they spoke, though clearly and thoroughly Semitic, is yet so strikingly different from all other Semitic languages that it stands in a category apart, and the time when it formed one speech with the other Semitic tongues lies immeasurably far back beyond our calculations.

The earliest records, then, show us a state of things not unlike that of our Saxon heptarchy: petty princes, or city-monarchies successfully endeavouring to obtain lordship over a neighbouring town or a group of towns, and in turn being overcome by others. And, considering that most of these towns were but a score of miles distant from one another and changed rulers frequently, the history is somewhat confusing.

The most ancient ruler at present known to us is Enshagkushanna, who is styled King of Kengi. Owing to the broken state of the sherd on which the inscription occurs, and which possibly dates soon after 5000 B.C., the name of his capital is unknown. It probably was Shirpurla, and he ruled over Southern Babylonia. He claims to have won a great victory over the City of Kish, and he dedicated the spoil, including a statue of bright silver, to Mullil, the god of Calanne (Nippur). It seems like that Kish was the most southern city captured by Semites; of one of its kings, Manishtusu, we possess a mace-head, as a sign of his royalty, and a stele, or obelisk, in archaic cuneiforms and Semitic Babylonian. Somewhat later Mesilim, the King of Kish, retrieved the defeat of his predecessor and acted as suzerain of Shirpurla. Another probable name of a King of Kish is Urumush, or Alusharshid, though some make him King of Akkad. Whereas our information concerning the dynasty of Kish is exceedingly fragmentary, we are somewhat better informed about the rulers of Shirpurla. About 4500 B.C. we find Urkagina reigning there and, somewhat later, Lugal (lugal, "great man", i.e. "prince", or "king") Shuggur. Then, after an interval, we are acquainted with a succession of no fewer than seven Kings of Shirpurla: Gursar, Gunidu, Ur-Ninâ, Akur-Gal, Eannatum I, Entemena and Eannatum II -- which last king must have reigned about 4000 B.C. De Sarszec found at Tello a temple-wall some of the bricks of which bore the clear legend of Ur-Nina, thus leaving on record this king's building activity. Thanks to the famous stele of the vultures, now in the Louvre, to some clay steles in the British Museum, and a cone found at Shirpurla, we have an idea of the warlike propensities of Eannatum I, who subdued the people of Gishban by a crushing defeat, made them pay an almost incredible war-indemnity of corn, and appointed over that city his own viceroy, "who placed his yoke on the land of Elam", "and of Gisgal", and who is represented as braining with his club foes whose heads are protruding out of the opening of a bag in which they are bound.

That, notwithstanding these scenes of bloodshed, it was an age of art and culture can be evidently shown by such finds as that of a superb silver vase of Entemena, Eannatum's son and successor, and, as crown-prince, general of his army. After Eannatum II the history of Shirpurla is a blank, until we find the name of Lugal Ushumgal, when, however, the city has for a time lost its independence, for this ruler was the vassal of Shargon I of Akkad, about 3800 B.C. Yet, some six centuries afterwards, when the dynasty of Akkad had ceased to be, the patesis, or high-priests, of Shirpurla were still men of renown. A long inscription on the back of a statue tells us of the vast building achievements of Ur-Bau about the year 3200; and the name of his son and successor, Nammaghani. About two centuries later we find Gudea, one of the most famous rulers the city every possessed. Excavations at Tello have laid bare the colossal walls of his great palace and have shown us how, both by land and sea, he brought his materials from vast distances, while his architecture and sculpture show perfect art and refinement, and we incidentally learn that he conquered the district of Anshan in Elam. After Gudea, we are acquainted with the names of four more rulers of Shirpurla, but in these subsequent reigns the city seems to have quickly sunk into political insignificance. Another Sumerian dynasty was that of Erech, or Gishban. About 4000 B.C. a certain Lugal Zaggisi, son of the Patesi of Gishban, who became King of Erech, proudly styled himself King of the World, as Enshagkushanna and Alusharshid had done, claimed to rule from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and praises the supreme god Enlil, or Bel, of Nippur, who "granted him the dominion of all from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof and caused the countries to dwell in peace". Yet to us it seems but a rushlight of glory; for after his son Lugal-Kisalsi the Kingdom of Erech disappears in the night of the past. The same may be said of the dynasty of Agade. Ittibel's son, Sargon I, suddenly stands before us as a giant figure in history about 3800 B.C. He was a monarch proud of his race and language, for his inscriptions were in his Semitic mother-tongue, not in the Sumerian, like those of previous kings. He is rightly called the first founder of a Semitic empire. Under him flourished Semitic language, literature, and art, especially architecture. He established his dominion in Susa, the capital of Elam, subdued Syria and Palestine in three campaigns, set up an image of himself on the Syrian coast, as a monument of his triumphs, and welded his conquests into one empire. Naram-Sin, his son, even extended his gather's conquests, invading the Sinai Peninsula and, apparently, Cyprus, where a seal cylinder was found on which he receives homage as a god. On inscriptions of that date first occurs mention of the city of God's Gate, or Babylon (Bâb-ilu sometimes Bâb-ilani, whence the Greek Babulon, then written ideographically Kâ-Dungir.

After Bingani, Naram-Sin's son, Semitic successes were temporarily eclipsed; Egypt occupied Sinai, Elam became again independent, and in Babylonia itself the Sumerian element reasserted itself. We find a dynasty of Ur already in prominence. This city seems at two different periods to have exercised the hegemony over the Euphrates Valley or part of it. First under Urgur and Dungi I, about 3400 B.C. This Urgur assumed the title of King of Sumer and Akkad, thus making the first attempt to unite North and South Babylonia into a political unit, and inaugurating a royal style which was borne perhaps longer than the title of any other dignity since the world was made. Ur predominates, for the second time, about 2800 B.C., under Dungi II, Gungunu, Bur-Sin, Gimil-Sin and Ine Sin, whose buildings and fortifications are found in many cities of Babylonia. The history of Ur is as yet so obscure that some scholars (Thureau-Dangin, Hilprecht, Bezold) accept but two dynasties, other (Rogers) three, others (Hugo, Radau) four. The supremacy of Ur is followed, about 2500 B.C., by that of (N) Isin, apparently an unimportant city, as its rulers style themselves Shepherds, or Gracious Lords, of Isin, and place this title after that of King of Ur, Eridu, Erech, and Nippur. Six rulers of Isin are known: Ishbigarra, Libit-Ishtar, Bur-Sin II, Ur-Ninib, Ishme-Dagan, and Enannatum. The last of the city-kingdoms was that of Larsa, about 2300 B.C., with its sovereigns Siniddinam Nur-Adad, Chedornanchundi, Chedorlaomer, Chedormabug, and Eri-Aku. The composition of these royal names with Chedor, the Elamite Kudor, sufficiently shows that they did not belong to a native dynasty, whether Sumerian or Semitic. One of the earliest Elamite invaders of Babylonia was Rim-Amun, who obtained such a foothold on Babylonian soil that the year of his reign was used to date contract tablets, a sure sign that he was at least king de facto. Chedornanchundi invaded Babylonia about the year 2285, reached Erech, plundered its temples, and captured the city-goddess; but whether he established a permanent rule, remains doubtful. Somewhat later Chedorlaomer (Kudur-Laghamar, "Servant of Laghamar", an Elamite deity), known to us from the Bible, seems to have been more successful. Not only does he appear as overlord of Babylonia, but he carried his conquest as far west as Palestine. Chedormabug was originally Prince of Emutbal, or western Elam, but obtained dominion over Babylonia and rebuilt the temple at Ur. His son, Rim-Sin, or Eri-Aku, considered himself so well established on Babylonian territory that he affected the ancient titles, Exalter of Ur, King of Larsa, King of Sumer and Akkad. Yet he was the least of the city-kings, and a new order of things began with the rise of Babylon.


The dynasty which laid the foundation of Babylon's greatness is sometimes called the Arabian. It certainly was West-Semitic and almost certainly Amorite. The Babylonians called it the dynasty of Babylon, for, though foreign in origin, it may have had its actual home in that city, which it gratefully and proudly remembered. It lasted for 296 years and saw the greatest glory of the old empire and perhaps the Golden Age of the Semitic race in the ancient world. The names of its monarchs are: Sumu-abi (15 years), Sumu-la-ilu (35), Zabin (14), Apil-Sin (18), Sin-muballit (30); Hammurabi (35), Samsu-iluna (35), Abishua (25), Ammi-titana (25), Ammizaduga (22), Samsu-titana (31). Under the first five kings Babylon was still only the mightiest amongst several rival cities, but the sixth king, Hammurabi, who succeeded in beating down all opposition, obtained absolute rule of Northern and Southern Babylonia and drove out the Elamite invaders. Babylonia henceforward formed but one state and was welded into one empire.

They were apparently stormy days before the final triumph of Hammurabi. The second ruler strengthened his capital with large fortifications; the third ruler was apparently in danger of a native pretender or foreign rival called Immeru; only the fourth ruler was definitely styled King; while Hammurabi himself in the beginning of his reign acknowledged the suzerainty of Elam. This Hammurabi is one of the most gigantic figures of the world's history, to be named with Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon, but best compared to a Charlemagne, a conqueror and a lawgiver, whose powerful genius formed a lasting empire out of chaos, and whose beneficent influence continued for ages throughout an area almost as large as Europe. Doubtless a dozen centuries later Assyrian kings were to make greater conquests than he, but whereas they were giant destroyers he was a giant builder. His large public and private correspondence gives us an insight into his multitudinous cares, his minute attention to details, his constitutional methods. (See "The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi", by L. W. King; London, 1898, 3 vols.) His famous code of civil and criminal law throws light on his genius as legislator and judge. The stele on which these laws are inscribed was found at Susa by M. de Morgan and the Dominican friar Scheil, and first published and translated by the latter in 1902. This astounding find, giving us, in 3638 short lines, 282 laws and regulations affecting the whole range of public and private life, is unequalled even in the marvelous history of Babylonian research. From no other document can a more swift and accurate estimate of Babylonian civilization be formed than from this code. (For a complete English translation see T.G. Pinches, op. cit. infra, pp. 487-519.)

Whereas the Assyrian kings loved to fill the boastful records of their reigns with ghastly descriptions of battle and war, so that we possess the minutest details of their military campaigns, the genius of Babylon, on the contrary, was one of peace, and culture, and progress. The building of temples, the adorning of cities, the digging of canals, the making of roads, the framing of laws was their pride; their records breathe, or affect to breathe, all serene tranquility; warlike exploits are but mentioned by the way, hence we have, even in the case of the two greatest Babylonian conquerors, Hammurabi and Nabuchodonosor II, but scanty information of their deeds of arms. "I dug the canal Hammurabi, the blessing of men, which bringeth the water of the overflow unto the land of Sumer and Akkad. Its banks on both sides I made arable land; much seed I scattered upon it. Lasting water I provided for the land of Sumer and Akkad. The land of Sumer and Akkad, its separated peoples I united, with blessings and abundance I endowed them, in peaceful dwellings I made them to live" -- such is the style of Hammurabi. In what seems an ode on the king, engraved on his statue we find the words: "Hammurabi, the strong warrior, the destroyer of his foes, he is the hurricane of battle, sweeping the land of his foes, he brings opposition to naught, he puts an end to insurrection, he breaks the warrior as an image of clay." But chronological details are still in confusion. In a very fragmentary list of dates the 31st year of his reign is given as that of the land Emutbalu, which is usually taken as that of his victory over western Elam, and considered by many as that of his conquest of Larsa and its king, Rim-Sin, or Eri-Aku. If the Biblical Amraphel be Hammurabi we have in Gen., xiv, the record of an expedition of his to the Westland previous to the 31st year of his reign. Of Hammurabi's immediate successors we know nothing except that they reigned in peaceful prosperity. That trade prospered, and temples were built, is all we can say.

The Amorite dynasty was succeeded by a series of eleven kings which may well be designated as the Unknown Dynasty, which has received a number of names: Ura-Azag, Uru-ku, Shish-ku. Whether it was Semite or not is not certain; the years of reign are given in the "King-List", but they are surprisingly long (60-50-55-50-28, etc), so that not only great doubt is cast on the correctness of these dates, but the very existence of this dynasty is doubted or rejected by some scholars (as Hommel). It is indeed remarkable that the kings should be eleven in number, like those of the Amorite dynasty, and that we should nowhere find a distinct evidence of their existence; yet these premises hardly suffice to prove that so early a document as the "King-List" made the unpardonable mistake of ascribing nearly four centuries of rule to a dynasty which in reality was contemporaneous, nay identical, with the Amorite monarchs. Their names are certainly very puzzling, but it has been suggested that these were not personal names, but names of the city-quarters from which they originated. Should this dynasty have a separate existence, it is safe to say that they were native rulers, and succeeded the Amorites without any break of national and political life. Owing to the questionable reality of this dynasty, the chronology of the previous one varies greatly; hence it arises, for instance, that Hammurabi's date is given as 1772-17 in Hasting's "Dictionary of the Bible", while the majority of scholars would place him about 2100 B.C., or a little earlier; nor are indications wanting to show that, whether the "Unknown Dynasty" be fictitious or not, the latter date is approximately right.

In the third place comes the Kassite dynasty, thirty-six kings, for 576 years. The tablet with this list is unfortunately mutilated, but almost all the nineteen missing names can with some exactness be supplied from other sources, such as the Assyrian-synchronistic history and the correspondence with Egypt. This dynasty was a foreign one, but its place of origin is not easy to ascertain. In their own official designation they style themselves kings of Kardunyash and the King of Egypt addresses Kadashman Bel as King of Kardunyash. This Kardunyash has been tentatively identified with South Elam. Information about the Kassite period is obtained but sparsely. We possess an Assyrian copy of an inscription of Agum-Kakrime, perhaps the seventh King of this dynasty: he styles himself: "King of Kasshu and Akkad, King of the broad land of Babylon, who caused much people to settle in the land of Ashmumak, King of Padan and Alvan, King of the land of Guti, wide extended peoples, a king who rules the four quarters of the world." The extent of territory thus under dominion of the Babylonian monarch is wider than even that under the Amorite dynasty; but in the royal title, which is altogether unusual in its form, Babylon takes but the third place; only a few generations later, however, the old style and title is resumed, and Babylon again stands first; the foreign conquerors were evidently conquered by the peaceful conquest of superior Babylonian civilization. This Agum-Kakrime with all his wide dominions had yet to send an embassy to the land of Khani to obtain the gods Marduk and Zarpanit, the most sacred national idols, which had evidently been captured by the enemy. The next king of whom we have any knowledge is Karaindash (1450 B.C.) who settled the boundary lines of his kingdom with his contemporary Asshur-bel-nisheshu of Assyria. From the Tell-el-et-marna tablets we conclude that in 1400 B.C., Babylon was no longer the one great power of Western Asia; the kingdom of Assyria and the Kingdom of Mitanni were its rivals and wellnigh equals. Yet, in the letters which passed between Kadashman-Bel and Amenophis III, King of Egypt, it is evident that the King of Babylon could assume a more independent tone of fair equality with the great Pharao than the kings of Assyria or Mitanni. When Amenophis asks for Kadashman-Bel's sister in marriage, Kadashman-Bel promptly asks for Amenophis' sister in return; and when Amenophis demurs, Kadashman-Bel promptly answers that, unless some fair Egyptian of princely rank be sent, Amenophis shall not have his sister. When Assyria has sought Egyptian help against Babylon, Kadashman-Bel diplomatically reminds Pharao that Babylon has in times past given no assistance to Syrian vassal princes against their Egyptian suzerain, and expects Egypt now to act in the same way in not granting help to Assyria. And when a Babylonian caravan has been robbed by the people of Akko in Canaan, the Egyptian Government receives a preemptory letter from Babylon for amende honorable and restitution. Amenophis is held responsible, "for Canaan is thy country, and thou art its King." Kadashman-Bel was succeeded by Burnaburiash I, Kurigalzu I, Burnaburiash II. Six letters of the last-named to Amenhotep IV of Egypt suggest a period of perfect tranquillity and prosperity. For the cause and result of the first great conflict between Assyria and Babylon see ASSYRIA.

How the long Kassite dynasty came to an end we know not, but it was succeeded by the dynasty of Pashi (some read Isin), eleven kings in 132 years (about 1200-1064 B.C.). The greatest monarch of this house was Nabuchodonosor I (about 1135-25 B.C.); though twice defeated by Assyria, he was successful against the Lulubi, punished Elam, and invaded Syria, and by his brilliant achievements stayed the inevitable decline of Babylon. The next two dynasties are known as those of the Sealand, and of Bazi, of three kings each and these were followed by one Elamite king (c. 1064-900 B.C.). Upon these obscure dynasties follows the long series of Babylonian kings, who reigned mostly as vassals, sometimes quasi-independent, sometimes as rebel-kings in the period of Assyrian supremacy (for which see Assyria).


With the death, in 626 B.C., of Kandalanu (the Babylonian name of Assurbanipal), King of Assyria, Assyrian power in Babylon practically ceased. Nabopolassar, a Chaldean who had risen from the position of general in the Assyrian army, ruled Babylon as Shakkanak for some years in nominal dependence on Ninive. Then, as King of Babylon, he invaded and annexed the Mesopotamian provinces of Assyria, and when Sinsharishkun, the last King of Assyria, tried to cut off his return and threatened Babylon, Nabopolassar called in the aid of the Manda, nomadic tribes of Kurdistan, somewhat incorrectly identified with the Medes. Though Nabopolassar no doubt contributed his share to the events which led to the complete destruction of Ninive (606 B.C.) by these Manda barbarians, he apparently did not in person co-operate in the taking of the city, nor share the booty, but used the opportunity to firmly establish his throne in Babylon. Though Semites, the Chaldeans belonged to a race perfectly distinct from the Babylonians proper, and were foreigners in the Euphrates Valley. They were settlers from Arabia, who had invaded Babylonia from the South. Their stronghold was the district known as the Sealands. During the Assyrian supremacy the combined forces of Babylon and Assyria had kept them in check, but, owing probably to the fearful Assyrian atrocities in Babylon, the citizens had begun to look towards their former enemies for help, and the Chaldean power grew apace in Babylon till, in Nabopolassar, it assumed the reins of government, and thus imperceptibly a foreign race superseded the ancient inhabitants. The city remained the same, but its nationality changed. Nabopolassar must have been a strong, beneficient ruler, engaged in rebuilding temples and digging canals, like his predecessors, and yet maintaining his hold over the conquered provinces. The Egyptians, who had learnt of the weakness of Assyria, had already, three years before the fall of Ninive, crossed the frontiers with a mighty army under Necho II, in the hope of sharing in the dismemberment of the Assyrian Empire. How Josias of Juda, trying to bar his way, was slain at Megiddo is known from IV Kings, xxiii, 29.

Meanwhile Ninive was taken, and Necho, resting satisfied with the conquest of the Syrian provinces, proceeded no further. A few years later, however, he marched a colossal army from Egypt to the Euphrates in hopes of annexing part of Mesopotamia. He was met by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, the ancient Hittite capital, where he wished to cross the Euphrates. Nabopolassar, being prevented by ill health and advancing age, had sent his son Nabuchodonosor, and put him in command. The Egyptians were utterly routed in this great encounter, one of the most important in history (604 B.C.). Nabuchodonosor pursued the enemy to the borders of Egypt, where he received the news of his father's death. He hastened back to Babylon, was received without opposition, and began, in 604 B.C., the forty-two years of his most glorious reign. His first difficulties arose in Juda. Against the solemn warning of Jeremias the Prophet, Jehoiakim refused tribute, i.e. rebelled against Babylon. At first Nabuchodonosor II began a small guerilla warfare against Jerusalem; then, in 607 B.C., he dispatched a considerable army, and after a while began the siege in person. Jechonias, however, son of Jehoiakim, who as a lad of eighteen had succeeded his father, surrendered; 7000 men capable of bearing arms and 1000 workers in iron were carried away and made to form a colony on a canal near Nippur (the River Chobar mentioned in Ezechiel, i, 1), and Zedekias was substituted for Jechonias as vassal King of Juda.

Some ten years later Nabuchodonosor once more found himself in Palestine. Hophra, King of Egypt, who had succeeded Necho II in 589 B.C., had by secret agents tried to combine all the Syrian States in a conspiracy against Babylon. Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon had entered into the coalition, and at last even Juda had joined, and Zedekias against the advice of Jeremias, broke his oath of allegiance to the Chaldeans. A Babylonian army began to surround Jerusalem in 587 B.C.. They were unable to take the city by storm and intended to subdue it by starvation. But Pharao Hophra entered Palestine to help the besieged. The Babylonians raised the siege to drive the Egyptians back; they then returned to Jerusalem and continued the siege in grim earnest. On July the 9th, 586 B.C., they poured in through a breach in the wall of Ezekias and took the city by storm. They captured the flying Zedekias and brought him before Nabuchodonosor at Riblah, where his children were slain before him and his eyes blinded. The city was destroyed, and the temple treasures carried to Babylon. A vast number of the population was deported to some districts in Babylonia, a miserable remnant only was allowed to remain under a Jewish governor Godolias. When this governor was slain by a Jewish faction under Ishmael, a fraction of this remnant, fearing Nabuchodonosor's wrath, emigrated to Egypt, forcibly taking Jeremias the Prophet with them.

Babylon's expedition to Juda thus ended in leaving it a devastated, depopulated, ruined district. Nabuchodonosor now turned his arms against Tyre. After Egypt this city had probably been the mainspring of the coalition against Babylon. The punishment intended for Tyre was the same as that of Jerusalem, but Nabuchodonosor did not succeed as he did with the capital of Juda. The position of Tyre was immeasurably superior to that of Jerusalem. The Babylonians had no fleet; therefore, as long as the sea remained open, Tyre was impregnable. The Chaldeans lay before Tyre thirteen years (585-572), but did not succeed in taking it. Ethobaal II, its king, seems to have come to terms with the King of Babylon, fearing, no doubt, the slow but sure destruction of Tyrian inland trade; at least we have evidence, from a contract-tablet dated in Tyre, that Nabuchodonosor at the end of his reign was recognized as suzerain of the city. Notwithstanding the little success against Tyre, Nabuchodonosor attacked Egypt in 567. He entered the very heart of the country, ravaged and pillaged as he chose, apparently without opposition, and returned laden with booty through the Syrian Provinces. But no permanent Egyptian occupation by Babylon was the result.

Thus Nabuchodonosor the Chaldean showed himself a capable military ruler, yet as a Babylonian monarch, following the custom of his predecessors, he gloried not in the arts of war, but of peace. His boast was the vast building operations which made Babylon a city (for those days) impregnable, which adorned the capital with palaces, and the famous "procession road", and Gate of Ishtar, and which restored and beautifies a great number of temples in different towns of Babylonia. Of Nabuchodonosor's madness (Daniel, iv, 26-34) no Babylonian record has as yet been found. A number of ingenious suggestions have been made on this subject, one of the best of which Professor Hommel's substitution of Nabu-na'id for Nabu-chodonosor, but the matter had better stand over till we possess more information on the period. Of the prophet Daniel we find no certain mention in contemporary documents; the prophet's Babylonian name, Baltassar (Balatsu-usur), is unfortunately a very common one. We know of at least fourteen persons of that time called Balatu and seven called Balatsu, both of which names may be abbreviations of Baltassar, or "Protect His life". The etymology of Sidrach and Misach is unknown, but Abednego and Arioch (Abdnebo and Eriaku) are well known. Professor J. Oppert found the base of a great statue near a mound called Duair, east of Babylon, and this may have belonged to the golden image erected "in the plain of Dura of the province of Babylon" (Dan. iii, 1). In 561 B.C., Nabuchodonosor was succeeded by Evil-Merodach (IV Kings, xxv, 27), who released Joachim of Juda and raised him above the other vassal kings at Babylon, but his mild rule evidently displeased the priestly caste, and they accused him of reigning lawlessly and extravagantly. After less than three years he was assassinated by Neriglissar (Nergal-sar-usur), his brother-in-law, who is possibly the Nergalsharezer present at the taking of Jerusalem (Jer. xxxix, 3-13). Neriglissar was after four years succeeded by his son Labasi-Marduk, no more than a child, who reigned nine months and was assassinated.

The conspirators elected Nabonidus (Nabu-na'id) to the throne. He was the last King of Babylon (555-539 B.C.). He was a royal antiquarian rather than a ruling king. From their foundations he rebuilt the great Shamash temple in Sippar and the Sin temple in Harran, and in his reign the city walls of Babylon "were curiously built with burnt brick and bitumen". But he resided in Tema, shunned the capital, offended the provincial towns by transporting their gods to Shu-anna, and alienated the priesthood of Babylon by what they would call misdirected piety. To us his antiquarian research after first foundation-stones of the temples he rebuilt is of the greatest importance. He tells us that the foundation-stone of the Shamash temple laid by Naram Sin had not been seen for 3200 years, which, roughly speaking, gives us 3800 B.C., for Sargon of Akkad, Naram Sin's father; upon this date most of our early Babylonian chronology is based. The actual duties of government seem to have been largely in the hands of the Crown Prince Baltassar (Bel-shar-usur), who resided in Babylon as regent.

Meanwhile Cyrus, the petty King of Anshan, had begun his career of conquest. He overthrew Astyages, King of the Medes, for which victory Nabonaid praised him as the young servant of Merodach; he overthrew Croesus of Lydia and his coalition; he assumed the title of King of the Parsu, and ha begun a new Indo-Germanic world power which replaced the decrepit Semitic civilization. At last Nabonaid, realizing the situation, met the Persians at Opis. Owing to internal strife amongst the Babylonians, many of whom were dissatisfied with Nabonaid, the Persians had an easy victory, taking the city of Sippar without fighting. Nabonaid fled to Babylon. Cyrus's soldiers, under the generalship of Ugbaru (Gobryas), Governor of Gutium, entered the capital without striking a blow and captured Nabonaid. This happened in June; in October Cyrus in person entered the city, paid homage at E-sagila to Marduk. A week later the Persians entered, at night, that quarter of the city where Baltassar occupied a fortified position in apparent security, where the sacred vessels of Jehovah's temple were profaned, where the hand appeared on the wall writing Mane, Tekel Phares, and where Daniel was offered the third place in the kingdom (i.e. after Nabonaid and Baltassar). That same night Baltassar was slain and the Semitic Empire of Babylon came to an end, for the ex-King Nabonaid spent the rest of his life in Carmania.

In one sense Babylonian history ends here, and Persian history begins, yet a few words are needed on the return of the Jewish captives after their seventy years of exile. It has long been supposed that Cyrus, professing the Mazdean religion, was a strict monotheist and released the Jews out of sympathy for their faith. But this king was, apparently, only unconsciously an instrument in God's hands, and the permission for the Jews to return was merely given out of political sagacity and a wish for popularity in his new domains. At least we possess inscriptions of him in which he is most profuse in his homage to the Babylonian Pantheon. As Nabonaid had outraged the religious sentiments of his subjects by collecting all their gods in Shu-anna, Cyrus pursued an opposite policy and returned all these gods to their own worshippers; and, the Jews having no idols, he returned their sacred vessels, which Baltassar had profaned, and gave a grant for the rebuilding of their Temple. The very phraseology of the decree given in I Esdras, i,2 sqq., referring to "the Lord God of Heaven" shows his respectful attitude, if not inclination, towards monotheism, which was professed by so many of his Indo-Germanic subjects. Darius Hystaspes, who in 521 B.C., after defeating Pseudo-Smerdis, succeeded Cambyses (King of Babylon since 530 B.C.) was a convinced monotheist and adorer of Ahuramazda; and if it was he who ordered and aided the completion of the temple at Jerusalem, after the interruption caused by Samaritan intervention, it was no doubt out of sympathy with the Jewish religion (I Esdr., vi, 1 sqq). It is not quite certain, however, that the Darius referred to is this king; it has been suggested that Darius Nothus is meant, who mounted the throne almost a hundred years later. Zerubabel is a thoroughly Babylonian name and occurs frequently on documents of that time; but we cannot as yet trace any connection between the Zerubabel of Scripture and any name mentioned in these documents.


(1) The first passage referring to Babylonia is Gen., x, 8-10: "Chus begat Nemrod, and the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon and Arach and Achad and Chalanne in the land of Sennaar." The great historical value of these genealogies in Genesis has been acknowledged by scholars of all schools; these genealogies are, however, not of persons, but of tribes, which is obvious from such a bold metaphor as: "Chanaan begat Sidon, his first born" (v, 15). But in many instances the names are those of actual persons whose personal names became designations of the tribes, just as in known instances of Scottish and Irish clans or Arab tribes. Chus begat Nemrod. Chus was not a Semite, according to the Biblical account, and it is remarkable that recent discoveries all seem to point to the fact that the original civilization of Babylonia was non-Semitic and the Semitic element only gradually displaced the aborigines and adopted their culture. It must be noted, also, that in v. 22 Assur is described as a son of Sem, though in v. 11 Assur comes out of the land of Sennaar. This exactly represents the fact that Assyria was purely Semitic where Babylonia was not. Some see in Chus a designation of the city of Kish, mentioned above amongst the cities of early Babylonia, and certainly one of its most ancient towns. Nemrod, on this supposition, would be none else than Nin-marad, or Lord of Marad, which was a daughter-city of Kish. Gilgamesh, whom mythology transformed into a Babylonian Hercules, whose fortunes are described in the Gilgamesh-epos, would then be the person designated by the Biblical Nemrod. Others again see in Nemrod an intentional corruption of Amarudu, the Akkadian for Marduk, whom the Babylonians worshiped as the great God, and who, perhaps, was the deified ancestor of their city. This corruption would be parallel to Nisroch (IV Kings, xix, 37) for Assuraku, and Nibhaz (IV Kings, xvii, 31) for Abahazu, or Abed Nego for Abdnebo. The description of "stout hunter" or hero-entrapper would fit in well with the role ascribed to the god Marduk, who entrapped the monster Tiamtu in his net. Both Biblical instances, IV Kings, xvii, 31, and xix, 37, however, are very doubtful, and Nisroch has recently found a more probable explanation.

(2) "The beginning of his kingdom was Babylon and Arach and Achad and Calanne". These cities of Northern Babylonia are probably enumerated inversely to the order of their antiquity; so that Nippur (Calanne) is the most ancient, and Babylon the most modern. Recent excavations have shown that Nippur dates far back beyond the Sargonid age (3800 B.C.) and Nippur is mentioned on the fifth tablet of the Babylonian Creation-story.

(3) The next Biblical passage which requires mention is that dealing with the Tower of Babel (Gen., xi, 1-9). This narrative, though couched in the terms of Oriental folklore, yet expresses not merely a moral lesson, but refers to some historical fact in the dim past. There was perhaps in the ancient world no spot on all the earth where such a variety of tongues and dialects was heard as in Babylonia, where Akkadians, Sumerians, and Amorites, Elamites, Kassites, Sutites, Qutites, and perhaps Hittites met and left their mark on the language; where Assyrian or Semitic Babylonian itself only very gradually displaced the older non-Semitic tongue, and where for many centuries the people were at least bilingual. It was the spot where Turanian, Semitic, and Indo-Germanic met. Yet there remained in the national consciousness the memory that the first settlers in the Babylonian plain spoke one language. "They removed from the East", as the Bible says and all recent research suggests. When we read, "The earth was of one tongue", we need not take this word in its widest sense, for the same word is often translated "the land". Philology may or may not prove the unity of all human speech, and man's descent from a single set of parents seems to postulate original unity of language; but in any case the Bible does not here seem to refer to this, and the Bible account itself suggests that a vast variety of tongues existed previous to the foundations of Babylon. We need but refer to Gen., x, 5, 21, 31: "In their kindreds and tongues and countries and nations"; and Gen., x, 10, where Babylon is represented as almost coeval with Arach, Achad, and Calanne, and posterior to Gomer, Magog, Elam, Arphaxad, so that the original division of languages cannot first have taken place at Babel. What historical fact lies behind the account of the building of the Tower of Babel is difficult to ascertain. Of course any real attempt to reach heaven by a tower is out of the question. The mountains of Elam were too close by, to tell them that a few yards more or less were of no importance to get in touch with the sky. But the wish to have a rallying-point in the plain is only too natural. It is a striking fact that most Babylonian cities possessed a ziggurrat (a stage, or temple-tower), and these bore very significant Sumerian names, as, for instance, at Nippur, Dur-anki, "Link of heaven and earth" -- "the summit of which reaches unto heaven, and the foundation of which is laid in the bright deep"; or, at Babylon, Esagila, "House of the High Head", the more ancient designation of which was Etemenanki, "House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth"; or Ezida, at Borsippa, by its more ancient designation Euriminianki, or "House of the Seven Spheres of Heaven and Earth". The remains of Ezida, at present Birs Nimrud, are traditionally pointed out as the Tower of Babel; whether rightly, is impossible to say; Esagila, in Babylon itself, has as good, if not a better, claim. We have no record of the building of the city and tower being interrupted by any such catastrophe as a confusion of languages; but that such an interruption because of diversity of speech of the townspeople took place, is not impossible. In any case it can only have been an interruption, though perhaps of many centuries, for Babylon increased and prospered for many centuries after the period referred to in Genesis. The history of the city of Babylon before the Amorite dynasty is an absolute blank, and we have no facts to fill up the fifteen centuries of its existence previous to that date. The etymology given for the name Babel in Gen., xi, 9, is not the historic meaning of the word, which, as given above is Kadungir, Bab-Ilu, or "God's Gate". The derivation in Genesis rests upon the similarity of sound with a word formed from the root balal, "to stammer", or "be confused".

(4) Next to be mentioned is the account of the battle of the four kings against five near the Dead Sea (Gen., xiv). Sennaar mentioned in v. 1 is the Sumer of the Babylonian inscriptions, and Amraphel is identified by most scholars with the great Hammurabi, the sixth King of Babylon. The initial gutteral of the king's name being a soft one, and the Babylonians being given to dropping their H's, the name actually occurs in cuneiform inscriptions as Ammurapi. The absence of the final l arises from the fact that the sign pi was misread bil or perhaps ilu, the sign of deification, or complement of the name, being omitted. There is no philological difficulty in this identification, but the chronological difficulty (viz., of Hammurabi being vassal of Chedorlaomer) has led others to identify Amraphel with Hammurabi's father Sin-muballit, whose name is ideographically written Amar-Pal. Arioch, King of Pontus (Pontus is St. Jerome's unfortunate guess to identify Ellazar) is none else but Rim-Sin, King of Larsa (Ellazar of A. V.), whose name was Eri-Aku, and who was defeated and dethroned by the King of Babylon, whether Hammurabi or Sin-muballit; and if the former, then this occurred in the thirty-first year of his reign, the year of the land of Emutbalu, Eri-Aku bearing the title of King of Larsa and Father of Emutbalu. The name Chedorlahomer has apparently, though not quite certainly, been found on two tablets together with the names Eriaku and Tudhula, which latter king is evidently "Thadal, king of the Nations". The Hebrew word goyim, "nations", is a clerical error for Gutium or Guti, a neighbouring state which plays an important role throughout Babylonian history. Of Kudur-lahgumal, King of the Land of Elam, it is said that he "descended on", and "exercised sovereignty in Babylon the city of Kar-Duniash". We have documentary evidence that Eriaku's father Kudurmabug, King of Elam, and after him Hammurabi of Babylon, claimed authority over Palestine the land of Martu. This Biblical passage, therefore, which was once described as bristling with impossibilities, has so far only received confirmation from Babylonian documents.

(5) According to Gen., xi, 28 and 31, Abraham was a Babylonian from the city of Ur. It is remarkable that the name Abu ramu (Honored Father) occurs in the eponym lists for 677 B.C., and Abe ramu, a similar name, on a contract-tablet in the reign of Apil-Sin, thus showing that Abram was a Babylonian name in use long before and after the date of the Patriarch. His father removed from Ur to Harran, from the old centre of the Moon-cult to the new. Talmudic tradition makes Terah an idolater, and his religion may have had to do with his emigration. No excavations have as yet taken place at Harran, and Abraham's ancestry remains obscure. Aberamu of Apil-Sin's reign had a son Sha-Amurri, which fact shows the early intercourse between Babylonia and the Amorite land, or Palestine. In Chanaan Abraham remained within the sphere of Babylonian language and influence, or perhaps even authority. Several centuries later, when Palestine was no longer part of the Babylonian Empire, Abd-Hiba, the King of Jerusalem, in his intercourse with his over-lord of Egypt, wrote neither his own language nor that of Pharao, but Babylonian, the universal language of the day. Even when passing into Egypt, Abraham remained under Semitic rule, for the Hyksos reigned there.

(6) Considering that the progenitor of the Hebrew race was a Babylonian, and that Babylonian culture remained paramount in Western Asia for more than 1000 years, the most astounding feature of the Hebrew Scriptures is the almost complete absence of Babylonian religious ideas, the more so as Babylonian religion, though Oriental polytheism, possessed a refinement, a nobility of thought, and a piety, which are often admirable. The Babylonian account of creation, though often compared with the Biblical one, differs from it on main and essential points for

  • it contains no direct statement of the Creation of the world: Tiamtu and Apsu, the watery waste and the abyss wedded together, beget the universe; Marduk, the conqueror of chaos, shapes and orders all things; but this is the mythological garb of evolution as opposed to creation.
  • It does not make the Deity the first and only cause of the existence of all things; the gods themselves are but the outcome of pre-existent, apparently eternal, forces; they are not cause, but effect.
  • It makes the present world the outcome of a great war; it is the story of Resistance and Struggle, which is the exact opposite of the Biblical account.
  • It does not arrange the things created into groups or classes, which is one of the main features of the story in Genesis.
  • The work of creation is not divided into a number of days -- the principal literary characteristic of the Biblical account.

The Babylonian mythology possesses something analogous to the biblical Garden of Eden. But though they apparently possessed the word Edina, not only as meaning "the Plain", but as a geographical name, their garden of delight is placed in Eridu, where "a dark vine grew; it was made a glorious place, planted beside the abyss. In the glorious house, which is like a forest, its shadow extends; no man enters its midst. In its interior is the Sun-god Tammuz. Between the mouths of the rivers, which are on both sides." This passage bears a striking analogy to Gen., ii, 8-17. The Babylonians, however, seem to have possessed no account of the Fall. It seems likely that the name of Ea, or Ya, or Aa, the oldest god of the Babylonian Pantheon, is connected with the name Jahve, Jahu, or Ja, of the Old Testament. Professor Delitzsch recently claimed to have found the name Jahve-ilu on a Babylonian tablet, but the reading has been strongly disputed by other scholars. The greatest similarity between Hebrew and Babylonian records is in their accounts of the Flood. Pir-napistum, the Babylonian Noe, commanded by Ea, builds a ship and transfers hither his family, the beasts of the field, and the sons of the artificers, and he shuts the door. Six days and nights the wind blew, the flood overwhelmed the land. The seventh day the storm ceased; quieted, the sea shrank back; all mankind had turned to corruption. The ship stopped at the land of Nisir. Pir-napistum sends out first a dove, which returns; then a swallow, and it returns, then a raven, and it does not return. He leaves the ship, pours out a libation, makes an offering on the peak of the mountain. "The gods smelled a savour, the gods smelled a sweet savour, the gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer." No one reading the Babylonian account of the Flood can deny its intimate connection with the narrative in Genesis, yet the former is so intimately bound up with Babylonian mythology, that the inspired character of the Hebrew account is the better appreciated by the contrast.


The Babylonian Pantheon arose out of a gradual amalgamation of the local deities of the early city states of Sumer and Akkad. And Babylonian mythology is mainly the projection into the heavenly sphere of the earthly fortunes of the early centres of civilization in the Euphrates valley. Babylonian religion, therefore, is largely a Sumerian, i.e. Mongolian product, no doubt modified by Semitic influence, yet to the last bearing the mark of its Mongolian origin in the very names of its gods and in the sacred dead languages in which they were addressed. The tutelary spirit of a locality extended his power with the political power of his adherents; when the citizens of one city entered into political relations with the citizens of another, popular imagination soon created the relation of father and son, brother and sister, or man and wife, between their respective gods. The Babylonian Trinity of Anu, Bel, and Ea is the result of later speculation, dividing the divine power into that which rules in heaven, that which rules the earth, and that which rules under the earth. Ea was originally the god of Eridu on the Persian Gulf and therefore the god of the ocean and the waters below. Bel was originally the chief spirit (in Sumerian En-lil, the older designation of Bel, which is Semitic for "chief" or "lord") of Nippur, one of the oldest, possibly the oldest, centre of civilization after Eridu. Anu's local cult is as yet uncertain; Erech has been suggested; we know that Gudea erected a temple to him; he always remained a shadowy personality. Although nominal head of the Pantheon, he had in later days no temple dedicated to him except one, and that he shared with Hadad. Sin, the moon, was the god of Ur; Shamash, the sun, was the god of Larsa and Sippar; when the two towns of Girsu and Uruazaga were united into the one city of Lagash, the two respective local deities, Nin-Girsu and Bau, became man and wife, to whom Gudea brought wedding presents. With the rise of Babylon and the political unification of the whole country under this metropolis, the city-god Marduk, whose name does not occur on any inscription previous to Hammurabi, leaps to the foreground. The Babylonian theologians not only gave him a place in the Pantheon, but in the Epos "Enuma Elish" it is related how as reward for overcoming the Dragon of Chaos, the great gods, his fathers, bestowed upon Marduk their own names and titles. Marduk gradually so outshone the other deities that these were looked upon as mere manifestations of Marduk, whose name became almost a synonym for God. And though Babylonians never quite reached monotheism, their ideas sometimes seem to come near it. Unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians never possessed a female deity of such standing in the Pantheon as Ishtar of Ninive or Arbela. In the Second Empire, Nebo, the city-god of Borsippa, over against Babylon, rises into prominence and wins honours almost equal to those of Marduk, and the twin cities have two almost inseparable gods. Judging from the continual invocation of the gods in every conceivable detail of life, and the continual acknowledgment of dependence on them, and the anxious humble prayers that are still extant, the Babylonians were as a nation pre-eminent in piety.


It is impossible in this article to give an idea of the astounding culture which had developed in the Euphrates Valley, the cradle of civilization, even as early as 2300 B.C. A perusal of the article Hammurabi, and a careful reading of his code of laws will give us a clear insight in the Babylonian world of four thousand years ago. The ethical litany of the Shurpu tablets contains an examination of conscience more detailed than the so-called "Negative" confessions in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and fills us with admiration for the moral level of the Babylonian world. Though polygamists, the Babylonians raised but one woman to the legal status of wife, and women possessed considerable rights and freedom of action. Marriage settlements protected the married, and the unmarried managed their own estates. On the other hand, they possessed an institution analogous to vestal virgins at Rome. These female votaries had a privileged position in Babylonian society; we know, however, of no such dire penalty for their unfaithfulness as the Roman law inflicted. A votary could even enter into nominal marriage, if she gave her husband a maid as Sarah gave Abraham. According to Law 110 of Hammurabi, however, "if a votary who dwells not in a cloister open a wine-house or enter a wine-house for drink, that female they shall burn". On the other hand (Law 127), "if a man has caused the finger to be pointed against a votary and has not justified it, they shall set that man before the judges and mark his forehead." The dark side of Babylonian society is seen in the strange enactment: "If the child of a courtesan or of a public woman come to know his father's house and despise his foster-parents and go to his father's house, they shall tear out his eyes." The repeated coupling of the words "votary or public woman" and the minute and indulgent legislation of which they are the objects make us fear that the virtue of chastity was not prized in Babylon. Although originally only a provident, prosperous agricultural people, the Babylonians seem to have developed a great commercial talent; and well might some Assyrian Napoleon have referred to his Southern neighbours as "that nation of shopkeepers." In 1893 Dr. Hilprecht found 730 tablets twenty feet underground in a ruined building at Nippur, which proved to be the banking archives of the firm Nurashu and Sons, signed, sealed, and dated about 400 B.C. We also possess a deed of purchase by Manishtusu, King of Kish, some 4000 B.C., in archaic Babylonian, which in accuracy and minuteness of detail in moneys and values would compare well with a modern balance sheet that has passed the chartered accountants. Proofs are not lacking of the commercial talents of the Babylonians during the thirty-five centuries between these dates.


Vast as is the material of Babylonian inscriptions, equally varied are their contents. The great majority no doubt of the 300,000 tablets hitherto unearthed deal with business matters rather than with matters literary; contracts, marriage settlements, cadastral surveys, commercial letters, orders for goods or acknowledgments of their receipt, official communications between magistrates and civil or military governors, names, titles, and dates on foundation stones, private correspondence, and so on. Still a fair percentage has a right to be strictly classed as "literature" or "belles-lettres". We must moreover constantly keep in mind that only about one-fifth of the total number of these tablets have been published and that any description of their literature must as yet be fragmentary and tentative. It is convenient to classify as follows: (1) the Epos; (2) the Psalm; (3) the Historical Narrative.

(1) The Epos

(a) The so called "Seven Tablets of Creation", because written on a series of seven very mutilated tablets in the Kouyunshik Library. Happily the lacunae can here and there be filled up by fragments of duplicates found elsewhere. Borrowing an expression from the early Teuton literature, this might be called the "saga of the primeval chaos". Assyrian scribes called it by its first words "Enuma Elish" (When on high) as the Jews called Genesis "Bereshith" (in the beginning). Although it contains an account of the world's origin, as above contrasted with the account given in the Bible, it is not so much a cosmogony as the story of the heroic deeds of the god Marduk, in his struggle with the Dragon of Chaos. Though the youngest of the gods, Marduk is charged by them to fight Tiamtu and the gods on her side. He wins a glorious victory; he takes the tablets of fate from Kimgu, her husband; he splits open her skull, hews asunder the channels of her blood and makes the north wind carry it away to hidden places. He divides the corpse of the great Dragon and with one half makes a covering for the heavens and thus fixes the waters above the firmament. He then sets about fashioning the universe, and the stars, and the moon; he forms man. "Let me gather my blood and let me set up a man, let me make then men dwelling on the earth." When Marduk has finished his work, he is acclaimed by all the gods with joy and given fifty names. The gods are apparently eager to bestow their own titles upon him. The aim of the poem clearly is to explain how Marduk, the local god of as modern a city as Babylon, had displaced the deities of the older Babylonian cities, "the gods his fathers".

(b) The great national epos of Gilgamesh, which probably had in Babylonian literature some such place as the Odyssey or the Aeneid amongst the Greeks and Romans. It consists of twelve chapters or cantos. It opens with the words Sha nagbo imuru (He who saw everything). The number of extant tablets is considerable, but unfortunately they are all very fragmentary and with exception of the eleventh chapter the text is very imperfect and shows as yet huge lacunae. Gilgamesh was King of Erech the Walled. When the story begins, the city and the temples are in a ruinous state. Some great calamity has fallen upon them. Erech has been besieged for three years, till Bel and Ishtar interest themselves in its behalf. Gilgamesh has yearned for a companion, and the goddess Arurn makes Ea-bani, the warrior; "covered with hair was all his body and he had tresses like a woman, his hair grew thick as corn; though a man, he lives amongst the beasts of the field". They entice him into the city of Erech by the charms of a woman called Samuhat; he lives there and becomes a fast friend of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and Ea-bani set out in quest of adventure, travel through forests, and arrive at the palace of a great queen. Gilgamesh cuts off the head of Humbabe, the Elamite king. Ishtar the goddess falls in love with him and asks him in marriage. But Gilgamesh scornfully reminds her of her treatment of former lovers. Ishtar in anger returns to heaven and revenges herself by sending a divine bull against Gilgamesh and Ea-bani. This animal is overcome and slain to the great joy of the city of Erech. Warning dreams are sent to Gilgamesh and his friend Ea-bani dies, and Gilgamesh sets out on a far journey, to bring his friend back from the underworld. After endless adventures our hero reaches in a ship the waters of death and converses with Pir-napistum, the Babylonian Noe, who tells him the story of the flood, which fills up the eleventh chapter of some 330 lines, referred to above. Pir-napistum gives to Gilgamesh the plant of rejuvenescence but he loses it again on his way back to Erech. In the last chapter Gilgamesh succeeds in calling up the spirit of Ea-bani, who gives a vivid portrayal of life after death "where the worm devoureth those who had sinned in their heart, but where the blessed lying upon a couch, drink pure water". Though weird in the extreme and to our eyes a mixture of the grotesque with the sublime, this epos contains descriptive passages of unmistakable power. A few lines as example: "At the break of dawn in the morning there arose from the foundation of heaven a dark cloud. The Storm god thundered within it and Nebo and Marduk went before it. Then went the heralds over mountain and plain. Uragala dragged the anchors loose, the Annunak raised their torches, with their flashing they lighted the earth. The roar of the Storm god reached to the heavens and everything bright turned into darkness."

(c) The Adapa-Legend, a sort of "Paradise Lost", probably a standard work of Babylonian literature, as it is found not only in the Ninive library, but even among the Amarna tablets in Egypt. It relates how Adapa, the wise man or Atrachasis, the purveyor to the sanctuary of Ea, is deceived, through the envy of Ea. Anu, the Supreme God, invites him to Paradise, offers him the food and drink of immortality, but Adapa, mistakenly thinking it poison, refuses, and loses life everlasting. Anu scornfully says: "Take him and bring him back to his earth."

(d) Ishtar's descent into Hades, here and there bearing a surprising resemblance to well-known lines of Dante's Inferno. The goddess of Erech goes:

To the land whence no one ever returneth,

To the house of gloom where dwelleth Irkalla,

To the house which one enters but nevermore leaveth,

On the way where there is no retracing of footsteps,

To the house which one enters, and daylight all ceases.

On an Amarna tablet we find a description ghostly and graphic of a feast, a fight, and a wedding in hell.

(e) Likewise fragments of legendary stories about the earliest Babylonian kings have come down to us. One of the most remarkable is that in which Sargon of Akkad, born of a vestal maiden of high degree, is exposed by his mother in a basket of bulrushes and pitch floating on the waters of the Euphrates; he is found by a water carrier and brought up as a gardener. This story cannot but remind us of Moses' birth.

(2) The Psalm

This species of literature, which formerly seemed almost limited to the Hebrew race, had a luxurious growth on Babylonian soil. These songs to the gods or to some one god are indeed often either weird incantations or dreary litanies; and when after perusal of a good number of them one turns to the Hebrew Psalter, no fair-minded person will deny the almost immeasurable superiority of the latter. On the other hand, naught but unreasoning prejudice would trouble to deny the often touching beauty and nobility of thought in some of these productions of the instinctive piety of a noble race. It is natural moreover that the tone of some Babylonian psalms should strongly remind us of some songs of Israel, where every psalmist boasted that he had as forefather a Babylonian: Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. Some of these psalms are written in Sumerian with Semitic Babylonian interlinear translations; others in Semitic Babylonian only. They show all sorts of technicalities in versification, parallelism, alliteration, and rhythm. There are acrostics and even double acrostics, the initial and final syllable of each line being the same. These psalms contain praise and supplication of the great gods, but, what is most remarkable, some of them are penitential psalms, the sinner mourning his sin and begging restoration to favour. Moreover, there are a great number of "lamentations" not over personal but over national calamities; and a Babylonian "prophet" wept over the fall of Nippur many centuries before Jeremias wrote his inspired songs of sorrow over the destruction of Jerusalem. Besides these there are numberless omen tablets, magical recipes for all sorts of ills, and rituals of temple service, but they belong to the history of religion and astrology rather than to that of literature.

(3) The Historical Narrative

The Babylonians seemed to have possessed no ex professo historians, who, like a Herodotus, endeavoured to give a connected narrative of the past. We have to gather their history from the royal inscriptions on monuments and palace walls and state-cylinders, in which each sovereign records his great deeds in perpetuam rei memoriam. Whereas we fortunately possess an abundance of historical texts of the Assyrian kings, thanks to the discovery of Assurbanipal's library, we are as yet not so fortunate in the case of Babylonian kings; of the early Babylonian city-kings we have a number of shorter inscriptions on steles and boundary stones in true lapidary style and longer historical records in the great cylinder inscriptions of Gudea of Lagash. Whereas we possess considerable historical texts of Hammurabi, we possess but very little of his many successors on the Babylonian throne until the Second Babylonian Empire, when long historical texts tell us the doings of Nabopolassar, Nabuchodonosor, and Nabonidus. They are all of a pompous grandeur that palls a little on a Western mind, and their self-adulation comes strange to us. They are in the style which popular imagination is wont to attribute to the utterances of His Celestial Majesty, the Emperor of China. They invariably begin with a long homage to the gods, giving lengthy lists of deities, protectors of the sovereign and state, and end with imprecations on those who destroy, mutilate, or disregard the inscription. The Babylonian royal inscriptions, as far as at present known, are almost without exception peaceful in tone and matter. Their ever recurring themes are the erection, restoration, or adornment of temples and palaces, and the digging of canals. Even when at war, the Babylonian king thought it bad taste to refer to it in his monumental proclamations. No doubt the Babylonians must have despised Assyrian inscriptions as bloodthirsty screeds. Because the genius of Babylon was one of culture and peace; therefore, though a world-centre a thousand years before Ninive, it lasted more than a thousand years after Ninive was destroyed.

In addition to literature given after article Assyria: Boscawen, The First of Empires (2d ed., London, 1905); Bezold, Ninive und Babylon (Leipzig, 1903); Pinches, The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia (London, 1903); Sayce, The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions (London, 1907); Jastrow, Die Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens (Giessen, I, 1905; II, 1907); Radau, Early Babylonian History (New York, 1900); Lagrange, Historical Criticism and O.T. (London, 1906); Jeremias, Das Alte Testament in Lichte des alten Orients (Leipzig, 1906); Delitzsch, Babel und Bibel (Leipzig and Stuttgart, 1905) for a collection of texts with immediate bearing on O.T.; Winckler, Keilinschriftliches Textbuch zum Alten Testament (Leipzig, 1903).


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