Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, by Donald A. MacKenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
Doom of Nineveh and Babylon--Babylonian Monotheism--Ashur-banipal and his Brother, King of Babylon--Ceremony of "Taking the Hands of Bel"--Merodach restored to E-sagila--Assyrian Invasion of Egypt and Sack of Thebes--Lydia's Appeal to Assyria--Elam subdued--Revolt of Babylon--Death of Babylonian King--Sack of Susa--Psamtik of Egypt--Cimmerians crushed--Ashur-bani-pal's Literary Activities--The Sardanapalus Legend--Last Kings of Assyria--Fall of Nineveh--The New Babylonian Empire--Necho of Egypt expelled from Syria--King Jehoaikin of Judah deposed--Zedekiah's Revolt and Punishment--Fall of Jerusalem and Hebrew Captivity--Jeremiah laments over Jerusalem--Babylonia's Last Independent King--Rise of Cyrus the Conqueror--The Persian Patriarch and Eagle Legend--Cyrus conquers Lydia--Fall of Babylon--Jews return to Judah--Babylon from Cyrus to Alexander the Great.
THE burden of Nineveh . . . The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. . . . He that dasheth in pieces is come up before thy face. . . . The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved. And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts. . . . Draw thee waters for the siege, fortify thy strong holds: go into clay, and tread the morter, make strong the brick-kiln. There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off. . . . Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust: thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them. There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands
over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually? 1
The doom of Babylon was also foretold:
Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth. . . . Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans. . . . Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the star-gazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them. . . . Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast laboured, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; none shall save thee. 2
Against a gloomy background, dark and ominous as a thundercloud, we have revealed in the last century of Mesopotamian glory the splendour of Assyria and the beauty of Babylon. The ancient civilizations ripened quickly before the end came. Kings still revelled in pomp and luxury. Cities resounded with "the noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots. The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear. . . . The valiant men are in scarlet." 3 But the minds of cultured men were more deeply occupied than ever with the mysteries of life and creation. In the libraries, the temples, and observatories, philosophers and scientists were shattering the unsubstantial fabric of immemorial superstition; they attained to higher conceptions of the duties and responsibilities of mankind; they
conceived of divine love and divine guidance; they discovered, like Wordsworth, that the soul has--
One of the last kings of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar, recorded a prayer which reveals the loftiness of religious thought and feeling attained by men to whom graven images were no longer worthy of adoration and reverence--men whose god was not made by human hands--
[paragraph continues] The "star-gazers" had become scientists, and foretold eclipses: in every sphere of intellectual activity great men were sifting out truth from the debris of superstition. It seemed as if Babylon and Assyria were about to cross
the threshold of a new age, when their doom was sounded and their power was shattered for ever. Nineveh perished with dramatic suddenness: Babylon died of "senile decay".
When, in 668 B.C., intelligence reached Nineveh that Esarhaddon had passed away, on the march through Egypt, the arrangements which he had made for the succession were carried out smoothly and quickly. Naki´a, the queen mother, was acting as regent, and completed her lifework by issuing a proclamation exhorting all loyal subjects and vassals to obey the new rulers, her grandsons, Ashur-bani-pal, Emperor of Assyria, and Shamash-shum-ukin, King of Babylon. Peace prevailed in the capital, and there was little or no friction throughout the provinces: new rulers were appointed to administer the States of Arvad and Ammon, but there were no changes elsewhere.
Babylon welcomed its new king--a Babylonian by birth and the son of a Babylonian princess. The ancient kingdom rejoiced that it was no longer to be ruled as a province; its ancient dignities and privileges were being partially restored. But one great and deep-seated grievance remained. The god Merodach was still a captive in the temple of Ashur. No king could reign aright if Merodach were not restored to E-sagila. Indeed he could not be regarded as the lord of the land until he had "taken the hands of Bel".
The ceremony of taking the god's hands was an act of homage. When it was consummated the king became the steward or vassal of Merodach, and every day he appeared before the divine one to receive instructions and worship him. The welfare of the whole kingdom depended on the manner in which the king acted towards the god. If Merodach was satisfied with the king he sent blessings to the land; if he was angry he sent calamities.
[paragraph continues] A pious and faithful monarch was therefore the protector of the people.
This close association of the king with the god gave the priests great influence in Babylon. They were the power behind the throne. The destinies of the royal house were placed in their hands; they could strengthen the position of a royal monarch, or cause him to be deposed if he did not satisfy their demands. A king who reigned over Babylon without the priestly party on his side occupied an insecure position. Nor could he secure the co-operation of the priests unless the image of the god was placed in the temple. Where king was, there Merodach had to he also.
Shamash-shum-ukin pleaded with his royal brother and overlord to restore Bel Merodach to Babylon. Ashur-bani-pal hesitated for a time; he was unwilling to occupy a less dignified position, as the representative of Ashur, than his distinguished predecessor, in his relation to the southern kingdom. At length, however, he was prevailed upon to consult the oracle of Shamash, the solar lawgiver, the revealer of destiny. The god was accordingly asked if Shamash-shum-ukin could "take the hands of Bel" in Ashur's temple, and then proceed to Babylon as his representative. In response, the priests of Shamash informed the emperor that Bel Merodach could not exercise sway as sovereign lord so long as he remained a prisoner in a city which was not his own.
Ashur-bani-pal accepted the verdict, and then visited Ashur's temple to plead with Bel Merodach to return to Babylon. "Let thy thoughts", he cried, "dwell in Babylon, which in thy wrath thou didst bring to naught. Let thy face be turned towards E-sagila, thy lofty and divine temple. Return to the city thou hast deserted for a house unworthy of thee. O Merodach! lord of the
gods, issue thou the command to return again to Babylon."
Thus did Ashur-bani-pal make pious and dignified submission to the will of the priests. A favourable response was, of course, received from Merodach when addressed by the emperor, and the god's image was carried back to E-sagila, accompanied by a strong force. Ashur-bani-pal and Shamash-shum-ukin led the procession of priests and soldiers, and elaborate ceremonials were ob-served at each city they passed, the local gods being carried forth to do homage to Merodach.
Babylon welcomed the deity who was thus restored to his temple after the lapse of about a quarter of a century, and the priests celebrated with unconcealed satisfaction and pride the ceremony at which Shamash-shum-ukin "took the hands of Bel". The public rejoicings were conducted on an elaborate scale. Babylon believed that a new era of prosperity had been inaugurated, and the priests and nobles looked forward to the day when the kingdom would once again become free and independent and powerful.
Ashur-bani-pal (668-626 B.C.) made arrangements to complete his father's designs regarding Egypt. His Tartan continued the campaign, and Taharka, as has been stated, was driven from Memphis. The beaten Pharaoh returned to Ethiopia and did not again attempt to expel the Assyrians. He died in 666 B.C. It was found that some of the petty kings of Lower Egypt had been intriguing with Taharka, and their cities were severely dealt with. Necho of Sais had to be arrested, among others, but was pardoned after he appeared before Ashur-bani-pal, and sent back to Egypt as the Assyrian governor.
Tanutamon, a son of Pharaoh Shabaka, succeeded Taharka, and in 663 B.C. marched northward from Thebes
with a strong army. He captured Memphis. It is believed Necho was slain, and Herodotus relates that his son Psamtik took refuge in Syria. In 661 B.C. Ashur-bani-pal's army swept through Lower Egypt and expelled the Ethiopians. Tanutamon fled southward, but on this occasion the Assyrians followed up their success, and besieged and captured Thebes, which they sacked. Its nobles were slain or taken captive. According to the prophet Nahum, who refers to Thebes as No (Nu-Amon = city of Amon), "her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they (the Assyrians) cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains". 1 Thebes never again recovered its prestige. Its treasures were transported to Nineveh. The Ethiopian supremacy in Egypt was finally extinguished, and Psamtik, son of Necho, who was appointed the Pharaoh, began to reign as the vassal of Assyria.
When the kings on the seacoasts of Palestine and Asia Minor found that they could no longer look to Egypt for help, they resigned themselves to the inevitable, and ceased to intrigue against Assyria. Gifts were sent to Ashur-bani-pal by the kings of Arvad, Tyre, Tarsus, and Tabal. The Arvad ruler, however, was displaced, and his son set on his throne. But the most extraordinary development was the visit to Nineveh of emissaries from Gyges, king of Lydia, who figures in the legends of Greece. This monarch had been harassed by the Cimmerians after they accomplished the fall of Midas of Phrygia in 676 B.C., and he sought the help of Ashur-bani-pal. It is not known whether the Assyrians operated against the Cimmerians in Tabal, but, as Gyges did not send tribute, it would appear that he held his own with
the aid of mercenaries from the State of Caria in south-western Asia Minor. The Greeks of Cilicia, and the Achæans and Phœnicians of Cyprus remained faithful to Assyria.
Elam gave trouble in 665 B.C. by raiding Akkad, but the Assyrian army repulsed the invaders at Dur-ilu and pushed on to Susa. The Elamites received a crushing defeat in a battle on the banks of the River Ula. King Teumman was slain, and a son of the King of Urtagu was placed on his throne. Elam thus came under Assyrian sway.
The most surprising and sensational conspiracy against Ashur-bani-pal was fomented by his brother Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylon, after the two had co-operated peacefully for fifteen years. No doubt the priestly party at E-sagila were deeply concerned in the movement, and the king may have been strongly influenced by the fact that Babylonia was at the time suffering from severe depression caused by a series of poor harvests. Merodach, according to the priests, was angry; it was probably argued that he was punishing the people because they had not thrown off the yoke of Assyria.
The temple treasures of Babylon were freely drawn upon to purchase the allegiance of allies. Ere Ashur-bani-pal had any knowledge of the conspiracy his brother had won over several governors in Babylonia, the Chaldæans, Aramæans and Elamites, and many petty kings in Palestine and Syria: even Egypt and Libya were prepared to help him. When, however, the faithful governor of Ur was approached, he communicated with his superior at Erech, who promptly informed Ashur-bani-pal of the great conspiracy. The intelligence reached Nineveh like a bolt from the blue. The emperor's heart was filled with sorrow and anguish. In after-time he lamented in
an inscription that his "faithless brother" forgot the favours he had shown him. "Outwardly with his lips he spoke friendly things, while inwardly his heart plotted murder."
In 652 B.C. Shamash-shum-ukin precipitated the crisis by forbidding Ashur-bani-pal to make offerings to the gods in the cities of Babylonia. He thus declared his independence.
War broke out simultaneously. Ur and Erech were besieged and captured by the Chaldæans, and an Elamite army marched to the aid of the King of Babylon, but it was withdrawn before long on account of the unsettled political conditions at home. The Assyrian armies swept through Babylonia, and the Chaldæans in the south were completely subjugated before Babylon was captured. That great commercial metropolis was closely besieged for three years, and was starved into submission. When the Assyrians were entering the city gates a sensational happening occurred. Shamash-shum-ukin, the rebel king, shut himself up in his palace and set fire to it, and perished there amidst the flames with his wife and children, his slaves and all his treasures. Ashur-bani-pal was in 647 B.C. proclaimed King Kandalanu 1 of Babylon, and reigned over it until his death in 626 B.C.
Elam was severely dealt with. That unhappy country was terribly devastated by Assyrian troops, who besieged and captured Susa, which was pillaged and wrecked. It was recorded afterwards as a great triumph of this campaign that the statue of Nana of Erech, which had been carried off by Elamites 1635 years previously, was recovered and restored to the ancient Sumerian city. Elam's power of resistance was finally extinguished, and the country fell a ready prey to the Medes and Persians, who
soon entered into possession of it. Thus, by destroying a buffer State, Ashur-bani-pal strengthened the hands of the people who were destined twenty years after his death to destroy the Empire of Assyria.
The western allies of Babylon were also dealt with, and it may be that at this time Manasseh of Judah was taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles, xxxiii, 11), where, however, he was forgiven. The Medes and the Mannai in the north-west were visited and subdued, and a new alliance was formed with the dying State of Urartu.
Psamtik of Egypt had thrown off the yoke of Assyria, and with the assistance of Carian mercenaries received from his ally, Gyges, king of Lydia, extended his sway southward. He made peace with Ethiopia by marrying a princess of its royal line. Gyges must have weakened his army by thus assisting Psamtik, for he was severely defeated and slain by the Cimmerians. His son, Ardys, appealed to Assyria for help. Ashur-bani-pal dispatched an army to Cilicia. The joint operations of Assyria and Lydia resulted in the extinction of the kingdom of the Cimmerians about 645 B.C.
The records of Ashur-bani-pal cease after 640 B.C., so that we are unable to follow the events of his reign during its last fourteen years. Apparently peace prevailed everywhere. The great monarch, who was a pronounced adherent of the goddess cults, appears to have given himself up to a life of indulgence and inactivity. Under the name Sardanapalus he went down to tradition as a sensual Oriental monarch who lived in great pomp and luxury, and perished in his burning palace when the Medes revolted against him. It is evident, however, that the memory of more than one monarch contributed to the Sardanapalus legend, for Ashur-bani-pal had lain nearly twenty years in his grave before the siege of Nineveh took place.
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ASHUR-BANI-PAL RECLINING IN A BOWER
Marble Slab from Kouyunjik (Nineveh); now in British Museum.
In the Bible he is referred to as "the great and noble Asnapper", and he appears to have been the emperor who settled the Babylonian, Elamite, and other colonists "in the cities of Samaria". 1
He erected at Nineveh a magnificent palace, which was decorated on a lavish scale. The sculptures are the finest productions of Assyrian art, and embrace a wide variety of subjects--battle scenes, hunting scenes, and elaborate Court and temple ceremonies. Realism is combined with a delicacy of touch and a degree of originality which raises the artistic productions of the period to the front rank among the artistic triumphs of antiquity.
Ashur-bani-pal boasted of the thorough education which he had received from the tutors of his illustrious father, Esarhaddon. In his palace he kept a magnificent library. It contained thousands of clay tablets on which were inscribed and translated the classics of Babylonia. To the scholarly zeal of this cultured monarch is due the preservation of the Babylonian story of creation, the Gilgamesh and Etana legends, and other literary and religious products of remote antiquity. Most of the literary tablets in the British Museum were taken from Ashur-bani-pal's library.
There are no Assyrian records of the reigns of Ashur-bani-pal's two sons, Ashur-etil-ilani--who erected a small palace and reconstructed the temple to Nebo at Kalkhi--and Sin-shar-ishkun, who is supposed to have perished in Nineveh. Apparently Ashur-etil-ilani reigned for at least six years, and was succeeded by his brother.
A year after Ashur-bani-pal died, Nabopolassar, who was probably a Chaldæan, was proclaimed king at Babylon. According to Babylonian legend he was an Assyrian general
who had been sent southward with an army to oppose the advance of invaders from the sea. Nabopolassar's sway at first was confined to Babylon and Borsippa, but he strengthened himself by forming an offensive and defensive alliance with the Median king, whose daughter he had married to his son Nebuchadrezzar. He strengthened the fortifications of Babylon, rebuilt the temple of Merodach, which had been destroyed by Ashur-bani-pal, and waged war successfully against the Assyrians and their allies in Mesopotamia.
About 606 B.C. Nineveh fell, and Sin-shar-ishkun may have burned himself there in his palace, like his uncle, Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylon, and the legendary Sardanapalus. It is not certain, however, whether the Scythians or the Medes were the successful besiegers of the great Assyrian capital. "Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery", Nahum had cried. ". . . The gates of the rivers shall be opened, and the palace shall be dissolved. . . . Take ye the spoil of silver, take the spoil of gold. . . . Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts." 1
According to Herodotus, an army of Medes under Cyaxares had defeated the Assyrians and were besieging Nineveh when the Scythians overran Media. Cyaxares raised the siege and went against them, but was defeated. Then the Scythians swept across Assyria and Mesopotamia, and penetrated to the Delta frontier of Egypt. Psamtik ransomed his kingdom with handsome gifts. At length, however, Cyaxares had the Scythian leaders slain at a banquet, and then besieged and captured Nineveh.
Assyria was completely overthrown. Those of its nobles and priests who escaped the sword no doubt
escaped to Babylonia. Some may have found refuge also in Palestine and Egypt.
Necho, the second Pharaoh of the Twenty-sixth Egyptian Dynasty, did not hesitate to take advantage of Assyria's fall. In 609 B.C. he proceeded to recover the long-lost Asiatic possessions of Egypt, and operated with an army and fleet. Gaza and Askalon were captured. Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, was King of Judah. "In his days Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he (Necho) slew him at Megiddo." 1 His son, Jehoahaz, succeeded him, but was deposed three months later by Necho, who placed another son of Josiah, named Eliakim, on the throne, "and turned his name to Jehoiakim". 2 The people were heavily taxed to pay tribute to the Pharaoh.
When Necho pushed northward towards the Euphrates he was met by a Babylonian army under command of Prince Nebuchadrezzar. 3 The Egyptians were routed at Carchemish in 60s B.C. (Jeremiah, xvi, 2).
In 604 B.C. Nabopolassar died, and the famous Nebuchadrezzar II ascended the throne of Babylon. He lived to be one of its greatest kings, and reigned for over forty years. It was he who built the city described by Herodotus (pp. 219 et seq.), and constructed its outer wall, which enclosed so large an area that no army could invest it. Merodach's temple was decorated with greater magnificence than ever before. The great palace and hanging gardens were erected by this mighty monarch, who no doubt attracted to the city large numbers of the skilled artisans who had fled from Nineveh. He also restored temples at other cities, and made generous gifts to the
priests. Captives were drafted into Babylonia from various lands, and employed cleaning out the canals and as farm labourers.
The trade and industries of Babylon flourished greatly, and Nebuchadrezzar's soldiers took speedy vengeance on roving bands which infested the caravan roads. "The king of Egypt", after his crushing defeat at Carchemish, "came not again any more out of his land: for the king of Babylon had taken from the river of Egypt unto the river Euphrates all that pertained to the king of Egypt." 1 Jehoiakim of Judah remained faithful to Necho until he was made a prisoner by Nebuchadrezzar, who "bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon". 2 He was afterwards sent back to Jerusalem. "And Jehoiakim became his (Nebuchadrezzar's) servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him." 3
Bands of Chaldæans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites were harassing the frontiers of Judah, and it seemed to the king as if the Babylonian power had collapsed. Nebuchadrezzar hastened westward and scattered the raiders before him. Jehoiakim died, and his son Jehoiachan, a youth of eighteen years, succeeded him. Nebuchadrezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, and the young king submitted to him and was carried off to Babylon, with "all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained save the poorest sort of the people of the land". 4 Nebuchadrezzar had need of warriors and work-men.
Zedekiah was placed on the throne of Judah as an Assyrian vassal. He remained faithful for a few years, but at length began to conspire with Tyre and Sidon,
[paragraph continues] Moab, Edom, and Ammon in favour of Egyptian suzerainty. Pharaoh Hophra (Apries), the fourth king of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, took active steps to assist the conspirators, and "Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon". 1
Nebuchadrezzar led a strong army through Mesopotamia, and divided it at Riblah, on the Orontes River. One part of it descended upon Judah and captured Lachish and Azekah. Jerusalem was able to hold out for about eighteen months. Then "the famine was sore in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land. Then the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled, and went forth out of the city by night by way of the gate between the two walls, which was by the king's garden." Zedekiah attempted to escape, but was captured and carried before Nebuchadrezzar, who was at Riblah, in the land of Hamath.
And the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes. . . . Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in chains and carried him to Babylon and put him in prison till the day of his death. 2
[paragraph continues] The majority of the Jews were deported to Babylonia, where they were employed as farm labourers. Some rose to occupy important official positions. A remnant escaped to Egypt with Jeremiah.
Jerusalem was plundered and desolated. The Assyrians "burned the house of the Lord and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem", and "brake down all the walls of Jerusalem round about". Jeremiah lamented:
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and
princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits. . . .
Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old. . . . 1
Tyre was besieged, but was not captured. Its king, however, arranged terms of peace with Nebuchadrezzar.
Amel-Marduk, the "Evil Merodach" of the Bible, the next king of Babylon, reigned for a little over two years. He released Jehoiachin from prison, and allowed him to live in the royal palace. 2 Berosus relates that Amel-Marduk lived a dissipated life, and was slain by his brother-in-law, Nergal-shar-utsur, who reigned two years (559-6 B.C.). Labashi-Marduk, son of Nergal-shar-utsur, followed with a reign of nine months. He was deposed by the priests. Then a Babylonian prince named Nabuna´id (Nabonidus) was set on the throne. He was the last independent king of Babylonia. His son Belshazzar appears to have acted as regent during the latter part of the reign.
Nabonidus engaged himself actively during his reign (556-540 B.C.) in restoring temples. He entirely reconstructed the house of Shamash, the sun god, at Sippar, and, towards the end of his reign, the house of Sin, the moon god, at Haran. The latter building had been destroyed by the Medes.
The religious innovations of Nabonidus made him exceedingly unpopular throughout Babylonia, for he carried away the gods of Ur, Erech, Larsa, and Eridu,
and had them placed in E-sagila. Merodach and his priests were displeased: the prestige of the great god was threatened by the policy adopted by Nabonidus. As an inscription composed after the fall of Babylon sets forth, Merodach "gazed over the surrounding lands . . . looking for a righteous prince, one after his own heart, who should take his hands. . . . He called by name Cyrus."
Cyrus was a petty king of the shrunken Elamite province of Anshan, which had been conquered by the Persians. He claimed to be an Achæmenian--that is a descendant of the semi-mythical Akhamanish (the Achæmenes of the Greeks), a Persian patriarch who resembled the Aryo-Indian Manu and the Germanic Mannus. Akhamanish was reputed to have been fed and protected in childhood by an eagle--the sacred eagle which cast its shadow on born rulers. Probably this eagle was remotely Totemic, and the Achæmenians were descendants of an ancient eagle tribe. Gilgamesh was protected by an eagle, as we have seen, as the Aryo-Indian Shakuntala was by vultures and Semiramis by doves. The legends regarding the birth and boyhood of Cyrus resemble those related regarding Sargon of Akkad and the Indian Karna and Krishna.
Cyrus acknowledged as his overlord Astyages, king of the Medes. He revolted against Astyages, whom he defeated and took prisoner. Thereafter he was proclaimed King of the Medes and Persians, who were kindred peoples of Indo-European speech. The father of Astyages was Cyaxares, the ally of Nabopolassar of Babylon. When this powerful king captured Nineveh he entered into possession of the northern part of the Assyrian Empire, which extended westward into Asia Minor to the frontier of the Lydian kingdom; he also possessed himself of Urartu
[paragraph continues] (Armenia). Lydia had, after the collapse of the Cimmerian power, absorbed Phrygia, and its ambitious king, Alyattes, waged war against the Medes. At length, owing to the good offices of Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and Syennesis of Cilicia, the Medes and Lydians made peace in 585 B.C. Astyages then married a daughter of the Lydian ruler.
When Cyrus overthrew Cyaxares, king of the Medes, Crœsus, king of Lydia, formed an alliance against him with Amasis, king of Egypt, and Nabonidus, king of Babylon. The latter was at first friendly to Cyrus, who had attacked Cyaxares when he was advancing on Babylon to dispute Nabonidus's claim to the throne, and perhaps to win it for a descendant of Nebuchadrezzar, his father's ally. It was after the fall of the Median Dynasty that Nabonidus undertook the restoration of the moon god's temple at Haran.
Cyrus advanced westward against Crœsus of Lydia before that monarch could receive assistance from the intriguing but pleasure-loving Amasis of Egypt; he defeated and overthrew him, and seized his kingdom (547--546 B.C.). Then, having established himself as supreme ruler in Asia Minor, he began to operate against Babylonia. In 539 B.C. Belshazzar was defeated near Opis. Sippar fell soon afterwards. Cyrus's general, Gobryas, then advanced upon Babylon, where Belshazzar deemed himself safe. One night, in the month of Tammuz--
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. . . . They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of
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PERSIANS BRINGING CHARIOTS, RINGS, AND WREATHS
Bas-relief from Persepolis: now in the British Museum.
wood, and of stone. . . . In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 1
On the 16th of Tammuz the investing army under Gobryas entered Babylon, the gates having been opened by friends within the city. Some think that the Jews favoured the cause of Cyrus. It is quite as possible, however, that the priests of Merodach had a secret understanding with the great Achæmenian, the "King of kings".
A few days afterwards Cyrus arrived at Babylon. Belshazzar had been slain, but Nabonidus still lived, and he was deported to Carmania. Perfect order prevailed throughout the city, which was firmly policed by the Persian soldiers, and there was no looting. Cyrus was welcomed as a deliverer by the priesthood. He "took the hands" of Bel Merodach at E-sagila, and was proclaimed "King of the world, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Quarters".
Cyrus appointed his son Cambyses as governor of Babylon. Although a worshipper of Ahura-Mazda and Mithra, Cambyses appears to have conciliated the priesthood. When he became king, and swept through Egypt, he was remembered as the madman who in a fit of passion slew a sacred Apis bull. It is possible, however, that he performed what he considered to be a pious act: he may have sacrificed the bull to Mithra.
The Jews also welcomed Cyrus. They yearned for their native land.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O
[paragraph continues] Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. 1
Cyrus heard with compassion the cry of the captives.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God) which is in Jerusalem. 2
In 538 B.C. the first party of Jews who were set free saw through tears the hills of home, and hastened their steps to reach Mount Zion. Fifty years later Ezra led back another party of the faithful. The work of restoring Jerusalem was undertaken by Nehemiah in 445 B.C.
The trade of Babylon flourished under the Persians, and the influence of its culture spread far and wide. Persian religion was infused with new doctrines, and their deities were given stellar attributes. Ahura-Mazda became identified with Bel Merodach, as, perhaps, he had previously been with Ashur, and the goddess Anahita absorbed the attributes of Nina, Ishtar, Zerpanitum, and other Babylonian "mother deities".
Another "Semiramis" came into prominence. This was the wife and sister of Cambyses. After Cambyses died she married Darius I, who, like Cyrus, claimed to be an Achæmenian. He had to overthrow a pretender, but submitted to the demands of the orthodox Persian
party to purify the Ahura-Mazda religion of its Babylonian innovations. Frequent revolts in Babylon had afterwards to be suppressed. The Merodach priesthood apparently suffered loss of prestige at Court. According to Herodotus, Darius plotted to carry away from E-sagila a great statue of Bel "twelve cubits high and entirely of solid gold". He, however, was afraid "to lay his hands upon it". Xerxes, son of Darius (485-465 B.C.), punished Babylon for revolting, when intelligence reached them of his disasters in Greece, by pillaging and partly destroying the temple. "He killed the priest who forbade him to move the statue, and took it away." 1 The city lost its vassal king, and was put under the control of a governor. It, however, regained some of its ancient glory after the burning of Susa palace, for the later Persian monarchs resided in it. Darius II died at Babylon, and Artaxerxes II promoted in the city the worship of Anaitis.
When Darius III, the last Persian emperor, was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., Babylon welcomed the Macedonian conqueror as it had welcomed Cyrus. Alexander was impressed by the wisdom and accomplishments of the astrologers and priests, who had become known as "Chaldæans", and added Bel Merodach to his extraordinary pantheon, which already included Amon of Egypt, Melkarth, and Jehovah. Impressed by the antiquity and magnificence of Babylon, he resolved to make it the capital of his world-wide empire, and there he received ambassadors from countries as far east as India and as far west as Gaul.
The canals of Babylonia were surveyed, and building operations on a vast scale planned out. No fewer than ten thousand men were engaged working for two months reconstructing and decorating the temple of Merodach,
which towered to a height of 607 feet. It looked as if Babylon were about to rise to a position of splendour unequalled in its history, when Alexander fell sick, after attending a banquet, and died on an evening of golden splendour sometime in June of 323 B.C.
One can imagine the feelings of the Babylonian priests and astrologers as they spent the last few nights of the emperor's life reading "the omens of the air"--taking note of wind and shadow, moon and stars and planets, seeking for a sign, but unable to discover one favourable. Their hopes of Babylonian glory were suspended in the balance, and they perished completely when the young emperor passed away in the thirty-third year of his life. For four days and four nights the citizens mourned in silence for Alexander and for Babylon.
The ancient city fell into decay under the empire of the Seleucidæ. Seleucus I had been governor of Babylon, and after the break-up of Alexander's empire he returned to the ancient metropolis as a conqueror. "None of the persons who succeeded Alexander", Strabo wrote, "attended to the undertaking at Babylon"--the reconstruction of Merodach's temple. "Other works were neglected, and the city was dilapidated partly by the Persians and partly by time and through the indifference of the Greeks, particularly after Seleucus Nicator fortified Seleukeia on the Tigris." 1
Seleucus drafted to the city which bore his name the great bulk of the inhabitants of Babylon. The remnant which was left behind continued to worship Merodach and other gods after the walls had crumbled and the great temple began to tumble down. Babylon died slowly, but at length the words of the Hebrew prophet were fulfilled:
The cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it. . . . They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow: the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. 1
478:1 Nahum, i, ii, and iii.
478:2 Isaiah, xivi, 1; xlvii, 1-15.
478:3 Nahum, iii, 2, 3; ii, 3.
479:1 Goodspeed's A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, p. 348.
483:1 Nahum, iii, 8-11.
485:1 Ptolemy's Kineladanus.
487:1 Ezra, iv, 10.
488:1 Nahum, iii and ii.
489:1 2 Kings, xxiii, 29.
489:2 Ibid., 33-5.
489:3 Nebuchadrezzar is more correct than Nebuchadnezzar.
490:1 2 Kings, xxiv, 7.
490:2 2 Chronicles, xxxvi, 6.
490:3 2 Kings, xxiv, 1.
490:4 2 Kings, xxiv, 8-15.
491:1 Jeremiah, lii, 3.
491:2 Jeremiah, lii, 4-11.
492:1 The Lamentations of Jeremiah, i, 1-7.
492:2 Jeremiah, lii, 31-4.
495:1 Daniel, v, 1 et seq.
496:1 Psalms, cxxxvii, 1-6.
496:2 Ezra, i, 1-3.
497:1 Herodotus, i, 183; Strabo, xvi, 1, 5; and Arrian, vii, 17.
498:1 Strabo, xvi, 1-5.
499:1 Isaiah, xxxiv, 11-4.