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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 103

The Great Temple-Builders

The history of temple-building in Babylonia begins at an early date. We find Sargon and Naram-sin[Pg 247] calling themselves 'Builder of the Temple of En-lil in Nippur.' Gudea was probably the first potentate to achieve great results in temple-building. Khammurabi was also active as a builder of sanctuaries. But besides planning the erection of new temples, the kings of Babylonia and Assyria appear to have been zealous in the restoration and improvement of the older temples in the land. Restoration was frequently necessary because of the fact that many of the older shrines had been built of sun-dried brick, which had not the same lasting power as the glazed brick dried in kilns used in later times.

The Assyrian conquerors of Babylonia considered it their policy as well as their pleasure to restore many of the ancient shrines of the land they had subdued, and in doing so they frequently allude in their records to the age of the temple on which they are at work, sometimes providing us with a clue to the date of its foundation. In this way we can trace the history of some of these ancient buildings over a space of more than 3000 years. Such a sanctuary must have appeared to the Assyrian monarch who rebuilt it, as an edifice erected in the days of Solomon would seem to us. Thus in the times of the later Assyrian kings some of the older temples would have behind them a record as ancient as that of the temple at Jerusalem to-day!

The Assyrian restorers of these ancient fanes refer piously to their original builders. They carefully unearthed the old foundation-stones, which they preserved, and clung tenaciously to the ritual which had been celebrated in the temples of Babylonia from very early times.

There are many long lists of temples in existence, and, assuming that each god possessed his own shrine,[Pg 248] hundreds of temples must have been scattered over the length and breadth of the northern and southern lands. These were probably much more numerous in Babylonia, which was older, and whose people exhibited a greater religious feeling.

The Temple of E-Kur

The oldest known temple in Babylonia was that of E-Kur at Nippur, sacred to En-lil. It was probably founded somewhere about 4000 B.C., or even at an earlier date. Before the time of Sargon we find the rulers of Nippur embellishing the temple there. The climate of the place necessitated frequent repairs, and by reason of occasional popular revolutions the fabric received considerable damage. We find Urbau about 2700 B.C. building a zikkurat in the temple area at Nippur, and a few centuries afterward Bur-sin repairing this zikkurat and adding a new shrine. E-Kur saw numerous political changes, and when foreign dynasties ruled the land its importance waned somewhat. But later alien rulers shrewdly saw the advantage of restoring its rather tarnished splendour, and we find several kings of the Kassite dynasty (c. 1400 B.C.) so far honouring it as to place within its confines a votive object from Elam, which had originally been placed in the temple of Ishtar at Erech, whence it had been removed by an Elamite conqueror about 900 years before. This was almost as remarkable as if the Stone of Destiny, the Lia Fail, in Westminster Abbey were to be restored to its original seat in Ireland.


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