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Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 42

A walled space, platform or birut, orientated so as to face the four cardinal points, is next described. Inside this stood a building the name of which is indecipherable. It was connected in some manner with the Ziggurat or great tower, around the base of which were ranged the temples of the principal gods, all of which faced one or other of the four chief points of the compass.

On the eastern side of the group stood a large temple 117 feet by 67 feet broad, containing no less than sixteen shrines, the principal of which were sacred to Nebo, the son of Bel, and his wife Tashmit. To the north were temples to Ea and Nusku, the first 142 feet long by 50 feet broad and the second a square 58 feet either way. To the south was a shrine to Bel and Anu 117 feet by 50 feet.

The purpose of the buildings on the western side of the great tower is only to be conjectured. It is known, however, that the couch of Bel and his throne of gold alluded to by Herodotus were housed in one or other of the buildings on this side. The couch is said to have measured 15 feet by 6 feet 8 inches.

In the centre towered the great Ziggurat, rising stage upon stage, its sides facing the cardinal points. The first stage was 300 feet square and 110 feet high and was ornamented with buttresses. The second was 260 feet square and 60 feet high, the third 200 feet square and 20 feet high up to the seventh stage, which was 80 feet long, 70 feet broad, and 50 feet high. The entire height of the Ziggurat was thus 300 feet, exactly equal to the breadth of the[Pg 103] base, or only half the height attributed to it by Herodotus.

Regarding the possible site of this temple Mr Smith says: "The only ruin now existing at or near Babylon which can be supposed to represent the temple of Belus is the mound and enclosure of Bâbil, the ruins corresponding fairly with the account of these structures in the Greek authors and in the inscription. The sides of the building face the cardinal points, like those in the inscription; the remains of the two sides of the enclosure now existing indicate a circumference about equal to the Greek measurement, and slightly in excess of that in the inscription; but it must be remembered that the exact length of the Babylonian measures is not known, and there are different opinions even as to the length of the Greek stade, while the present remains of the wall require careful measurement to determine more exactly their length and the dimensions they indicate. On the other side of the Euphrates stands a ruin, Birs Nimrûd, also consisting of an enclosure, various temples, and a temple-tower; but this represents the site of the temple of Nebo at Borsippa, and its angles, instead of its sides, face the cardinal points, while not a single one of its known dimensions agrees with the corresponding point in the inscription. The mound of Bâbil, which is already identified by the best authorities with the temple of Belus, consists now of the lower stage of the tower and the ruins of the buildings round it."[3]

Yet Herodotus' account of the temple of Bel was not wholly false. He says: "It had gates of brass, and was two stadia every way, being quadrangular; in the middle of the temple a solid tower[Pg 104] was built, a stadium in height and breadth, and on this tower was placed another, and another still on this, to the number of eight towers in all. The ascent was on the outside, and was made by a winding passage round all the towers; and about half up the ascent there is a landing and seats for rest, where those ascending may repose; and in the highest tower there is a large temple, and in the temple a large bed well furnished, and beside it a golden table; but there is no statue erected in it; and by night no one lodges in it, except a single woman of the country, whom the god has selected from the rest, as say the Chaldæans, who are the priests of this god."


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