Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 6Even at this comparatively early time (c. 3800 B.C.) the resources of the country had been well exploited by its Semitic conquerors, and their absorption of the Sumerian civilization had permitted them to make very considerable progress in the enlightened arts. Some of their work in bas-relief, and even in the lesser if equally difficult craft of gem-cutting, is among the finest efforts of Babylonian art. Nor were they deficient in more utilitarian fields. They constructed roads through the most important portions of the empire, along which a service of posts
Basalt Stele engraved with the Text of Khammurabi's Code of Laws. The scene represents the King receiving the Laws from Shamash, the Sun-god—Photo W. A. Mansell and Co.
Like that which preceded it, the dynasty of Ur fell, and Arabian or Canaanite invaders usurped the royal power in much the same manner as the Shepherd Kings seized the sovereignty of Egypt. A subsequent foreign yoke, that of Elam, was thrown off by Khammurabi, perhaps the most celebrated and most popularly famous name in Babylonian history. This brilliant, wise, and politic monarch did not content himself with merely expelling the hated Elamites, but advanced to further conquest with such success that in the thirty-second year of his reign (2338 B.C.) he had formed Babylonia into a single monarchy with the capital at Babylon itself. Under the fostering care of Khammurabi, Babylonian art and literature unfolded and blossomed with a luxuriance surprising to contemplate at this distance of time. It is astonishing, too, to note how completely he succeeded in welding into one homogeneous whole the various elements of the empire he carved out for himself. So surely did he unify his conquests that the Babylonian power as he left it survived undivided for nearly fifteen hundred years. The welfare of his subjects of all races was constantly his care. No one satisfied of the justice of his cause feared to approach him. The legal code which he formulated and which remains as his greatest claim to the[Pg 21] applause of posterity is a monument of wisdom and equity. If Sargon is to be regarded as the Arthur of Babylonian history surely Khammurabi is its Alfred. The circumstances of the lives of the two monarchs present a decidedly similar picture. Both had in their early years to free their country from a foreign yoke, both instituted a legal code, were patrons of letters and assiduous in their attention to the wants of their subjects.