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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 118

Once Babylon became the metropolis it retained its pre-eminence until the end. Many political changes took place during its long and chequered history, but no rival city in the south ever attained to its splendour and greatness. Whether its throne was occupied by Amorite or Kassite, Assyrian or Chaldean, it was invariably found to be the most effective centre of administration for the lower Tigro-Euphrates valley. Some of the Kassite monarchs, however, showed a preference for Nippur.

Of its early history little is known. It was overshadowed in turn by Kish and Umma, Lagash and Erech, and may have been little better than a great village when Akkad rose into prominence. Sargon I, the royal gardener, appears to have interested himself in its development, for it was recorded that he cleared its trenches and strengthened its fortifications. The city occupied a strategic position, and probably assumed importance on that account as well as a trading and industrial centre. Considerable wealth had accumulated at Babylon when the Dynasty of Ur reached the zenith of its power. It is recorded that King Dungi plundered its famous "Temple of the High Head", E-sagila, which some identify with the Tower of Babel, so as to secure treasure for Ea's temple at Eridu, which he specially favoured. His vandalistic raid, like that of the Gutium, or men of Kutu, was remembered for long centuries afterwards, and the city god was invoked at the time to cut short his days.

No doubt, Hammurabi's Babylon closely resembled the later city so vividly described by Greek writers, although it was probably not of such great dimensions. According to Herodotus, it occupied an exact square on the broad plain, and had a circumference of sixty of our miles. "While such is its size," the historian wrote, "in magnificence there is no other city that approaches to it." Its walls were eighty-seven feet thick and three hundred and fifty feet high, and each side of the square was fifteen miles in length. The whole city was surrounded by a deep, broad canal or moat, and the river Euphrates ran through it.

"Here", continued Herodotus, "I may not omit to tell the use to which the mould dug out of the great moat was turned, nor the manner in which the wall was wrought. As fast as they dug the moat the soil which they got from the cutting was made into bricks, and when a sufficient number were completed they baked the bricks in kilns. Then they set to building, and began with bricking the borders of the moat, after which they proceeded to construct the wall itself, using throughout for their cement hot bitumen, and interposing a layer of wattled reeds at every thirtieth course of the bricks. On the top, along the edges of the wall, they constructed buildings of a single chamber facing one another, leaving between them room for a four-horse chariot to turn. In the circuit of the wall are a hundred gates, all of brass, with brazen lintels and side posts."[264] These were the gates referred to by Isaiah when God called Cyrus:


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