Myths of Babylonia and Assyria
Page: 152remote, therefore let our messengers come and go. That your messengers were late in reaching you, (the reason is that) if the Suti had waylaid them, they would have been dead men. For if I had sent them, the Suti would have sent bands to waylay them; therefore I have retained them. My messengers (however), may they not (for this reason) be delayed."
Ashur-uballit's grandson extended his Babylonian frontier into Amurru, where he dug wells and erected forts to protect traders. The Kassite aristocracy, however, appear to have entertained towards him a strong dislike, perhaps because he was so closely associated with their hereditary enemies the Assyrians. He had not reigned for long when the embers of rebellion burst into flame and he was murdered in his palace. The Kassites then selected as their king a man of humble origin, named Nazibugash, who was afterwards referred to as "the son of nobody". Ashur-uballit deemed the occasion a fitting one to interfere in the affairs of Babylonia. He suddenly appeared at the capital with a strong army, overawed the Kassites, and seized and slew Nazibugash. Then he set on the throne his great grandson the infant Kurigalzu II, who lived to reign for fifty-five years.
Ashur-uballit appears to have died soon after this event. He was succeeded by his son Bel-nirari, who carried on the policy of strengthening and extending the Assyrian empire. For many years he maintained excellent relations with his kinsman Kurigalzu II, but ultimately they came into conflict apparently over disputed territory. A sanguinary battle was fought, in which the Babylonians suffered heavily and were put to rout. A treaty of peace was afterwards arranged, which secured for the Assyrians a further extension of their frontier "from the borders of Mitanni as far as Babylonia". The struggle of the future was to be for the possession of Mesopotamia, so as to secure control over the trade routes.
Thus Assyria rose from a petty state in a comparatively brief period to become the rival of Babylonia, at a time when Egypt at the beginning of its Nineteenth Dynasty was endeavouring to win back its lost empire in Syria, and the Hittite empire was being consolidated in the north.
Culture and Superstition--Primitive Star Myths--Naturalism, Totemism, and Animism--Stars as Ghosts of Men, Giants, and Wild Animals--Gods as Constellations and Planets--Babylonian and Egyptian Mysticism--Osiris, Tammuz, and Merodach--Ishtar and Isis as Bisexual Deities--The Babylonian Planetary Deities--Planets as Forms of Tammuz and Ghosts of Gods--The Signs of the Zodiac--The "Four Quarters"--Cosmic Periods in Babylonia, India, Greece, and Ireland--Babylonian System of Calculation--Traced in Indian Yuga System--Astrology--Beliefs of the Masses--Rise of Astronomy--Conflicting Views of Authorities--Greece and Babylonia--Eclipses Foretold--The Dial of Ahaz--Omens of Heaven and Air--Biblical References to Constellations--The Past in the Present.
The empire builders of old who enriched themselves with the spoils of war and the tribute of subject States, not only satisfied personal ambition and afforded protection for industrious traders and workers, but also incidentally promoted culture and endowed research. When a conqueror returned to his capital laden with treasure, he made generous gifts to the temples. He believed that his successes were rewards for his piety, that his battles were won for him by his god or goddess of war. It was necessary, therefore, that he should continue to find favour in the eyes of the deity who had been proved to be more powerful than the god of his enemies. Besides, he had to make provision during his absence on long campaigns, or while absorbed in administrative work, for the constant performance of religious rites, so that the various deities of water, earth, weather, and corn might be sustained or propitiated with sacrificial offerings, or held in magical control by the performance of ceremonial rites. Consequently an endowed priesthood became a necessity in all powerful and well-organized states.
Thus came into existence in Babylonia, as elsewhere, as a result of the accumulation of wealth, a leisured official class, whose duties tended to promote intellectual activity, although they were primarily directed to perpetuate gross superstitious practices. Culture was really a by-product of temple activities; it flowed forth like pure gold from furnaces of thought which were walled up by the crude ores of magic and immemorial tradition.
No doubt in ancient Babylonia, as in Europe during the Middle Ages, the men of refinement and intellect among the upper classes were attracted to the temples, while the more robust types preferred the outdoor life, and especially the life of the soldier. The permanent triumphs of Babylonian civilization were achieved either by the priests, or in consequence of the influence they exercised. They were the grammarians and the scribes, the mathematicians and the philosophers of that ancient country, the teachers of the young, and the patrons of the arts and crafts. It was because the temples were centres of intellectual activity that the Sumerian language remained the language of culture for long centuries after it ceased to be the everyday speech of the people.
Reference has already been made to the growth of art, and the probability that all the arts had their origin in magical practices, and to the growth of popular education necessitated by the centralization of business in the temples. It remains with us to deal now with priestly contributions to the more abstruse sciences. In India the ritualists among the Brahmans, who concerned themselves greatly regarding the exact construction and measurements of altars, gave the world algebra; the pyramid builders of Egypt, who erected vast tombs to protect royal mummies, had perforce to lay the groundwork of the science of geometry; and the Babylonian priests who elaborated the study of astrology became great astronomers because they found it necessary to observe and record accurately the movements of the heavenly bodies.