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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 204

The prestige of the Hebrew kingdom suffered sharp and serious decline after Solomon's death. Pharaoh Sheshonk fostered the elements of revolt which ultimately separated Israel from Judah, and, when a favourable opportunity arose, invaded Palestine and Syria and reestablished Egypt's suzerainty over part of the area which had been swayed by Rameses II, replenishing his exhausted treasury with rich booty and the tribute he imposed. Phoenicia was able, however, to maintain its independence, but before the Assyrians moved westward again, Sidon had shaken off the yoke of Tyre and become an independent State.

It will be seen from the events outlined in this chapter how greatly the history of the ancient world was affected by the periodic migrations of pastoral folks from the steppe lands. These human tides were irresistible. The direction of their flow might be diverted for a time, but they ultimately overcame every obstacle by sheer persistency and overpowering volume. Great emperors in Assyria and Egypt endeavoured to protect their countries from the "Bedouin peril" by strengthening their frontiers and extending their spheres of influence, but the dammed-up floods of humanity only gathered strength in the interval for the struggle which might be postponed but could not be averted.

These migrations, as has been indicated, were due to natural causes. They were propelled by climatic changes which caused a shortage of the food supply, and by the rapid increase of population under peaceful conditions. Once a migration began to flow, it set in motion many currents and cross currents, but all these converged towards the districts which offered the most attractions to mankind. Prosperous and well-governed States were ever in peril of invasion by barbarous peoples. The fruits of civilization tempted them; the reward of conquest was quickly obtained in Babylon and Egypt with their flourishing farms and prosperous cities. Waste land was reclaimed then as now by colonists from centres of civilization; the migrating pastoral folks lacked the initiative and experience necessary to establish new communities in undeveloped districts. Highly civilized men sowed the harvest and the barbarians reaped it.

It must not be concluded, however, that the migrations were historical disasters, or that they retarded the general advancement of the human race. In time the barbarians became civilized and fused with the peoples whom they conquered. They introduced, too, into communities which had grown stagnant and weakly, a fresh and invigorating atmosphere that acted as a stimulant in every sphere of human activity. The Kassite, for instance, was a unifying and therefore a strengthening influence in Babylonia. He shook off the manacles of the past which bound the Sumerian and the Akkadian alike to traditional lines of policy based on unforgotten ancient rivalries. His concern was chiefly with the future. The nomads with their experience of desert wandering promoted trade, and the revival of trade inaugurated new eras of prosperity in ancient centres of culture, and brought them into closer touch than ever before with one another. The rise of Greece was due to the blending of the Achaeans and other pastoral fighting folks with the indigenous Pelasgians. Into the early States which fostered the elements of ancient Mykenaean civilization, poured the cultural influences of the East through Asia Minor and Phoenicia and from the Egyptian coast. The conquerors from the steppes meanwhile contributed their genius for organization, their simple and frugal habits of life, and their sterling virtues; they left a deep impress on the moral, physical, and intellectual life of Greece.


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