Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

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The western allies of Babylon were also dealt with, and it may be that at this time Manasseh of Judah was taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles, xxxiii, II), where, however, he was forgiven. The Medes and the Mannai in the north-west were visited and subdued, and a new alliance was formed with the dying State of Urartu.

Psamtik of Egypt had thrown off the yoke of Assyria, and with the assistance of Carian mercenaries received from his ally, Gyges, king of Lydia, extended his sway southward. He made peace with Ethiopia by marrying a princess of its royal line. Gyges must have weakened his army by thus assisting Psamtik, for he was severely defeated and slain by the Cimmerians. His son, Ardys, appealed to Assyria for help. Ashur-bani-pal dispatched an army to Cilicia. The joint operations of Assyria and Lydia resulted in the extinction of the kingdom of the Cimmerians about 645 B.C.

The records of Ashur-bani-pal cease after 640 B.C., so that we are unable to follow the events of his reign during its last fourteen years. Apparently peace prevailed everywhere. The great monarch, who was a pronounced adherent of the goddess cults, appears to have given himself up to a life of indulgence and inactivity. Under the name Sardanapalus he went down to tradition as a sensual Oriental monarch who lived in great pomp and luxury, and perished in his burning palace when the Medes revolted against him. It is evident, however, that the memory of more than one monarch contributed to the Sardanapalus legend, for Ashur-bani-pal had lain nearly twenty years in his grave before the siege of Nineveh took place.

In the Bible he is referred to as "the great and noble Asnapper", and he appears to have been the emperor who settled the Babylonian, Elamite, and other colonists "in the cities of Samaria".[550]

He erected at Nineveh a magnificent palace, which was decorated on a lavish scale. The sculptures are the finest productions of Assyrian art, and embrace a wide variety of subjects--battle scenes, hunting scenes, and elaborate Court and temple ceremonies. Realism is combined with a delicacy of touch and a degree of originality which raises the artistic productions of the period to the front rank among the artistic triumphs of antiquity.

Ashur-bani-pal boasted of the thorough education which he had received from the tutors of his illustrious father, Esarhaddon. In his palace he kept a magnificent library. It contained thousands of clay tablets on which were inscribed and translated the classics of Babylonia. To the scholarly zeal of this cultured monarch is due the preservation of the Babylonian story of creation, the Gilgamesh and Etana legends, and other literary and religious products of remote antiquity. Most of the literary tablets in the British Museum were taken from Ashur-bani-pal's library.

There are no Assyrian records of the reigns of Ashur-bani-pal's two sons, Ashur-etil-ilani--who erected a small palace and reconstructed the temple to Nebo at Kalkhi--and Sin-shar-ishkun, who is supposed to have perished in Nineveh. Apparently Ashur-etil-ilani reigned for at least six years, and was succeeded by his brother.

A year after Ashur-bani-pal died, Nabopolassar, who was probably a Chaldaean, was proclaimed king at Babylon. According to Babylonian legend he was an Assyrian general who had been sent southward with an army to oppose the advance of invaders from the sea. Nabopolassar's sway at first was confined to Babylon and Borsippa, but he strengthened himself by forming an offensive and defensive alliance with the Median king, whose daughter he had married to his son Nebuchadrezzar. He strengthened the fortifications of Babylon, rebuilt the temple of Merodach, which had been destroyed by Ashur-bani-pal, and waged war successfully against the Assyrians and their allies in Mesopotamia.