Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 257

When Cyrus overthrew Cyaxares, king of the Medes, Croesus, king of Lydia, formed an alliance against him with Amasis, king of Egypt, and Nabonidus, king of Babylon. The latter was at first friendly to Cyrus, who had attacked Cyaxares when he was advancing on Babylon to dispute Nabonidus's claim to the throne, and perhaps to win it for a descendant of Nebuchadrezzar, his father's ally. It was after the fall of the Median Dynasty that Nabonidus undertook the restoration of the moon god's temple at Haran.

Cyrus advanced westward against Croesus of Lydia before that monarch could receive assistance from the intriguing but pleasure-loving Amasis of Egypt; he defeated and overthrew him, and seized his kingdom (547-546 B.C.). Then, having established himself as supreme ruler in Asia Minor, he began to operate against Babylonia. In 539 B.C. Belshazzar was defeated near Opis. Sippar fell soon afterwards. Cyrus's general, Gobryas, then advanced upon Babylon, where Belshazzar deemed himself safe. One night, in the month of Tammuz--

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.... They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.... In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.[563]

On the 16th of Tammuz the investing army under Gobryas entered Babylon, the gates having been opened by friends within the city. Some think that the Jews favoured the cause of Cyrus. It is quite as possible, however, that the priests of Merodach had a secret understanding with the great Achaemenian, the "King of kings".

A few days afterwards Cyrus arrived at Babylon. Belshazzar had been slain, but Nabonidus still lived, and he was deported to Carmania. Perfect order prevailed throughout the city, which was firmly policed by the Persian soldiers, and there was no looting. Cyrus was welcomed as a deliverer by the priesthood. He "took the hands" of Bel Merodach at E-sagila, and was proclaimed "King of the world, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Quarters".

Cyrus appointed his son Cambyses as governor of Babylon. Although a worshipper of Ahura-Mazda and Mithra, Cambyses appears to have conciliated the priesthood. When he became king, and swept through Egypt, he was remembered as the madman who in a fit of passion slew a sacred Apis bull. It is possible, however, that he performed what he considered to be a pious act: he may have sacrificed the bull to Mithra.

The Jews also welcomed Cyrus. They yearned for their native land.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.[564]