Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 158

[Pg 371] and closed in at the top with other bricks laid flat. Vertical shafts and gutters were also in use, and these were conducted down the sides of towers and fortifications.

The Hanging Gardens

Another structure has been indicated as perhaps the foundation of the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It consists of a number of barrel-vaulted cells, seven on each side of a central passage. These cells are roofed over with semi-circular arches, and are flanked on the north by the palace wall. It is known that hewn stone was employed in the construction of this 'wonder of the world,' and only in three other places in the palace demesne (the Sacred Road, the bridge over the Euphrates, and the Kasr Wall) is stone employed. This points to the identification of the site in question as being that of the Hanging Gardens, on which layers of earth were laid and the shrubs, trees, and arbours which decorated it planted thereon. Berossus distinctly states that these gardens were within the buildings by which Nebuchadrezzar enlarged his father's palace. But the dimensions of this structure do not tally with those given by Strabo and Diodorus, and the imagination revolts at the conception of these famous and romantic gardens having for their foundation this obscure and prosaic cellarage. Archæology must leave us something. By all means let us have truth and enlightenment—unless where truth is itself uglier than falsehood! It has been shrewdly conjectured by Professor King[8] that these cellars formed the palace granary, and we must be grateful to him for the suggestion.

[Pg 372]

The Great Gate of Ishtar

It was in the spring of 1902 that Dr. Koldewey made the important discovery of the Great Gate of the goddess Ishtar which spanned the Sacred Way of the imperial city. This turreted erection, ornamented in relief by the figures of mythical animals in coloured brick, has been excavated clean out of the superincumbent earth, and constitutes a double monument to its ancient builders and to the patient archæologists who recovered it from the sands of antiquity. It was the main gate in the north citadel wall, and had been reconstructed by the zealous Nebuchadrezzar. It is double (for the fortification line in which it stood was twofold), and in front consists of two high towers with gate-houses behind. The figures of the animals are so arranged that to the eye of one approaching the city they would seem advancing to meet him. At least 575 of these creatures were depicted on the gate, the favourite subjects being bulls and dragons, beautifully and realistically modelled in relief.

The Street of Processions

A portion of the Street of Processions upon which this gateway opened has also been excavated. This highway was of imposing breadth, and ran its course from north to south directly across the city. It was a species of Via Sacra, for over its stones was carried the image of Merodach upon his day of high festival. Its use was restricted to foot-passengers, and no chariots or other horse-drawn vehicles were permitted to make use of it. Its foundation is of burnt brick upon which is overlaid an upper pavement of breccia (conglomerate rock) in slabs.

[Pg 373]

The Temples of Babylon

Interest has naturally centred around the excavation of the five great temples of Babylon, the ground-plans of four of which have been laid bare. The temple of E-Makh, dedicated to the goddess Nin-Makh was the first to be excavated. It contains one of the only two altars found in Babylon, a structure of plain, crude brick, simple and unadorned, which stands outside its main entrance. As the only other example in the city occupies an exactly similar position, we must conclude that custom or ritual dictated an exterior site for the sacrificial altar. The temple of Nin-Makh was a simple shrine of mere mud-brick, decorated with black and white designs superimposed upon a scanty coating of whitewash. Nin-Makh (the great lady) was one of the titles of Ishtar. The temple appears to have been built round a large court, and to have been entered by a gateway flanked by a series of square, solid towers, three on either side. There is a long, narrow passage behind the shrine, which probably gave access to a concealed opening in the back wall of the temple behind the image of the goddess, who could thus have been made to give forth oracular utterances. In the courtyard was a well from which water was drawn for the purpose of performing lustral rites.

We are ignorant of the precise form of the upper part of Babylonian temples (apart from the zikkurats or towers), as only the lower portions of their walls in most cases remain to us. But from certain plaques and seals on which temples are represented we can glean that they were probably turreted or castellated in front and perhaps at the sides as well, and that the entrance was arched, the frontage presenting a picture not very unlike that of a heavily[Pg 374] constructed castle of the Norman epoch. Indeed one unidentified temple bears resemblance to a prison, so forbidding is it in its almost unbroken line of turret and retaining wall. We must remember, however, that colour lent embellishment to these buildings, the otherwise heavy façades of which would have been dreary indeed.


The temple of E-Sagila, which was dedicated to Merodach, patron deity of Babylon, is of course by far the most important within the city bounds. It has not been wholly excavated from the mound of Tell Amran, but the main western portion of it has been brought to light, and has been shown, like other Babylonian shrines, to have consisted of a series of chambers built round an open court. In the centre of each side was an open gateway where once stood the famous eight bronze serpents, two to each entrance. The especial shrine of Merodach, which has not yet been unearthed, lay on the western side, and had a towered entrance and decorated façade which Nebuchadrezzar stated he caused 'to shine like the sun.' He coated the walls of the shrine with gold and roofed it with the choicest cedars from Lebanon, 'the noble forest.' Here, says Herodotus, the mighty figure of the god rested, which, with the throne, dais, and table before it was fashioned of pure gold, of 800 talents in weight. To the north of Merodach's temple rose its zikkurat or tower. So far excavation upon it has in a measure disproved the account of Herodotus that it consisted of a stepped tower in eight stages with the ascent to the summit encircling the outside. The first stage, now uncovered, has a triple stairway built against[Pg 375] one side of the tower, but we shall never know what the upper stories were like, for they have long since crumbled into desert dust. Dr. Koldewey considers that the great tower was built in one stage, decorated with coloured bands, and surmounted by a shrine.

The Great Tower of Nabu (E-Zida)

The foundations of the great tower of Nabu at Borsippa, a suburb of Babylon, still awaits excavation, but as it stands it rises to a height of over 100 feet above the desert. The clearing of its base will necessitate a colossal amount of labour, but when effected, our knowledge of these temple-towers will be considerably enhanced.

The Euphrates Bridge

The bridge over the river Euphrates is worthy of mention, since it represents the oldest bridge known to the science of archæology. It possessed stone piers, built in the shape of boats, thus showing that it had been evolved from an earlier bridge of boats. The bows of these piers point up-stream, and thus break the force of the current. The river at the point where it was crossed by the bridge was at least sixty feet broad, and the passage-way of wood was laid across the boat-piers, and must have been rather narrow. The structure was the work of Nabopolasser.

The Elder Babylon

During the first years of their labours the excavators were under the impression that the destruction of the older portions of the city by Sennacherib had been so complete that but few of its remains were to be looked for in the course of excavation. But as time progressed it was found that the relics[Pg 376] of the older quarters lay mostly beneath the present water-level. In the Menkes Mound a quarter of the ancient city has been unearthed at a depth of some thirty feet, and the outline of its streets clearly shown. Still lower were found houses dating from the period of Merodach-baladan I (1201-1189 B.C.) and Meli-shipok II (1216-1202 B.C.). A thick layer of ashes showed that a still earlier portion of the city had been destroyed by fire, and this archaic quarter has been identified as the city of Khammurabi, the princely law-maker (2123-2081 B.C.), and his immediate successors, according to dated tablets found among the burnt debris—mute witnesses of the disaster which overtook Babylon's First Dynasty.


It is noticeable that the later streets follow closely the trend and plan of the older thoroughfares, which, generally speaking, ran north and south, parallel to the course of the Sacred Way. Professor King[9] gives it as his opinion that here we have a deliberate attempt at town-planning on a scientific basis! He credits this to the Semitic element in the population, as in Sumerian towns there is no trace of town-planning. And yet Babylon was strangely conservative. As she commenced, so she continued, and her early efforts were only superseded in magnitude, not in quality of purpose.