Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 251

Ashur-bani-pal, Emperor of Assyria, and Shamash-shum-ukin, King of Babylon. Peace prevailed in the capital, and there was little or no friction throughout the provinces: new rulers were appointed to administer the States of Arvad and Ammon, but there were no changes elsewhere.

Babylon welcomed its new king--a Babylonian by birth and the son of a Babylonian princess. The ancient kingdom rejoiced that it was no longer to be ruled as a province; its ancient dignities and privileges were being partially restored. But one great and deep-seated grievance remained. The god Merodach was still a captive in the temple of Ashur. No king could reign aright if Merodach were not restored to E-sagila. Indeed he could not be regarded as the lord of the land until he had "taken the hands of Bel".

The ceremony of taking the god's hands was an act of homage. When it was consummated the king became the steward or vassal of Merodach, and every day he appeared before the divine one to receive instructions and worship him. The welfare of the whole kingdom depended on the manner in which the king acted towards the god. If Merodach was satisfied with the king he sent blessings to the land; if he was angry he sent calamities.

This close association of the king with the god gave the priests great influence in Babylon. They were the power behind the throne. The destinies of the royal house were placed in their hands; they could strengthen the position of a royal monarch, or cause him to be deposed if he did not satisfy their demands. A king who reigned over Babylon without the priestly party on his side occupied an insecure position. Nor could he secure the co-operation of the priests unless the image of the god was placed in the temple. Where king was, there Merodach had to be also.

Shamash-shum-ukin pleaded with his royal brother and overlord to restore Bel Merodach to Babylon. Ashur-bani-pal hesitated for a time; he was unwilling to occupy a less dignified position, as the representative of Ashur, than his distinguished predecessor, in his relation to the southern kingdom. At length, however, he was prevailed upon to consult the oracle of Shamash, the solar lawgiver, the revealer of destiny. The god was accordingly asked if Shamash-shum-ukin could "take the hands of Bel" in Ashur's temple, and then proceed to Babylon as his representative. In response, the priests of Shamash informed the emperor that Bel Merodach could not exercise sway as sovereign lord so long as he remained a prisoner in a city which was not his own.

Ashur-bani-pal accepted the verdict, and then visited Ashur's temple to plead with Bel Merodach to return to Babylon. "Let thy thoughts", he cried, "dwell in Babylon, which in thy wrath thou didst bring to naught. Let thy face be turned towards E-sagila, thy lofty and divine temple. Return to the city thou hast deserted for a house unworthy of thee. O Merodach! lord of the gods, issue thou the command to return again to Babylon."

Thus did Ashur-bani-pal make pious and dignified submission to the will of the priests. A favourable response was, of course, received from Merodach when addressed by the emperor, and the god's image was carried back to E-sagila, accompanied by a strong force. Ashur-bani-pal and Shamash-shum-ukin led the procession of priests and soldiers, and elaborate ceremonials were observed at each city they passed, the local gods being carried forth to do homage to Merodach.

Babylon welcomed the deity who was thus restored to his temple after the lapse of about a quarter of a century, and the priests celebrated with unconcealed satisfaction and pride the ceremony at which Shamash-shum-ukin "took the hands of Bel". The public rejoicings were conducted on an elaborate scale. Babylon believed that a new era of prosperity had been inaugurated, and the priests and nobles looked forward to the day when the kingdom would once again become free and independent and powerful.

Ashur-bani-pal (668-626 B.C.) made arrangements to complete his father's designs regarding Egypt. His Tartan continued the campaign, and Taharka, as has been stated, was driven from Memphis. The beaten Pharaoh returned to Ethiopia and did not again attempt to expel the Assyrians. He died in 666 B.C. It was found that some of the petty kings of Lower Egypt had been intriguing with Taharka, and their cities were severely dealt with. Necho of Sais had to be arrested, among others, but was pardoned after he appeared before Ashur-bani-pal, and sent back to Egypt as the Assyrian governor.

Tanutamon, a son of Pharaoh Shabaka, succeeded Taharka, and in 663 B.C. marched northward from Thebes with a strong army. He captured Memphis. It is believed Necho was slain, and Herodotus relates that his son Psamtik took refuge in Syria. In 661 B.C. Ashur-bani-pal's army swept through Lower Egypt and expelled the Ethiopians. Tanutamon fled southward, but on this occasion the Assyrians followed up their success, and besieged and captured Thebes, which they sacked. Its nobles were slain or taken captive. According to the prophet Nahum, who refers to Thebes as No (Nu-Amon = city of Amon), "her young children also were dashed in pieces at the top of all the streets: and they (the Assyrians) cast lots for her honourable men, and all her great men were bound in chains".[548] Thebes never again recovered its prestige. Its treasures were transported to Nineveh. The Ethiopian supremacy in Egypt was finally extinguished, and Psamtik, son of Necho, who was appointed the Pharaoh, began to reign as the vassal of Assyria.

When the kings on the seacoasts of Palestine and Asia Minor found that they could no longer look to Egypt for help, they resigned themselves to the inevitable, and ceased to intrigue against Assyria. Gifts were sent to Ashur-bani-pal by the kings of Arvad, Tyre, Tarsus, and Tabal. The Arvad ruler, however, was displaced, and his son set on his throne. But the most extraordinary development was the visit to Nineveh of emissaries from Gyges, king of Lydia, who figures in the legends of Greece. This monarch had been harassed by the Cimmerians after they accomplished the fall of Midas of Phrygia in 676 B.C., and he sought the help of Ashur-bani-pal. It is not known whether the Assyrians operated against the Cimmerians in Tabal, but, as Gyges did not send tribute, it would appear that he held his own with the aid of mercenaries from the State of Caria in southwestern Asia Minor. The Greeks of Cilicia, and the Achaeans and Phoenicians of Cyprus remained faithful to Assyria.