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Chaldeo-Babylonian Empire

Ancient history, from the beginning of historical information to the downfall of the Western Roman Empire (? B.C. - 476 A.D.). The Great Empires: Eastern Nations.
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The discoveries of monuments and deciphering of inscriptions in recent years have revealed to the world the fact that the country called Chaldea or Babylonia possessed a civilisation at least as old as that of Egypt. The seat of this civilisation was the low alluvial region lying between the Tigris and the Euphrates in their lower course, extending from about 350 miles above the mouth to the shore of the Persian Gulf. The Assyrian inscriptions call Babylonia "Babilu"; in the Hebrew Scriptures the country is Shinar, Babel, and "the land of the Chaldees." The territory is also known as "Lower Mesopotamia," a perfectly flat country which is now but a vast pestilential swamp, covered in ancient times, through efficient drainage, with rich pastures and fields of wheat. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were of Turanian or non-Caucasian race, people with a Tartar type of features, who came from the mountains to the north-east, whence the name of one part of this population, Accadai or "mountaineers." Along with the "people of Accad" we have also the "people of Shumir," of the same stock, Shumir being southern or lower Chaldea, towards and around the Persian Gulf, the "land of Shinar" in Genesis, and Accad being northern or upper Chaldea. These Shumiro-Accadians brought with them from their original home the arts of writing and of working metals, and probably were the first to dig the canals needed in the northern parts for irrigation, and in the south for drainage, and to make bricks and construct buildings. Their religion, as-revealed to us by a very large collection of prayers, invocations, and other sacred writings, may be fairly regarded as the most primitive in the world The tablets from the royal library at Nineveh, now in the British Museum, deciphered by Sir Henry Rawlinson and Mr. George Smith, the contents of which were analysed and arranged by the late eminent French Orientalist M. Lenormant, show that the Shumiro-Accadians peopled the universe with spirits, good and evil, the Spirit of Heaven, Ana, being higher in rank and greater in power than others. There were regular sets of evil spirits in sevens - seven being a mysterious and sacred number - with hosts of demons ready to work physical and moral harm to mankind, classified under the general name of "creations of the abyss," the nether world, the region of the dead. There was no clear conception of any state of reward or punishment hereafter. Sorcery and magic, for the purpose of conjuring the many powers of evil, were practised, and prayers for protection and help were addressed to the chief beneficent powers, the Spirit of Heaven, Ana, and the Spirit of Earth, Ea, through a beneficent spirit, Mirri-Dugga, as mediator. There are hymns to Ud, the Sun in his midday glory, as a great protector, the source of truth and justice. Gibil, the god of fire, was also invoked as a protector against pestilence, and as an indispensable assistant in metallurgy, "thou who mixest tin and copper," as a hymn expresses it, "thou who purifiest silver and gold." We have here an interesting allusion to bronze, the first metal used to make tools and weapons. The third book of the collection of tablets shows a clear conception of conscience as an inward voice or spirit, and of the duty of confessing sins to the deity and imploring pardon. The artistic construction and the beauty of feeling and expression in some of the hymns are very remarkable, and the discovery, during the later decades of the 19th century, of the existence of this Shumiro-Accadian people, probably older in civilisation than the Egyptians or the Chinese, has been justly regarded as "one of the most important conquests of modern science."

At a period prior to 4000 b.c. the country was invaded and conquered by Cushites or Hamites first, according to some authorities, and assuredly by the Semitic people called Chaldeans or Babylonians In this early stage of affairs the country was divided into many small states, each headed by a city, with its temple of a particular god, and ruled by a priest-king. The new-comers seem first to have established their influence in the north, the land of Accad, and then to have overspread the south. The olden creed was superseded by that of the sun-god Bel, as the ruler and vivifier of nature, and Bel-Merodach became the great national god. The religion was one common to most Semitic races, a worship of the heavenly bodies, and the priesthood were a very powerful and important body, professors of the superstition called astrology, in which the Chaldeans devoutly believed. In every great city there was a temple with its priests, its observatory, and its library. The college of priests held sway over the city and its district, until the monarchy of a priest-king arose, limited in power by his priestly colleagues, in a theocratic form of government. With a tendency towards monotheism, in the dim perception of one supreme ruler of the universe, the practical polytheism of the country had its gods and goddesses, often related as husband and wife, representing Heaven, Earth, the Sun, the Moon, the planet Venus, and other powers, each great city having its favourite deity. Thus Eridhu, the most southern city of Shumir, worshipped Ea, the Divine creative Intelligence; Ur, the city whence Abram came forth, reverenced the Moon-god; Larsam or Larsa, the "Ellasar" of Genesis, paid special homage to the Sun; Erech honoured, in conjunction, Heaven and Earth; the Sun and Moon had rival temples at Sippar, on the "Royal Canal," nearly parallel to the Euphrates, and at Agade, the "Accad" of Genesis, on the opposite bank of the canal. We may note that when the name of Agade died out, the two towns were regarded as virtually one, and formed the Biblical "Sepharvaim," or "the two Sippars." Babylon, meaning, in its Semitic name Babilu, "the Gate of God," was at first without a special deity, but afterwards worshipped its own chosen protector in Meridug, the mediator, or Maruduk (in Hebrew, Merodach), god of the planet Jupiter. We observe, lastly, that in the mixture of religion and so-called "science" practised by the Chaldeans, astrology was accompanied by the art of divination of future events from signs and omens, and by conjuring and sorcery or incantation. It was the existence of these three classes of "wise men," all belonging, in different degrees, to the priesthood - the star-gazers, the magicians, and the soothsayers or fortune-tellers - and their practice of these arts after the downfall of the empire, that caused the name "Chaldean" to become the equivalent of wizard or magician, and handed down the belief in witchcraft, astrology, and fortune-telling to the peoples of modern days. On the other hand, we owe to the Chaldeo-Babylonians, in the way of astronomical and mathematical discovery and invention, certain useful matters still in full vogue. Among these we place the division of the year into 12 months, and of the sun's apparent course into 360 equal parts or degrees; the use of the sun-dial; the week of seven days; and the division of the day into hours and minutes. They had also in every month of 30 days five days set apart and kept holy as days of rest, and the very name "Sabbath" came to the Hebrews from their Semite brethren of Ancient Chaldea.

The first great fact in the. political history is the combination into one solid monarchy of the various petty kingdoms or hierarchies at the cities named above, at Sergul, the "Calneh" of Genesis, and other places. A king named Ur-bahu, about 2700 b.c., effected this needful work for the creation of a powerful empire. 400 years later we find southern Chaldea overrun and conquered by Elamites, whose rulers reigned for nearly 300 years in the land. This people, for many centuries in contact, generally hostile, with both Babylonia and Assyria, had their own capital at Shushan (Susa), in the mountainous country to the east of Chaldea, beyond the Tigris. They were of Turanian (non-Caucasian) stock, conquered at a very early date by Semites who became the ruling aristocracy of the country. An early sovereign of this Elamite dynasty in Chaldea was an ambitious and able soldier, Khudur-lagamar, the "Chedorlaomer" of Genesis, who marched with three allied kings across the desert into Palestine, and conquered five great cities in the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. It was then that Abraham showed his prompt heroism in pursuing the retiring invaders, and rescuing his cousin Lot and his people and goods from their hands. About 1900 b.c. a man who proved to be a great warrior, statesman, and administrator, named Hammurabi, took the field and by degrees drove out the Elamites, delivered Chaldea, and founded a new empire. His reign of over 50 years was of great benefit.

The lands of Accad and Shumir, with all their venerable cities and shrines, had Babylon, the deliverer's ancestral city, as capital. The new ruler devoted himself to useful public works. The "Royal Canal," with countless branches, now carried irrigating waters throughout the country, and remained for many centuries an object of wonder to foreign visitors. Hammurabi also rebuilt the temples at Babylon, Borsippa, Ur, Erech, and Larsa, which had suffered from the Elamites. The history of the country then becomes, from lack of monumental records, almost blank for hundreds of years. About 1300 b.c. the Assyrians, who had risen to power, captured the city of Babylon, and then, for hundreds of years more, the Chaldeo-Babylonian empire was sometimes tributary to, sometimes independent of, the Assyrian monarchs. In 747 b.c. Nabonassar became king and waged war with the Assyrians, and in 729, under one of his successors, placed on the throne by a popular revolt, Babylonia was conquered by Tiglath-pileser III. of Assyria. A few years later revolt made the country again independent under king Merodach-baladan II., a very popular ruler, but in 704 he was driven out by Sennacherib, and the country was for many years in charge of Assyrian viceroys. In 625, on the breaking-up of the Assyrian power, a new Babylonian empire arose under Nabopolassar, a successful general. In 604 Babylonia came under the rule of his son Nebuchadnezzar, one of the greatest sovereigns of all Chaldean history, who ruled for 43 years, during which he recovered lost territory, enlarged and adorned Babylon, restored temples and other chief buildings throughout the land; warred victoriously, as we have seen, with Necho of Egypt; and captured and, finally, destroyed Jerusalem and carried off the Jews as prisoners to Chaldea. This last event occurred in 588. The exploits of Nebuchadnezzar also include the conquest of Syria and the capture of Tyre, the construction of a bridge over the Euphrates, and the creation of the famous "hanging gardens" at Babylon, which were terraced pleasure-grounds, wrongly ascribed to the half-fabulous Semiramis. His period of rule was a last long blaze of glory for the empire. Nebuchadnezzar, whose name appears on nearly all the inscribed bricks, cylinders, and tablets found by explorers in the Babylonian mounds, had no great successor. In 556 the throne was usurped by an energetic prince, son of a "chief seer," named Nabu-naid or Nabonidus, who caused a general revolt, in the 17th year of his reign, by neglect of regal and religious duties, which he left to his son and co-ruler, the dissolute Belshazzar. The advancing army of Cyrus, king of Persia, could not be resisted, and in 538 Babylonia became a province of the great new empire.

We have little space for any further notice of Chaldeo-Babylonian civilisation, largely revealed in recent years by the discovery, in the great mounds, of many thousands of inscribed tablets relating to every phase of the private daily life of a luxurious and artistic people, and containing most varied literary matter. The brick-books include works on magic, "spells concerning diseases of the head," epic and other poems, history, mythology, religious works, treatises on law, geography, astronomy, and astrology; proverbs, fables, and curious legendary lore. The spread of education is proved by the directions given in tablets, showing students how to apply for the "bricks" they might require at the temple-schools and libraries. There was a regular judicial system, administered by judges sitting either in the gates of the temple or at the great city-gate, basing decisions on carefully kept precedents. A considerable trade was carried on by caravans with surrounding countries, and by sea with Arabia. The country was famous for dyed cloth and embroidery, and specially for rich carpets inwoven with figures of strange animals and arabesques such as are seen on the Nineveh sculptures. The early Babylonian art includes good statuary, excellent in its anatomy, carved in very hard green and red stone; bronze-work in plates and statuettes; and gem-engraving of a high order on jasper, cornelian, chalcedony, crystal, onyx, and other valuable stones. Music is represented by the harp, pipe, and cymbals, as used at feasts and in religious ceremonies. The city of Babylon, so vast in area, according to the ancient authorities, was built, with streets at right angles, in the form of a square, on both sides of the Euphrates, connected by a roofed bridge of hewn stones clamped with iron. Its walls included fields, gardens, and woods, with space affording shelter to the country-folk during invasions.

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