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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

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The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

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Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


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Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Old Chaldean And Assyrian Monarchies








On a great plain, four hundred miles in length and one hundred
miles in width, forming the valley of the Euphrates, bounded on the north
by Mesopotamia, on the east by the Tigris, on the south by the Persian
Gulf, and on the west by the Syrian Desert, was established, at a very
early period, the Babylonian monarchy. This plain, or valley, contains
about twenty-three thousand square miles, equal to the Grecian
territories. It was destitute of all striking natural features--furnishing
an unbroken horizon. The only interruptions to the view on this level
plain were sand-hills and the embankments of the river. The river, like
the Nile, is subject to inundations, though less regular than the Nile,
and this, of course, deposits a rich alluvial soil. The climate in summer
is intensely hot, and in winter mild and genial. Wheat here is indigenous,
and the vine and other fruits abound in rich luxuriance. The land was as
rich as the valley of the Nile, and was favorable to flocks and herds. The
river was stocked with fish, and every means of an easy subsistence was
afforded.

Into this goodly land a migration from Armenia--the primeval seat of
man--came at a period when history begins. Nimrod and his hunters then
gained an ascendency over the old settlers, and supplanted them--Cushites,
of the family of Ham, and not the descendants of Shem. The beginning of
the kingdom of Nimrod was Babel, a tower, or temple, modeled after the one
which was left unfinished, or was destroyed. This was erected, probably,
B.C. 2334. It was square, and arose with successive stories, each one
smaller than the one below, presenting an analogy to the pyramidical form.
The highest stage supported the sacred ark. The temple was built of burnt
brick. Thus the race of Ham led the way in the arts in Chaldea as in
Egypt, and soon fell into idolatry. We know nothing, with certainty, of
this ancient monarchy, which lasted, it is supposed, two hundred and
fifty-eight years, from B.C. 2234 to 1976. It was not established until
after the dispersion of the races. The dynasty of which Nimrod was the
founder came to an end during the early years of Abraham.

The first king of the new dynasty is supposed to be Chedorlaomer,
though Josephus represents him as a general of the Chaldean king who
extended the Chaldean conquests to Palestine. His encounters with the
kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, and others in the vale of Siddim, tributary
princes, and his slaughter by Abraham's servants, are recounted in the
fourteenth chapter of Genesis, and put an end to Chaldean conquests beyond
the Syrian desert. From his alliance, however, with the Tidal, king of
nations; Amrapher, king of Shinar; and Arioch, king of Ellasar, we infer
that other races, besides the Hamite, composed the population of Chaldea,
of which the subjects of Chedorlaomer were pre-eminent.

His empire was subverted by Arabs from the desert, B.C. 1518; and an
Arabian dynasty is supposed to have reigned for two hundred and forty-five
years.

This came to an end in consequence of a grand irruption of
Assyrians--of Semitic origin. "Asshur (Gen. 10, 11), the son of Shem, built
Nineveh," which was on the Tigris. The name Assyria came to be extended to
the whole of Upper Mesopotamia, from the Euphrates to the Tagros
mountains. This country consisted of undulating pastures, diversified by
woodlands, and watered by streams running into the Tigris. Its valleys
were rich, its hills were beautiful, and its climate was cooler than the
Chaldean plain.

It would seem from the traditions preserved by the Greeks, that
Nineveh was ruled by a viceroy of the Babylonian king. This corresponds
with the book of Genesis, which makes the dynasty Chaldean, while the
people were Semitic, since the kingdom of Asshur was derived from that of
Nimrod. "Ninus, the viceroy," says Smith, "having revolted from the king
of Babylon, overruns Armenia, Asia Minor, and the shores of the Euxine, as
far as Tanais, subdues the Medes and Persians, and makes war upon the
Bactrians. Semiramis, the wife of one of the chief nobles, coming to the
camp before Bactria, takes the city by a bold stroke. Her courage wins the
love of Ninus, and she becomes his wife. On his death she succeeds to the
throne, and undertakes the conquest of India, but is defeated." These two
sovereigns built Nineveh on a grand scale, as well as added to the
edifices of Babylon.

This king was the founder of the northwest palace of Nineveh, three
hundred and sixty feet long and three hundred wide, standing on a raised
platform overlooking the Tigris, with a grand facade to the north fronting
the town, and another to the west commanding the river. It was built of
hewn stone, and its central hall was one hundred and twenty feet long and
ninety wide. The ceilings were of cedar brought from Lebanon. The walls
were paneled with slabs of marble ornamented with bas-reliefs. The floors
were paved with stone. (See Rawlinson's Herodotus.)

All this is tradition, but recent discoveries in cuneiform
literature shed light upon it. From these, compared with the fragments of
Berosus, a priest of Babylon in the third century before Christ, and the
scattered notices of Scripture history, we infer that the dynasty which
Belus founded reigned more than five hundred years, from 1272 to 747
before Christ. Of these kings, Sardanapalus, the most famous, added
Babylonia to the Assyrian empire, and built vast architectural works. He
employed three hundred and sixty thousand men in the construction of this
palace, some of whom were employed in making brick, and others in cutting
timber on Mount Hermon. It covered an area of eight acres. The palaces of
Nineveh were of great splendor, and the scenes portrayed on the walls, as
discovered by Mr. Layard, lately disinterred from the mounds of earth,
represent the king as of colossal stature, fighting battles, and clothed
with symbolic attributes. He appears as a great warrior, leading captives,
and storming cities, and also in the chase, piercing the lion, and
pursuing the wild ass. This monarch should not be confounded with the
Sardanapalus of the Greeks, the last of the preceding dynasty. His son,
Shalmanezer, was also a great prince, and added to the dominion of the
Assyrian empire. Distant nations paid tribute to him, the Phoenicians, the
Syrians, the Jews, and the Medians beyond the Tagros mountains. He
defeated Benhadad and routed Hazael. His reign ended, it is supposed, B.C.
850. Two other kings succeeded him, who extended their conquests to the
west, the last of whom is identified by Smith with Pul, the reigning
monarch when Jonah visited Nineveh, B.C. 770.

The next dynasty commences with Tiglath-Pileser II., who carried on wars
against Babylon and Syria and Israel. This was in the time of Ahaz, B.C.
729.

His son, Shalmanezer, made Hosea, king of Israel, his vassal, and
reduced the country of the ten tribes to a province of his empire, and
carried the people away into captivity. Hezekiah was also, for a time, his
vassal. He was succeeded by Sargon, B.C. 721, according to Smith, but 715
B.C., according to others. He reigned, as Geseneus thinks, but two or
three years; but fifteen according to Rawlinson, and built that splendid
palace, the ruins of which, at Khorsabad, have supplied the Louvre with
its choicest remains of Assyrian antiquity. He was one of the greatest of
the Assyrian conquerors. He invaded Babylon and drove away its kings; he
defeated the Philistines, took Ashdod and Tyre, received tribute from the
Greeks at Cyprus, invaded even Egypt, whose king paid him tribute, and
conquered Media.

His son, Sennacherib, who came to the throne, B.C. 702, is an
interesting historical personage, and under him the Assyrian empire
reached its culminating point. He added to the palace of Nineveh, and
built one which exceeded all that had existed before him. No monarch
surpassed this one in the magnificence of his buildings. He erected no
less than thirty temples, shining with silver and gold. One of the halls
of his palace was two hundred and twenty feet long, and one hundred and
one wide. He made use of Syrian, Greek, and Phoenician artists. It is from
the ruins of this palace at Koyunjik that Mr. Layard made those valuable
discoveries which have enriched the British Museum. He subdued Babylonia,
Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Philistia, Idumaen, and a part of
Egypt, which, with Media, a part of Armenia, and the old Assyrian
territory, formed his vast empire--by far greater than the Egyptian
monarchy at any period. He chastised also the Jews for encouraging a
revolt among the Philistines, and carried away captive two hundred
thousand people, and only abstained from laying siege to Jerusalem by a
present from Hezekiah of three hundred talents of silver and thirty of
gold. The destruction of his host, as recorded by Scripture, is thought by
some to have occurred in a subsequent invasion of Judea, when it was in
alliance with Egypt. That "he returned to Nineveh and dwelt there" is
asserted by Scripture, but only to be assassinated by his sons, B.C. 680.

His son Esar-Haddon succeeded him, a warlike monarch, who fought the
Egyptians, and colonized Samaria with Babylonian settlers. He also built
the palace of Nimrod, and cultivated art.

The civilization of the Assyrians shows a laborious and patient
people. Its chief glory was in architecture. Sculpture was imitated from
nature, but had neither the grace nor the ideality of the Greeks. War was
the grand business of kings, and hunting their pleasure. The people were
ground down by the double tyranny of kings and priests. There is little of
interest in the Assyrian annals, and what little we know of their life and
manners is chiefly drawn by inductions from the monuments excavated by
Botta and Layard. The learned treatise of Rawlinson sheds a light on the
annals of the monarchy, which, before the discoveries of Layard, were
exceedingly obscure, and this treatise has been most judiciously abridged,
by Smith, whom I have followed. It would be interesting to consider the
mythology of the Assyrians, but it is too complicated for a work like
this.

Under his successors, the empire rapidly declined. Though it
nominally included the whole of Western Asia, from the Mediterranean to
the desert of Iran, and from the Caspian Sea and the mountains of Armenia
to the Persian Gulf, it was wanting in unity. It embraced various
kingdoms, and cities, and tribes, which simply paid tribute, limited by
the power of the king to enforce it. The Assyrian armies, which committed
so great devastations, did not occupy the country they chastised, as the
Romans and Greeks did. Their conquests were like those of Tamerlane. As
the monarchs became effeminated, new powers sprung up, especially Media,
which ultimately completed the ruin of Assyria, under Cyaxares. The last
of the monarchs was probably the Sardanapalus of the Greeks.

The decline of this great monarchy was so rapid and complete, that
even Nineveh, the capital city, was blotted out of existence. No traces of
it remained in the time of Herodotus, and it is only from recent
excavations that its site is known. Still, it must have been a great city.
The eastern wall of it, as it now appears from the excavations, is fifteen
thousand nine hundred feet (about three miles); but the city probably
included vast suburbs, with fortified towers, so as to have been equal to
four hundred and eighty stadias in circumference, or sixty miles--the three
days' journey of Jonah. It is supposed, with the suburbs, to have
contained five hundred thousand people. The palaces of the great were
large and magnificent; but the dwellings of the people were mean, built of
brick dried in the sun. The palaces consisted of a large number of
chambers around a central hall, open to the sky, since no pillars are
found necessary to support a roof. No traces of windows are found in the
walls, which were lined with slabs of coarse marble, with cuneiform
inscriptions. The facade of the palaces we know little about, except that
the entrances to them were lined by groups of colossal bulls. These are
sculptured with considerable spirit, but art, in the sense that the
Greeks understood it, did not exist. In the ordinary appliances of life
the Assyrians were probably on a par with the Egyptians; but they were
debased by savage passions and degrading superstitions. They have left
nothing for subsequent ages to use. Nothing which has contributed to
civilization remains of their existence. They have furnished no models
of literature, art, or government.

While Nineveh was rising to greatness, Babylon was under an
eclipse, and thus lasted six hundred and fifty years. It was in the year
1273 that this eclipse began. But a great change took place in the era of
Narbonassar, B.C. 747, when Babylon threatened to secure its independence,
and which subsequently compelled Esar-Haddon, the Assyrian monarch, to
assume, in his own person, the government of Babylon, B.C. 680.

In 625 B.C. the old Chaldeans recovered their political importance,
probably by an alliance with the Medes, and Nabopolassar obtained
undisputed possession of Babylon, and founded a short but brilliant
dynasty. He obtained a share of the captives of Nineveh, and increased the
population of his capital. His son, Nebuchadnezzar, was sent as general
against the Egyptians, and defeated their king, Neko, reconquered all the
lands bordering on Egypt, and received the submission of Jehoiakim, of
Jerusalem. The death of Nabopolassar recalled his son to Babylon, and his
great reign began B.C. 604.

It was he who enlarged the capital to so great an extent that he
may almost be said to have built it. It was in the form of a square, on
both banks of the Euphrates, forty-eight miles in circuit, according to
Herodotus, with an area of two hundred square miles--large enough to
support a considerable population by agriculture alone. The walls of this
city, if we accept the testimony of Herodotus, were three hundred and
fifty feet high, and eighty-seven feet thick, and were strengthened by two
hundred and fifty towers, and pierced with one hundred gates of brass. The
river was lined by quays, and the two parts of the city were united by a
stone bridge, at each end of which was a fortified palace. The greatest
work of the royal architect was the new palace, with the adjoining hanging
garden--a series of terraces to resemble hills, to please his Median queen.
This palace, with the garden, was eight miles in circumference, and
splendidly decorated with statues of men and animals. Here the mighty
monarch, after his great military expeditions, solaced himself, and
dreamed of omnipotence, until a sudden stroke of madness--that form which
causes a man to mistake himself for a brute animal--sent him from his
luxurious halls into the gardens he had planted. His madness lasted seven
years, and he died, after a reign of forty-three years, B.C. 561, and
Evil-Merodach, his son, reigned in his stead.

He was put to death two years after, for lawlessness and
intemperance, and was succeeded by his brother-in-law and murderer,
Neriglissar. So rapid was the decline of the monarchy, that after a few
brief reigns Babylon was entered by the army of Cyrus, and the last king,
Bil-shar-utzur, or Bilshassar, associated with his father Nabonadius, was
slain, B.C. 538. Thus ended the Chaldean monarchy, seventeen hundred and
ninety-six years after the building of Babel by Nimrod, according to the
chronology it is most convenient to assume.





Next: The Empire Of The Medes And Persians

Previous: The Jewish Monarchy



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