A History of Babylon
A History of Babylon
INTRODUCTORY: BABYLON'S PLACE IN THE HISTORY OF ANTIQUITY
The name of Babylon suggests one of the great centres from which civilization radiated to other peoples of the ancient world. And it is true that from the second millennium onwards we have evidence of the gradual spread of Babylonian culture throughout the greater part of Western Asia. Before the close of the fifteenth century, to cite a single example of such influence, we find that Babylonian had become the language of Eastern diplomacy. It is not surprising perhaps that the Egyptian king should have adopted the Babylonian tongue and method of writing for his correspondence with rulers of Babylon itself or of Assyria. But it is remarkable that he should employ this foreign script and language for sending orders to the governors of his Syrian and Palestinian dependencies, and that such Canaanite officials should use the same medium for the reports they despatched to their Egyptian master. In the same period we find the Aryan rulers of Mitanni, in Northern Mesopotamia, writing in cuneiform the language of their adopted country. A few decades later the Hittites of Anatolia, discarding their old and clumsy system of hieroglyphs except for monumental purposes, borrow the same character for their own speech, while their treaties with Egypt are drawn up in Babylonian. In the ninth century the powerful race of the Urartians, settled in the mountains of Armenia around the shores of Lake Van, adopt as their national script the writing of Assyria, which in turn had been derived from Babylon. Elam, Babylon's nearest foreign neighbour, at a very early period had, like the Hittites of a later age, substituted for their rude hieroglyphs the language and older characters of Babylon, and later on they evolved from the same writing a character of their own. Finally, coming down to the sixth century, we find the Achæmenian kings inventing a cuneiform sign-list to express the Old Persian language, in order that their own speech might be represented in royal proclamations and memorials beside those of their subject provinces of Babylon and Susiania.
These illustrations of Babylonian influence on foreign races are confined to one department of culture only, the language and the system of writing. But they have a very much wider implication. For when a foreign language is used and written, a certain knowledge of its literature must be presupposed. And since all early literatures were largely religious in character, the study of the language carries with it some acquaintance with the legends, mythology and religious beliefs of the race from whom it was borrowed. Thus, even if we leave out of account the obvious effects of commercial intercourse, the single group of examples quoted necessarily implies a strong cultural influence on contemporary races.
It may thus appear a paradox to assert that the civilization, with which the name of Babylon is associated, was not Babylonian. But it is a fact that for more than a thousand years before the appearance of that city as a great centre of culture, the civilization it handed on to others had acquired in all essentials its later type. In artistic excellence, indeed, a standard had been already reached, which, so far from being surpassed, was never afterwards attained in Mesopotamia. And although the Babylonian may justly be credited with greater system in his legislation, with an extended literature, and perhaps also with an increased luxury of ritual, his efforts were entirely controlled by earlier models. If we except the spheres of poetry and ethics, the Semite in Babylon, as elsewhere, proved himself a clever adapter, not a creator. He was the prophet of Sumerian culture and merely perpetuated the achievements of the race whom he displaced politically and absorbed. It is therefore the more remarkable that his particular city should have seen