1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Babylonia and Assyria/Arrival of the Semites

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V. History.—In the earliest period of which we have any Early Sumerian period. knowledge Babylonia was divided into several independent states, the limits of which were defined by canals and boundary stones. Its culture may be traced back to two main centres, Eridu in the south and Nippur in the north. But the streams of civilization which flowed from them were in strong contrast. El-lil, around whose sanctuary Nippur had grown up, was lord of the ghost-land, and his gifts to mankind were the spells and incantations which the spirits of good or evil were compelled to obey. The world which he governed was a mountain; the creatures whom he had made lived underground. Eridu, on the other hand, was the home of the culture-god Ea, the god of light and beneficence, who employed his divine wisdom in healing the sick and restoring the dead to life. Rising each morning from his palace in the deep, he had given man the arts and sciences, the industries and manners of civilization. To him was due the invention of writing, and the first law-book was his creation. Eridu had once been a seaport, and it was doubtless its foreign trade and intercourse with other lands which influenced the development of its culture. Its cosmology was the result of its geographical position: the earth, it was believed, had grown out of the waters of the deep, like the ever-widening coast at the mouth of the Euphrates. Long before history begins, however, the cultures of Eridu and Nippur had coalesced. While Babylon seems to have been a colony of Eridu, Ur, the immediate neighbour of Eridu, must have been colonized from Nippur, since its moon-god was the son of El-lil of Nippur. But in the admixture of the two cultures the influence of Eridu was predominant.

We may call the early civilization of Babylonia Sumerian. The race who first developed it spoke an agglutinative language, and to them was due the invention of the pictorial hieroglyphs which became the running-hand or cuneiform characters of later days, as well as the foundation of the chief cities of the country and the elements of its civilization. The great engineering works by means of which the marshes were drained and the overflow of the rivers regulated by canals went back to Sumerian times, like a considerable part of later Babylonian religion and the beginnings of Babylonian law. Indeed Sumerian continued to be the language of religion and law long after the Semites had become the ruling race.

Arrival of the Semites.—When the Semites first entered the Semitic Influence. Edin or plain of Babylonia is uncertain, but it must have been at a remote period. The cuneiform system of writing was still in process of growth when it was borrowed and adapted by the new comers, and the Semitic Babylonian language was profoundly influenced by the older language of the country, borrowing its words and even its grammatical usages. Sumerian in its turn borrowed from Semitic Babylonian, and traces of Semitic influence in some of the earliest Sumerian texts indicate that the Semite was already on the Babylonian border. His native home was probably Arabia; hence Eridu ("the good city") and Ur ("the city") would have been built in Semitic territory, and their population may have included Semitic elements from the first. It was in the north, however, that the Semites first appear on the monuments. Here in Akkad the first Semitic empire was founded, Semitic conquerors or settlers spread from Sippara to Susa, Khana to the east of the Tigris was occupied by "West Semitic" tribes, and "out of" Babylonia "went forth the Assyrian." As in Assyria, so too in the states of Babylonia the patesi or high-priest of the god preceded the king. The state had grown up around a sanctuary, the god of which was nominally its ruler, the human patesi being his viceregent. In course of time many of the high-priests assumed the functions and title of king; while retaining their priestly office they claimed at the same time to be supreme in the state in all secular concerns. The god remained nominally at its head; but even this position was lost to him when Babylonia was unified under Semitic princes, and the earthly king became an incarnate god. A recollection of his former power survived, however, at Babylon, where Bel-Merodach adopted the king before his right to rule was allowed.