Herodotus and the Empires of the East/Topography

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The Fruitfulness of Babylonia.

When Herodotus visited Babylonia it was one of the richest grain-producing regions of the Persian empire. (I., 192.) Babylonia and Assyria, besides contributing one thousand talents of silver, furnished also one-third of the taxes levied by the Persian kings throughout the whole empire. (III., 92.) The soil of Babylonia brought forth all kinds of grain, especially wheat, barley, sesame, and millet, in such abundance that Herodotus speaks of two hundred and even three hundred fold increase. The millet and sesame stock grew as high as trees, while the blades of wheat and barley were oftentimes the breadth of four fingers.[1] The date palm was the only fruit tree which flourished extensively. It supplied all the needs of life, since, according to Strabo (XVI., i.,§ 14)} it produced bread, wine, vinegar, meal, and fiber. The fruit stones furnished food for the oxen and sheep, and served also as fuel. According to Herodotus the vine, the olive, and the fig tree are wanting in Babylonia proper, but they flourish luxuriantly in Aramaic Mesopotamia. The accounts of later writers corroborate Herodotus. Even as late as the golden age of the caliphs of Bagdad—i. e., the eighth and ninth centuries of our era—Babylonia was an extremely fruitful land. Subsequent Turkish mismanagement has changed the flourishing fields into desolate and unhealthy regions. The numerous canals, which once lessened the force of the yearly floods and distributed the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates in all directions, are to-day all but filled with sand. In the poor villages dwells a still poorer population, whose flocks graze on the sparsely growing grass. At the present time, since there are no canals to distribute the water during the overflow season, the land becomes, especially at the south, an immense swamp. Only the ruins rising out of the broad plains remind us of the brilliant past of that region. When we read the description which Loftus[2] gives of the present aspect of the district of Warka (the Erech of antiquity), we recall the prophetic utterance of the Old Testament seer respecting Babylon: "A sword is upon their horses, and upon their chariots, and upon all the mingled people that are in the midst of her; … a sword is upon her treasures, and they shall be robbed. A drought is upon her waters, and they shall be dried up: … and it shall be no more inhabited forever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation. As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbor cities thereof, saith the Lord; so shall no man dwell there, neither shall any son of man sojourn therein." (Jer. 1. 37–40.)

The former exceptional fertility of Babylonia was caused by climatic conditions, and especially by artificial irrigation. The climate in the Euphrates and Tigris valleys is very varied: while in the north, at the foot of the mountains, it is often cold and the Tigris at Mosul frozen over, in the southern regions the temperature in June is 122° Fahrenheit in the shade. The temperature modifies suddenly when the summer is over. Then a luxuriant flora begins to deck the broad plains, but only in those regions in which, owing to the proximity of streams, the soil is perpetually watered. The subtropical heat produces, in conjunction with this abundant water supply, a constantly flourishing vegetation. The principal rainy season in Babylonia occurs during the months of November and December, while in the month of May the rain ceases entirely. We infer from the names of the Babylonian months that the same climatic conditions prevailed in antiquity. As far as their significance can be determined from their ideograms and etymology, the names of the winter months (November–April) have reference to the rainy season. The yearly overflow of the Tigris and Euphrates was a great factor in the development of Babylonia. In the early spring the snow begins to melt on the northern mountains, especially the Niphate range. At the beginning of March the Tigris, and about two weeks later the Euphrates, rise above their banks and convert the Babylonian plain into a great sea. On account of this yearly inundation continuous earth deposits are made at the mouths of the streams, so that the shores of the Persian Gulf encroach more and more upon the sea. In fact, the entire southern part of the country has been formed in this way. The regular overflows, which oftentimes proved destructive, forced the inhabitants, in very early times, to build dams and dikes. Furthermore, the necessity for a regular irrigation of the land led the inhabitants to distribute their excessive water supply by canals and specially constructed machines. Herodotus gives the following description: "The land is irrigated not as in Egypt, by the water being brought in over the field, but by hand and by engines; for the whole country of Babylonia, just like Egypt, is cut into canals; and the greatest of these canals is navigable and extends from the Euphrates toward the southeast to another stream—i. e., the Tigris—on which the city of Ninos (Nineveh) is situated." (I., 193.) Concerning this overflow, which watered the neighboring regions, Herodotus seems to have had no accurate information. How extensive was once this network of great and small canals is shown by the fact that at the present time a traveler journeying in Babylonia passes in a single day thirty or forty of them. But the artificial irrigation does not consist simply in numerous canals, but includes also the great basins which serve to regulate the course of the stream during the rainy season—e. g., the basin of Sippara, which will be mentioned later. Wherever the canals were insufficient for watering the land, on account of the elevation, numerous remains show that engines were placed which in flowing water were set in motion by water wheels, and in still water by beasts of burden. These contrivances, as they exist to-day, are described by a recent traveler as follows: "There was a rude ferry here, and here, for the first time, we saw ox water wheels working. These, which are the characteristic water wheels of the Babylonian plain (jird is their native name), consist first of an excavation in the river bank, down which the water skins can be lowered perpendicularly to the water. Above this there is a framework sustaining two block wheels, about which the ropes run. From this a decline is cut landward, which the oxen (ordinarily there are two wheels together) descend to drag up the skins and ascend to lower them. To the bottom of each skin is attached a long rope, and to the neck a shorter one; so that the neck is held up and the water held in until the wicker platform is reached, on which, by the action of the ropes themselves, it is poured out. From this platform it is distributed, sometimes to a great distance, by little mud-built channels. The wheels are in operation from before sunrise until after sunset." ("Nippur; or, Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates." Peters. Vol. I., 135 fg.)

The cuneiform inscriptions, thus far discovered, show that canals, dikes, and aqueducts were constructed by Ḫammurabi (c. 2250 B.C.), Samsu-iluna (2232–2197), Tiglath-Pileser (c. 1120–1100), Ashur-dan II. (c. 930–911), Ashur-naṣirpal (884–860), Sennacherib (705–681), and Nebuchadrezar (605–562). In the place above quoted (I., 193) Herodotus mentions a great navigable canal. This may be the canal Pallacopas, mentioned by several classic writers—e. g., Arrian VII., 21—which excited the astonishment of Alexander the Great. It began below Babylon and stretched westward from the Euphrates in the direction of northwest to southeast as far as the Persian Gulf. But perhaps Herodotus may have meant the great "royal canal" (Νααρμάλχα; cf. Strabo, XVI., I, 27; Pliny, H. N. VI., 120), navigable for grain transports, which connected the Tigris and Euphrates and whose construction Berossus assigns to Nebuchadrezar.

The two streams to which Mesopotamia is so much indebted were designated by the people with reverent epithets, the Euphrates being called the "Soul of the Land" (Napšat Mâti) and the Tigris the "Bringer of the Flood" (Babilat Nuḫši[3]). Southern Babylonia alone had no part in this canal system. This region lying along the Persian Gulf remained a marsh, and was a favorite lurking place for retreating hosts.[4]


Herodotus gives scanty accounts of the geography of Babylonia. We observe that our historian by Ἀσσυρία (I., 178) designates not merely the country of Assyria, but the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. Among the towns of Assyria he enumerates Babylon. The name Ninos, for Nineveh, seems somewhat remarkable as contrasted with the common phonetic writing in the cuneiform documents—i. e., Ninua or Ninâ. In the Greek writers Ninos is also the name of the husband of the half-mythical queen Semiramis. The name of the king was applied to the town. The name Ninâ is the original non- Semitic form of the word of which Ninua is a Semitic modification. According to Delitzsch the last part of this word, , is explained through K. 4629 as meaning "resting place." What the first part, Ni, means is not so clear.

The chief city of Babylonia is called, by Herodotus and other Greek writers, Βαβυλών. The phonetic spelling of this name in the cuneiform inscriptions of the oldest period was either Babilu or Babili ("Gate of God"), but in the later documents we find it written Bab-ilâni ("Gate of the Gods"), which explains the Greek form Βαβυλών. With the exception of Babylon, Herodotus mentions only two towns of Babylonia: Is (Ἴς, I., 179) and Arderikka (Ἀρδέρικκα I., 185). He places the former on a stream of the same name, tributary to the Euphrates, eight days' journey from Babylon. Of this stream Herodotus says: "Is carries down many lumps of bitumen in its current, whence the bitumen was brought to Babylon for the construction of its walls." This town, which is situated some two hundred kilometers north of Babylon, a distance which corresponds with the estimate of Herodotus, is generally identified with the modern Hit, concerning which a recent traveler says: "Hit has been inhabited since the natives of Babylon learned to use pitch, or bitumen, as mortar, and from that time to this it has been the principal source of supply of that product. As already stated, the chief bitumen springs lie close behind the modern town. Beyond, and around these, stretches a dismal black plain, fetid with the smell of sulphureted hydrogen. … Bitter streams trickle downward to the Euphrates. The rock which crops out here and there beneath your feet and the cliffs that border the plain are seamed with pitchy deposits. Above the town hangs a cloud of smoke from the burning bitumen in the furnaces of the shipwrights and the ovens of the housewives. Strings of women pass by on their way to and from the river, and the vessels balanced on their heads are made of wickerwork or porous earthenware smeared over with bitumen. In their belts the men carry short clubs, with round balls of bitumen for heads. You enter the town and meet a man in the narrow streets hastening homeward with a vessel full of hot bitumen, to make or mend some household utensils. The roofs of the houses above your head are smeared with bitumen, but on the streets beneath your feet it is rarely used."[5] This use of bitumen for mortar in the buildings and quays of Babylon furnishes an interesting commentary on the Tower of Babel story in the eleventh chapter of Genesis: "And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime [bitumen] had they for mortar." (Gen. xi. 3.)

Herodotus places Arderikka on the Euphrates, some distance above Babylon. In this vicinity it is said the Babylonian queen, Nitocris, turned the course of the Euphrates, through artificial canals, so that the stream had to touch Arderikka three times in its course. Herodotus says: "Those who go from this sea (Mediterranean) to Babylon, and sail down the Euphrates, must come to this village three times in three days." (I., 185.)

The situation of Arderikka is to-day hard to determine. Since the buildings ascribed to Nitocris (as will be discussed later), were very probably the work of Nebuchadrezar, we may naturally recall in this description one of the canal structures erected by that king. In all probability Nebuchadrezar had to dig a new bed for the Euphrates with great curves, so as to regulate the course of the stream. He then diverted the current of the stream to the great basin built by him adjoining Sippara, so that in the threatened overflow the waters might be collected therein. Accordingly, Arderikka must have been situated above Sippara. The river Euphrates, according to Herodotus, extends to the Red Sea (εἰς τὴν Ἐρυθρὴν Θάλασσαν, I., 1 80). Under the term "Red Sea" he includes the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf (cf. I., I, 202; II., 8, 11,102, 158,159; III., 30; IV., 37, 40). Our "Red Sea," in its narrower sense, is called Ἀράβιος Κόλπος (II., n, 102, 158, 159), and also sometimes Ἐρυθρὴ Θάλασσα (II., 8, 158; IV., 42).

The Size of Babylon.

Herodotus gives us quite a lengthy description of Babylon, from which we infer that he had visited the city. In order to understand the condition of Babylon at the time of his visit it will be necessary to review briefly its history. Although Babylon, for the first time, during the reign of Nebuchadrezar[6] a became the political center of a world empire and the permanent residence of the Babylonian king, yet the city long before had possessed great importance, the founding of Babylon reaching back at least to the third millennium B. C. Before the time of Ḫammurabi (c. 2250 B. C.) the city had no great importance as compared with the other old towns of Babylonia, such as Larsam, Eridu, Erech. Up to the time of this king it was the head of a small, yet independent, commonwealth; but after the time of Ḫammurabi the power of the chiefs dwelling in Babylon extended over the whole of Babylonia. It was this king who united Babylonia, north and south, under one scepter, and gave the new kingdom solidarity for more than a thousand years. In civilization, and especially in religious affairs, Babylon was an important center. After the Assyrian kings had extended their power over Western Asia Babylon remained the seat of a vassal king; at least the vassal bore the title "King of Babylon," although he did not always reside in that city. According to the East India House Inscription of Nebuchadrezar[7] the kings had to go to Babylon at least once a year on the Zagmuku feast—i. e., a New Year's feast and procession—to sacrifice in the temple of Merodach, "the Lord of the Gods." Nabopolassar, and especially Nebuchadrezar, made Babylon a permanent royal residence.

During the time of the Assyrian supremacy the Babylonians made repeated attempts to throw off the oppressor's yoke, and these revolutions brought upon them a terrible catastrophe in the reign of Sennacherib. This ruler conquered Babylon in 689 B. C., and in his anger punished the inhabitants by a promiscuous slaughter and complete devastation of the town. Sennacherib describes the situation as follows: "The city and houses are destroyed. I laid them waste from foundation to roof with fire; rampart, wall, temple, and tower I tore down and threw them into the canal Arachtu. Through the city I dug ditches and laid waste its site with water. The building of its foundations I destroyed. Greater than the deluge did I make its annihilation."[8] Thus was the proud and beautiful Babylon, which in Isaiah xiii. 19 was called "The glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans' pride," brought to desolation. The rebuilding of the town was like founding it anew. Esar-haddon, Sennacherib's successor, in the beginning of his reign, in order to win the loyalty of the Babylonians, gave command to rebuild the town, its fortifications, and the temples. The obelisk of Esar-haddon, the so-called "Black Stone" (I. R., 49 and 50), found at Nineveh, gives us some account of these building operations. In this document the king regards the destruction of Babylon as a punishment sent by the god Merodach, and explains that he has undertaken to appease the wrath of the gods and to free the city from this curse. "Esagila, the temple of the gods, and its sanctuaries; Babylon, the city of favor; Imgur-Bêl, its inner wall; Nimitti-Bêl, its outer wall, I rebuilt from their foundation to their summit. Great, high, and mighty I erected them. The images of the great gods I repaired." (Col. IV., 16–25.)

During the reign of Ashurbanipal, the successor of Esar-haddon, the city, which had again become the head of a great alliance formed against Nineveh, was besieged till starvation was imminent. Babylon was taken, but not destroyed.

After the fall of Nineveh and the founding of the new Babylonian empire, the confines of the city were extended. Nabopolassar turned his attention to the improvement of the fortifications, especially the inner rampart (Imgur-Bêl), and the outer wall (Nimitti-Bêl). He dammed up the canal Arachtu, strengthened the walls of the Euphrates with brick, and made a great festal road from the sanctuary of Merodach "to A-a-îbur-šâbû, the street of Babylon opposite the gate of Beltis."[9] This work was completed in the time of Nebuchadrezar, son of Nabopolassar. It was this king who made great Babylon the mighty city of antiquity. In his reign the town became the permanent royal residence. Nebuchadrezar expressly states that during his whole reign he dwelt only in Babylon and the contiguous sister town, Borsippa, while many of his predecessors "in other towns which they preferred had built palaces, and had taken their habitation, had heaped up their treasures therein, had stored their possessions, and only came to Šuanna (Babylon) … at the time of the Zagmuku festival.[10]

The numerous inscriptions of Nebuchadrezar inform us about his building operations. The most important document is the great stone inscription, compiled toward the close of his reign, which is preserved in the East India office at London. This narrates, in 620 lines, the service which Nebuchadrezar rendered in increasing, beautifying, and fortifying the town. The contents of this document, which are not arranged chronologically, but according to the nature of the work, we can divide into three parts: building of (a) temples, (b) fortifications, (c) palaces.

Nebuchadrezar turned his attention to the two great sanctuaries of Babylonia, the primitive temples Esagila and Ezida. Esagila was a combination of sanctuaries dedicated to the great "Bel of Babylon" (Merodach) and his family, and was built on an elevated terrace or kind of acropolis. This structure, which goes back to the times of Ḫammurabi, with Ezida at Borsippa received the special attention of all the kings of Babylon. Nebuchadrezar adorned the sanctuaries of Esagila most magnificently and prepared for them costly utensils.

Ezida, the principal temple of the god Nebo at Borsippa, was the second great sanctuary of Babylonia, and was probably joined with Esagila by a festal road. Nebuchadrezar repaired this temple and enlarged the tower, which was called "House of the Seven Lights of Heaven and Earth." Besides these old and important sanctuaries, several others are mentioned which the king built or restored. The repairing of the two old fortification walls, Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bêl, which was begun by Nabopolassar, was completed. To these defenses, which date from the earliest times, Nebuchadrezar added another. At a distance of 4,000 cubits beyond the outer wall (Nimitti-Bêl) on the east of Babylon Nebuchadrezar built a new fortification which consisted of a "mountain high" wall and an outlying ditch inclosing half of the town. Finally, at no great distance eastward, the king dug a monstrous basin, presumably opposite Sippara, and surrounded it with an earth wall as a protection against the overflow. Noteworthy also is the statement of Nebuchadrezar that he built the wall of Borsippa, called Ṭabi-supur-šu ("good is its inclosing wall"), and surrounded it with a ditch the scarp of which he strengthened with bitumen and brick. Accordingly Borsippa had its own city wall and could not have lain, as Oppert supposes, within the outer defense (Nimitti-Bêl) of Babylon, much less within the inner (Imgur-Bêl).

The climax of this period of building activity was reached when Nebuchadrezar completed a palace for himself in fifteen days. The old palace, where Nabopolassar had dwelt, lay within the inner city wall, touching it on one side. Nebuchadrezar practically rebuilt this palace, but behind it, beyond Imgur-Bêl, the king erected a great earth terrace which was surrounded on two sides by a wall 490 cubits long. It was on this terrace that the new palace was built.

Berossus mentions a peculiar creation of Nebuchadrezar, the so-called hanging gardens, which he erected to please his Median wife, Amytis. That this terrace structure originated with an Assyrian queen, Semiramis, Berossus regards as an invention of the Greeks. Herodotus does not speak of these gardens.

The accounts of Berossus have been recently confirmed by the excavations of Rassam, who found in the walls, which he recognized as the ruins of the "hanging gardens," bricks bearing the stamp of Nebuchadrezar. It was at this period that Babylon could claim the title of the handsomest and best fortified town of the East. Hence the author of the book of Daniel could justly put into the mouth of Nebuchadrezar the proud words: "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built for the royal dwelling place, by the might of my power?" (Dan. iv. 30.) The great king did not foresee that his memory would be so soon forgotten that Herodotus (c. 450) could not correctly state the name of the founder of these great buildings; still less could the king, who regarded the town as impregnable, foresee that in a few decades after his death Babylon would fall into the hands of his enemies. Cyrus, to whom the town voluntarily opened its gates, not only improved the political status, but also participated in the Babylonian worship and fostered it in many ways. The decline of the town began with the conquest of Babylon by the Persians, since it ceased to be a royal residence, and became merely the chief town of a satrapy. In the year 488 Darius I. demolished the walls and towers as well as the fortifications, in order to take away from the inhabitants every hope of reëstablishing their independence. In the reign of Xerxes I. (485–465) the town was again conquered and plundered. It was in this conquest that the great temple of Bel-Merodach (Esagila) was destroyed. From that time the decay of the town was rapid, yet when Herodotus visited Babylon a part of its old splendor must have still remained, for he begins his vivid description of the town with the words: "No other town which we know was so beautifully built." (I., 178.) When Alexander the Great had conquered Persia, he planned to make Babylon the metropolis of his broad empire, but he died, during its reconstruction, in the palace which was once Nebuchadrezar's. After that the population of Babylon withdrew more and more to the newly built town, Seleucia. In later times Roman officials dwelt in Babylon. Strabo (XVI. i, 5) calls the city a deserted town. It is hard to say when Babylon ceased to exist. Its abundant building material was appropriated in the Middle Ages by the neighboring tribes to build the cities of Ctesiphon, Bagdad, Kufa, Mesched-Ali, Mesched-Hussein, and several smaller places in the vicinity. Hillah, which stands on the site of Babylon, is also built out of this old material, and even to this day a lively trade is carried on in the bricks that lie in the débris. Only a few rising ruins remind us of the history of the former metropolis of the world. The topographical accounts of the Greek writers and of the Babylonian documents make it possible to reconstruct the plan of the town and bring its picture before our eyes.

In the description of Babylon which Herodotus furnishes, the accounts of the extent of the city are of special interest. "It is situated," says he, "in a great plain and is a quadrangle each side of which is 120 stades. The number of stades in the circumference of the town amount in all to 480." (I., 178.) According to a further description, the Euphrates flows from north to south right through the middle of the city. On each bank runs a wall, so that the town consists of two parts separated by the river and inclosed on all sides by fortifications. Since each side of this great rectangle, according to Herodotus, was 120 stades, the city must have covered an area of about two hundred square miles. Even if we accept the statements of Ctesias, we must infer that Babylon was built on a plan different from that of modern towns. Great parts of the land inclosed by the walls were certainly used for gardens, fruit trees, and palm groves; several portions were probably reserved for the cultivation of grain.

The account of Herodotus differs essentially from those of other writers of antiquity. Ctesias[11] puts the circumference at 360 stades; Strabo,[12] at 385; Clitarch,[13] at 365; Curtius,[14] at 368. Simply to imagine, as Brüll[15] does, that Herodotus exaggerated is not a sufficient explanation of these differences. We must remember that Herodotus is an eyewitness, and the oldest eyewitness of the Greek writers. Even if the walls had suffered great injury in his day, yet their ruins remained, and from these an observer could obtain quite an accurate estimate. It is hard to believe that Herodotus, in a superficial reckoning, could have erred a quarter of the whole amount. We might rather suppose that he had not seen the whole ruins of the walls, and that his voucher, a Persian, had exaggerated. To show the accuracy of the accounts of Herodotus we have to-day at our disposal two means, the ruins of Babylon and the cuneiform inscriptions. The ruins of Babylon were first investigated by Rich, who published an account of his researches under the title: "Narrative of a Journey to the Site of Babylon in 1811." We learn that he made a subsequent visit to the same place from a second memoir on Babylon published at London in 1818. Investigations were also made by Ker Porter in 1818, by Loftus and Taylor under the direction of Rawlinson (1849–1855), by the French expedition under Jules Oppert (1851–54), by Layard in 1851, by George Smith in 1876, by Rassam in three expeditions (1877–78, 1878–79, 1880–81).

As soon as Oppert had examined the ruins of Babylon he believed he had determined the position and circumference of the two walls, Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bêl, as well as the east wall constructed by Nebuchadrezar. He based his belief on the claim that the mounds of ruins contained the remnants of the old walls. According to his chart, the modern Hillah marked the center of old Babylon. The city itself, with its walls, formed a quadrangle sloping toward the northeast, of which the Euphrates was the diagonal (from northwest to southeast). According to Oppert's estimate, the outer fortification walls embraced an area of five hundred and thirteen square kilometersi. e., about two hundred square miles. Therefore the length of each side of the square was fourteen miles and its circuit fifty-six milesfour hundred and eighty Stades. By this estimate Oppert thinks he has proved the correctness of the statements of Herodotus. He explains the difference between the figures of Herodotus and those of later authors on the hypothesis that Herodotus meant the outer fortifications, while the three hundred and sixty stades of Ctesias may refer to the length of the inner wall. It is clear that in the time of Herodotus the two lines must have been apparent, for he expressly declares: "This wall is like a coat of mail, but a second wall within makes a circuit not much weaker than the outer wall, but smaller in circumference." (I., 181.) The figures of Herodotus, as he himself says, refer to the outer wall, but doubtless Ctesias and the later writers also intended to give the length of the outer limit. It may be possible, but not probable, that they mistook the inner for the outer wall, which might have been no longer recognized.

Oppert's plans and charts have been verified by later investigators, in so far as Rawlinson, as well as Jones and Shelby, declare that they have found a trace of the great wall. But the mounds of ruins which formed the basis of Oppert's conjectures cannot justify his delineation. It must seem strange that no trace of the walls of Babylon remains to-day, after the work of Nebuchadrezar. In several places, in the report of his building operations, he specially emphasizes the fact that he built the foundation of bitumen and brick immediately over the subterranean water (miḫrat mê[16]). At another time he says he has laid the foundations "on the breast of the lower world" (ina irat kigallu[17]). It must be remembered that since the days of the Persian power the walls, in so far as they were not torn down, were left to decay, and that, as remarked above, the existing material was appropriated for other structures. We are not sure, in spite of repeated excavations, that the remains of the old fortifications are not extant. Smith complains that the work of excavation in Babylon has been conducted very carelessly.

The existing ruins furnish us no accurate conclusion concerning the circumference of the town or the extent of the fortification wall which we can use to verify the accounts of Herodotus. Further assistance is furnished by the cuneiform text. It is fortunate that the baked bricks of the time of Nebuchadrezar bear his royal stamp.[18] In the midst of the heap of ruins which to-day bears the name "Kasr" (fortress) are found limestone tablets with the inscription: " Great palace of Nebuchadrezar, king of Babylon, the son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, who increased the honor of the gods Nabû and Marduk, his lords." Therefore we can at least decide which of the ruins existing to-day go back to the times of Nebuchadrezar. There is, however, no inscription extant from which we can directly decide the length of Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bêl.

If we wish, then, to verify the correctness of Herodotus' figures, we must measure the extreme distances of the remaining ruins from one another. The ruins of Babylon begin fourteen kilometers north of the present town of Hillah, and extend ten kilometers south of the town. Their breadth—that is, their extension from east to west—amounts to nineteen or twenty kilometers. The area covered by these ruins is divided into two unequal parts by the Euphrates. The greater part lies on the east side; the most northerly heap of ruins, called by the inhabitants Babil, lies on the east bank of the Euphrates, some ten kilometers distant from Hillah. These ruins, which form an extended hill, probably contain the remains of the "hanging gardens," and once lay within the wall of Babylon; the stones bear the name of Nebuchadrezar. The most southern ruin, called Birs Nimroud, situated about ten kilometers southwest of Hillah, marks the remains of the Nebo temple of Borsippa, especially the terraced tower, or ziggurat. Borsippa did not lie within the walls of Babylon, but had its own walls, which are mentioned by Nebuchadrezar. This town was situated southwest of Babylon, on the west bank of the Euphrates, and was joined to the city by a festal road. The outer fortification walls of Babylon could not have been very far from Birs Nimroud. The distance is twenty kilometers—i. e., about fourteen miles. Since the old wall of Babylon ran north from Babil, we can safely estimate the extent of the town from north to south at fourteen miles. The ruins also extend in the direction of west to east about twenty kilometers. Accordingly we can reckon, without difficulty, a circumference of fifty-six miles (four hundred and eighty stades). Against the statements of Herodotus no valid arguments can be brought.

The difference between Herodotus and the later Greek writers can be explained in several ways. The remains of the outer fortification may have been extant in the time of Herodotus; but if later writers failed to recognize these, they would consequently underestimate the circuit of the town. Again it is possible that Herodotus might have taken his measurements from the eastern part of Babylon, which, on account of the east wall constructed by Nebuchadrezar, had a greater extent than the western part, on which the later writers may have based their figures. Doubtless the extent of the town from west to east, owing to the east wall of Nebuchadrezar, was greater than from north to south. Herodotus, assuming a quadrangular area, had perhaps measured only one side; the later writers may also have measured only one side, but in a different direction. The most probable explanation is that Herodotus included Borsippa with Babylon, and consequently had greater dimensions as the basis of his measurement than those writers who took into their account only Babylon proper. That Herodotus reckoned Borsippa as a part of Babylon will be clear when we show later that he regards the Nebo temple of Borsippa as situated in the midst of Babylon. If this be true, we are not warranted in supposing that the accounts of Herodotus about the size of Babylon are exaggerations. Herodotus gives the height of the walls as two hundred cubits, and their breadth fifty cubits. (I., 178.) He further adds that the "royal cubit," of which he speaks, is broader by three fingers than the ordinary one; hence their height would be about three hundred and eighty-five feet and their width eighty-five feet. Diodorus Siculus, on the authority of Ctesias, says that the height of the walls amounted to two hundred cubits (three hundred feet); but he remarks that, according to later writers, their height is only fifty cubits (seventy-five feet). Pliny (Hist. Nat., VI., 26) speaks of two hundred and thirty-five feet, while Strabo estimates but fifty cubits (seventy-five feet). These differences may be explained by the rapid dilapidation of the walls. Herodotus had not seen their former height, for he himself states that Darius had torn down the walls of the town and removed all the gates. (III., 159.) He says nothing of their rebuilding in later times; however it is possible that their destruction by Darius was not complete, and that remains were still standing in several places on which he, and later writers, based their estimates. In that case, the difference might be explained by dilapidation. Oppert (Expéd. I., 225) would apply the height given by Herodotus only to certain parts of the walls—viz,, the towers, while H, C. Rawlinson ("Herodotus," London, 1852, Note to I., 178, G. Rawlinson) remarks that, according to his view, the height of the circuit wall of Babylon did not exceed sixty to seventy feet. But we must distinguish the simple circuit wall (Nimitti-Bêl) from the higher inner wall (Imgur-Bêl).

If Herodotus had followed his voucher, it may be conjectured that the latter, being of Persian descent, was guilty of exaggeration, since only scanty remains of the walls were extant. The Persians, who had conquered Babylon under Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, were inclined to represent the town as a strong fortification. But we must remember it was more than mere boasting which led Nebuchadrezar to characterize the walls he had built by the epithet "mountain high" (Šadaniš[19]).

The accounts of Herodotus, concerning the material of the walls and the gates, correspond in general to those of the inscriptions. That bitumen was used as mortar in the construction of the walls is shown in several places in the building inscriptions of Nebuchadrezar—e. g., "with bitumen and brick" (ina kupri u agguri[20]). Furthermore, that the gates were bronze is proved by the cuneiform documents, according to which they were made of cedar and overlaid with copper.[21]

The Basin of Sippara

Herodotus relates that the "queen, Nitocris," dug a basin above Babylon, near to the stream, "water deep" (i. e.) down to subterranean water). The circuit of the basin amounted to four hundred and twenty stades. "And when this was dug she brought stones and surrounded it with a wall." (I., 185.) This basin must have lain on the east bank of the Euphrates, for Herodotus remarks: "She constructed this work in that portion of the country where the passes were and the shortest ways from Media, in order that the Medes might not have communication with her land and spy out her affairs." (1.5185.) Abydenos[22] also speaks of this basin, but he puts the circumference at forty parasangs (i. e., twelve hundred stades). Meyer[23] suggests that we substitute the number fourteen for forty. In that case the figures correspond with the four hundred and twenty stades of Herodotus. Diodorus Siculus, who compiles only from older sources, estimates the length of each side at three hundred stades (i. e., ten parasangs). We have every reason to believe that the figures of Herodotus are correct, since the circuit wall of the basin was visible in his day. Later, by neglect of the canals and dikes, the neighborhood became, by degrees, a great swamp, so that the boundary line of the artificial basin disappeared more and more. The statement that the basin was dug as a protection against the Medes points to the time of Nebuchadrezar, the first Babylonian king, who proposed a defense against Median invasion. The inscriptions of Nebuchadrezar give proof of building such a basin. The passage reads as follows: " In order that the enemy may not encroach upon Babylon, I have surrounded the land with mighty waters as with the swells of the sea; and in order that their overflow, like the overflow of the great sea (lit., rolling sea), ., might not break through their banks, I constructed a strong dam against them, and with a wall of brick I surrounded it."[24]

The Citadel and "Temple of Zeus Belos."

Herodotus says little about the buildings and streets of Babylon. "The town itself," he states, "which is full of houses three and four stories high, is intersected by streets which run in straight lines; not only the principal streets, but also the cross streets which lead to the river." (I., 180.) According to this description, we must believe that the principal streets ran from north to south, or parallel to the river. Such a principal street, which divides the town from one end to the other, is mentioned in the inscriptions of Nebuchadrezar under the name of A-a-îbur-šâbû;[25] it consisted of an elevated terrace structure built by the king, and served as a festal road of the god Merodach (Mašdaḫa bêli rabî Marduk[26]).

Of the many prominent structures of Babylon, Herodotus mentions only two—i. e., the royal palace and the temple of "Zeus Belos." He speaks of them as follows: "In one half of the city was built the royal palace, surrounded by a great and strong circuit wall, and in the other half stood the sanctuary of Zeus Belos with bronze gates, this being in existence even in my time. It is two stades in each direction, and is a rectangle. In the midst of the sanctuary is built a solid tower a stade long and a stade broad, and on this tower is built another tower, and another tower upon this, up to the number of eight towers. Winding about these towers on the outside is an ascent; and when one reaches the middle of this ascent he finds a resting place and seats where those who ascend may sit and rest. On the last tower is a great temple. . . . There is also another temple below, within the sanctuary at Babylon, where there is a great golden image of Zeus seated, and before it is a great golden table, and the footstool and throne are of gold." (I., 181, fg.)

Let us endeavor to identify these two structures with the buildings known from the cuneiform documents. Herodotus places the citadel on a different bank of the Euphrates from the "temple of Zeus Belos." From the inscriptions and the extant ruins of Babylon we are convinced that the royal palace of Nabopolassar, as well as the new structure of Nebuchadrezar, was situated in the eastern portion of the town. Nabopolassar had built a palace in Babylon near the old temple Esagila. This lay in the extreme north of the town on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, and was bounded by ImgurBêl, the East Canal, the Euphrates, and the festal road A-a-îbur-šâbû. Esagila stood in close union with this palace. (E. I. H., VII. 36 fg.) Since the existing edifice was not sufficient, and its extension impossible because of its surroundings, Nebuchadrezar laid out a definite area between Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bêl, erected thereon a terrace and surrounded it by a strong wall. Within this wall, the one which Herodotus mentions (I., 181), Nebuchadrezar built a new palace. The king designates it by the epithet "elevated;" consequently it must have seemed to dominate the town like an acropolis. The new structure was joined in some way with the old palace. This great complex structure, erected by Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezar, is doubtless to be identified with the "royal palace" of our historian. It is possible that in the time of Herodotus royal edifices were also extant on the west bank, perhaps even the palace of the predecessors of Nabopolassar. Since these buildings after the time of Nabopolassar no longer served their original purpose, and were consequently insignificant as compared with the new palace, we must feel certain that in the time of Herodotus the palace of Nebuchadrezar was called the " royal palace " par excellence. We cannot accept the theory of Rawlinson, which declares that Herodotus must have found the palace of Nebuchadrezar destroyed, and consequently speaks of a palace of Neriglissar (Nergal-šar-usur) on the west bank; for Neriglissar, a successor of Nebuchadrezar, restored the palace of his illustrious predecessor.[27] The place where the palace of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezar stood is shown to-day by those ruins in which bricks are found stamped with the name of Nebuchadrezar. The most northerly of the ruins which rise out of the extended débris is called Babil (also Murklubeh or Mudschelibeh). Owing to the remains of aqueducts we judge that these ruins mark the site of the " hanging gardens " which Nebuchadrezar erected to please his Median wife, Amytis. The heap of ruins immediately south of Babil, which to-day bears the name El Kasr (the fortress), probably contains the remains of the new palace of Nebuchadrezar. Again, the hill, Tel Amran, which lies still farther South, may mark the site of the old palace of Nabopolassar.

If the "royal palace" mentioned by Herodotus can be thus identified with the complex structure erected by Nebuchadrezar and his predecessor, then the "temple of Zeus Belos" can be no other than the Nebo temple of Borsippa, which is called in the inscriptions Ezida. Next to Esagila, the temple of Pel-Merodach, Ezida of Borsippa was the greatest sanctuary of the land. It is with pride that the Babylonian and Assyrian kings, when they became lords of Babylon, called themselves "restorers" or "builders" of Esagila and Ezida. Nebuchadrezar frequently mentions (e. g., E. I. H., III., 18 fg.) this great sanctuary, which, like Esagila, was composed of numerous structures. Further mention is found in an inscription relating to the building of the bank-walls of Babylon and Borsippa (V. R., 34, Col. I., 50), but especially in the so-called Borsippa Inscription (I. R., 51, No. i). The king narrates here how he restored the terrace-tower of Borsippa (Ziḳûrat), called E-ur-imin-an-ki ("house of the seven spheres of heaven and earth"), which a former king had left incomplete and which had been injured by the storms. The cuneiform document which contains this report was found by H. Rawlinson in 1854 in the ruins of Birs Nimroud in the third story of what was originally the seven-terraced tower. Consequently we are sure that Birs Nimroud, the most remarkable ruins on Babylonian soil, represents the remains of the former Nebo temple at Borsippa.

That Herodotus had in mind the Nebo temple at Borsippa, when he speaks of the temple of Zeus Belos, is shown by the situation of Birs Nimroud. According to him the temple of Zeus Belos was situated on one bank of the Euphrates and the royal palace on the other. Since the royal palace, as we have already shown, was in the eastern part of the town, the temple of Zeus Belos must have stood on the western bank; but Ezida lay here, if not the only, at least by far the most important temple of Borsippa. If Herodotus mentioned any edifices of Babylon, he surely must have referred to that temple, whose ruins, even at this day, remind us of the splendors of the old metropolis. Later investigations point to the identification of the ruins at Birs Nimroud with this temple.

When we consider the system of building at Birs Nimroud, we find the same arrangements in stories that Herodotus describes. Of the first four stories we can get somewhat accurate dimensions. Moreover the relative size of the present ruins agrees with the statement of Herodotus, according to which the circumference of the terrace-tower at the base amounts to four stades (seven hundred and forty meters), and the length of either side of the quadrangle one stade (one hundred and eighty-five meters). Rich, who examined Birs Nimroud, estimated the circumference of the ruins, near the base, at about six hundred and ninety meters; Oppert, seven hundred or seven hundred and ten meters. H. Rawlinson differs from these estimates, but the difference may be explained on the supposition that Herodotus (followed by Rich, Oppert, Ker Porter, Layard) based his figures on the terracestructure, while the smaller estimate of Rawlinson was based on the dimensions of the first story.

Some have urged as an objection against identifying the Nebo temple at Borsippa with the "temple of Zeus Belos " that the god to whom Ezida was dedicated was called Nebo. The name "temple of Zeus Belos" seems to apply to Esagila, since Merodach, to whom that temple was dedicated, was generally called Bel par excellence e. g., Imgur-Bêl and Nimitti-Bêl. But we must remember that the word Bel, in a general sense, was used also of the other gods—e. g., of Šamaš, the sun god; and of Sin, the moon god. Furthermore, Merodach, as the chief tutelary deity of Babylon, was also called Lord—i.e, Bel— of Ezida and other temples. Finally, it is well known what confusion there is in Greek representations of Oriental proper names.

Another objection has been raised viz., that, according to Herodotus, the temple of Zeus Belos was situated in the middle (ἐν μέσῳ) of one part of the town, and the citadel in the middle of another part; but Ezida was in Borsippa. This objection can be met as follows: The citadel of Nebuchadrezar was situated, it is true, not exactly in the middle of the eastern half of the town, but to the north of the same; we are not, however, required to hold Herodotus to exact mathematical statements. After the time of Darius I. the walls of Babylon, and probably those of Borsippa, were demolished. In that case Herodotus could easily have supposed that Babylon and Borsippa formed one town. The western half of Babylon might have had close connection with Borsippa, which lay immediately to the south, so that both localities to a stranger might appear as the western part of the town. If Herodotus had reckoned Borsippa as a part of Babylon, then, in his judgment, the Nebo temple would have been in the western part of the town, since the western half of Babylon proper lay to the north of Ezida; and Borsippa, or at least a great portion of it, lay to the south. This hypothesis furnishes an explanation for the high estimate that Herodotus gives of the circuit of Babylon. Oppert is wrong when he states that Nimitti-Bêl once inclosed Babylon and Borsippa; yet both towns were so near each other that Borsippa served as the sister town of Babylon. In the vocabulary K. 4309, obv. 24, Borsippa is designated Tin-tir II. kan-ki—i. e., second Babylon.[28] In the Talmud Borsippa is frequently identified with Babel. [29]

  1. Cf. Ashurbanipal Rassam Cylinder, Col. I., 46 fg.: "The corn was five cubits high in its growth, the ears were five-sixths of a cubit long."
  2. W. K. Loftus, "Travels and Researches in Chaldea and Susiana." London, 1857.
  3. II., R. 51, No. 1, ob. 25 b.
  4. Cf. the Prism Inscription of Sennacherib, Col. III., 45–60; Col. V., 8–12.
  5. "Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates," Vol. I., 160 fg. Peters.
  6. This name appears in the Bible in two forms: Nebuchadrezzar and the less accurate Nebuchadnezzar. The spelling Nebuchadrezar is adopted here as being nearer the original Nabû-kudurri-uṣur ("Nebo protect the boundary "). Strabo and other Greek writers transliterate Ναβουκοδρόσορος (Ναβοκοδρόσορος).
  7. E. I. H., II., 56 fg.; VII., 23–25.
  8. Cf. Mürdter-Delitzsch, "Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens." 2 Aufl. (1891), p. 201 f.
  9. Nebuchadrezar mentions these buildings of his father in the East India House Inscription. (Col. V., 15–17.)
  10. E. I. H., Col. VII., 9 fg.
  11. Diodorus, II., 7, § 3.
  12. Strabo, XVI., c. i., § 5.
  13. Diodorus, II., 7, § 3.
  14. Curtius Vita Alexandri Magni, V., i.
  15. Herodots babylonische Nachrichten, I., p. 13.
  16. E. I. H., VII., 61.
  17. E. I. H., VIII, 60.
  18. George Rawlinson, "Egypt and Babylon," says that nine-tenths of the bricks of Mesopotamia are stamped with the name of Nebuchadrezar. Peters, "Nippur," etc., mentions finding at Bagdad, as well as at many other localities, bricks bearing the stamp of Nebuchadrezar.
  19. E. I. H., VI, 34; VIII, 51; IX., 21.
  20. E. I. H., VI., 31; VIII., 56, IX., 20.
  21. E.I.H., VI,37.
  22. Cf. Eusebius, "Praepar Evang.," IX., 41.
  23. "Geschichte des Altertums," I., 590.
  24. E. I. H., VI., 39–52.
  25. E. I. H., Col. V., 15.
  26. E. I. H., V., 19.
  27. Cf. inscription of cylinder at Cambridge, Col. II., 15–30.
  28. Cf. Delitzsch "Wo lag das Paradies?" p. 216.
  29. Note.The ziḳûrat (ziḳḳurratu) or terrace tower is one of the most interesting features in connection with the temples of Babylonia. Every student of the Bible knows how prominently "high places" figured in the worship of the various religious cults of Palestine. The prophet Hosea complains that the Israelites "sacrifice on the top of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills." Inasmuch as Babylonia was devoid of these natural elevations, so common in Palestine, its inhabitants were obliged to imitate them by artificial mounds. Jastrow (" Religion of Babylonia," etc.) is no doubt correct in connecting these earth structures with the primitive superstition which regarded a mountain as the home of the gods. The zikurat was built in imitation of a mountain, and the small room at the top was regarded as the dwelling place of the deity. It is instructive to note in this connection that the temple of Bel at Nippur was called E-Kur —i. e. "mountain house." These solid quadrangular structures were generally three or four stories high, though in more ambitious times there were seven stories, dedicated, so the Babylonians said, to the sun, moon, Ishtar, Marduk, Ninib, Nergal, and Nabu, respectively. As the term ziḳûrat indicates, the purpose was to make the temple conspicuous, and one cannot help recalling here the Biblical account of the building of the tower of Babel. "And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven." (Gen. xi. 4.)