Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/265

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run a railway through it, and thus shorten our route to India by a thousand miles, farm it, and thus provide ourselves with one of the richest granaries in the world.

In a land so favored, it is nothing wonderful that the inhabitants teemed in millions, villages were everywhere dotted about, and in their midst great and flourishing cities arose—Ur, the City of the Moon-god; Erech, the City of Books; Nippur, and, most famous of all, proud Babylon, "the Gate of God," which stood on the left bank of the Euphrates, some two hundred and eighty miles above its present mouth. In early times, probably about 2300 b. c., the Jews left this beautiful land for some unknown reason, and after various vicissitudes settled in Palestine. Another branch of the Chaldean stock migrated in later times to the northern part of the Tigris Valley, where they built many mighty cities, and founded the warlike kingdom of Assyria. Of their cities it is sufficient to mention Assur, which gave its name to the kingdom, and Nineveh, which afterward became the capital.

The Mesopotamian plain, owing to the way in which it has been produced, is an almost dead flat, and offers no natural elevations for building; the Chaldees, therefore, to raise the foundations of their palaces, temples, and houses above the reach of floods and fever, and for better defense against their enemies, constructed, with incredible labor, great mounds, by piling together quantities of sun-dried bricks and rubbish, and building round this a thick wall of burned bricks, well cemented together. Some of these mounds, as that of Kojundjik at Nineveh, are as much as sixty feet in height, and it has been computed that this mound alone would have required the labor of twenty thousand men for six years in its construction. But there was never any difficulty in obtaining all the labor that was wanted. Prisoners of war were compelled to work under the stick, and the building of mounds was one of the wholesome occupations to which the Jews were set during their captivity in Assyria.

On the mound of Kojundjik stood two great palaces, one of them that of King Assurbanipal. It was evidently not merely a royal residence, for one of its chambers at least was devoted to public purposes; this was the king's library, to which the citizens, who were taught in their early years to read and write, had free access. Whether any of the books were written on papyrus is uncertain; all that have survived the conflagration, in which the palace was destroyed, are on tablets of kiln-made brick. Of such tablets many thousands have been recovered, not only from Nineveh, but from other towns, and many of them are now preserved in the British Museum. Thus within the last fifty years modern Europe has obtained a glimpse, and more than a glimpse, into the literature of a civilization that perished just as