The civilization of Babylonia and Assyria

Its remains, language, history, religion, commerce, law, art, and literature

by Morris Jastrow | 1915 | 168,585 words

This work attempts to present a study of the unprecedented civilizations that flourished in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley many thousands of years ago. Spreading northward into present-day Turkey and Iran, the land known by the Greeks as Mesopotamia flourished until just before the Christian era....

To my knowledge this is the first time that the attempt has been made on a somewhat large scale to cover the entire subject of Babylonian-Assyrian civilization for English readers.

The aim of this work is to present a survey of the remarkable civilization which arose in the Euphrates Valley thousands of years ago and which, spreading northwards, continued to flourish till close to the threshold of the Christian era. As a result of the combined activities of explorers, decipherers and investigators of many lands during the past seventy years, we can follow the unfolding of the growth of the centres of settlement in the south which led ultimately to the formation of the Babylonian Empire, and of the offshoot of Babylonian civilization which resulted in the rise of a rival empire to the north, known as Assyria.

While much still remains to be done before we can be said to have solved the problems historical, linguistic, archaeological and ethnological raised by the discoveries made beneath the mounds which concealed the remains of forgotten Babylonian and Assyrian cities for so many centuries, we have learned to know the customs and manners, the religion, the law, the commerce and art of both Babylonia and Assyria quite Ultimately. We know how these peoples lived and how they died, the arrangement of their houses, palaces and temples, as well as of their tombs ; their daily life and their religious aspirations.

The various occupations of the people are revealed in thousands upon thousands of clay documents, found in the mounds, which tell of business activities, of commercial intercourse, of legal disputes, of the growing complications of social life, and of judicial decisions affecting all classes of the population. The beliefs and practises prevailing in Babylonia and Assyria are illustrated by abundant literary material, dating from the oldest period down to the fall of Babylonia and beyond that into the era of Persian and Greek control.

A considerable amount of literature in the stricter sense of the term has also come down to us on the clay tablets ; and finally monuments, the remains of temples and palaces, with wall sculptures, statues, votive offerings, cult objects and ornaments enable us to trace the course of art development along the centuries that span the existence of the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires.

The moment seems, therefore, opportune for grouping together the large amount of material at our disposal, with a view of presenting a general picture of Babylonian-Assyrian civilization. In this endeavor I have utilized the results of the researches of many others, besides embodying those of my own, for the field of investigation embracing Babylonia and Assyria is now too large to be cultivated in its entirety by any single investigator.

It has been my aim throughout to present only such results as may safely be regarded as definite, and to abstain from mere haphazard and conjectural views. Naturally, in a work of a general character and intended for the larger public, some details had to be passed over for fear of crowding the picture. In such a selection personal judgment must inevitably be the guiding factor, but I trust that I have, on the whole, succeeded iii picking out what is most important for a general view of the civilization and also most characteristic.

I hope that the liberal use which has been made of illustrations will be looked upon as contributing to the clearer setting forth of the results. Here, too, a selection was called for, and I have had in mind to place at the disposal of the reader reproductions of all the more important monuments, as well as of many less known objects, so as to furnish a series that may form a tolerably complete companion to the text. I have included specimens also of cuneiform documents so as to show the kind of material from which Assyriologists obtain their results.

Special attention may also be called to the attempt to illustrate the course of decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions with the aid of reproduction and selection of cuneiform signs and combinations of such signs into words. The decipherment of an unknown script is a fascinating theme even to the layman, and I feel that I owe no apology for taking the space necessary to make clear to the general reader how it was possible to find a key to the reading of the puzzling combinations of wedges that became the medium of written expression in the Euphrates Valley.

Equally interesting is the story of the way in which the ancient cities of Babylonia and Assyria were dug up by explorers, undaunted by difficulties that at times seemed insurmountable. I have tried to tell the story without belaboring the general reader with too many details, but with due regard to setting forth the merits of each one of the pioneers to whom the world owes a lasting debt. To emphasize this debt I have united in one plate the portraits of Layard, Rawlinson, Grotef end, Hincks, Oppert, George Smith, de Sarzec, and Haynes, whose names are indissolubly linked with the recovery of our knowledge of the long-forgotten civilization of Babylonia and Assyria.

Three of these men, George Smith, Ernest de Sarzec and John Henry Haynes, went to premature graves as the result of their arduous labors in the interest of science, which claims its martyrs no less than religion. But for circumstances beyond my control, I would have included the portrait of P. E. Botta, [1] the pioneer among the explorers of Assyrian mounds, as well as those of two scholars still with us, of Robert Koldewey, the leader of the German expedition which has conducted excavations in Babylonia for upwards of fourteen years, and of Priedrich Delitzsch, the distinguished Professor of Assyriology at the University of Berlin, who has done more than any other living scholar "to stimulate the study of Assyriology through the training of scholars, now scattered in various parts of the world, and through his own contributions in advancing our knowledge of the Babylonian and Assyrian language and literature.

Besides these, there is a long honor roll among living scholars, who, in this country, in England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Russia, Holland and the Scandinavian countries, are devoting their careers to the further elucidation of the subject, and through whom contributions to the sum of human knowledge are being constantly made. To all of these, from whose researches I have derived help, I wish to make a hearty acknowledgment.

Assyria, which are intended to serve in part as amplifying the references to such literary products in the body of the book, and partly to give the reader a view at closer range of literary composition as developed in the Euphrates Valley, and as further carried on in Assyria. The translations, it may be added, aim at being literal, with due regard, however, to reproducing in English the effect of the original.

A sense of deepest gratitude leads me to express, as on former occasions, my indebtedness to my dear wife for her aid in preparing this work, an aid ever generously and lovingly given. In addition to other services she has read a proof of the entire work and if, as a result, the pages are comparatively free from those slips which are so difficult to avoid, and which one likes to ascribe to the pranks of devilish imps by whom in proof-reading one is surrounded, it is due to the care which she has bestowed on her task.

The index is the work of my pupil and colleague, Dr. B. B. Charles, Instructor in Semitic Languages at the University of Pennsylvania, whose co-operation has, as on former occasions, been most cheerfully given. To the publishers my thanks are due for the interest that they have displayed in the progress of the work, for their patience in waiting for the completion of the manuscript, prepared under many inevitable interruptions, and for the handsome form that they have given to the text and to the illustrations.

My thanks are due also to the authorities of the British Museum, of the Musee de Louvre, of the Berlin Museum, to Dr. G. B. Gordon, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Archaeological Museum, to Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan Jr. and to Miss Belle Da Costa Greene, the efficient Librarian and custodian of the Morgan collection, and to the Deutsche Orient Gesellschaft, for permission to use illustrations from publications, and reproductions from antiquities and monuments in their possession ; likewise, for similar permission, most generously given, to a number of publishers in this country and abroad, namely, Behrend & Co. Berlin ; Chapman and Hall, London; Chatto & Windus, London ; J. C. Hinrichs, Leipzig ; Curts and Jennings, Cincinnati ; Ernest Leroux, Paris ; Luzac & Company, London ; Macmillan & Company, New York ; W. A. Mansell and Co., London; John Murray, London; Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague; G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York; Georg Reinier, Berlin ; The Society of Biblical Archaeology, London; W. Speman, Berlin; Sunday School Times, Philadelphia ; Alfred Toepelmann, Giessen ; and thirdly to a large number of colleagues, who either placed photographs at my disposal or have allowed me to reproduce illustrations from books published by them.

It gives me particular pleasure to acknowledge in this way the kindness of such friends of many years' standing as Prof. Paul Haupt of Johns Hopkins University; Dr. W. Hayes Ward; Prof. A. T. Clay of Yale University, Prof. A. V. Williams Jackson of Columbia University; Prof. Carl Bezold of the University of Heidelberg; Mr. L. W. King of the British Museum, Mr. R. C. Thompson, M. Salomon Reinach of Paris; Dr. T. G. Pinches of London; Prof. R. W. Rogers of Drew Theological Seminary; Rev. Dr. John P. Peters of New York ; Dr. E. J. Banks ; Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch of the University of Berlin ; Prof. Eduard Meyer of the University of Berlin, and M. Francois Thureau-Dangin of Paris.

Lastly, I wish to record here the debt of gratitude that I owe to the friend of so many years to whom it is a pleasure and a great privilege to be permitted to dedicate this work. What I owe to the friendship of Joseph George Rosengarten and to my association with him cannot be adequately expressed in words.

Himself a scholar, active and fruitful in many fields, he has been the guide and friend of many scholars connected with the institution in whose service I have now spent thirty years. Keenly appreciative of scholarly efforts in every field, he has done much to promote by his example and by his aid researches among the members of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, which more than anything else redound to the honor and glory of an institution of learning. In dedicating this book to him I feel that I am also acknowledging, though in poor coin, the debt of my colleagues as well as my own.



Footnotes and references:


There is a portrait of Botta in the Louvre Museum, but unfortunately, on account of the war, no photograph of it could be taken.

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