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....

I. Letter of the court physician to the king reporting progress in the treatment of an injury to the eye of a young prince. [1]

"Arad-Nana to the king my Lord, thy servant Arad-Nana. Hearty greetings to the king, my Lord. May Ninib and Gula [2] grant happiness and health to the king my Lord !

"Hearty greetings to the little chap whose eye causes him trouble. I put a bandage [3] on his face. Yesterday, towards evening, I took off the bandage that had been applied, removing also the dressing below, and there was blood on the dressing as much as the point of the little finger. To which ever one of thy gods this is due, his command has surely been heeded.

"Hearty greetings. Let the king my Lord rest assured; in seven or eight days he will be well."

II. Letter of the same court physician to the king, replying to a complaint of the king that his physician has failed to cure him. [4]

"The king my Lord continues to declare 'the state of this sickness of mine thou dost not recognize, thou dost not bring about a cure. ' Now I confess that hitherto I did not understand this rheumatism, [5] but now I seal this letter to send it to the king my Lord. Let it be read to the king my Lord and properly understood. "When it reaches the king my Lord let a physician . . . carry out the accompanying directions. Let the king apply this liniment. [6]

If the king does this, this fever will soon leave the king my Lord. A second and a third time this liniment should be applied to the king my Lord. The king must see to this. If it please the king, let it be done in the morning. This disease is in the blood. Let them bring the king silbani, [7] as was twice done already, and let it be vigorously done. I shall come to inform myself, and as soon as the perspiration flows freely from the king, my Lord, I will send to the king, my Lord, something to apply to the king's neck. With a salve which I shall send the king let the king be rubbed at the appointed time."

III. Letter of Arad-Nana, the court physician, regarding a case of hemorrhages of the nose from which the king's son is suffering. [8]

"To the king my Lord, thy servant Arad-Nana. Hearty greetings to the king, my Lord. May Ninib and Qula grant the king, my Lord, happiness and health.

"Hearty greetings to the king's son. The treatment which we prescribe for him is to be given every two-thirds of a double hour during the day. [9] . . .

"In regard to the bleeding of the nose about which the Rab-Mugi [a high official] has reported to me that yesterday toward evening there was much bleeding, those dressings are not properly applied ; they have been placed upon the alae of the nose, obstructing the breathing, while at the same time the blood flows into the mouth. Let the nose be plugged up to the back so that air will be held off, and the bleeding will cease. If it please the king I will come to look at it to-morrow. Meanwhile may I hear good news."

Footnotes and references:


Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Letters, No. 392. For a general survey of Babylonian and Assyrian medicine, with copious extracts from medical texts, see Jastrow, Medicine of the Babylonians and Assyrians (Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1914, Vol. vii, Section of the History of Medicine, pages 109-176).


In these medical letters the gods invoked in the greeting, with which a letter invariably begins, are Ninib, the god of healing, and his consort Gula. In other letters the gods most commonly invoked are Marduk and Nabu (or in reversed order), though the moon-god, Sin, and his consort Nin-gal are sometimes substituted for Marduk and Nabu. Frequently, however, a longer list of deities is introduced in the greeting.


The word used is ta'alitu, literally "a covering".


 Harper, &., No. 391.


Literally "sickness of the muscles".


markhushu; evidently the wash or liniment was sent with the letter.


tilbanu is "dried liquorice root," but in this passage a liniment or a massage treatment appears to be intended.


Harper, ib., No. 108.


The Babylonians and Assyrians divided the full day into twelve double hours. As a survival of this method based on the sexagesimal system, we still have only twelve numerals on our watch dials and divide day and night each into twelve hours, instead of counting the hours of a full day consecutively from one to twentyfour, as indeed is now done in the time-tables of some European railways. Every two-thirds of a double hour would therefore be every eighty minutes. The following four lines are obscure.

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