There was much disposition to underrate ancient civilization, until the recent finds of Egypt, which prove the height of the splendor of the ages that ancient tradition and records spoke of as the Golden Ages of antiquity. Rawlinson speaking in his Ancient Monarchies, concerning the Babylonians said, “Though not possessed of many natural advantages, the Chaldean people exhibited a fertility of invention, a genius of energy which places them high in the scale of nations and most especially those descended from Hamitic stock.” Aristotle declares that be commencement is more than half the whole. Rawlinson continues, “The people who gave us our foundation in law, art and science are due more, than half the credit because they were the creators, we the promulgators. The human race lies under infinite obligation to the genius and industry of the early ages.” That international egotism sweeping the continents, that would arrogate to our times the credit for the sum total of progress will only urge us to swifter retrogression. Nothing will so redeem us a study of the civilization of other races. Let us examine Babylonian culture minutely and compare it with the culture of today.
It is certain that we must credit Babylonians with possessing recorded knowledge of the creation and remembrance of epochs in the antediluvian world. The archaic account of Berosus bears the stamp of being genuine in origin. It runs a singular parallel with the Bible narrative. They both describe the beginning of the world as being one of chaos. The Bible makes but little more than the mere statement but the account of Berosus goes into the details. In the Babylonian story, there was a sad mixture of animal forms as well as of land and atmosphere until divine wisdom incarnated in God brought order out of confusion. There were monstrous animals and reptiles as the rocks of geology reveal. Nature from age and experience does not today so cross the germs of life. The primitive nations went to infinite pains in sculpture to reproduce these diabolical forms. A woman deity, as appears in Revelations, seemed to have presided at the beginning. All the unearthed sculptured idols of the primitive ages were feminine. Ancient art again supporting tradition. All Cushite colonies sculptured many animal forms.
There were revolting and seemingly impossible monstrosities in Greek and Babylonian cosmogony. They were but primitive conceptions of chaos and cannot be ignored because they are incomprehensible to us, from their vast distance in time and our evolution from such conditions. The real meaning of these pagan mysteries have at times focused on the mental ability of an age, but most of them still remain incomprehensible mysteries. They are traditions about conditions more accurately related by the Bible. In no essential points do they differ? All men were destroyed because of wickedness. The survivors of the flood had been warned of God. An ark of immense proportions was prepared. Archaeology has proved that the men of this age understood shipbuilding. The Chaldean Noah entered the ark with his wife and children. Upon the recession of the waters, he sent out three birds three times. He built an altar and offered sacrifice.
The life of the Semitic and Hamitic races must have been closely associated after the deluge. So close is the apparent relationship, that some authorities have looked upon Abraham as Hamitic. Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees. But he descended by direct line front a Semitic father. His mother may have been Hamitic for Abraham was spoken of as a Chaldean. All down the line of the after years we find Hebrews taking wives out of the Ethiopian race. The Babylonian account of the deluge is older than the Biblical story. It does not take away from it but rather corroborates its truth. There is the same close relationship between the code of Hammurabi and the Mosaic law. Both were inspired by a common Creator. The Chaldean law was perhaps the Ethiopian remembrance of the best of the jurisprudence of the antediluvian world. Read the statutes of Hammurabi and you will be astounded at the likeness of these and the lesser laws of Israel. It was written long before the giving of the Mosaic law. The “Wisemen of the East,” seeking the young child prove that they held the wires of revelation. The hope of the coming of a Messiah was written upon Babylonian tablets more than 2000 B. C.
The Babylonians were planet worshippers. This form was distinctly Hamitic. Abraham was called out of Chaldea because they had descended to the worship of idols. In their religious literature are penitential hymns that compare favorably with the Hebrew psalms. Though the seven planets and the sun were adored yet in early Chaldea the unity of God was distinctly taught. The cuneiform tablets in the British museum address him as God-one. The famous Epic of Gilgamesh has been identified with the biblical Nimrod. The Seven Labors of Hercules were simply a Greek appropriation of the deeds of the Babylonian hero. The fragments of the tablets that tell the story of the creation and the deluge date back to 1900 B. C. and seem to be copies of still more ancient documents. With the later infusions from other races came the gross incantations and beliefs in evil spirits of later days. They sought to cope with them by magic. All the popular superstitions of the Middle Ages regarding demons, witchcraft, and magic came from Babylon and to great extent were the cause of her downfall.
The study of the future through the stars became a popular false science. They sought to fix man’s destiny through the good and evil influence of comets, planets, and eclipses. These beliefs had great influence upon later Greece and Rome. Those who seek to read their fate in the stars are following a Babylonian invention. Like the Etruscans, they were very skillful in foretelling the future. By human sacrifice, they sought to ward off evil and procure blessings for themselves. Africa is full of such superstitions. They divined from the flights of birds and were versed in the meaning of dreams and portents. Their philosophy passed down from father to son and constantly remained in the possession of one family. They believed that all that appears in heaven and earth is not the result of the accident or fatal necessity but is the result of the wisdom of God. They believed that twelve superior stars ruled over the affairs of a man’s life and that he would be influenced by the peculiar attributes of the star of the month that gave him birth. (Diodorus Siculus Bk. II, ch. 21.)
The astronomy of the early Chaldeans was without the astrological features of later times. It was built upon scientific principles. Diodorus Siculus said that the Chaldeans could attribute comets to their natural causes and could foretell their reappearance. Seneca estimated that their theory of comets was as exact and intelligent as that of moderns. Ideler of Berlin has shown that in their ancient calculations of the eclipse of the moon, quoted by Ptolemy, they differed from modern calculations only in minute degree. Observatories were set up in all the chief towns and royal astronomers sent regular reports to the king. In the British Museum are the fragments of a planisphere which marked the appearance of the sky at the vernal equinox. The astronomical discoveries of the Chaldeans must have required long ages of patient observation. Alexander the Great, when he took possession of Babylon 331. B. C. found a series of astronomical observations taken by the Chaldeans stretching for an unbroken period of 1903 years. These recorded observations dated from 2234 B. C. From this foundation of indefatigable labors we have built up the astronomical science of modern times.
The Chaldeans must have understood the manufacture of the telescope, for Layard reported the discovery of a lens of power in the ruins of Babylon. Nero the emperor of Rome had optical glasses from the east. The most important work of the Accadians or the early Babylonians was the invention and perfection of the calendar, which with trifling changes we use today. At this early day, they had numbered and had also named the stars. The equator was divided into three hundred and sixty degrees. 2200 B. C. they had named the twelve months of thirty days each after the zodiacal signs. 2234 B. C. they had discovered the solar circuit. Their standard work on astronomy was in seventy-two books and was called the illumination of Bel and is now preserved in the British Museum. The duo-decimal system was invented by the Babylonians. A tablet from the library at Larsa gives a table of squares and cubes correctly calculated from one to sixty. A series of geometrical figures used for augural purposes implies a Babylonian Euclid. They were the inventors of the dial for measuring time. All the peoples of antiquity derived their systems of weights, measures, and capacities from them. Those mathematical tables stand unchanged in our textbooks today, still used by our boasted civilization.
Myers says that aside from letters, the tables of weights, measures, and capacity are the most indispensable agents in the life of a people. All the transactions of commercial life are dependent upon them. This race from its parent stock gave writing to the world. At a very early period, the art was extensively practiced. In the early inscriptions, there is no evidence of the wedge writing of the cuneiform inscriptions. The wedge shape was caused by the later use of the stylus to form the letters and, the soft clay, which in drying produced the wedge shape. Semites borrowed this Sumerian system of writing. After the Semitic conquest, it continued the sacred ritual language of the Babylonian temples until the time of Alexander the Great. The modern man but little realizes how much the ancients contributed to our modes of thought, to our comforts and the accurate transaction of our business. At the dawn of history, this ingenious people was in full possession of the principles of the wheel. When the Chaldeans first appear they were driving horses hitched to vehicles. Our method and the style of the wheel are identical. There is so much in modern life that we are sure is our own invention, that has been appropriated out of that old life. Solomon truly said that there is no new thing under the sun.
Babylon was the seat of the costliest manufactures of the ancient world. Modern nations have developed more complicated machinery but the products that we weave are inferior. We are unable to produce linen as fine in texture as that wound around the mummies in the tombs of Egypt. The oldest Babylonian gems furnish us with pictures of richly embroidered dresses. She excelled all others in the manufacture of durable dyed and variegated goods. The carpets of Babylon were prized above those of every nation. Because of their greater elegance, such products from the Orient are more costly than ours today. Their dyes were imperishable, the designs were artistic and beautiful, here also cotton goods were produced of the finest quality. Many of the carvings were so minute as to suggest the use of magnifying glasses, and modern ingenuity is taxed to know how their gem cutting was done. The minuteness of some of their engravings seems impossible. They were inventors of the art of inlaying metals. Modern artists learned from them the method of covering iron with bronze. Goldsmiths’ work had attained a high perfection at a very early period. The elegance of their engravings excites the envy of the modern lapidary. The beauty of their furniture was worthy of imitation.
The ancient Babylonians were a legal-minded people. Law was highly developed. The mother occupied a prominent place in the community in early times. The Code of Hammurabi was in force 2250 B. C. It shows a high sense of justice. It embodied the needs of a settled community whose chief occupations were agriculture and commerce. Gibbon tells us that the rights of persons and of property were clearly set forth and carefully guarded. Crimes were severely punished. Marriage and family were the subjects of wise provisions. Inheritance was regulated and the interests of widow and orphans duly protected. Commerce was highly developed and Babylonian merchants had extensive connections with other lands. Judges were forbidden to accept bribes and prisons were to be found in every town. A son was fined who denied his father and banished if he disowned his mother. In contrast do not such wise provisions tower high beside tardy legislation of today? The expedition of the University of Pennsylvania unearthed documents at Thebes, which prove that Mesopotamian cities five thousand years ago had systems of municipal government similar in fundamental principles to those of modern cities. They had a postal system with a parcel post branch and a banking system with a reserve bank not unlike what we have today.
Babylonian bankers loaned money at the high rate, the persons and families of the borrowers being the security. They were sold as slaves if the payment was not made. This was their method of settling the debtor, which question of the dishonest debtor we have not yet settled. Not violence but the order was the rule. In those days public and private crooks were given but the brief trial; if guilty they were summarily dumped into the river. All deeds were drawn with that carefulness that denotes a wide-spread understanding of the law. They were duly witnessed, sealed and registered in the principal temple. Some of the taxes were paid to support public brick-yards and roads. No family was complete without children. Bachelors were in ill repute. It was common to adopt sons by law. Among the tablets unearthed were religious texts, tax lists, real estate contracts. Houses were let on lease and the deeds contained a careful inventory of their contents. These revelations set us wondering as to the manifold forms and usages of modern life that are not original as we have thought but that have passed down to us from the hoary Babylonians. Out of the ruined temples we have unearthed images of divinities, terracotta toys, weapons, and instruments of stone and metals, ornaments of gold, silver, copper, bronze and precious stones, proving these people to have been far advanced in the arts of civilization.
Agriculture occupied a prominent place. The canals were of special importance and their management was superintended by the state. The country was covered by gardens. This people were skilled in pottery of unusual beauty and finish. Some of the dead were buried under huge inverted dishes and in large earthenware jars. They were skilled in terracotta works. The images of King Gudea are quite astonishing when we consider their antiquity. We may be sure the best specimens have not come to us when we remember the vandal destruction of the art of the past. Some of their potteries were rude like those of Mexico and Peru. Others excelled the beauty of Greek vases. As other Cushite nations, they sculptured the forms of animals. In Assyria, no tombs appear, but the tombs of Chaldea are so plentiful the large spaces are literally filled with bones and rely upon the dead. Sometimes the coffins were piled one upon another to the depth of from thirty to sixty feet, and for miles out into the desert, the very soil underfoot seems to be nothing but the accumulated dust of dead races.
We must conclude that the early Babylonians were skilled mechanics and engineers. They understood the use of the pulley, the lever, and the roller. Explorers found on the site of Babylon the remains of hydraulic machinery used for watering the hanging gardens. They were in possession of the microscope and telescope. Babylonian tablets contained zoological, botanical and geological writings in scientific classification. The capital had great libraries with the books grouped by subject and cataloged. The deftness and regularity with which the cuneiform inscriptions were made are the amazement of modern scholars. The old Sumerian texts were accompanied by interlinear translations sometimes arranged in parallel lines. Great attention was paid to the ancient Sumerian speech by the Babylonian priestly scholars, as proved by a large number of texts of that kind that have been found. The tablets were hardened by a process which rendered them practically imperishable.
This race had taught writing and had established the institutions of the city, home, and state when other races were wandering barbarians. They gave the constellations of the heavens the names of the old kings of the ancient Cushite empire of Ethiopians and we in adopting them have not realized that the ancestors of the despised Ethiopians among us reached that height inability to dare to name the stars. As the language of Babylonia changed there was a corresponding intermixture of blood with alien races. The habits and nature of the people changed. Amidst the luxuries and wealth that came from her conquests and commerce, the people became effeminate and voluptuous. Curtiss said that at the last nothing could be more corrupt than their morals. Money dissolved every tie whether of kindred or esteem. They became immoderate in their use of wine. The women at the last threw away all sense of decency. On the grounds of this awful wickedness, Babylon was threatened with destruction at the hands of the prophets. The prophecy was fulfilled. “Babylon is fallen, that great city, because she made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The earlier Cushite life had been pure.
539 B. C. Babylon was invaded by the Persians. From behind the massive walls they were regarded with derision. Nabonadius in his profound contempt risked a battle in which his troops were defeated. The larger portion of the army retreated into the city but the by and the remainder sought to divide the forces of the enemy. In Babylon, there was little fear for they considered their city impregnable. For a season the forces of Cyrus beat against the city in vain. Leaving a portion of his army to engage the attention of the Babylonians, Cyrus departed from the city and going back up the course of the river he sought means to divert its channel. He cut canals for this purpose. He waited for the great pagan feast when the young prince and the court would give themselves up to a night of dissipation. A thousand nobles had been invited to the banquet at the palace. At a given signal, when the revelry was at its height, the sluices were opened by the Persians into their canals and the river began to fall. Land enough appeared for the Persians to make the passage along the edge of the channel. The river gates were seized and opened and the massacre began. Cyrus only dismantled the walls. 500 B. C. upon a revolt, Darius threw down the walls and expelled them from their homes. In the time of Strabo and Diodorus Siculus, the place lay in ruins.
Recent investigations of Oxford University at Kish in Mesopotamia reveal that the Sumerians were black people and the founders of the earliest civilization in the world. The value and variety of the unearthed artworks have exceeded all expectation and reveal also that they were artisans possessing skill and knowledge unprecedented among other ancients. The report from the Field Museum says, “Jewels of exquisite ancient workmanship, finely engraved cylinder seals of inestimable historical value, glazed pottery of unique and rare design and artistic inlay work of silver and lapis lazuli are included in these discoveries according to D. C. Davies, director of the museum, and Professor S. Langdon, Assyriologist, who is heading the expedition. Most of the articles, all from 5000 to 7000 years old and of pre-Babylonian times, were found in a necropolis on the eastern side of the city and comprise personal property placed in the tombs and graves of the dead.
The various stages of craftsmanship in cruder designs disclose that the Sumerians, a non-Semitic race, in addition to organizing the art of writing also developed metallurgy, glazing, glass making, and various other arts. Excavations of the tombs and graves, which consist of brick lined chambers of uneven depth large enough to accommodate the body and the personal belongings is proceeding slowly owing to the fact that many objects once uncovered, crumble before they can be removed. The burial places and buildings are now completely covered with sand and soil and have the appearance of mounds linked together. Hairpins with ornamental heads of precious stones and worked metal were found in nearly all of the fifty or more graves already opened. Slender daggers of copper and silver, with handles, of wood or bone inlaid with silver, were found in others. Silver medallions, engraved to represent the rising sun, silver fillets for elaborate coiffures, various sorts of delicately engraved cylindrical seals of silver, glass, copper, and stone used in legal transactions, clay and metal pottery and urns, battle axes of metal and stone and various kinds of precious stones have been removed.
“One unusual type of pottery was figured and possessed handles molded to depict the bust of Nintud, the Sumerian mother goddess of childbirth. Of the metal implements and ornaments uncovered, the copper because of its purity was in the best state of preservation, the other metals were corroded by the salts of the soil. Spindles and wheels, exemplifying the art of spinning wool were found in the tombs of several women. The whorls especially were artistically made of a porous white substance or shells and inlaid with lapis lazuli. Pills, finger rings, bracelets and other personal ornaments of copper and silver were also mounted with carnelian, hematite, jasper, rock crystal and calcite. A gorgeous white pin setting that resembled a pearl, dissolved before the eyes of the excavators as the air came in contact with it. Despite the large variety of rare jewelry excavated, no gold was found in the tombs. The care and skill with which the silver was worked indicated it was probably the most precious metal of that day. The golden era of Kish in the later Babylonian period was, however, exemplified in the discovery of a solid gold earring, in the form of an opening pomegranate bud, an unparalleled work of art in a clay coffin of the fifth century B. C.