A History of Babylonia and Assyria, Book III: The History of Chaldean Empire
Robert William Rogers author
THE REIGN OF NABOPOLASSAR
WHEN Asshurbanapal died, in 626, he left, as we have already seen, an empire sadly weakened and far departed from its ancient glory. He had, in. deed, held together the main body of it, but the outer provinces had mostly fallen away. He had left in the world many enemies of Assyria and sadly few friends. He had held Babylonia to the empire after displaying such fierceness in the punishment of its rebels as made them unable to rise again during his lifetime. Up to his death he reigned as king in Assyria under the name of Asshurbanapal, and in Babylon as Kandalanu.380 The hour of his death was the signal for the preparation of a new revolt in Babylonia. This was inevitable. The Babylonians had hated Assyrian rule since the conciliatory policy of Esarhaddon had ceased, and were ready for any attempt which might promise to restore to them the prestige they once possessed and to their city the primacy of the world. To achieve such marvels of history there was no further strength in themselves. We have seen long since the decay of the real Babylonian people, who had early ceased to be Semites of pure blood. But the very intermixing of other fresh blood had kept them alive as an entity, though it had almost entirely destroyed their identity. The reinforcement of life which came to them from the Kassites had kept awake in them a national separateness, when without it they would almost certainly have been swallowed up and lost, as other peoples had been before them. They were, however, steadily decaying and diminishing, and could only be kept further alive by a new influx of fresh blood from some source. The Assyrian kings had repeatedly settled colonists in various parts of Babylonia, from the days of Tiglathpileser III onward. These lost their national identity and became Babylonians to all intents and purposes. It is a striking evidence that the Babylonians still possessed a certain distinctive influence, that they were able to absorb alien elements in this manner. Even with the accession of strength which came from these colonizations the Babylonian people would not have possessed enough vitality to make any insurrection against Assyria. They might join in one, but the motive force must be supplied by a nation which had in it fresher life and greater vitality. A people possessing the necessary force was at hand, and the insurrection would soon and speedily become a revolution. When Asshur-etil-ili-u.kinni was crowned king of Assyria he could also claim to be king of Babylon, for the hour of open rebellion was not yet come.381 As we have seen, the Assyrians continued during his entire reign to hold a considerable portion of Babylonia, and even so late as the seventh year of his successor, Sin-shar-ishkun,382 they still retained much. The city of Babylon was apparently lost in the very beginning, and Nabopolassar gradually gained in power and influence through a successful revolution. It was spontaneous, but had been slowly maturing for years. The Babylonian people did not profit by it as a people, but were, on the contrary, engulfed in it and practically disappeared from history. They were able to push forward again, and even supplied later a king to the empire which resulted from the revolution. The old influence in the world, however, never returned, and they were soon absorbed into a later population and are heard of no more. That another people should be able first to gain leadership over the Babylonians, who had founded a mighty empire and had stood with the Egyptians as the leading nations of civilization, and then to overwhelm them and take their place in the world’s history, is indeed an event of moment. We shall need to give heed to the people who could accomplish a feat so great. They must belong to the world’s greatest races, and behind them must have been a period during which they had been prepared for their momentous destiny. The people who wrought this revolution were the Chaldeans, whom we have already met as bitter enemies of the Assyrians. They were not less enemies of the Babylonians, as we have also seen, and a union of feeling between Babylonia and Assyria was brought about in the time of Merodach-baladan, when the Babylonians looked upon the Assyrians as their natural defenders against these unwelcome invaders. The Assyrians had, however, done no more than drive them southward or hold them in check. They had not driven them from the country entirely, but left them to become slowly attached to the soil, and a genuine portion of the population. The origin of the Chaldeans is obscure, but some facts concerning them may be considered as fairly well known. They invaded Babylonia from the south, coming from the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf. Whence they had come into the Sea Lands at that point is nearly as well known by a process of elimination. They could not have come from Elam, and they must therefore be settlers from Arabia. From what part of that old home land of Semites they had come is not known. It is, however, clear that they were Semites. They bore Semitic names, as far as any of their names are known to us, and they readily adapted themselves to Semitic customs, whether of religion, government, or social life. Their appearance in Babylonia was at an early date, and they bad gradually spread in scattered communities over a considerable portion of the country, both north and south. In this they form a close parallel to the Aramaeans, who belonged, indeed, to the same general wave of migration as themselves, and had early proved dangerous neighbors to the Assyrians. The chief stronghold of the Chaldeans was the territory known as the Sea Lands. This country was somewhat larger than the alluvial lands about the mouths of the rivers, as it apparently included a strip of territory of unknown extent along the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf. It had a government and a history of its own, running back through the centuries, of which, however, only fragments are known to us. That part of its history which is known is little more than a story of a half nomad, half-agricultural and pastoral people who kept up a running fire of efforts to possess themselves of the rich lands and wealthy cities of their more fortunate Babylonian neighbors. The other Chaldean communities have left even less mark of their individuality upon history. They formed, indeed, principalities, which the boastfulness of Assyrian kings has elevated into large kingdoms and endowed with great armies, and with forces which could only be overcome by the might of the great god Asshur. Like their more numerous fellows in the Sea Lands, these also were anxious chiefly to find a leader who could give into their hands the possessions of the Babylonians. Any prince of one of these small states or communities who could win battles over the native Babylonians was sure of a following of Chaldeans generally, and not merely of the men of his own community. This was the surest way of coming out of the limitations of a petty princedom in Bit-Yakin, or in the Sea Lands, and of becoming the king of Kaldi Land. A man who could gain the title of king of Babylon or of king of Sumer and Accad would stand so much above his fellow-princes among the Chaldeans that he might well be called by the lesser title of king of Kaldi. This fact goes far to explain the constant attempts of Chaldean princes upon Babylon. They were not moved by a sentimental appreciation of the glories of Babylon and its ancient royal titles, as were Tiglathpileser III and Sargon. They thirsted for power over the Babylonians because it brought wealth and ease, and with these headship among their own Chaldean peoples. This leadership among the Chaldeans had, however, more than once wrecked their hopes, when by con. tact with Babylonians they had learned more of the beauty and dignity of Babylonian civilization and come to recognize in the title an expression not so much of wealth as of honor, a headship in civilization. From such ideas they were dragged down by the Chaldean population, who thirsted after the wealth and demanded that they should receive the well-cultivated lands and the city property. These demands had been measurably granted by Merodach-baladan, and as a direct consequence of this compliance his new rule was promptly shattered by the Assyrians, and Chaldean supremacy was postponed. As we have already said, however, the Chaldeans had not disappeared during the period of the Assyrian supremacy over Babylonia. They existed in great numbers in Babylonia, and were only awaiting the day when they should be able to produce the man strong enough to seize or to create a favorable opportunity, as Merodachbaladan had done, by which they might again rule. Of the Chaldean communities which had not been absorbed by the Babylonians the kingdom or principality of the Sea Lands was at this time still the largest and strongest. North of it were a number of Chaldean tribes, among which Bit-Silani, Bit-Sa’alli, and Bit-Sala had long been the most prominent, for their names find mention in the inscriptions of Tiglathpileser III. Indeed, were it not for his records and the Annals of the later Assyrian kings, we should know even less than we do of the Chaldeans. The Babylonian inscriptions, devoted to temples, palaces, and canals, ignore their very existence, and when they came to dominion themselves they acted in all things as Babylonians. Above these tribes going northward were the communities of Bit-Amukkani, out of which came Ukin-zer, and of Bit-Adini, which lay just south of the city of Babylon. Even here the line of Chaldean communities did not cease, for the tribe of the Bit-Dakkuri was established north of the great capital city. These Chaldean communities, though they were Semites, were, nevertheless, alien communities. They did not, as a rule, intermingle readily with the Babylonians, or they would all long since have been absorbed. Though settled in a land which had been tilled for many centuries, they still remained half nomads. The land was not overpopulated, and if they had desired to settle down as quiet and peaceable agriculturists, there would have been plenty of room for them. They did not accept this opportunity, but over and over again had been disturbers of the peace, eager to gain the complete control, and desirous not of making a destiny for themselves, but wishing to rob the Babylonians of that which the industry of ages had accumulated by slow and painful steps. In the attainment of this purpose they had been defeated before by the Assyrians. There was now a larger hope, for Assyrian vitality was gone and the whole vast empire was falling to pieces. As has already been said, Babylonian vitality was also at the lowest ebb, and could offer no effectual resistance to any sharp blow delivered by a strong arm. But, though the Chaldeans must have known of the evident decay of Assyria, they were too wily to rise again in rebellion at an inopportune time. They could not be sure that Asshurbanapal did not possess resources which might be directed against them with crushing force, and they well knew that no movement of his was tempered with mercy. When Asshurbanapal died the time had come to make a fresh attempt for Chaldean independence of Assyria and Chaldean dominance over Babylonia. Immediately after the death of Asshurbanapal we find Nabopolassar (Nabu-aplu-usur) king of Babylon. We do not know what his origin was. It has been supposed that he might be a son of Kandalanu; and this supposition would explain the readiness and quickness with which he secured the throne. There is, however, not a shadow of evidence for the view. If it were the case, it would certainly seem natural for him to have spoken of his royal origin in one or the other of the few inscriptions383 which have come down to us. On the other hand, it is not possible to prove that he was either of pure Babylonian or of Chaldean origin. The kingdom which he founded was, however, plainly Chaldean. The king’s supporters were Chaldeans, and as the years went on the Babylonian influence quite gave way to Chaldean, so that the Babylonians may be considered as also losing their historic identity when Nineveh fell. The change of rulers from Asshurbanapal to Nabopolassar was momentous in consequences. With that change the headship of Assyria over the Semitic peoples of Asia came to an end forever, and leadership among them passed to the Chaldeans, whose Semitic blood was probably almost, if not quite, as pure as that of the Assyrians. They had apparently not suffered so great an intermixture with other peoples as had the Babylonians. With this change of rulers there was founded not merely a new dynasty, but also a new kingdom. It is indeed possible to consider this new monarchy as a reestablishment of the old Babylonian empire, but it is more in accordance with the facts to look on it as a new Chaldean empire succeeding to the wealth and position of the ancient Babylonian empire. As the monarchy which he founded was so plainly Chaldean, it lies near to the other facts to consider Nabopolassar himself a Chaldean. This view is not inconsistent with the fragmentary and unsatisfactory allusions of Abydenus, who represents Nabopolassar as a general in the army of Sarakos384 (Sin-shar-ishkun), which is probably only a form of saying that Nabopolassar was as king of Babylon subject to the suzerainty of Assyria-the Babylonian king hence occupying a place subordinate to the Assyrian. In this account of Abydefus, which may perhaps rest on some good Babylonian source, we have a probable hint as to the manner in which the new empire was founded. Nabopolassar gained the throne with Chaldean assistance, and at first was willing to hold his rule under the nominal overlordship of Assyria. This he might do while still nourishing the hope that he might speedily be able to cast off altogether the suzerainty of Assyria. We have, however, no Chaldean or Babylonian documents which give any account of the foundation of the new kingdom, though in one text Nabopolassar calls himself the "one who laid the foundation of the land." We have only three historical inscriptions of the reign of Nabopolassar, and these, after the manner of Babylonian inscriptions almost from the very beginning, are devoted only to the works of peace--to building and repairing. In the first of the inscriptions385 he describes in the usual way the rebuilding of a great Marduk temple in Babylon, which was in a ruinous condition. In this inscription he does not call himself king of Babylon, but as though he would not yet claim to be wholly free from Assyrian influence, nor be above the holding of a title more or less subordinate, though he does call himself king of Sumer and Accad. In the second386 of three inscriptions he adopts the title of king of Babylon, and we are therefore safe in the supposition that this text belongs to a somewhat later period, when all semblance of dependence upon Assyria had been thrown off and Nabopolassar was king indeed in his own right and by sufferance of his people. In this inscription he records the construction of a canal at Sippar. The Euphrates had made a new course away from the city, and the king now built a canal by which the water was again to be brought to the city walls. In this construction of a canal Nabopolassar was following the ancient precedents of Babylonian kings from the days of Hammurabi onward. In the third of these inscriptions387 he is called both king of Babylon and king of Sumer and Accad, and in it he gives an account of the rebuilding of a temple of Belit at Sippar. The reign of Nabopolassar was not so peaceful as these fragments might seem to indicate. He was not so absorbed in the building of temples and canals during the whole of his reign. He had indeed a delicate and difficult game of politics to play, in order that he should not be wheedled out of his gains by the quick-witted Assyrians, nor unseated from the tottering throne by a crafty prince of some Chaldean tribe. He had also to fight a severe fight against Egypt in order to save the borders of his empire. Egypt had now again become one of the world’s chief powers. The methods pursued by Psammetichus I by which he had carried Egypt to a position almost as lofty as that occupied in the glorious days of Thutmosis III and Rameses II were carried still further by his son and successor, Necho II. But a short time had elapsed since Egypt was governed by Assyrians, but now the Egyptians began to hope to participate in the division of Assyrian plunder which must soon come. In 609 it was already plain to Necho that Assyria could endure but a short time. We must often remind ourselves that the flight of news from kingdom to kingdom or from land to land was exceedingly rapid in the ancient Orient. Kingdoms were not separated by miles of territory over which no sound was heard, and across which no rumor came flying on the wings of the wind. Necho knew of the sorry plight of the last Assyrian king. This was surely his opportunity to regain not merely all Palestine and Assyria, but even perhaps the great plains to the Euphrates which had once been Hittite, In 609, or perhaps in 608, he left Egypt, with an army, determined to press on to Assyria to participate in the first distribution of booty, confident that on his return he could readily reduce to subjection any Syrian or Palestinian prince who might think it safe to rebel against possible Egyptian tyranny, when relieved of the long-time oppression of Assyria. Necho marched by land, and the city of Gaza, which was first approached, offered some resistance. It was, however, speedily taken, and Necho went on. No further opposition was made to his advance until he turned from the coast into the plain of Esdraelon. Nineveh had not yet fallen, but it was long since the great city had disturbed the west. The Syro-Phoenician cities were, and had been, practically independent. They were, however, too dispirited to offer battle to any new conqueror who appeared, hoping to suffer less through oppression when they blindly yielded than they would through a hopeless resistance. Alone had the kingdom of Judah the courage to dare a resistance. Judah bad enjoyed the period of peaceful independence too much to think of falling lightly into a new condition of servitude. Josiah was king, and in him an intense national spirit ruled. He had severed the ties which bound Judah to neighboring nations in their religion, and his proclamation of Deuteronomy had widened the breach. He would dare to attack Necho if no others had the courage.388 We do not know exactly his course from Jerusalem, but the place of the battle would seem to indicate that he intended to attack the flank or rear of Necho’s army, which was moving northward and bad passed by Judah. The two armies met at Megiddo, a place glorious in the annals of Egypt, for there, nearly a thousand years before, Thutmosis III bad conquered the combined forces of the Syro-Phoenician states. Necho was victorious, and Josiah fell upon the field.389 The army of Judah returned in terror to Jerusalem, and made Jehoahaz, younger son of Josiah, king, apparently passing over the elder son, Eliakim, because he was disposed to submit to Necho. After the battle of Megiddo, Necho went on northward, meeting with no further opposition, and halted at Riblah, in Coele-Syria. Here he thought over the appointment of Jehoahaz as king of Judah, and was dissatisfied with the choice. He now considered himself the real master of Judah, after the victory at Megiddo, and ordered Jehoahaz to come to Riblab, where he was cast into chains, while his brother Eliakim was made king in his stead, under the name Jehoiakim. Upon Judah was laid a fine of one talent of gold and one hundred talents of silver,, which Jehoiakim managed to pay. Jehoabaz was taken to Egypt, where he soon afterward died. Necho II was now absolute master of all the Syro- Phoenician states and of the erstwhile provinces of Assyria as far as the Euphrates. While Necho II was stripping from Assyria the western provinces, and Nabopolassar was adding to his new empire the portion of northern Babylonia which Sin-shar-ishkun had previously held, the Manda took the city of Nineveh.390 In one mighty crash the great empire fell in fragments, and for a time Nabopolassar was busy in securing complete control of the Babylonian and Mesopotamian territory which had fallen into his hands. Necho II, assured of the possession of Palestine and Syria, had returned to Egypt with the captive Jehoahaz. He determined, however, to again go to the north and east to see if he could extend his borders beyond the Euphrates into the northern parts of Mesopotamia, which had now fallen to Nabopolassar. From Egypt he led out an immense army, greater than any put in the field for a long time. Besides the native troops he had bodies of Libyans, Ethiopians, and other allies. He reached Carchemish, on the Euphrates, without opposition, and was probably about to cross the river when he was met by a Chaldean army. Nabopolassar was in failing health, and unable to leave his capital, but aware of the danger which confronted his empire, had despatched his son, Nebuchadrezzar, with a large army. Nebuchadrezzar gave battle at Carchemish, and won a crushing victory.391 The Egyptians fled in confusion, and did not dare to make a stand until they had reached Egypt. Nebuchadrezzar pursued, and not one of the Syro-Phoenician states raised an arm against him. He did not cross the territory of Judah, but passed round by the seacoast and reached Pelusium unopposed. Jerusalem was in terror lest he should attack it, and all Egypt was in an agony of fear. The slaughter of Carchemish had undone Necho, and there was no heart in Egypt to face Nebuchadrezzar in battle. In those hours the fate of Egypt wavered in the balance. If Nebuchadrezzar went on over the Egyptian border, there was every probability that Egypt would be as easily overrun as it had been by Esarhaddon. He bad won Syria and Palestine for the new Chaldean empire after but a very short Egyptian regime. If he could now win Egypt, the Chaldean empire would have become in twenty years of history the world’s chief power. At this juncture he was suddenly apprised of the death at Babylon of his father, Nabopolassar. He was compelled to drop all designs on Egypt and return with speed to his capital, to receive the government. No man could prophesy what might happen in the transfer of the crown in times so troublous. An outbreak of rebellion might easily occur, and another seize the throne before the rightful heir could appear. The reign of Nabopolassar had been important in its achievements. He had wrought much for the wealth and advantage of his land by canals and by great buildings. He had been successful in diplomacy, for his winning of the Manda to his aid had not been attended by any unfortunate results. He had in war, both in his own person and in the victories of his son, reached a wonderful success, by which in twenty years he had built an empire of colossal proportions around the small territory which he had alone possessed in the beginning. It may easily be said that the greatness of this work is diminished by the undoubted fact that the time for it was ripe. Assyria was weak at just the moment when Nabopolassar was ready to begin empire building. Had he become king of Babylon a little earlier, he would not so readily have made an empire; of this there can be no doubt. But while the opportunity was at hand, there was no less a signal display of ability in its seizing. The name of Nabopolassar must be added to the list of the greatest kings who had ruled in Babylonia. The new Chaldean empire had begun well. If now he were able to hand over to a son or heir the power which he had seized so suddenly, there was hope for a brilliant future. The son was ready, a son as great as his father in plan, and even greater in action.