A History of Babylonia and Assyria, Book I: Prolegomena
Robert William Rogers author
THE sources for the history of the Babylonians and Assyrians may be grouped under four main heads: I. The monumental remains of the Assyrians and Babylonians themselves; II. The Egyptian hieroglyphic texts; III. The Old Testament; IV. The Greek and Latin writers. Of these four by far the most important in every particular are the monumental remains of the Babylonians and Assyrians. I. . . From the mounds that cover the ancient cities of Babylonia and Assyria there has come a vast store of tablets, which now number certainly not less than one hundred and sixty thousand in the various museums of the world. These tablets contain the literature of the two peoples, a literature as varied in form and content as it is vast in extent. In the end all of this literature may be considered as sources for history. Every business tablet is dated, and from these dates much may be learned for chronology, while even in the tab. lets themselves there is matter relating to the daily life of the people, all of which must ultimately be valuable in the reconstruction of the social history. So also are all religious texts, all omens and incantations, sources for the study of the history of religious development. But as we are here concerned chiefly with political history, the primary sources are the so-called royal inscriptions. These royal inscriptions begin very early in Babylonian history, and then chiefly as mere records of names and titles. These early kings caused their names and titles to be written in some way upon all their constructions. Even little statuettes and vases bear the royal mark, while the bricks used in the erection of large buildings were stamped with the king’s name and the names of the lands over which he ruled. Simple and uninteresting though these often are, they give the political relations of lands and, in connection with other materials, enable us to trace out the line of political development. This style of name and title writing continues down to the fall of the Babylonian empire. Alongside of it, however, there was early developed a narrative form of royal inscription, giving an account of the campaigns and conquests of the royal arms. These narrative inscriptions are of three kinds: 1. Annals; 2. Campaign inscriptions; 3. General votive inscriptions. In the annalistic inscriptions the deeds of the king are arranged in chronological order by years of reign. Of all the ancient sources these are by far the most important, for from them we learn the exact order of events, often a matter of first-rate importance. Besides these texts the kings have left many inscriptions in which the events are arranged in campaigns. While this second class is just as important as the first for the mere statement of events, it is, nevertheless, much less valuable to us. From the arrangement of campaigns it is sometimes difficult to ascertain the exact order of events in time, and hence the sequence of conquests or of defeats. The general or votive inscriptions begin usually with a most elaborate ascription of titles, and with all manner of boasting phrases concerning the king’s prowess. They then set forth the king’s conquests, arranged in groups, and usually after a geographical plan. The order often widely departs from a chronological one, and as some kings have left us only texts of this kind, it is impossible to understand the sequence of events during certain reigns. The royal inscriptions which describe battle, siege, and conquest are almost exclusively Assyrian. The inscriptions of Babylonian kings which have come down to us are almost without exception peaceful in tone and matter. They record little else than the erection of temples and palaces or the restoration of those which had fallen into partial or complete decay. For the order of events in their campaigns against other peoples as well as for the events themselves we must rely almost entirely upon non-native sources. In addition to these historical sources the Babylonians and Assyrians have left a great mass of chronological material to which we must give attention later (see Chapter XII). In respect of their value as sources of knowledge these monumental remains can only be said to be as valuable as the records of other ancient peoples. They bear for the most part the stamp of reasonableness. Often, indeed, do they contain palpable exaggerations of kingly prowess, of victories, and of conquests. They therefore require sifting and rigid criticism. But in most cases it is possible to learn from the issue of the events the relative importance of them, and so be able to check the measure of extravagance in the narrative. When subjected to the same tests and tried by the same canons of criticism the Assyrian and Babylonian monuments yield as just and true a picture of their national history as the sources of Greek and Roman history to which the world has been so long accustomed. The second source is of far less importance than the first, yet is at times exceedingly valuable. II. .. nbsp; . are of very slight importance as direct sources of knowledge concerning the political history of Babylonia and Assyria, but they contain many place and personal names useful in the elucidation of corresponding names in Assyrian texts. The third source, while more important than the second, is still not so valuable as the primary monumental source. III.
.. The gain of the Old Testament has been greater from Assyrian studies than the reverse, though the apologetic value of monumental testimony has often been greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that it was interest in the Old Testament which inspired most of the early explorers and excavators and some of the earlier decipherers and interpreters, and that from the historical notices in the Old Testament came not a few points for the outworking of details in the newly discovered inscriptions. The historical portions of the Old Testament which are still of importance as sources for Assyrian and Babylonian history are especially 2 Kings, while of even greater importance, in many instances, are the prophets Isaiah, Nahum, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. IV.
. . As sources the Greek and Latin writers once held first place, but are now reduced to a very insignificant position by the native monumental records. Never-the-less, they still retain some importance, and need constantly to be used to check and control the native writers as well as to assist in the ordering of their more detailed materials. First in importance among all the classical writers stands Berossos, or Berosos, for so the name is also transliterated into Greek. He was a Babylonian by origin, and a priest of the great god Bel. The date of his birth and of his death are equally unknown, but it is clear that he was living in the days of Alexander the Great (356323 B. C.),214 and continued to live at least as late as Antiochus I Soter (280-261 B. C.). He wrote a great work on Babylonian history, the title of which was probably Babyloniaca, though it is also referred to under the title of Chaldaica by Josephus and Clemens. It was dedicated to his patron, Antiochus I Soter. The Babyloniaca was divided into three parts, of which the first dealt with human history from the chaos to the flood, the second from the flood to Nabonassar, and the third from Nabonassar to Alexander. The first two consisted only of lists of kings without any proper historical narrative, while with the third began the real story of events. Both lists and narrative of Berossos could not fail to be of considerable moment to us, if we had them in even fairly well preserved form. Unhappily, however, the original work has perished, and all that remains are excerpts which have come to us after much copying and many transfers from hand to hand. The history of these fragments is a very curious example of book making in antiquity. In the Mithradatic war a certain Alexander of Miletus was taken prisoner and carried to Rome as the slave of Lentulus, from whom he received the name of Cornelius. In 82 B. C. he received the Roman citizenship and lived in Rome with some distinction as a man of letters. There he wrote an enormous number of books relating to ancient history, and on that account received the name of Polyhistor.215 The period of his greatest distinction and productivity was between 70 and 60 B. C. His historical works were simply excerpts from the writings of his predecessors, and in this manner he compiled a history of Assyria, the exact title of which is not now known. This history was made up of extracts from Berossos, Apollodoros, Chronica, and the third book of the Sibyllines, and was worked over into pseudo-Ionic Greek by Abydenos. It came also into the hands of Josephus and of Eusebius. Josephus was seeking especially those parts of the history which illustrated the history of the Jews, and naturally took from Alexander only those parts which were suitable for his purpose. In like manner, also, Eusebius copied only portions. By this process we have preserved in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, and in Eusebius, Chronica, small parts of the great work of Berossos, while the dynasties have come down to us from George the Synkellos. Wherever we can secure enough of Berossos to compare with the native monumental sources we find most remarkable agreement with them. From Berossos but little is to be learned of direct value, but the support which we gain from these fragmentary remains for the general course of the history is very great. As will later appear, chronological material of much complexity and difficulty is obtained from certain parts of these fragments. The next Greek writer who comes before us as a possible source is Ktesias. He was a contemporary of Xenophon, and was born of the family of the Asclepiadae at Cnidus. He wandered thence in B. C. 416 to the court of Persia and became body physician to King Artaxerxes Mnemon, whom he cured of a severe wound received in the battle of Cunaxa, B. C. 401. In 399 he returned to his native city, and in the ease thus achieved proceeded to work up into historical form the materials he had collected. He wrote in twentythree books a history . of Persia ( ) in the Ionic dialect. The first six books treated the history of Assyria, and the rest the history of Persia down to his own time, in which he claims to have used the royal annals of the Persian kings (
). His work was extensively used in the ancient world,and wherever quoted became at once the object of sharp controversy. He was accused of being untrustworthy and indifferent to truth, and the charges and the controversy continue until to-day. The severity of the judgments217 against him probably arise partly out of the acrimonious manner in which he attacked Herodotus, and partly out of the fact that he used Persian sources for his history. In the years of his Persian residence he had so completely absorbed the Persian point of view as to seem hardly just to the Greek conception of their history in its relations to the Persians. If we subject to modern criticism the fragments of his history that remain, our judgment must be that the first six books, relating to the early history of Assyria, are valueless. Whether this was due to the fact that he was unable himself to read the sources which he used, and was therefore obliged to rely upon the word of others to tell him the story found in them, or that he must be accused of actually inventing and setting forth as history an entertaining mass of empty fables, will probably never be decisively determined. The books them. selves have perished. Only fragments of them survive in the quotations by Diodorus and Eusebius and others, and in an epitome by Photius.218 For our purposes they scarcely come into the question at all. Last of all among the classical writers we come to Herodotus, the father of history. Of the value of his works as a source very diverse opinions have been and are still held. From him surely much was expected. Born in Halicarnassus, in Caria, B. C. 484, he had associations with the greatest men of his time, and apparently planned his history with skill and care. He desired to tell of the famous events in the struggle between the Greek and the barbarian, and of the causes which led to the Persian war. He traveled extensively in the East, and there is some reason to believe that these journeys were undertaken with a view to the gathering of materials for his history. Egypt he visited, but there is doubt whether he traversed the whole country from the Mediterranean to Elephantine. There is still more doubt concerning his travels beyond the confines of Egypt. He certainly attempts to leave the impression, even when he does not specifically so state, that he also visited Tyre, on the Syrian coast, that he penetrated to Babylon and thence to Nineveh, to Ecbatana, and perhaps even to Susa. Professor Sayce has attempted to prove, with much learning and great acuteness, that .he never visited Assyria and Babylonia,"219 and asserts that "he stands convicted of never having visited the district he undertakes to describe,"220 and concludes with the statement that "the long controversy which has raged over the credibility of Herodotus has thus been brought to an end by the discoveries of recent years."221 That Professor Sayce has proved upon Herodotus a host of in. accuracies, some travelers’ tales, and has effectually disposed of his claims to rank as an independent source of ancient history there can be no doubt. Yet that in this case, as in other similar modern judgments, there is an excess of skepticism is perhaps no less true. There is good reason for believing that Herodotus had really visited Babylon, for the topographical details which he gives bear frequently the stamp of an eyewitness.222 The main fact, however, remains that from Herodotus but little of historical value may be learned, save as every single fact is checked by the explicit statements of native monumental historians.223 After these there remain among classical writers few who deserve to be mentioned as sources. The chronological materials left by some of them, as, for example, the earlier parts of Berossos and the exceedingly valuable Canon of Ptolemy, will have to be estimated later (see Chapter XII). From a few other less-known writers, such as Kleitarchos, Arrian, Hieronymos of Kardia, and an unknown writer concerning Alexander the Great (Onesikritos), certain topographical details are learned.