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The Ancient East

D. G. Hogarth


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The Ancient East covers the history of Babylonia and the surrounding areas from 1000 B.C. to 400 B.C. It also has a chapter on the victory of the West, which includes Alexander's conquest of the East. Simple and readable, no footnotes, written in clear language, it goes into considerable detail for such a short book.

This book has 116 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1914.

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Excerpt from 'The Ancient East'

In 1000 B.C. West Asia was a mosaic of small states and contained, so far as we know, no imperial power holding wide dominion over aliens. Seldom in its history could it so be described. Since it became predominantly Semitic, over a thousand years before our survey, it had fallen under simultaneous or successive dominations, exercised from at least three regions within itself and from one without.

SECTION 1. BABYLONIAN EMPIRE

The earliest of these centres of power to develop foreign empire was also that destined, after many vicissitudes, to hold it latest, because it was the best endowed by nature to repair the waste which empire entails. This was the region which would be known later as Babylonia from the name of the city which in historic times dominated it, but, as we now know, was neither an early seat of power nor the parent of its distinctive local civilization. This honour, if due to any one city, should be credited to Ur, whose also was the first and the only truly "Babylonian" empire. The primacy of Babylonia had not been the work of its aboriginal Sumerian population, the authors of what was highest in the local culture, but of Semitic intruders from a comparatively barbarous region; nor again, had it been the work of the earliest of these intruders (if we follow those who now deny that the dominion of Sargon of Akkad and his son Naram-sin ever extended beyond the lower basins of the Twin Rivers), but of peoples who entered with a second series of Semitic waves. These surged out of Arabia, eternal motherland of vigorous migrants, in the middle centuries of the third millennium B.C. While this migration swamped South Syria with "Canaanites," it ultimately gave to Egypt the Hyksos or "Shepherd Kings," to Assyria its permanent Semitic population, and to Sumer and Akkad what later chroniclers called the First Babylonian Dynasty. Since, however, those Semitic interlopers had no civilization of their own comparable with either the contemporary Egyptian or the Sumerian (long ago adopted by earlier Semitic immigrants), they inevitably and quickly assimilated both these civilizations as they settled down.

At the same time they did not lose, at least not in Mesopotamia, which was already half Semitized, certain Bedawi ideas and instincts, which would profoundly affect their later history. Of these the most important historically was a religious idea which, for want of a better term, may be called Super-Monotheism. Often found rooted in wandering peoples and apt long to survive their nomadic phase, it consists in a belief that, however many tribal and local gods there may be, one paramount deity exists who is not only singular and indivisible but dwells in one spot, alone on earth. His dwelling may be changed by a movement of his people en masse, but by nothing less; and he can have no real rival in supreme power. The fact that the paramount Father-God of the Semites came through that migration en masse to take up his residence in Babylon and in no other city of the wide lands newly occupied, caused this city to retain for many centuries, despite social and political changes, a predominant position not unlike that to be held by Holy Rome from the Dark Ages to modern times.

Secondly the Arabs brought with them their immemorial instinct of restlessness. This habit also is apt to persist in a settled society, finding satisfaction in annual recourse to tent or hut life and in annual predatory excursions. The custom of the razzia or summer raid, which is still obligatory in Arabia on all men of vigour and spirit, was held in equal honour by the ancient Semitic world. Undertaken as a matter of course, whether on provocation or not, it was the origin and constant spring of those annual marches to the frontiers, of which royal Assyrian monuments vaingloriously tell us, to the exclusion of almost all other information. Chederlaomer, Amraphel and the other three kings were fulfilling their annual obligation in the Jordan valley when Hebrew tradition believed that they met with Abraham; and if, as seems agreed, Amraphel was Hammurabi himself, that tradition proves the custom of the razzia well established under the First Babylonian Dynasty.

Moreover, the fact that these annual campaigns of Babylonian and Assyrian kings were simply Bedawi razzias highly organized and on a great scale should be borne in mind when we speak of Semitic "empires," lest we think too territorially. No permanent organization of territorial dominion in foreign parts was established by Semitic rulers till late in Assyrian history. The earlier Semitic overlords, that is, all who preceded Ashurnatsirpal of Assyria, went a-raiding to plunder, assault, destroy, or receive submissive payments, and their ends achieved, returned, without imposing permanent garrisons of their own followers, permanent viceroys, or even a permanent tributary burden, to hinder the stricken foe from returning to his own way till his turn should come to be raided again. The imperial blackmailer had possibly left a record of his presence and prowess on alien rocks, to be defaced at peril when his back was turned; but for the rest only a sinister memory. Early Babylonian and Early Assyrian "empire," therefore, meant, territorially, no more than a geographical area throughout which an emperor could, and did, raid without encountering effective opposition.

Nevertheless, such constant raiding on a great scale was bound to produce some of the fruits of empire, and by its fruits, not its records, we know most surely how far Babylonian Empire had made itself felt. The best witnesses to its far-reaching influence are first, the Babylonian element in the Hittite art of distant Asia Minor, which shows from the very first (so far as we know it, i.e. from at least 1500 B.C.) that native artists were hardly able to realize any native ideas without help from Semitic models; and secondly, the use of Babylonian writing and language and even Babylonian books by the ruling classes in Asia Minor and Syria at a little later time. That governors of Syrian cities should have written their official communications to Pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty in Babylonian cuneiform (as the archives found at Amarna in Upper Egypt twenty years ago show us they did) had already afforded such conclusive proof of early and long maintained Babylonian influence, that the more recent discovery that Hittite lords of Cappadocia used the same script and language for diplomatic purposes has hardly surprised us.

It has been said already that Babylonia was a region so rich and otherwise fortunate that empire both came to it earlier and stayed later than in the other West Asian lands which ever enjoyed it at all. When we come to take our survey of Western Asia in 400 B.C. we shall see an emperor still ruling it from a throne set in the lower Tigris basin, though not actually in Babylon. But for certain reasons Babylonian empire never endured for any long period continuously. The aboriginal Akkadian and Sumerian inhabitants were settled, cultivated and home keeping folk, while the establishment of Babylonian empire had been the work of more vigorous intruders. These, however, had to fear not only the imperfect sympathy of their own aboriginal subjects, who again and again gathered their sullen forces in the "Sea Land" at the head of the Persian Gulf and attacked the dominant Semites in the rear, but also incursions of fresh strangers; for Babylonia is singularly open on all sides. Accordingly, revolts of the "Sea Land" folk, inrushing hordes from Arabia, descents of mountain warriors from the border hills of Elam on the south-eastern edge of the twin river basin, pressure from the peoples of more invigorating lands on the higher Euphrates and Tigris—one, or more than one such danger ever waited on imperial Babylon and brought her low again and again. A great descent of Hatti raiders from the north about 1800 B.C. seems to have ended the imperial dominion of the First Dynasty. On their retirement Babylonia, falling into weak native hands, was a prey to a succession of inroads from the Kassite mountains beyond Elam, from Elam itself, from the growing Semitic power of Asshur, Babylon's former vassal, from the Hittite Empire founded in Cappadocia about 1500 B.C., from the fresh wave of Arabian overflow which is distinguished as the Aramaean, and from yet another following it, which is usually called Chaldaean; and it was not till almost the close of the twelfth century that one of these intruding elements attained sufficient independence and security of tenure to begin to exalt Babylonia again into a mistress of foreign empire. At that date the first Nebuchadnezzar, a part of whose own annals has been recovered, seems to have established overlordship in some part of Mediterranean Asia—Martu, the West Land; but this empire perished again with its author. By 1000 B.C. Babylon was once more a small state divided against itself and threatened by rivals in the east and the north.

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