Ancient Babylonian Civilization



History begins in the Asiatic land of Babylonia. Very recent discoveries have revealed to us that there, at least five thousand years before Christ, and probably twice that long ago, man had built himself cities and organized a government. This early civilization was remarkable in itself, and double remarkable as being apparently the very first wherein man rose definitely above the savage state, and realized his own destiny as master of the earth. The time-worn records of those glowing days of Intellect's first triumphant outburst have been at last been at last recovered, at least in part, from the earth in which they had lain buried for ages. The surprising glimpses thus given of the past have revolutionized many of our ideas of ancient history. The story of the world must be told all over again, from the beginning.

That first "beginning" of man, God's marvelous and mystic act of the creation of humanity, was once supposed to have taken place barely six thousand years ago; but we know now that our human race has inhabited earth for nearer sixty thousand years than six. Scientists incline today to the belief that there was only one creation, or in other words, that all mankind sprang from a single race. But the descendants of that race had spread abroad over every continent long before they became civilized enough to leave any conscious record of their lives. In almost every land today we find traces of these early "cave-dwellers." In caverns or in excavations we stumble upon their crude stone-headed hammers, their roughly carved spear-heads, and even upon their own fossilized skeletons, bones which have outlasted the brief life of the body by hundreds of centuries.

Slowly, very slowly, these human beings began to rear their heads above the low level of the beast world. Man ceased his dull submission to Nature, and asserted himself as the ruler rather than the slave of the conditions of land and climate that happened to environ him. Doubtless this growth took shape in many regions and in many ways; for man everywhere held in his possession the God-given forces of his brain, the power to weigh, to compare, and thus to reconstruct his world.

So varied, indeed, were the conditions of development in different lands that when, in Babylonia, we catch our earliest glimpse of civilization, we find mankind already divided not merely into tribes or nations, but even into distinct races. These were sharply separated by contrasts of language and of thought, and also by physical traits so marked that they have since persisted despite all the intermingling of men within historic times. Such firmly established characteristics can only be explained by assuming that their possessors had dwelt apart during uncountable centuries of the earlier, unrecorded ages.

The broad divisions thus separating the present human race must be understood and kept in mind by whoever would understand humanity; for most of the tragedy of history has been due to the clash of antagonistic ideals and purposes among these diverging peoples.

The earliest of these races to rise above the savage state were apparently the TURANIANS, or yellow folk, whose best-known descendants today are the Tartars and the Chinese. The Turanians were the pioneers in the slow climb towards civilization; but other peoples have pushed forward with keener energy, and the Turanians have long been left behind. It is of them that we first find clear traces in Babylonia, and also in China; and their aboriginal home lay; perhaps, midway between these two regions in the high table-lands of central Asia, north of the secret fastnesses of Tibet.

The second stock to become notable were the SEMITES, best typified today by the Arabs and the Hebrews. The Semites had their earliest traceable home, and probably developed their racial characteristics, in the deserts of Arabia. They surpassed the Turanians both in science and in warfare, and, if not the first conquerors of other nations, were the first to leave definite record of their dominion.

Third came the HAMITES, among whom the Egyptians are the chief nation. The Hamites are of uncertain descent, possibly either Turanian or Semitic, or separate from both. Our scholars of the nineteenth century regarded the development of this race in Egypt as the oldest discoverable civilization. But we see now that Babylonian culture was of still earlier date, and was possibly the source of that of Egypt.

Fourth and last of these great stocks to assert themselves in building up nations and claiming dominion over earth have been the ARYANS. They spread abroad from some early home in eastern Persia, and became ancestors of the Persians, Hindus, Greeks, Romans, and most of the nations of modern Europe.

The crash and tumult of these quarrelling races as they meet, perhaps for the first time since their original dispersal, forms the earliest of all the mighty dramas which History sets before us on her stupendous stage. Peering through the dim mists of the most distant past, we can watch all four of the races locking forces in confused conflict in the land of Babylon. Man had fought with Nature; he had fought with the beasts. Now he was to fight with men. History raises her portentous curtain. The impressive spectacle opens. Let us pause to note the settings of the stage.

Babylonia is the ancient name once given to the valley of the Euphrates River. A glance at the map of Asia will show that this region lying to the north of the Persian Gulf and environed by the three other seas, the Mediterranean, the Black, and the Caspian, forms a natural centre between the supposed homes of the earliest Turanians, Semites, and Aryans. Turanian tribes migrating westward from central Asia were led direct, by earth's own roadways, into Babylonia. In later history, we shall find horde after horde of barbaric Tartars, Huns, and Turks leaving their eastern homes by this same route to burst in fierce slaughter upon the western nations. As for the Semites and Aryans, their first homes, Arabia and Persia, constitute the highlands which rise on either side of the Euphrates. These races must long have looked with envious eyes toward its fair meadows.

Thus Babylonia was, perhaps, the earliest region of the earth to be seen by many differing peoples, and coveted by them all. It is a low-lying, semi-tropical pasture country, watered by both the Euphrates and Tigris rivers on their south-ward course to the Gulf of Persia. The region is amazingly fertile, and must in the days of its early civilization have been a veritable paradise. Indeed, its neighbors thought it a fit site for the Eden garden, which the Bible places there. Today Babylonia belongs to the Turkish Empire, and centuries of neglect and misrule have turned it into a waste of floods and marshes, a land of mud and hot, stagnant mists and tropic fevers.

The two rivers, once the blessing of the region, have become its curse. The Euphrates is one of the great rivers of the world. Far to the northward it rises amid the towering mountains of Armenia, whose highest summit, Mount Ararat, was regarded by the Babylonians as the apex of the world. From these mountains, the stream in its annual summer flood carries down vast masses of earth, and spreads the deposit wide over the face of the land. This fertilizing flood was in ancient days guided and regulated by canals and ditches, but these have long fallen into decay, so that the river ravages at will.

We are dealing here with a stupendous natural movement, an alteration of the face of the globe. The Euphrates has apparently undertaken the task of shifting the huge Armenian mountains and filling with their debris the entire Persian Gulf. Moreover, if the ages give it time, it will undoubtedly complete its work. It bears downward such enormous quantities of earth that not only does it build up its own valley floor higher every year, but it spreads the shoals around its mouth outward into the sea at an annual average of about ninety feet. At present the Tigris River joins the Euphrates some eighty miles from the gulf, and the two streams flow into the sea as one. We can, however, look back clearly to a time when the shore line lay above their junction, and they emptied from separate mouths.

We can gaze even farther back. Nearly one hundred and fifty miles from the present mouth of the Euphrates we find on the edge of the higher lands the ruins of the ancient city of Eridu, which was once a seaport town. Figure out for yourself the time taken by the river to build one hundred and fifty miles, and you will reach, as scientists have done, the impressive conclusion that Eridu must have been built more than seventy-five hundred years ago, or 5500 B.C.






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