History of the Ancient Semites



Somewhere about 5000 B.C. the Semite hordes began their migration from the deserts of Arabia. Some of the wanderers descended into Sumer, coming apparently less as conquerors than as visitors, attracted by this civilization so superior to their own, admirers and imitators of the Sumerian culture. By degrees these Semite invaders grew to be an important force in every city, and at length became rulers of the land. Meanwhile, the bulk of the wandering Semites passed beyond Sumer to the northward and spread over the meadow lands higher up the course of the Euphrates, where in after years they erected mighty Babylon. There the invaders settled by themselves, and gradually built up kingdoms of their own. These more northern Semites seem to have despised those of their brethren who remained in the south among the Sumerians, caught in the meshes of the soft lure of their civilization. Yet even the northern Semites borrowed much from Sumer, the art of writing and preserving records of the past, the building of cities and palaces of brick, and much of the Sumerian religion-in short, all that a strong, active, intelligent but ignorant race would naturally glean from an older, more cultured, feebler one.

The Euphrates valley by this mingling of various peoples became in very truth the place of "Babel," the confusion of tongues. The widely separated nations of earth were there drawn together, and heard, in amaze and puzzlement, languages wholly different from their own. Semites, Hamites, Turanians, and the negroid peoples must often have sought for mutual understanding, and jabbered helplessly, if not angrily, at one another in the streets of Lagash. Nor did the confusion aid them to friendship or even to respect; man has ever proved himself only too ready to despise that which he fails to understand.

From this time onward there was a constant struggle between the Sumerian cities of the south and the Semitic tribes of the north, between the ancient "lords of Kengi" and the unorganized "people of Kish," as the early records call the northerners. The first individual name that stands out recognizably from those days of beginnings is that of a king, probably of Lagash, who in an inscription calls himself En-shag-kush-anna, "lord of Kengi." The inscription announces that he gives gifts to the god En-lil of Nippur, and rejoices at having defeated the Semites whom he angrily denounces as "Kish, the wicked of heart." Yet even the name En-shag-kush-anna is in itself Semitic. Sumer had apparently found a Semitic leader necessary to defend her against the Semite hordes of the north.

At a somewhat later date, perhaps 4200 B.C., our view of Lagash becomes much clearer. We begin to find sufficient records of its kings to be able to arrange them in definite order, and establish a regular chronology. But as each ruler carved inscriptions only of his triumphs, we know no more of each than that he defeated other cities. Thus these earliest names that History enshrines are preserved to us merely as fighters. The "struggle for existence" was in their days no idle phrase. Weaker men were swept aside; the stronger ones survived. It is only through many ages of battle and death and darkness that man has climbed at last to the light of fuller understanding.






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