The successor of Nebuchadnezzar was his son Evil-Mero-dach, who reigned only two years, and of whom very little is known. We may expect that the marvelous events of his father’s life, which are recorded in the Book of Daniel, had made a deep impression upon him, and that he was thence inclined to favor the persons, and perhaps the religion, of the Jews.
One of his first acts was to release the unfortunate Jehoiachin from the imprisonment in which he had languished for thirty-five years, and to treat him with kindness and respect. He not only recognized his royal rank, but gave him precedence over all the captive kings resident at Babylon. Josephus says that he even admitted Jehoiachin into the number of his most intimate friends. Perhaps he may have designed him some further advancement, and may in other respects have entertained projects which seemed strange and alarming to his subjects. At any rate he had been but two years upon the throne when a conspiracy was formed against him; he was accused of lawlessness and intemperance; his own brother-in-law, Neriglissar, the husband of a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, headed the malcontents; and Evil-Merodach lost his life with his crown.
Neriglissar, the successful conspirator, was at once acknowledged king. He is probably identical with the “Nergal-shar-ezer, Rab-Mag,” of Jeremiah, who occupied a prominent position among the Babylonian nobles left to press the siege of Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar retired to Riblah. The title of “Rab-Mag,” is one that he bears upon his bricks.
It is doubtful what exactly his office was; for we have no reason to believe that there were at this time any Magi at Babylon; but it was certainly an ancient and very high dignity of which even kings might be proud. It is remarkable that Neriglissar calls himself the son of Bel-sum-iskun, “king of Babylon”–a monarch whose name does not appear in Ptolemy’s list, but who is probably to be identified with a chieftain so called, who assumed the royal title in the troubles which preceded the fall of the Assyrian Empire.
During his short reign of four years, or rather three years and a few months, Neriglissar had not time to distinguish himself by many exploits. So far as appears, he was at peace with all his neighbors, and employed his time principally in the construction of the Western Palace at Babylon, which was a large building placed at one corner of a fortified inclosure, directly opposite the ancient royal residence, and abutting on the Euphrates. If the account which Diodorus gives of this palace be not a gross exaggeration of the truth, it must have been a magnificent erection, elaborately ornamented with painting and sculpture in the best style of Babylonian art, though in size it may have been inferior to the old residence of the kings on the other side of the river.
Neriglissar reigned from B.C. 559 to B.C. 556, and dying a natural death in the last-named year, left his throne to his son, Laborosoarchod, or Labossoracus. This prince, who was a mere boy, and therefore quite unequal to the task of governing a great empire in critical times, was not allowed to retain the crown many months. Accused by those about him–whether justly or unjustly we cannot say–of giving many indications of a bad disposition, he was deposed and put to death by torture. With him power passed from the House of Nabopolassar, which had held the throne for just seventy years.
On the death of Laborosoarchod the conspirators selected one of their number, a certain Nabonadius or Nabannidochus, and invested him with the sovereignty. He was in no way related to the late monarch, and his claim to succeed must have been derived mainly from the part which he had played in the conspiracy. But still he was a personage of some rank, for his father had, like Neriglissar, held the important office of Rab Mag.
It is probable that one of his first steps on ascending the throne was to connect himself by marriage with the royal house which had preceded him in the kingdom. Either the mother of the late king Laborosoarchod, and widow of Neriglissar, or possibly some other daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, was found willing to unite her fortune with those of the new sovereign, and share the dangers and the dignity of his position.
Such a union strengthened the hold of the reigning monarch on the allegiance of his subjects, and tended still more to add stability to his dynasty. For as the issue of such a marriage would join in one the claims of both royal houses, he would be sure to receive the support of all parties in the state. Very shortly after the accession of Nabonadius (B.C. 555) he received an embassy from the far north-west.
An important revolution had occurred on the eastern frontier of Babylonia three years before, in the reign of Neriglissar; but its effects only now began to make themselves felt among the neighboring nations. Had Cyrus, on taking the crown, adopted the policy of Astyages, the substitution of Persia for Media as the ruling Arian nation would have been a matter of small account. But there can be little doubt that he really entered at once on a career of conquest, Lydia, at any rate, felt herself menaced by the new power, and seeing the danger which threatened the other monarchies of the time, if they allowed the great Arian kingdom to attack them severally with her full force, proposed a league whereby the common enemy might, she thought, be resisted with success. Ambassadors seem to have been sent from Sardis to Babylon in the very year in which Nabonadius became king.
He therefore had at once to decide whether he would embrace the offer made him, and uniting with Lydia and Egypt in a league against Persia, make that power his enemy, or refuse the proffered alliance and trust to the gratitude of Cyrus for the future security of his kingdom. It would be easy to imagine the arguments pro and contra which presented themselves to his mind at this conjuncture; but as they would be destitute of a historical foundation, it is perhaps best to state simply the decision at which he is known to have arrived. This was an acceptance of the Lydian offer. Nabonadius consented to join the proposed league; and a treaty was probably soon afterwards concluded between the three powers whereby they united in an alliance offensive and defensive against the Persians.
Knowing that he had provoked a powerful enemy by this bold act, and ignorant how soon he might be called upon to defend his kingdom, from the entire force of his foe, which might be suddenly hurled against him almost at any moment, Nabonadius seems to have turned his attention at once to providing means of defence. The works ascribed by Herodotus to a queen, Nitocris, whom he makes the mother of Nabonadius (Labynetus) must be regarded as in reality constructions of that monarch himself, undertaken with the object of protecting Babylon from Cyrus.
They consisted in part of defences within the city, designed apparently to secure it against an enemy who should enter by the river, in part of hydraulic works intended to obstruct the advances of an army by the usual route. The river had hitherto flowed in its natural bed through the middle of the town. Nabonadius confined the stream by a brick embankment carried the whole way along both banks, after which he built on the top of the embankment a wall of a considerable height, pierced at intervals by gateways, in which were set gates of bronze. He likewise made certain cuttings, reservoirs, and sluices at some distance from Babylon towards the north, which were to be hindrances to an enemy’s march, though in what way is not very apparent. Some have supposed that besides these works there was further built at the same time a great wall which extended entirely across the tract between the two rivers–a huge barrier a hundred feet high and twenty thick–meant, like the Roman walls in Britain and the great wall of China, to be insurmountable by an unskillful foe; but there is ground for suspecting that this belief is ill-founded, having for its sole basis a misconception of Xenophon’s.
Nabonadius appears to have been allowed ample time to carry out to the full his system of defenses, and to complete all his preparations. The precipitancy of Croesus, who plunged into a war with Persia single-handed, asking no aid from his allies, and the promptitude of Cyrus, who allowed him no opportunity of recovering from his first false step, had prevented Nabonadius from coming into actual collision with Persia in the early part of his reign. The defeat of Croesus in the battle of Pteria, the siege of Sardis, and its capture, followed so rapidly on the first commencement of hostilities, that whatever his wishes may have been, Nabonadius had it not in his power to give any help to his rash ally. Actual war was thus avoided at this time; and no collision having occurred, Cyrus could defer an attack on the great kingdom of the south until he had consolidated his power in the north and the northeast, which he rightly regarded as of the last importance. Thus fourteen years intervened between the capture of Sardis by the Persian arms and the commencement of the expedition against Babylon.
When at last it was rumored that the Persian king had quitted Ecbatana (B.C. 539) and commenced his march to the south-west, Nabonadius received the tidings with indifference. His defenses were completed: his city was amply provisioned; if the enemy should defeat him in the open field, he might retire behind his walls, and laugh to scorn all attempts to reduce his capital either by blockade or storm. It does not appear to have occurred to him that it was possible to protect his territory. With a broad, deep, and rapid river directly interposed between him and his foe, with a network of canals spread far and wide over his country, with an almost inexhaustible supply of human labor at his command for the construction of such dikes, walls, or cuttings as he should deem advisable, Nabonadius might, one would have thought, have aspired to save his land from invasion, or have disputed inch by inch his enemy’s advance towards the capital.
But such considerations have seldom had much force with Orientals, whose notions of war and strategy are even now of the rudest and most primitive description. To measure one’s strength as quickly as possible with that of one’s foe, to fight one great pitched battle in order to decide the question of superiority in the field, and then, if defeated, either to surrender or to retire behind walls, has been the ordinary conception of a commander’s duties in the East from the time of the Ramesside kings to our own day. No special blame therefore attaches to Nabonadius for his neglect.
He followed the traditional policy of Oriental monarchs in the course which he took. And his subjects had less reason to complain of his resolution than most others, since the many strongholds in Babylonia must have afforded them a ready refuge, and the great fortified district within which Babylon itself stood must have been capable of accommodating with ease the whole native population of the country.
If we may trust Herodotus, the invader, having made all his preparations and commenced his march, came to a sudden pause midway between Ecbatana and Babylon. One of the sacred white horses, which drew the chariot of Ormazd, had been drowned in crossing a river; and Cyrus had thereupon desisted from his march, and, declaring that he would revenge himself on the insolent stream, had set his soldiers to disperse its waters into 360 channels. This work employed him during the whole summer and autumn; nor was it till another spring had come that he resumed his expedition.
To the Babylonians such a pause must have appeared like irresolution. They must have suspected that the invader had changed his mind and would not venture across the Tigris. If the particulars of the story reached them, they probably laughed at the monarch who vented his rage on inanimate nature, while he let his enemies escape scot free.
Cyrus, however, had a motive for his proceedings which will appear in the sequel. Having wintered on the banks of the Gyndes in a mild climate, where tents would have been quite a sufficient protection to his army, he put his troops in motion at the commencement of spring, crossed the Tigris apparently unopposed, and soon came in sight of the capital. Here he found the Babylonian army drawn out to meet him under the command of Nabonadius himself, who had resolved to try the chance of a battle. An engagement ensued, of which we possess no details; our informants simply tell us that the Babylonian monarch was completely defeated, and that, while most of his army sought safety within the walls of the capital, he himself with a small body of troops threw himself into Borsippa, an important town lying at a short distance from Babylon towards the south-west. It is not easy to see the exact object of this movement.
Perhaps Nabonadius thought that the enemy would thereby be obliged to divide his army, which might then more easily be defeated; perhaps he imagined that by remaining without the walls he might be able to collect such a force among his subjects and allies as would compel the beleaguering army to withdraw. Or, possibly, he merely followed an instinct of self-preservation, and fearing that the soldiers of Cyrus might enter Babylon with his own, if he fled thither, sought refuge in another city.
It might have been supposed that his absence would have produced anarchy and confusion in the capital; but a step which he had recently taken with the object of giving stability to his throne rendered the preservation of order tolerably easy. At the earliest possible moment–probably when he was about fourteen–he had associated with him in the government his son, Belshazzar, or Bel-shar-uzur, the grandson of the great Nebuchadnezzar. This step, taken most likely with a view to none but internal dangers, was now found exceedingly convenient for the purposes of the war.
In his father’s absence Belshazzar took the direction of affairs within the city, and met and foiled for a considerable time all the assaults of the Persians. He was young and inexperienced, but he had the counsels of the queen-mother to guide and support him, as well as those of the various lords and officers of the court. So well did he manage the defense that after a while Cyrus despaired, and as a last resource ventured on a stratagem in which it was clear that he must either succeed or perish.
Withdrawing the greater part of his army from the vicinity of the city, and leaving behind him only certain corps of observation, Cyrus marched away up the course of the Euphrates for a certain distance, and there proceeded to make a vigorous use of the spade. His soldiers could now appreciate the value of the experience which they had gained by dispersing the Gyndes, and perceive that the summer and autumn of the preceding year had not been wasted. They dug a channel or channels from the Euphrates, by means of which a great portion of its water would be drawn off, and hoped in this way to render the natural course of the river fordable.
When all was prepared, Cyrus determined to wait for the arrival of a certain festival, during which the whole population were wont to engage in drinking and reveling, and then silently in the dead of night to turn the water of the river and make his attack. It fell out as he hoped and wished. The festival was held with even greater pomp and splendor than usual; for Belshazzar, with the natural insolence of youth, to mark his contempt of the besieging army, abandoned himself wholly to the delights of the season, and himself entertained a thousand lords in his palace. Elsewhere the rest of the population was occupied in feasting and dancing. Drunken riot and mad excitement held possession of the town; the siege was forgotten; ordinary precautions were neglected. Following the example of their king, the Babylonians gave themselves up for the night to orgies in which religious frenzy and drunken excess formed a strange and revolting medley.
Meanwhile, outside the city, in silence and darkness, the Persians watched at the two points where the Euphrates entered and left the walls. Anxiously they noted the gradual sinking of the water in the river-bed; still more anxiously they watched to see if those within the walls would observe the suspicious circumstance and sound an alarm through the town. Should such an alarm be given, all their labors would be lost. If, when they entered the river-bed, they found the river-walls manned and the river-gates fast-locked, they would be indeed “caught in a trap.” Enfiladed on both sides by an enemy whom they could neither see nor reach, they would be overwhelmed and destroyed by his missiles before they could succeed in making their escape. But, as they watched, no sounds of alarm reached them–only a confused noise of revel and riot, which showed that the unhappy townsmen were quite unconscious of the approach of danger.
At last shadowy forms began to emerge from the obscurity of the deep river-bed, and on the landing-places opposite the river-gates scattered clusters of men grew into solid columns–the undefended gateways were seized–a war-shout was raised–the alarm was taken and spread–and swift runners started off to “show the King of Babylon that his city was taken at one end.” In the darkness and confusion of the night a terrible massacre ensued. The drunken revelers could make no resistance. The king paralyzed with fear at the awful handwriting upon the wall, which too late had warned him of his peril, could do nothing even to check the progress of the assailants, who carried all before them everywhere.
Bursting into the palace, a band of Persians made their way to the presence of the monarch, and slew him on the scene of his impious revelry. Other bands carried fire and sword through the town. When morning came, Cyrus found himself undisputed master of the city, which, if it had not despised his efforts, might with the greatest ease have baffled them.
The war, however, was not even yet at an end. Nabonadius still held Borsippa, and, if allowed to remain unmolested, might have gradually gathered strength and become once more a formidable foe. Cyrus, therefore, having first issued his orders that the outer fortifications of Babylon should be dismantled, proceeded to complete his conquest by laying siege to the town where he knew that Nabonadius had taken refuge.
That monarch, however perceiving that resistance would be vain, did not wait till Borsippa was invested, but on the approach of his enemy surrendered himself. Cyrus rewarded his submission by kind and liberal treatment. Not only did he spare his life, but (if we may trust Abydenus) he conferred on him the government of the important province of Carmania.
Thus perished the Babylonian empire. If we seek the causes of its fall, we shall find them partly in its essential military inferiority to the kingdom that had recently grown up upon its borders, partly in the accidental circumstance that its ruler at the time of the Persian attack was a man of no great capacity. Had Nebuchadnezzar himself, or a prince of his mental caliber, been the contemporary of Cyrus, the issue of the contest might have been doubtful. Babylonia possessed naturally vast powers of resistance–powers which, had they been made use of to the utmost, might have tired out the patience of the Persians.
That lively, active, but not over-persevering people would scarcely have maintained a siege with the pertinacity of the Babylonians themselves or of the Egyptians. If the stratagem of Cyrus had failed–and its success depended wholly on the Babylonians exercising no vigilance–the capture of the town would have been almost impossible. Babylon was too large to be blockaded; its walls were too lofty to be scaled, and too massive to be battered down by the means possessed by the ancients. Mining in the soft alluvial soil would have been dangerous work, especially as the town ditch was deep and supplied with abundant water from the Euphrates. Cyrus, had he failed in his night attack, would probably have at once raised the siege; and Babylonian independence might perhaps in that case have been maintained down to the time of Alexander.
Even thus, however, the “Empire” would not have been continued. So soon as it became evident that the Babylonians were no match for the Persians in the field, their authority over the subject nations was at an end. The Susianians, the tribes of the middle Euphrates, the Syrians, the Phoenicians, the Jews, the Idumseans, the Ammonites and Moabites, would have gravitated to the stronger power, even if the attack of Cyrus on Babylon itself had been repulsed. For the conquests of Cyrus in Asia Minor, the Oxus region, and Afghanistan, had completely destroyed the balance of power in Western Asia, and given to Persia a preponderance both in men and in resources against which the cleverest and most energetic of Babylonian princes would have struggled in vain. Persia must in any case have absorbed all the tract between Mount Zagros and the Mediterranean, except Babylonia Proper; and thus the successful defense of Babylon would merely have deprived the Persian Empire of a province.
In its general character the Babylonian Empire was little more than a reproduction of the Assyrian. The same loose organization of the provinces under native kings rather than satraps almost universally prevailed, with the same duties on the part of suzerain and subjects and the same results of ever-recurring revolt and re-conquest. Similar means were employed under both empires to check and discourage rebellion–mutilations and executions of chiefs, pillage of the rebellious region, and wholesale deportation of its population.
Babylon, equally with Assyria, failed to win the affections of the subject nations, and, as a natural result, received no help from them in her hour of need. Her system was to exhaust and oppress the conquered races for the supposed benefit of the conquerors, and to impoverish the provinces for the adornment and enrichment of the capital. The wisest of her monarch’s thought it enough to construct works of public utility in Babylonia Proper, leaving the dependent countries to themselves, and doing nothing to develop their resources. This selfish system was, like most selfishness, short-sighted; it alienated those whom it would have been true policy to conciliate and win. When the time of peril came, the subject nations were no source of strength to the menaced empire, On the contrary, it would seem that some even turned against her and made common cause with the assailants.
Babylonian civilization differed in many respects from Assyrian, to which however it approached more nearly than to any other known type. Its advantages over Assyrian were in its greater originality, its superior literary character, and its comparative width and flexibility.
Babylonia seems to have been the source from which Assyria drew her learning, such as it was, her architecture, the main ideas of her mimetic art, her religious notions, her legal forms, and a vast number of her customs and usages. But Babylonia herself, so far as we know, drew her stores from no foreign country. Hers was apparently the genius which excogitated an alphabet–worked out the simpler problems of arithmetic–invented implements for measuring the lapse of time–conceived the idea of raising enormous structures with the poorest of all materials, clay–discovered the art of polishing, boring, and engraving gems–reproduced with truthfulness the outlines of human and animal forms–attained to high perfection in textile fabrics–studied with success the motions of the heavenly bodies–conceived of grammar as a science–elaborated a system of law–saw the value of an exact chronology–in almost every branch of science made a beginning, thus rendering it comparatively easy for other nations to proceed with the superstructure.
To Babylonia, far more than to Egypt, we owe the art and learning of the Greeks. It was from the East, not from Egypt, that Greece derived her architecture, her sculpture, her science, her philosophy, her mathematical knowledge–in a word, her intellectual life. And Babylon was the source to which the entire stream of Eastern civilization may be traced. It is scarcely too much to say that, but for Babylon, real civilization might not even yet have dawned upon the earth. Mankind might never have advanced beyond that spurious and false form of it which in Egypt, India, China, Japan, Mexico, and Peru, contented the aspirations of the species.
SOURCE: The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 4. (of 7): Babylon; BY: George Rawlinson
Ancient Empires: Babylon (1)