World War Two: North Africa (4-17B); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.2)

The Action at Djebel el Guessa, 6 December: General Eisenhower would not accept as final the initial failure to penetrate beyond Djedeida; General Anderson, although far from sanguine, continued therefore to plan for a renewed offensive against Tunis and Mateur. Preparations for such operations were to be made while holding a line which ran along the eastern edge of Djebel Lanserine (569) from Chouigui pass through Tebourba gap and across the Medjerda river to Djebel el Guessa (145), southwest of EI Bathan. The main body of Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division, was deployed under General Oliver’s command on the southeastern side of the river with the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, now released from Blade Force and back with its parent unit. Rankled by the recent setbacks at the hands of the German armored forces, the Americans hoped now to fight as a team in conformity with their own doctrine. More British units kept arriving in Tunisia in conformity with pre-invasion plans. The 1st Guards Brigade (Brigadier F. A. V. Copland-Griffith) reached Bedja on 6 December while elements of the British 6th Armoured Division (Major General Sir Charles F. Keightley) began to assemble in the area near Souk el Khemis, Thibar, and T eboursouk for eventual employment south of the Medjerda. Blade Force returned to the 6th Armoured Division.

The French assisted in holding a line east of Medjez el Bab and in preparing for the renewed attack on Tunis. General Juin insisted that Goubellat be held to cover Medjez el Bab from the south. To lighten the load on General Anderson’s troops, he gave General Barre responsibility for defending the sector north of Bedja, bringing forward French units from Le Kef and replacing those units by others which General Giraud had planned to send to the Tebessa area. French troops took up positions on the southerly slopes of Djebel el Ang (668), north of Medjez el Bab. In central Tunisia, where Giraud had directed that an advance be made to a line extending northeastward from Gafsa to Sbeltla and thence through Kesra to Maktar, the French 7th Algerian Infantry with a battalion of 75-mm. guns and elements of the Tunisian Task Force on 3 December seized Fald pass in the Eastern Dorsal. French forces next occupied Fondouk el Aouareb on 8 December and Pichon on 19 December. Plans were laid to advance toward Pont-du-Fahs and Zarhouan, and even to strike at Kairouan.

Thus the French threatened the Axis southern flank and prepared to participate in a renewed Allied offensive. The pressure for troops to protect the long line of communications against forays by enemy parachutists and other saboteurs at the time of the Axis counteroffensive in early December was severe. The Allied Force command would have preferred to use more French troops in such duties in order to get the maximum numbers of Anglo-Americans, who were better armed, into the advanced zone. The entire ten companies of the Territorial Division of Constantine, plus 300 native customs guards (douaniers), and two companies of regulars were used on guard duty at Bone and Constantine, and at bridges and tunnels along the routes across Algeria. The U.S. 39th Infantry Regiment was similarly employed. Throughout December French commitments in advance sectors ran counter to the preferences of the Allied command for French guard troops.

If the Allies intended to resume their offensive, so also did the German XC Corps. General Nehring found the means, while holding at other points, to press beyond Tebourba up the Medjerda river valley. Part of General Fischer’s command was shifted to the southeastern side of the river to the vicinity of EI Bathan and Massicault. The projected attack was to strike along both sides of the Medjerda and to include a wide swing through Furna to approach Medjez el Bab from the southeast. But first, Allied troops had to be driven from Djebel el Guessa, a cluster of hills and ravines which rose abruptly from the flat farm land southwest of El Bathan. Its heights gave perfect observation over an area extending from Tebourba gap to the north to the El Bathan-Massicault road to the cast and a broad area to the south. Fire from its bare northern slopes upon the narrow shelf of Tebourba gap could interdict the road there. To clear the Allies from Djebel el Guessa, Fischer planned a major flanking move through Massicault to the northwest and at the same time, a secondary push westward from the area south of El Bathan.

The Allied line was held by the 2nd Battalion, 6th U.S. Armored Infantry, and the 8th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment (8/ ASH), at Tebourba gap, and the 1st Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, and part of the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, strung out thinly along the crests of Djebel el Guessa. Enemy preparations were observed on the afternoon of 5 December. An attack was recognized as imminent.

After a night in which German flares kept the area lighted for observation, the attack struck on 6 December at about 0700. Two waves of dive bombers softened up the American defense; then parachute infantry, with machine guns and mortars, began their approach to the northern flank. Soon, supported not only by renewed air strikes but also by other infantry, reinforced by tanks attacking to the west and toward Djebel el Guessa’s Hill 145, they began to infiltrate through the saddles of the ridge line to cut off the troops in the northern section of that line. Simultaneously, on the southern flank, the enemy committed an armored force, of the 7th Panzer Regiment, with some twenty tanks and truck-borne infantry, headed for Hill 148 and thence to Djebel el Guessa.

This armored force, after being held up for a while, threatened to penetrate between the Americans on Djebel el Guessa and their line of withdrawal. Its attack caused them to retire hastily with severe losses. Company C, 6th Armored Infantry, became completely disorganized. Battery C, 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, firing in support, drew the enemy armored force against its own positions. It was forced back into a natural cul-de-sac, and although aided by Battery B, of the same unit, in the end its five old-style half-tracks were destroyed and its survivors were captured. But it had won considerable time and claimed to have knocked out at least eight Mark IV German tanks with its 105-mm. howitzers.

To relieve the exposed force at Djebel el Guessa General Oliver dispatched Colonel Bruss’s half-strength 2nd Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (mediums), later sending in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, from the north side of the river, and the light tanks of 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment (-) from its assembly area south of Djebel el Asoud (214).

Colonel Bruss’s force was so late in getting started that the battle around Djebel el Guessa was almost over. General Oliver still hoped to inflict severe damage on the enemy’s forces, which ceased advancing and waited southwest of Djebel el Guessa for the counterattack. Bruss divided his battalion into two groups, sending E Company, reinforced, along a narrow strip between the river and Djebel Bou Aoukaz (226) and D Company around the eastern side of that hill mass, while the enemy took cover. When the group nearest the river emerged from the shelter of the hill, antitank shells swiftly knocked out several tanks, stopping the attack; when the other column appeared later, it too was repulsed. Colonel Todd’s 1st Battalion, meanwhile, made a sortie but arrived too late to be of assistance to Bruss’s force. After this serious setback, the counterattack was broken off, but General Fischer’s forces also pulled back to the northeast without attempting to push farther toward Medjez el Bab. Instead, elements were sent to support the disarming of General Derrien’s French forces near Bizerte on 8 December.

The Allies might have reoccupied Djebel el Guessa but did not. The day’s battle had been damaging to both adversaries and especially galling to the Allies. The enemy had been able to send a strong battle group against part of a force deployed on both sides of a river and, after overwhelming the exposed forward elements, to meet a counterattack under conditions highly favorable to him. These results were probably all the more satisfactory to the enemy because of American tactical errors. Once again tanks had sallied forth to contend with tanks rather than attacking with mutually supporting weapons, as the situation had demanded.

Again they ran into a curtain of antitank fire. But the resulting situation was hardly as unfavorable as the interpretation placed upon it at British 5 Corps headquarters, which ordered the British 11th Brigade Group to withdraw its remaining elements from Tebourba gap along the other side of the river to a new line at “Longstop Gap,” the next conspicuously narrow neck between mountains and river southwest of Tebourba gap. On the night of 6-7 December, retirement to this position by General Evelegh’s troops made pointless an occupation of Djebel el Guessa. Combat Command B therefore took up new stations at Djebel Bou Aoukaz and Djebel el Asoud, a complicated hill mass east of the Bordj Toum bridge. The Allies were now obliged, in view of General Fischer’s initial success, to reappraise the situation.

[NOTE: The name “Longstop Gap” was derived from Longstop Hill, the British designation for Djebel el Ahmera, east of which the Allies were not again to pass for a long period.]

The Allies Fall Back to a New Line General Allfrey believed the Allies would be incapable of successfully attacking Tunis for a considerable period. Rather than squander resources to defend territory, he believed that economies should be practiced and the accumulation of reserves expedited by taking safer positions farther west. On 7 December Allfrey proposed falling back to a line extending south from Djebel Abiod through Oued Zarga and Testour to Bou Arada. This meant abandoning Medjez el Bab. Such a step was resisted by General Juin in a conference with General Allfrey at Barre’s headquarters and, when recommended to General Eisenhower by British First Army, was also protested by General Giraud. The Allied commander in chief ordered the defense of a line which ran somewhat farther east and which protected Medjez el Bab.

The Commander in Chief, Allied Force, was by no means unaware of the risks. “I think the best way to describe our operations to date,” he wrote at the time, “is that they have violated every recognized principle of war, are in conflict with all operational and logistic methods laid down in textbooks, and will be condemned in their entirety by all Leavenworth and War College classes for the next twenty-five years.”

He accepted the French views and approved defense by General Anderson’s force of a line which ran east of Medjez el Bab, from Tamera on the north through Sidi Nsir, Djebel el Ang, Goubellat, and Bou Arada. From the new base line, the attack was to be resumed when the build-up and the weather made it possible. French troops of General Barre’s command were ordered by Giraud to extend the line south of Medjez el Bab through Goubellat, Bou Arada, and Barrage de l’Oued Kebir, and to cover the Medjerda valley, on a line facing south, through Slourhia, Testour, Teboursouk, and Le Kef: In the complex redistribution of forces, the 1st Guards Brigade (-) was to move to Medjez el Bab the night of 10-11 December and hold there. The 11th Brigade and Combat Command B were meanwhile to withdraw through Med jez el Bab and by 0600, 11 December to take up positions farther west. General Anderson’s advanced command post at Ain Seynour, just west of Souk Ahras, moved back to Constantine, to which Headquarters, British First Army, had already moved from Algiers. Preparations were made during two days of persistent rain. But before the Allies could begin their withdrawal, the enemy struck.

Early on 10 December, the 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, as part of the Fifth Panzer Army’s effort to expand the bridgehead, started a two-pronged offensive along both sides of the river, each prong supported by a company of tanks. The 7th Panzer Regiment began a southerly loop through Massicault, Furna, and Sidi Mediene (later known as “Peter’s Corner”) to attack Medjez el Bab from the southeast.

This regiment (less its 2nd Battalion) was reinforced by elements of the 501st Panzer Battalion, whose armament included Mark VI (“Tiger”) tanks, an antitank company, and a battery of 100-mm. guns.[Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, reported 62 light and 22 medium tanks plus 21 Sherman tanks of a detachment of the 2nd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, at the end of 9 December]. Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, was caught at Djebel Bou Aoukaz in an exposed position. The closest supporting positions were those of British units six to ten miles farther to the west. It was in danger of being cut off on the southeastern side of the river if enemy forces attacking from Tebourba gap got control of the Bordj Toum bridge at the same time that the enveloping sweep of 7th Panzer Regiment blocked access to the bridge at Medjez el Bab. The American armored unit fought throughout the day on rain-soaked ground which offered serious hazard to vehicular movement except by road.

An encounter took place at the Allied roadblock on the northwest bank near the railroad station of Bordj Toum, protected by mines laid by the U.S. 16th Combat Engineers and by antitank guns. These were supported by medium tanks of the 2nd Battalion, U.S. 13th Armored Regiment, and by 105-mm. howitzers of Battery B, 27th Field Artillery Battalion, firing across the river, as well as by Battery A, 175th Field Artillery Battalion, and the Headquarters Platoon, 13th Armored Regiment, on the northwest side. The engagement stopped the Germans and protected the bridgehead but left it under fire and subject to threat of renewed attack at nightfall On the east bank, the second prong of the German attack was held back by skillful defense and by soft ground, which limited maneuver. But the attack by the third enemy column, after overrunning elements of the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment, reached a roadblock about two miles east of Medjez el Bab. Elements of the 4th Mixed Zouaves and Tirailleurs Regiment (4 MZI) plus the 3rd Battalion, French 62nd Artillery Regiment, and another French battery firing from the far side of the Medjerda river held up the advanced section of the enemy column about t 400, after knocking out four tanks and causing other losses.

Combat Command B tried to intercept the main enemy column with a flank attack, using elements of the 1st Battalion, 13th Armored Regiment, and of Company C, 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion. The Germans turned back to meet this threat. The American light tanks were outgunned by the enemy and mired when they maneuvered off the road; nineteen were lost. The tank destroyers claimed ten German medium tanks knocked out before being put out of action themselves. The enemy had successfully run the gantlet until stopped by the French roadblock and the American counterattack. He then pulled back to Massicault leaving a small blocking detachment at Sidi Mediene. He had suffered only moderate losses, but at the end of the day, both the bridge at Med jez el Bab and that at Bordj Toum remained in Allied possession.

At dusk, the plans for Combat Command B’s withdrawal behind the approved line from the southeast side of the Medjerda were arranged in a roadside conference west of Medjez el Bab by Generals Allfrey, Evelegh, Oliver, and Robinett and by visits to other British commanders. British units were to cover Combat B’s route, including the vital Bordj Toum bridge. Two platoons of infantry, operating as a patrol, were designated for this mission.

The withdrawal began after darkness. One after another, the units pulled out of position on Djebel Bou Aoukaz and Djebel el Asoud and fell into column on a lateral road leading to Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. Tanks, half-tracks, trucks, guns, and other vehicles were soon closely bunched on a virtual causeway across a treacherous sea of mud, and remained so as they approached the river. Ahead of them, Company D, 13th Armored Regiment (Captain Philip St. G. Cocke), with some infantry, crossed at 1745 to strengthen the defense of the bridgehead until the withdrawal was complete. They found no evidence of the covering force and turned toward the railroad station of Bordj Toum and the supposed roadblock. A light engagement with a small German force ensued, the sounds of which started rumors back at the bridge that a German attack was imminent. Occasional shells fell near the bridge. The rumors spread from the head of the column to those in command. They made the position of the withdrawing force seem critical.

Rather than stop to reconnoiter, Lieutenant Colonel John R. McGinness, the officer in command, hurriedly ordered the vehicles to reverse and instead of crossing by the Bordj Toum bridge to turn off onto a narrow dirt track which ran near the southeastern bank of the river through Grich el Oued to Medjez cl Bab. It was a disastrous error of judgment. The leading vehicles kept going but behind them they left an increasingly churned-up ribbon of mud in which most of the remainder were completely mired. The crews were ordered to abandon them and continue into Medjez el Bab on foot. Under the circumstances, despite the fact that the tanks and half-tracks had already been brought close to the point of requiring overhaul by hard use and insufficient maintenance, the loss was equivalent to a serious defeat at the enemy’s hands.

It was particularly injurious to morale as it became a celebrated instance of frustrated logistical effort. 16 Vehicles could be replaced only by stripping some other unit. The 1st Battalion, 18th Armored Regiment, relinquished its materiel and some of its personnel and went back to the Oran area to await a new shipment. The 2nd Armored Division in Morocco sent 26 mediums by rail. A few of the mired vehicles were later extricated by determined crews before the enemy closed in. The Germans claimed to have destroyed 36 American tanks, 4 armored reconnaissance cars, 2 antitank guns, 3 armored prime movers, and an undetermined number of guns on 10 December, and during a subsequent mop-up of the battlefield on 11 December, 80 guns, vehicles, and armored personnel carriers.

The Allies could not resume their drive on Tunis until further preparations for a sustained attack had been completed. For some ten days after the Allied withdrawal of 10-11 December, combat was confined to patrolling by ground and air, and to bombing raids by each side. The enemy consolidated his position, moved security elements into dominating heights along the routes northeast of that town, and set up his main line of resistance from Bordj Toum to the road between Furna and Massicault and thence southward to the hills.

Meanwhile the Allies built up supplies at the railhead in Souk el Arba, got the railroad between Tabarka and Sedjenane into limited service, and strengthened antiaircraft defenses. Allied forces, American, British, and French, were regrouped for another major thrust above the Medjerda river and for support to the north and south of it.

The Allied retirement to the west and the continued arrival of Axis reinforcements in Tunisia permitted General von Arnim to expand the two perimeters protecting Bizerte and Tunis into a general bridgehead. His line became a series of interconnected defense outposts which he endeavored to consolidate. As of 13 December the northwestern part of his front started on the coast about twenty-five miles west of Bizerte, crossed the hills to the south as far as the Djefna position, then bore southeast to cross the Tine river valley; about five miles southwest of Chouigui pass the line surmounted Djebel Lanserine and near Bordj Toum leapt the Medjerda river. Continuing in a southeasterly direction and passing east of Ksar Tyr, it continued towards the southeast to Zarhouan and the area of Enfidaville.

This front was divided into three sectors held in turn by Division von Broich from the north coast to the area of the Tine river valley, by 10th Panzer Division to a point ten miles west of Zarhouan, and by the Superga Division in the south and east. The extreme southern flank, beginning at a point southwest of Enfidaville, was under command of General Giovanni Imperiali of the Italian 50th Special Brigade. Defense of the coast to the north was divided between General Neuffer at Bizerte and the German commandant of Tunis.

On 15 December the Fifth Panzer Army ordered a considerable southward movement to begin next day. The 10th Panzer Division’s sector was extended to include Ksar Tyr and Pont-du-Fahs, the southern edge of good “tank country” in northern Tunisia. General von Arnin directed the Superga Division, Italian 50th Special Brigade, the 47th Grenadier Regiment, and the 190th Reconnaissance Battalion (directly under Fifth Panzer Army headquarters) to occupy stations along the coast and in the mountain passes of the Eastern Dorsal. They were to occupy and defend the defiles through the mountain chain from Pont-du-Fahs to Maknassy and thence to El Guettar and Kebili in southern Tunisia. They were to recover the pass near Faid and the other key points at which French troops were installed. On 16 December the 10th Panzer and Superga Divisions advanced their main line of resistance while the 190th Reconnaissance Battalion completed its mission as Ordered.

Allied aviation, whose overstrained condition had made necessary an interlude before a second drive toward Tunis, was improved and organized for better co-operation. A new Allied offensive required more fighter support of the ground troops, which in turn depended upon preparing forward airfields, bringing up steel matting for runways, obtaining fuel and other supplies, and establishing a rapid flow of replacement aircraft. The air arm of the Allied Force was faced with a monumental task. The number of planes at the forward airfields increased. Intermediate fields at Telergma and Canrobert, southwest and southeast of Constantine, began operations. At Biskra, on the edge of the desert, another field permitted American heavy bombers to operate without plunging into mud whenever they overran a runway. B-17’s (Flying Fortresses) and Wellington heavy bombers equipped for night operations used the all-weather field at Maison Blanche and the one paved runway at Blida. Light and medium bombers from Morocco came to Youks-les-Bains. The headquarters of various air commands were scattered and linked by primitive signal facilities. During the forthcoming offensive, control over both British and American tactical air units would be maintained by the principal air officer on General Anderson’s staff.

Reducing the enemy’s rate of reinforcement to stop him from successfully counterbalancing each increment of the Eastern Task Force was a major objective for Allied aviation. Royal Air Force units based on Malta sank or crippled seven small merchant vessels, including oil tankers, in December, and bombed airfields in Sicily.

American and British aircraft of the Eastern Air Command struck repeatedly at the Tunisian terminals of the airlift and at the ports of Bizerte and Tunis. The enemy’s improved antiaircraft defenses and numerous intercepting fighters, as well as the network of accessible airfields at his disposal, enabled him to take a high toll of Allied fighter escort. Allied fighter units were worked to the limit to meet the demands for escort missions and sweeps against enemy dive bombers.

The Plans for the Final Attack

AFHQ estimated the effective Allied combat troops at 20,000 British, 11,800, Americans, and 7,000 French, while the opposing Axis forces were set at about 25,000 combat and 10,000 service troops, most of them in the Tunis bridgehead. The enemy was credited with eighty German tanks. The Allies were stronger in long-range artillery, although the enemy’s 88-mm. gun was deeply respected. The Allied tanks, though weaker, were somewhat more numerous. It was recognized that Axis aviation would be superior to that of the Allies.

After postponements caused both by adverse weather and by the rate of build-up, General Anderson, under General Eisenhower’s prodding, concluded on 16 December that D Day must be set at 23-24 December in order to take advantage of a full moon for night infantry attacks. He intended to concentrate maximum strength on a relatively narrow front for a direct push toward Tunis. This arrangement would make the most of his artillery and antitank resources. He would reduce flank protection to the minimum consistent with safety. He proposed to keep the British 6th Armoured and 78th Divisions in close co-operation and to hold Combat Command B, U.S. 1st Armored Division (which he estimated at half-strength), in corps reserve. The attack could be maintained, he believed, for from seven to ten days only.

Headquarters, British 5 Corps, prepared the plan. The attack was again to be along the Medjerda river, but this time with the main effort on the southeastern side. In November, the stream had been a protection for the Allied south flank as the attacking force converged on Djedeida with the intention of crossing there. In the December attempt, the river was to be a protection for the north (left) flank, and except for a small force using the bridge at El Bathan, the Allied forces would cross it from the northwest at Medjez el Bab and even farther upstream. The two British divisions, 6th Armoured and 78th, with the American 18th Combat Team (1st Infantry Division) attached to the latter, were expected to approach Tunis via Massicault from the southwest.

Two artillery groups were organized to support the attack by massed fires. Their employment necessitated maneuver off the roads, which became more feasible as the rains abated for a few days. The Allied center, near Sidi Nsir, was to be held by a mixed force of French and British infantry and American artillery. On the north flank, Brigadier Kent-Lemon’s 36th Brigade Group was to threaten Mateur, but Anderson considered his strength sufficient only to contain, not to capture, that town. No parachute or Commando operations in the rear of the enemy were scheduled.

Preliminary to the advance south of the Medjerda river, the Allies had to gain its northwestern bank as far as Tebourba, beginning with the capture of Djebel el Ahmera (290, Longstop Hill), about seven miles northeast of Med jez el Bab. That hill dominated the highway and railroad routes prospective condition of First Army on 22 December in between Medjez el Bab and Tebourba, and furnished unimpeded observation over a wide area from its long, knobby crest. The Axis commander had less than a battalion of infantry in positions on the mountain and along the base, particularly at the small railroad station (Halte d ‘el Heri) near the eastern end of Longstop Hill.

Although the main Allied attack on Tunis was scheduled for 24-25 December, preliminary operations by the 78th Division were planned for each of the two preceding nights to gain the approaches to the Tebourba-Djedei’da area. On 22-23 December, British troops were to seize the village of Grich el Oued on the southeast bank of the Medjerda, a few miles northeast of Medjez el Bab, while a battalion of the Coldstream Guards, followed by the 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry Regiment, was to occupy Longstop Hill. Next day the 5th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, on a march through the mountains toward Tebourba gap, would pass through the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Algerian Infantry Regiment, and that night further advances were scheduled which would regain for Allied troops possession of Bordj Toum bridge, Djebel el Guessa, and Tebourba gap. On 25 December, when the main offensive began, the left flank of the main thrust at EI Bathan-Tebourba-Djedeida would be held by the British 11th Infantry Brigade.

The main Allied attack was prefaced by operations which the French Army undertook on the southern flank, a drive to gain possession of the commanding heights at the juncture of the Eastern and Western Dorsals. The objective was the high ground from Djebel Fkirine (988), to Djebel Zarhouan (1295), south and east of Pont-du-Fahs.

Rebaa Oulad Yahia was occupied on 16 December, but during the next four days, while Colonel Marcel Carpentier’s reinforced 7th Moroccan Infantry Regiment continued northeastward, the Superga Division also strengthened its outposts with armor, self-propelled guns, and air support. The first lunge of the French was stopped on 22 December after two days’ fighting had gained the Barrage de rOued Kebir at considerable cost. A second attempt in greater strength, directed by General Maurice Mathenet and supported by small Allied units of armor, antitank guns, and aviation, was made on 27 December, also without success. These operations were co-ordinated with others by the Eastern Task Force, but a unified command over the whole Allied front was not yet in existence.

[NOTE NA-45G: (1) French losses, 20-22 December, were 14 killed, 95 wounded, and 58 missing. They captured 10 German and 26 Italian soldiers. CSTT Jnl, 20-22 Dec 42. French losses in the 27-29 December attack were 37 killed, 156 wounded, and 188 missing. They also lost 9 American-made tanks and 9 guns. Captured were 7 German and 122 Italian prisoners. CSTT Jnl, 27-29 Dec 42. (2) Msg, CinC AF to CCS, 17 Dec 43, NAF 43.]

General Giraud proposed to General Eisenhower on 17 December that the supreme command in Tunis should now pass to him, in general agreement with a formula indicated in the discussions at Gibraltar, when he was ready to become the French leader in Northwest Africa. He reminded the Allied commander in chief that an estimated 40,000 French troops were in the forward area. The proposal required some satisfactory accommodation of Giraud’s claims, for the French troops, though ill equipped, were essential both to cover the southern flank of the Eastern Task Force and to deliver aggressive pressure at selected points. General Giraud was not willing to put French units under General Anderson’s command. Despite the need for unified control, its exercise by Giraud could not be reconciled with military and political realities.

The Allied commander in chief later resolved the problem by creating an advance command post at Constantine through which he himself would co-ordinate the parallel operations of French, British, and American commands; however, long before the activation of the post in January, Giraud had been diverted by other problems of great urgency.

During the night of 16-17 December a small raid on Maknassy was carried out by eighty selected men from Company L, U.S. 26th Infantry, under Lieutenant Colonel John W. Bowen. They struck the town from the flank and rear with complete surprise to the much larger garrison. They took twenty-one Italian prisoners from the Ariete Division, men who had survived EI ‘Alamein and arrived at Gabes on 10 December as members of the Italian 50th Special Brigade, but who were now, within a week, taken out of combat.

In preparing for a possible Allied offensive, Kesselring chose to strengthen von Arnim’s command in Tunisia rather than meet Rommel’s insistent requirements for the means of making a stand at Buerat el Hsun. On 17 December, when Rommel argued the futility of keeping his army there in view of the failure of the supply line and the inadequacy of the men and materiel he had been receiving, Kesselring assured von Arnim in Tunis that both men and materiel would soon be on the way to him. Three regiments of infantry and the truck transport with which to motorize the reserves would come to Tunisia. Stevedores and cranes from Italy would speed up port operations. Air support would take the form which von Arnim requested-strikes on the concentration areas and close support during future engagements. The Axis command also called for an extensive program of sabotage by parachutists and glider-borne troops intended to disrupt Allied supply traffic between the ports and the front, and to delay Allied advance to the coast in the vicinity of Sfax and Gabes. This attempt (Operation RIGA) was frustrated for the most part by Allied countermeasures.

The Engagement at Longstop Hill The second Allied attempt to take Tunis, it will be recalled, was to be preceded during the night of 22-23 December by the seizure of Grich el Oued by a reinforced company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards and the capture of Longstop Hill by the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. After Longstop had been secured, the Coldstreams were to hand it over before dawn to the 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry, and return to Medjez el Bab in order to participate in the main phase of the attack on Tunis. Longstop Hill, the objective of this initial phase of the attack, is not quite seven miles to the northeast of Med jez el Bab.

The mountain, rising to more than nine hundred feet, is separated from the higher ground to the west by a saddle, to the north by a small basin that widens into the plain of Toungar. Between the eastern slopes and a loop in the Medjerda river is a gap, less than half a mile wide, where a railroad station, Halte d ‘el Heri, is located. The dominating ridge stretches for almost two miles in an east-northeasterly direction and is marked by a succession of knolls, the highest being Point 290, near the center of the crest. At the far end, separated by a ravine from the main feature, rises another somewhat lower hill, Djebel el Rhar (243). The tactical significance of this hill, even its existence, had not been discovered during the reconnaissance for the attack.

Combat Team 18 of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division moved up from Oran with elements of the U.S. 36th Field Artillery Regiment (155-mm. guns) for the final attack. Although Djebel el Rhar has been described as masked during reconnaissance and not shown on the map used by the Guards battalion, it is clearly shown on Sheet 19 (Tebourba) of the 1:50,000 map published by the British War Office in 1942 and attached to the 78th Division’s attack orders held by Combat Team 18.

The battalion plan was to capture Longstop Hill by advancing with two companies on the left, via Chassart Teffaha, to take the col with one of them and secure the crest with the other. Meanwhile a third company, proceeding along the main road, was to take Halte d’el Heri. The reserve company, following the same route, would be assembled at the southern base of the hill close to the battalion headquarters.

On the German side, the 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment with attached elements of the newly arrived 754th Infantry Regiment, both under the command of Colonel Lang, held the line north of the Medjerda, the boundary between Lang’s sector and the one held by the adjoining 86th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, south of the river. During the night of 21-22 December elements of the crack 69th Panzer Grenadiers who had occupied positions on the hill and at the railroad station had been relieved by two companies of the hastily organized 754th Infantry Regiment. To speed up their commitment the men had been shipped to Tunisia with hand weapons only. They occupied the line without special equipment, lacked organic transport, and consequently had been unable to carry their full basic load of ammunition.

The German main line of resistance ran through Point 290, Djebel el Rhar, and Halte d’el Heri. The latter position was well protected by mine fields, some of which were not known to the Allies. As early as 21 December enemy artillery observers on Longstop Hill had recognized substantial Allied movements in the vicinity of Medjez el Bab. Patrols had reported Chassart Teffaha and Smidia reoccupied by the Allies. At noon, the next day, German air confirmed these reports. When the attack started, it lacked the element of surprise.

The British troops who engaged in the preliminary attack advanced through heavy rains which began late in the afternoon, 22 December, and continued throughout the night. Grieh el Oued was taken without opposition and held until 26 December, but vehicles had to be sent back lest they be trapped in the mire. The company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards (3/GG) relied henceforth on mules for transport.

North of the river the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards (2/CG), executed the initial phase of its assault according to plan. It secured Longstop Hill as far as Point 290; it also reached the railroad station. The green troops of the 754th Infantry Regiment, disheartened by the powerful Allied artillery preparation, soon exhausted their ammunition, and after a valiant effort to defend their position, with bayonets only, some elements withdrew. Things appeared to be going well for the Allies. But then the Germans counterattacked at the railroad station and drove the Coldstream Guards back. A reserve platoon which the Guards committed in an attempt to stabilize the situation ran into an antipersonnel mine field. The British commander, under the mistaken impression that he held all of Longstop Hill, abandoned the attack and left the Germans in control of HaIte d’el Heri.

The 1st Battalion, U.S. 18th Infantry, had meanwhile begun its advance from Medjez el Bab, but had fallen somewhat behind schedule. The British commander expected two of the U.S. rifle companies to take the route via Chassart Teffaha and the others including the battalion headquarters to follow the main road. The Americans, however, were disposed to take the left road with three companies, including the heavy weapons company and battalion headquarters, while sending only Company A and the battalion antitank platoon to Halte d’el Heri. The guides left by the Coldstream Guards to lead the several units into position either missed them in the dark rainy night, or did not know where to take them. The resulting confusion made orderly relief quite impossible. While the two commanding officers finally managed to meet at the British command post, their headquarters never did link up. At 0430 the 1st Guards Brigade ordered the Coldstream back to Medjez el Bab. The battalion, under the impression that only a handful of the enemy remained to be mopped up, left the hill before all positions previously held by them were reached by the Americans. The existence of Djebel el Rhar had gone unnoticed.

In the morning of 23 December the Americans realized that they held little more than half of Longstop Hill. Company A, reinforced by tanks, struck again for the railroad station, advancing between the road and Longstop Hill’s eastern slopes. In the gap a reinforced panzer grenadier company successfully enveloped most of the company, capturing or killing all but one officer and thirteen men. Meantime the 1st Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, had counterattacked the Americans dug in on the hill. Strong German elements circled the northwestern base of the Longstop massif and drove the Americans off Point 290. By 1500 Colonel Lang reported all positions of his former main line of resistance recaptured. An hour later the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, supported by British artillery, launched a co-ordinated counterattack against Point 290. In the face of determined German resistance the attack failed. By 1800 the U.S. battalion had to take up defensive positions to the west and south. B Company was now in an advance position on the knob closest to Point 290 with C and D Companies in support. Communications were exceedingly difficult. Wire lines were frequently cut; the rad105 got soaked in the heavy rain and failed. Those still operational were handicapped by the screening effect of the hills.

After the first setbacks the commanding officer of the 18th Infantry, Colonel Frank U. Greer, requested reinforcements, lest the whole mountain be lost. The Coldstream, back at Med jez el Bab since 1030, were the only reserve available. The 1st Guards Brigade now ordered them back. One company returned during the afternoon to the scene of its night battle, but it was not until late at night that the rest of the battalion was assembled at the entrance to the Colonel In the drenching rain all roads beyond Chassart Teffaha had become impassable. There were no mules to take the place of motor vehicles.

As both sides brought up additional forces, the battle for Longstop Hill came to a temporary halt. The enemy had watched the battle with deep concern. General von Arnim, his chief of staff, and General Fischer came forward during the day to Colonel Lang’s command post near the hill. Early in the morning von Arnim had sent elements of the 7th Panzer Regiment and an organic 88-mm. flak battery of the 10th Panzer Division to Toungar. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, was rushed to Tebourba gap. Additional elements of the 754th Infantry Regiment were also brought up and attached to Colonel Lang’s command.

In accordance with the Allied plan the 5th Northamptons, during the night of 22-23 December, had embarked on the highly difficult mission of advancing through the mountains from Toukabeur via Heidous and Sidi Ahmed to Tebourba gap. At noon (1235), meanwhile, 5 Corps had decided to postpone the main Allied attack, continuing only the battle for Longstop Hill. Desperate efforts were immediately undertaken to reach the Northamptons and order them back, but planes sent out were unable to locate the battalion in the cloud-covered mountains. The Germans, however, had been warned by Arabs. Patrols sent out confirmed the threat to Colonel Lang’s right flank. In the afternoon two companies of the 754th Infantry Regiment were dispatched to drive the British off Hill 466, some four miles north of Longstop Hill. In a bitter night engagement the Germans succeeded, but before this reassuring news could reach the German command the panzer grenadiers on Longstop had been almost driven off the mountain.

By 0600, on 24 December, the Coldstream Guards had again assembled in the Colonel This time the battalion planned to pass one company through B Company, 18th Infantry, still clinging to the hill opposite 290. The Guards company was to clear the ridge all the way to the east. It would thus be in a position to dominate the gap. Another British company would follow in support, while one reserve company would be held in the Colonel The fourth company was organized into carrying parties. At 1700, two hours before dark, the attack went off. Following closely behind a rolling barrage, the Coldstream again drove the Germans off the crest, “but when No.4 [Company] reached the final peak they saw in the failing light what had never been appreciated Djebel el Rhar staring at them across a gully. They thereupon inclined to the left and gallantly attempted to deal with this new objective. It was found, however, to be strongly held and to be a much larger area than anyone company could possibly cope with.”

Nevertheless the Coldstream temporarily reached Djebel el Rhar’s highest peak, Point 243, but in the darkness evidently never realized it. From the north slope the Germans continued to subject the companies to accurate and devastating mortar fire, while the men were struggling to dig in on the rocky crest as best they could. For the German command Christmas Eve had brought a serious crisis. Colonel Lang’s forces were still fighting to eliminate the threat to their right flank. The units on Longstop Hill had been driven off the massif and were regrouping in the eastern reentrants. Losses had been painful, though considerably below those of the Allies.

Faced with this situation Lang decided to counterattack the next morning. A small group in the center of the German line was able to regain Point 243 on Djebel el Rhar during the night. This unit was ordered to hold down the Allies with strong frontal fire. Armored elements of the 7th Panzer Regiment, swinging around the northern slopes of Longstop Hill, were to advance to the saddle, destroy the Allied troops there, and exploit by pushing toward the southern entrance of the pass. The main attack would round Longstop Hill’s base from the east with the objective of completing the double envelopment.

On Christmas Day, 0700, the enemy struck his final blow. In the col a company of French native troops without any antitank weapons was quickly dispersed by the German armored thrust. When the French withdrew they exposed the Allied left flank.


The enemy’s main-effort group, personally led by Colonel Lang, caught the Americans from the rear. The Coldstream Guards were thus isolated in their position on top of Longstop Hill. The Allied situation soon became untenable and when the Germans retook 290 by 0900, General Allfrey ordered his troops to withdraw. Against stubborn resistance the Germans took all of the remaining knobs of the hill, but when they sortied toward Chassart Taffaha they were stopped by mine fields and the 3rd Grenadier Guards who had been committed on the high ground to the east of the village. The enemy remained on Longstop Hill, and for understandable reasons called it thereafter “Christmas Hill.” Losses during the four-day engagement had been heavy. American casualties amounted to nine officers and three hundred and forty-seven men; the Coldstream Guards lost one hundred and seventy-eight officers and men.

Obviously a number of mistakes had been made in the planning and execution of the attack. Insufficient reconnaissance contributed to the fact that Longstop Hill was never completely captured. Requiring one battalion to secure the objective and perfect the transfer in the same night was asking the impossible. The Allied troops also lacked air support, largely owing to the weather conditions. During the decisive German counterattack on Christmas Day artillery support was highly unsatisfactory because the forward observers had been withdrawn the night before and were unable to return.

On 24 December, at V Corps headquarters, General Eisenhower and General Anderson had reached the conclusion that the weather dictated an indefinite deferment of the second Allied offensive aimed at capturing Tunis. After all troops which had moved east of the 11 December line had returned during the night of 25-26 December it was evident that not even the preliminary phase of the Allied attack, with the objective of gaining the approaches of the Tebourba-Djedelda area, had been realized. With the greatest reluctance, General Anderson and General Eisenhower in Constantine concluded that the race with the Axis forces had been lost. Tunisia would have to be taken by a prolonged struggle and with a strategy substantially revised. In his periodic review for the Combined Chiefs of Staff, General Eisenhower indicated that the initial, opportunistic phase of operations would now be followed by initiative in another quarter while the vast supplies and reinforcements needed to capture Tunis and Bizerte were slowly being accumulated.

The Allied Force would begin reorganizing immediately. Weather would not permit resumption of the attack in northern Tunisia for about two months. Acknowledging that abandonment of the attempt to capture Tunis was a severe disappointment, the Commander in Chief, Allied Force, deemed the evidence conclusive that any attempt to make a major attack in northern Tunisia under existing conditions would be to court disaster.

SOURCE: Northwest Africa: Seizing The Initiative In The West; by George F. Howe (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: North Africa (5-18); New Situation: Allied Reaction

World War Two: North Africa (4-17); Stalemate Before Tunis (pt.1)


Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Mua’s Answer (Part 47); Assyrian

Sweet Mua lifts her eyes toward the heights
That glow afar beneath the softened lights
That rest upon the mountain’s crystalline.
And see! they change their hues incarnadine
To gold, and emerald, and opaline;

Swift changing to a softened festucine
Before the eye. And thus they change their hues
To please the sight of every soul that views
Them in that Land; but she heeds not the skies,
Or glorious splendor of her home; her eyes.

Have that far look of spirits viewing men,
On earth, from the invisible mane,
That erstwhile rests upon the mortal eye,
A longing for that home beyond the sky;
A yearning for that bliss that love imparts,
Where pain and sorrow reach no mortal hearts.

A light now breaks across her beauteous face;
She, turning, says to him with Heavenly grace:

“Dear Izdubar, thou knowest how I love
Thee, how my heart my love doth daily prove;
And, oh, I cannot let thee go alone.
I know not what awaits each soul there gone.
Our spirits often leave this glorious land,
Invisible return on earth, and stand
Amidst its flowerets, ‘neath its glorious skies.
Thou knowest every spirit here oft flies
From earth, but none its secrets to us tell,
Lest some dark sorrow might here work its spell.
And, oh, I could not see dark suffering, woe
There spread, with power none to stop its flow!

“I saw thee coming to us struck with fire,
Oh, how to aid thee did my heart desire!
Our tablets tell us how dread sorrow spreads
Upon that world and mars its glowing meads.
But, oh, so happy am I, here to know
That they with us here end all sorrow, woe.

O precious Izdubar! its sights would strike
Me there with sadness, and my heart would break!
And yet I learn that it is glorious, sweet!
To there enjoy its happiness, so fleet
It speeds to sorrowing hearts to turn their tears
To joy! How sweet to them when it appears,
And sends a gleam of Heaven through their lives!

“No! no! dear heart! I cannot go! It grieves
Thee! come, my dear one! quick to us return;
We here again will pair our love, and learn
How sweet it is to meet with joy again;
How happy will sweet love come to us then!”

She rests her head upon his breast, and lifts
Her face for Love’s sweet kiss, and from them drifts
A halo o’er the shining gesdin-trees
And spreads around them Heaven’s holy rays.
He kisses her sweet lips, and brow, and eyes,
Then turns his gaze toward the glowing skies:

“I bless thee, for thy sweetest spirit here!
I bless this glorious land, that brings me near
To one that wafts sweet Heaven in my heart;
From thy dear plains how can my soul depart?
O Mua, Mua! how my heart now sings!
Thy love is sweeter than all earthly things!

I would I were not crowned a king!–away
From this bright land–here would I ever stay!
As thou hast said, I soon will here return;
The earth cannot withhold me from this bourne,
And soon my time allotted there will end,
And hitherward how happy I will wend!”

“And when thou goest, how my love shall there
Guard thee, and keep thy heart with Mua here.
Another kiss!”

Her form doth disappear
Within the garden, gliding through the air.
He seats himself upon a couch and rests
His head upon his hand, and thought invests
Him round. His memory returns again
To Erech’s throne, and all the haunts of men.
He rises, turns his footsteps to the halls,
And thoughtful disappears within its walls.

And so the tale ends

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Falls In Love With Mua (Part 46)

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Falls In Love With Mua (Part 46)

(And Offers Her His Hand)

“O Mua! thou bright Waters of the Dawn!
Oh, where art thou?” one cries as he doth run
Through the bright garden. See! ’tis Izdubar!
Immortal! glorious! our King of War!
And now in love is seeking Mua here.

He scarcely treads the ground as he comes near;
A glow of youth immortal on his cheek,
A form that sorrow, death, will never seek
Within these Happy Fields, his eyes with light
That Love alone may give, show his delight.

A dazzling pillared vista round him shines,
Where golden columns bear the bowering shrines,
With gemmed domes that clustering round him rise,
‘Mid fruit-trees, flashing splendors to the skies.

He goes through silver grots along a zone,
And now he passes yonder blazing throne,
O’er diamond pavements, passes shining seats
Whereon the high and holy conclave meets
To rule the empires vast that spread away
To utmost bounds in all their vast array.

Around the whole expanse grand cestes spread
O’er paths sidereal unending lead.
As circling wheels within a wheel they shine,
Enveloping the Fields with light divine.
A noontide glorious of shining stars,
Where humming music rings from myriad cars,
Where pinioned multitudes their harps may tune,
And in their holy sanctity commune.

And see! here Mua comes! she stops and waits
Within a “gesdin” bower beside its gates.
Around, above her spreads a flowering vine,
And o’er a ruby fountain almandine.

And on a graven garnet table grand,
Carved cups of solid pearl and tilpe[1] stand.
A Zadu[2] reservoir stands near, which rounds
The fount wherein the fragrant nectar bounds.
The ground is strewn with pari[3] gems and pearls,
Wherefrom the light now softly backward hurls
Its rays o’er couches of paruti[4] stone,
Soft cushioned, circling in the inner zone
Beside the shining kami-sadi way,[5]
Where nectar fountains in their splendor play.
The path leads far along Life’s beauteous stream,
That ever through this World of Joy doth gleam.

And see! the hero comes! and now doth near
The maiden, where with Love she waits him here.
She flings a flowering garland, weaves it round
His form as he comes by! He turns around,
And she enwraps his breast and arms, and says:

“Dear Izdubar! and thus my lover strays!
I’ll bind thee with this fragrant chain to keep
Thee ever by my side! thy pleasant sleep
Hath kept my lover from my side too long!”

“O thou sweet spirit, like a warbling song
Thy words are to my heart! I sought for thee,
And thy bright face and presence did not see;
I come to tell thee that I must return,
When from thy father all the past shall learn.”

“And wilt thou go from me to earth again?
No! no! dear Izdubar, I thee enchain!”

“‘Tis true, my love, I must return to men;
My duty calls me to my throne again.”

“Dear Izdubar! my friend! my love! my heart!
I cannot let thee from my soul depart!
Thou shinest in my breast as some bright star!
And shall I let thee from me go afar?”

“But Mua, we immortal are, and we
There might return; and thou on earth shalt see
The glories of my kingdom,–be my queen!

Upon a couch I’ll seat thee, there to reign
With me, my beauteous queen,–beside me sit;
And kings will come to us and kiss thy feet.
With all my wealth I’ll clothe thee, ever love
Thee, fairest of these glorious souls that move
Within this Happy World. My people there
Shall love us,–ever drive away all care!”

When Mua heard him offer thus his hand,
She then unbinds him,–thoughtful now doth stand.

[Footnote 1: “Tilpe,” a precious gem known only to the Babylonians.]–[Footnote 2: “Zadu,” a precious gem known only to the Babylonians.]–[Footnote 3: “Pari,” an unknown gem.]–[Footnote 4: “Paruti,” an unknown gem.]–[Footnote 5: “Kami-sadi” way, a path paved with unknown gems. These precious stones are mentioned on the various inscriptions in the list of precious jewels with gold, diamonds, pearls, etc., taken as spoils from their enemies.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Mua’s Answer (Part 47); Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: King Is Cured By The Incantations Of Khasisadra (PArt 45) Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: King Is Cured By The Incantations Of Khasisadra (PArt 45) Assyrian

(And He Becomes Immortal)

When Izdubar awakes, they lead the way
To the bright fount beside the jasper sea.
The seer, with Mua and Ur-Hea, stands
Beside the King, who holily lifts his hands
Above an altar where the glowing rays
Of sacred flames are curling; thus he prays:

“Ye glorious stars that shine on high,
Remember me! Oh, hear my cry,
Su-ku-nu,[1] bright Star of the West!
Dil-gan, my patron star, oh, shine!
O Mar-bu-du, whose rays invest
Dear Nipur[2] with thy light divine,
The flames that shines, upon the Waste!

O Papsukul, thou Star of Hope,
Sweet god of bliss, to me, oh, haste,
Before I faint and lifeless drop!
O Adar,[3] Star of Ninazu,
Be kind! O Ra-di-tar-tu-khu.
Sweet U-tu-ca-ga-bu,[4] dear Star
With thy pure face that shines afar!

“Oh, pardon me! each glorious Star!
Za-ma-ma,[5] hear me! O Za-ma-ma!
Ca-ca-ma u Ca-ca-ma.”[6]

“[7]Remember him! O dear Za-ma-ma!
Ca-ca-ma u Ca-ca-ma.”

As Izdubar doth end his holy prayer
He kneels, and they now bear his body where
A snowy couch doth rest beneath a shrine
That stands near by the glowing fount divine,
And Khasisadra lifts his holy hands,
His incantation chants, and o’er him stands.

“O Bel, Lord of An-nu-na-ci,
O Nina, Hea’s daughter! Zi![8]
This Incantation aid,
Remember us, Remember!

“[9]Ye tempests of High Heaven, be still!
Ye raging lightnings, oh, be calm!
From this brave man his strength is gone,
Before thee see him lying ill!
Oh, fill with strength his feeble frame,
O Ishtar, shine from thy bright throne!
From him thine anger turn away,
Come from thy glowing mountains, come!
From paths untrod by man, oh, haste!
And bid this man arise this day.
With strength divine as Heaven’s dome,
His form make pure and bright and chaste!
The evil curse, oh, drive away!

“Go! A-sac-cu-kab-bi-lu,[10] go!
O Nam-ta-ru-lim-nu,[11] oh, fly!
U-tuc-cu-lim-nu[12] from him flow!
A-lu-u-lim-nu,[13] hence! away!
E-ci-mu-lim-nu,[14] go! thou fiend!
Fly, Gal-lu-u-lim-nu,[15] afar!
Fly from his head! his life! I send
Thee, fiend! depart from Izdubar!

Go from his forehead, breast, and heart,
And feet! Avaunt! thou fiend! depart!
Oh, from the Curse, Thou Spirit High!
And Spirit of the Earth, come nigh!
Protect him, may his spirit fly!
O Spirit of the Lord of Lands,
And Goddess of the Earthly Lands,
Protect him! raise with strength his hands!

“Oh, make him as the Holy Gods,
His body, limbs, like thine Abodes,
And like the Heavens may he shine!
And like the Earth with rays divine!
Quick! with the khis-ib-ta[16] to bring
High Heaven’s Charm–bind round his brow!

The sis-bu[17] place around his hands!
And let the sab-u-sat[18] bright cling!
The mus-u-kat[19] lay round him now,
And wrap his feet with rad-bat-bands,[20]
And open now his zik-a-man[21]
The sis-bu cover, and his hands
The bas-sat[22] place around his form!
From baldness and disease, this man
Cleanse, make him whole, head, feet, and hands!

“O Purity, breathe thy sweet charm!

“Restore his health and make his skin
Shine beautifully, beard and hair
Restore! make strong with might his loins!
And may his body glorious shine
As the bright gods!–

Ye winds him bear!
Immortal flesh to his soul joins!
Thou Spirit of this man! arise!
Come forth with joy! Come to the skies!”

And lo! his leprosy has fled away!
He stands immortal,–purged! released from clay!

[Footnote 1: “Su-ku-nu” or “Kak-si-di,” the star of the West.]–[Footnote 2: “Nipur,” the city from which Izdubar came.]–[Footnote 3: “Adar,” the star of Ninazu, the goddess of death, who cursed him with leprosy in the cavern. This star was also called “Ra-di-tar-tu-khu.”]–[Footnote 4: “U-tu-ca-ga-bu,” the star with the white or pure face.]–[Footnote 5: “Za-ma-ma,” another name for Adar. This is the deity for whom Izdubar or Nammurabi built the great temple whose top, in the language of the Babylonians, reached the skies. It was afterward called the “Tower of the Country” or “Tower of Babylon.” This was perhaps the Tower of Babel. He also restored another temple called “Bite-muris,” which was dedicated to the same goddess.]–[Footnote 6: “Amen and amen!” The word “amen” is usually repeated three times.]–[Footnote 7: The response of the priest Khasi-sadra.]–[Footnote 8: “Zi,” spirits.]–[Footnote 9: See “T.S.B.A.,” vol. ii. p. 31.]–[Footnote 10: “A-sac-cu-kab-bi-lu,” evil spirit of the head.]–[Footnote 11: “Nam-ta-ru-lim-nu,” evil spirit of the life or heart.]–[Footnote 12: “U-tuc-cu-lim-nu,” evil spirit of the forehead.]–[Footnote 13: “A-lu-u-lim-nu,” evil spirit of the breast.]–[Footnote 14: “E-ci-mu-lim-nu,” evil spirit of the stomach.]–[Footnote 15: “Gal-lu-u-lim-nu,” evil spirit of the hands.]–[Footnote 16: “Khis-ib-ta,” a strip of parchment or linen on which was inscribed a holy text, a charm like that used by the Jews, a philactery.]–[Footnote 17: “Sis-bu,” the same as the preceding.]–[Footnote 18: “Sab-u-sat,” was perhaps a holy cloth, also inscribed in the same manner.]–[Footnote 19: “Mus-u-kat,” was also of the same character as the preceding.]–[Footnote 20: “Rad-bat-bands,” similar bands to the khis-ib-ta.]–[Footnote 21: “Zik-a-man,” this is unknown, it perhaps was the inner garment.]–[Footnote 22: “Bas-sat,” supposed to be the outside or last covering placed over the person so treated. That some such ceremony was performed in the case of Izdubar seems to be undoubted. See “Trans. Soc. Bib. Arch.,” vol. ii. p. 31; also Sayce’s edition Smith’s “C.A. of G.,” p. 290.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Khasisadra On The Shore Sees The Vessel Coming (Part 44) Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Khasisadra On The Shore Sees The Vessel Coming (Part 44) Assyrian

(And Returning To His Palace, Sends His Daughter Mua To Welcome Izdubar–Meeting Of The King And Sage)

Beneath a ku-tree Khasisadra eyes
The spreading sea beneath the azure skies,
An aged youth with features grave, serene,
Matured with godly wisdom; ne’er was seen
Such majesty, nor young, nor old,–a seer
In purpose high. The countenance no fear
Of death has marred, but on his face sublime
The perfect soul has left its seal through time.

“Ah, yes! the dream was clear, the vision true,
I saw him on the ship! Is it in view?
A speck! Ah, yes! He comes! he comes to me
My son from Erech comes across the sea!”
Back to his palace goes the holy seer,
And Mua[1] sends, who now the shore doth near;
As beautiful as Waters of the Dawn,
Comes Mua here, as graceful as a fawn.

The King now standing on the glistening sand,
Beholds the beauteous Mua where she stands,
With hands outstretched in welcome to the King,
“O thou sweet spirit, with thy snowy wing,
Oh, where is Khasisadra in this land?
I seek the aid of his immortal hand.”
“Great Sar,” said Mua, “hadst thou not a seer,
That thou shouldst come to seek my father here?”

“‘Tis true, my daughter dear, a seer had I,
Whom I have lost,–a dire calamity;
By his advice and love I undertake
This journey. But alas! for mine own sake
He fell by perils on this lengthened way;
He was not strong, and feared that he should lay
Himself to rest amid the mountains wild.
He was a warrior, with him I killed
Khumbaba, Elam’s king who safely dwelt
Within a forest vast of pines, and dealt
Destruction o’er the plains. We razed his walls–
My friend at last before me dying falls.

“Alas! why did my seer attempt to slay
The dragons that we met upon the way,
He slew his foe, and like a lion died.
Ah, me! the cause, when I the gods defied,
And brought upon us all this awful woe;
In sorrow o’er his death, my life must flow!
For this I came to find the ancient seer,
Lead me to him, I pray, if he lives here.”

Then Mua leads him through the glorious land
Of matchless splendor, on the border grand
Of those wide Happy Fields that spread afar
O’er beaming hills and vales, where ambient air
With sweetest zephyrs sweeps a grand estrade,
Where softest odors from each flowering glade
Lull every sense aswoon that breathes not bliss
And harmony with World of Blessedness.

‘Neath trees of luring fruits she leads the way,
Through paths of flowers where night hath fled away,
A wilderness of varied crystal flowers,
Where fragrance rests o’er clustering, shining bowers.
Each gleaming cup its nectared wine distils,
For spirit lips each chalice ever fills.

Beyond the groves a lucent palace shone
In grandest splendor near an inner zone;
In amethyst and gold divinely rose,
With glories scintillant the palace glows.
A dazzling halo crowns its lofty domes,
And spreading from its summit softly comes
With grateful rays, and floods the balustrades
And golden statues ‘neath the high arcades;
A holy palace built by magic hand
With wondrous architecture, portals grand,
And aurine turrets piled to dizzy heights,
Oh, how its glory Izdubar delights!

Beneath majestic arcades carved, they pass,
Up golden steps that shine like polished glass,
Through noble corridors with sculptured walls,
By lofty columns, archways to the halls
Of glories, the bright harbinger of fanes
Of greater splendor of the Heavenly plains.
Beneath an arch of gems the King espies
A form immortal, he who death defies.

Advancing forth the sage his welcome gives,
“‘Tis Izdubar who comes to me and lives!”
Embracing him he leads him in a room,
Where many a curious graven tablet, tome,
And scrolls of quaint and old forgotten lore
Have slept within for centuries of yore.
The tablets high are heaped, the alcoves full,
Where truth at last has found a welcome goal.

In wisdom’s room, the sage his guest has led,
And seats him till the banquet high is spread;
Of Izdubar he learns his journeys great,
How he for aid has left his throne of state.

The maid now comes, him welcomes to the hall
Of banquets, where are viands liberal,
And fruits, immortal bread, celestial wines
Of vintage old; and when the hero dines,
They lead him to his private chamber room
That overlooks the wondrous garden’s bloom
Across the plain and jasper sea divine,
To Heaven’s mountains rising sapphirine.

Four beauteous streams of liquid silver lead
Across the plain; the shining sea they feed;
The King reclines upon his couch at rest,
With dreams of happiness alone is blest.

[Footnote 1: “Mua,” the waters of the dawn, the daughter of Khasisadra.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King On Leaving The Happy Halls Meets Ur-Hea (Part 43) Assyrian

Ancient Empires: Babylon (2)

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)

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King On Leaving The Happy Halls Meets Ur-Hea (Part 43) Assyrian

(The Boatman Of The Seer Khasisadra–They Build A Ship And Embark On An Unknown Sea, And On Their Voyage Pass Through The Waters Of Death)

And Izdubar turned from the Halls and goes
Toward a fountain in the park, whence flows
A merry stream toward the wood.

He finds An axe beside the fount, and thoughtful winds,
Through groves of sandal-wood and mastic-trees
And algum, umritgana. Now he sees
The sig-a-ri and ummakana, pines,
With babuaku; and ri-wood brightly shines
Among the azuhu; all precious woods
That man esteems are grown around, each buds
Continuous in the softened, balmy air.

He stops beneath a musrilkanna where
The pine-trees spread toward the glowing sea,
Wild mingled with the surman, sa-u-ri.

The King, now seated, with himself communes,
Heeds not the warbling of the birds, and tunes
Of gorgeous songsters in the trees around,
But sadly sighing gazes on the ground:
“And I a ship must build; alas! I know
Not how I shall return, if I thus go.

The awful Flood of Death awaits me there,
Wide-stretching from this shore–I know not where.”
He rests his chin upon his hand in thought,
Full weary of a life that woe had brought;

He says: “When I remember Siduri,
Whose heart with fondest love would comfort me
Within these Happy Halls, why should I go
To pain and anguish, death, mayhap, and woe?
But will I thus desert my kingdom, throne?
For one I know not! What! my fame alone!
Mine honor should preserve! and royal state!
Alas! this Fame is but a dream of–Fate!

“A longing after that which does not cheer
The heart. Applause of men, or thoughtless sneer,
Is naught to me, I am alone! alone!
This Immortality cannot atone
For my hard fate that wrings mine aching heart.
I long for peace and rest, and I must start
And find it, leave these luring bright abodes,–
I seek the immortality of gods.

This Fame of man is not what it doth seem,
It sleeps with all the past, a vanished dream.
My duty calls me to my kingdom, throne!
To Khasisadra go, whose aid alone
Can save my people from an awful fate
That hangs above them, born of Fiends of hate.

And I shall there return without my seer!
I live; and he is dead. Why did I hear
His words advising me to come? Alas!
I sadly all my weary days shall pass;
No one shall love me as my seer, my friend.

“But what said Siduri?–There comes an end
At last to sorrow, joy will hopeful spring
On wings of Light! Oh, how my heart will sing!
I bless ye all, ye holy spirits here!
Your songs will linger with me, my heart cheer;
Upon my way I turn with joy again!

How true your joyful song! your memory then
Will keep me hopeful through yon darkened way;
How bright this land doth look beside the sea!”

He looks across the fields; the river glows
And winds beside taprani-trees, and flows
By teberinth and groves of tarpikhi
And ku-trees; curving round green mez-kha-i,
Through beds of flowers, that kiss its waves and spring
Luxuriant,–with songs the groves far ring.

Now thinking of the ship, he turns his eyes,
Toward the fountain,–springs up with surprise!
“‘Tis he! the boatman comes! Ur-Hea comes!
And, oh! at last, I’ll reach the glistening domes
Of Khasisadra’s palaces,–at last
My feet shall rest,–upon that land be placed.”

And now Ur-Hea nearer makes his way,
And Izdubar addressing him, doth say:
“Ur-Hea is thy name? from yonder sea
Thou comest, from the seer across the way?”

“Thou speakest truth, great Sar, what wouldst thou have?”
“How shall I Khasisadra reach? The grave
He hath escaped, Immortal lives beyond,
For I to him upon my way am bound;
Shall I the waters cross or take my way
Through yon wide desert, for I start this day?”

“Across the sea we go, for I with thee
Return to him,–I know the winding way.
Thine axe of bronze with precious stones inlaid
With mine, we’ll use beneath the pine-trees’ shade.”

And now, within the grove a ship they made,
Complete and strong as wise Ur-Hea bade.
They fell the pines five “gar” in length, and hew
The timbers square, and soon construct a new
And buoyant vessel, firmly fixed the mast,
And tackling, sails, and oars make taut and fast.

Thus built, toward the sea they push its prow,
Equipped complete, provisioned, launch it now.
An altar next they raise and thus invoke
The gods, their evil-workings to revoke:

“[1]O Lord of Charms, Illustrious! who gives
Life to the Dead, the Merciful who lives,
And grants to hostile gods of Heaven return,
To homage render, worship thee, and learn
Obedience! Thou who didst create mankind
In tenderness, thy love round us, oh, wind!

The Merciful, the God with whom is Life,
Establish us, O Lord, in darkest strife.
O never may thy truth forgotten be,
May Accad’s race forever worship thee.”

One month and fifteen days upon the sea,
Thus far the voyagers are on their way;
Now black before them lies a barren shore,
O’ertopped with frowning cliffs, whence comes a roar
Of some dread fury of the elements
That shakes the air and sweeping wrath foments
O’er winds and seas.

And see! a yawning cave,
There opens vast into a void dislave,
Where fremed shadows ride the hueless waves.
Dread Ninazu whose deathless fury craves
For hapless victims lashes with a roar
The mighty seas upon that awful shore.

The Fiends of Darkness gathered lie in wait,
With Mammitu, the goddess of fierce hate,
And Gibil[2] with his spells, and Nibiru[3]
The twin-god of black Fate, and grim Nusku[4]
The keeper of red thunders, and Urbat[5]
The dog of Death, and fiend of Queen Belat;[6]
And Nuk-khu, and the black-browed Ed-hutu[7]
The gods of darkness here with Tsi-lat-tu.[8]

And see! Dark Rimmon[9] o’er a crag alone!
And Gibil with his blasting malisoun,
Above with his dark face maleficent,
Who wields a power o’er men omnipotent
Forlore! forlore! the souls who feel that blast
Which sweeps around that black forbidding coast!

Fierce whirling storms and hurricanes here leap,
With blasting lightnings maltalent and sweep
The furious waves that lash around that shore,
As the fierce whirl of some dread maelstrom’s power!
Above the cavern’s arch! see! Ninip[10] stands!
He points within the cave with beckoning hands!

Ur-Hea cries: “My lord! the tablets[11] say,
That we should not attempt that furious way!
Those waters of black death will smite us down!
Within that cavern’s depths we will but drown.”
“We cannot go but once, my friend, that road,”
The hero said, “‘Tis only ghosts’ abode!”

“We go, then, Izdubar, its depths will sound,
But we within that gloom will whirl around,
Around, within that awful whirlpool black,–
And once within, we dare not then turn back,–
How many times, my friend, I dare not say,
‘Tis written, we within shall make our way.”

The foaming tide now grasped them with its power,
And billowed round them with continuous roar;
Away! they whirl! with growing speed, till now
They fly on lightnings’ wings and ride the brow
Of maddened tempests o’er the dizzy deep.
So swift they move,–the waves in seeming sleep
Beneath them, whirling there with force unseen.

But see! Updarting with a sulphurous gleen,
The hag of Death leaps on the trembling prow!
Her eyes, of fire and hate, turns on them now!
With famine gaunt, and haggard face of doom,
She sits there soundless in the awful gloom.

“O gods!” shrieked Izdubar in his despair,
“Have I the god of Fate at last met here?
Avaunt, thou Fiend! hence to thy pit of Hell!
Hence! hence! and rid me of thy presence fell!”

And see! she nearer comes with deathless ire,
With those fierce, moveless, glaring eyes of fire!
Her wand is raised! she strikes!

“O gods!” he screams;
He falls beneath that bolt that on them gleams,
And she is gone within the awful gloom.
Hark! hear those screams!
“Accurst! Accurst thy doom!”
And lo! he springs upon his feet in pain,
And cries: “Thy curses, fiend! I hurl again!”
And now a blinding flash disparts the black
And heavy air, a moment light doth break;

And see! the King leans fainting ‘gainst the mast,
With glaring eyeballs, clenched hands,–aghast!
Behold! that pallid face and scaly hands!
A leper white, accurst of gods, he stands!
A living death, a life of awful woe,
Incurable by man, his way shall go.
But oh! the seer in all enchantments wise
Will cure him on that shore, or else he dies.

And see! the vessel’s prow with shivering turns,
Adown the roaring flood that gapes and churns
Beneath like some huge boiling cauldron black,
Thus whirl they in the slimy cavern’s track.
And spirit ravens round them fill the air,
And see! they fly! the cavern sweeps behind!

Away the ship doth ride before the wind!
The darkness deep from them has fled away,
The fiends are gone!–the vessel in the spray
With spreading sails has caught the glorious breeze,
And dances in the light o’er shining seas;

The blissful haven shines upon their way,
The waters of the Dawn sweep o’er the sea!
They proudly ride up to the glowing sand,
And joyfully the King springs to the land.

[Footnote 1: This remarkable prayer is to be found among a collection of prayers which are numbered and addressed to separate deities. It seems that the prayers were originally Accadian, and were afterward adopted by the Assyrians, and made to apply to one god (Hea). Professor Oppert and Professor Sayce think, however, that they are connected in one hymn to Hea. This may have been so after the Assyrians adopted them, but they are distinct, and addressed to separate gods. The one we have selected is addressed to Hea, the Creator of Mankind, Sayce edition Smith’s “C.A.G.,” pp. 75 to 80. The one we have selected is found at the top of page 77, idem.]–[Footnote 2: “Gibil,” the god of fire, of spells and witchcraft.]–[Footnote 3: “Nibiru,” the god of fate, and ruler of the stars.]–[Footnote 4: “Nusku,” the gatekeeper of thunders.]–[Footnote 5: “Urbat,” the dog of Death.]–[Footnote 6: “Belat” or “Allat,” the Queen of Hades.]–[Footnote 7: “Ed-hutu,” god of darkness.]–[Footnote 8: “Tsi-lat-tu,” shades of night.]–[Footnote 9: “Rimmon,” god of storms.]–[Footnote 10: “Ninip,” god of bravery and war.]–[Footnote 11: “Tablets.” This may mean charts or scrolls similar to the charts used by modern navigators. Babylon communicated with all nations in commerce.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Khasisadra On The Shore Sees The Vessel Coming (Part 44) Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King’s Adventure At The Gate Of The Garden Of The Gods (Part 42) Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King’s Adventure At The Gate Of The Garden Of The Gods (Part 42) Assyrian

(With The Two Maidens–One Of Them Leads Him Into The Happy Halls–Songs Of The Sabitu And Zi-Si.)

A gate half opened shows the silvery sea
Yet distant shining lambent on his way.
And now he sees young Siduri,[1] whose breast
Infuses life; all nature she hath blest,
Whose lips are flames, her arms are walls of fire,
Whose love yields pleasures that can never tire,
She to the souls who joy on earth here miss,
Grants them above a holier, purer bliss.

The maiden sits within a holy shrine
Beside the gate with lustrous eyes divine,
And beckons to the King, who nearer comes,
And near her glows the Happy Palace domes.

And lo! ’tis she his lips have fondly kissed
Within the garden, when like fleeing mist
She disappeared with the bright spirit Seven,[2]
The Sabit, who oft glide from earth to Heaven.
And lo! one of the Seven, Sabitu,
Emerging from the gate doth jealous view
The coming hero who hath kissed her mate,
She angry springs within to close the gate,
And bars it, enters then the inner halls,
And Izdubar to her now loudly calls,
“O Sabitu! what see-est thou, my maid?
Of Izdubar is Sabitu afraid?

Thy gate thou barrest thus before my face.
Quick, open for me! or I’ll force the brass!”
The maid now frightened opens wide the door.
The Sar and Siduri now tread the floor
Of the bright palace where sweet joy doth reign.
Through crystal halls ‘neath golden roofs the twain
Next go within a lofty ceilinged hall,
With shining pearled columns, golden wall,
And purple silken hangings at each door,
With precious gems inlaid upon the floor;
Where couches grand are spread for one to rest
Beneath the softened rays that sweet invest
The senses with a thrill of happiness;
Where Siduri with joy all souls doth bless.

The maid sits on a couch and turns her face
Toward the King with that immortal grace
That love to gods and men will e’er bestow.
Their eyes now mingling with a happy glow,
The maiden sweetly says: “Where wouldst thou go?
Within these Happy Halls we joy but know,
And if thou wilt, my King, my heart is thine!
Our love will ever bring us bliss divine.”

“Alas, my maid, thy love to me is dear,
And sad am I that I must go from here.
I came from Erech by advice from one
I loved more than thou canst e’er know, but gone
From me is my Heabani, faithful seer.
Across a desert waste have I come here,
And he has there to dust returned,–to dust–
O how the love of my friend I did trust!
I would that we had never started here,
I now must find the great immortal seer.”

The maiden turns her glowing eyes on him,
Replies: “My King, thou knowest joy may gleam,
Take courage, weary heart, and sing a song!
The hour of sorrow can never be long;

The day will break, and flood thy soul with joy,
And happiness thy heart will then employ!
Each day must end with all its sorrow, woe,
Oh, sing with me, dear heart! I love thee so!”
And lo! the curtains flung aside, now comes
The joyous Sabitu from yonder rooms,
And gathering round, a song they gayly sing,
Oh, how with music the bright walls now ring!
If evil thou hast done, my King,

Oh, pray! oh, pray!
And to the gods thy offerings bring,
And pray! and pray!
The sea is roaring at thy feet,
The storms are coming, rain and sleet;
To all the gods,
Oh, pray to them! oh, pray!


To all the gods,
Oh, pray to them! oh, pray!

Thy city we will bless, O Sar!
With joy, with joy!
And prosper thee in peace and war
With joy, with joy!
And bless thee every day and night,
Thy kingly robes keep pure and bright;
Give thee bright dreams,
O glorious king of war!


Give thee bright dreams,
O glorious king of war!

And if thy hand would slay thy foes
In war, in war!
With thee returning victory goes
In war, in war!
We grant thee victory, my King;
Like marshes swept by storms, we bring
Our power to thee
With victory in war!


Our power to thee
With victory in war!

And if thou wouldst the waters pass,
The sea, the sea!
We’ll go with thee in every place,
With thee, with thee!
To Hea’s halls and glorious throne,
Where he unrivalled reigns alone,
To Hea go
Upon his throne of snow.


To Hea go
Upon his throne of snow.

And if thine anger rules thy heart
As fire, as fire!
And thou against thy foes would start
With ire, with ire!
Against thy foes thy heart be hard,
And all their land with fire be scarred,
Destroy thy foes!
Destroy them in thine ire!


Destroy thy foes!
Destroy them in thine ire!

And lo! young Siduri hath disappeared,
And with the Zisi crowned she now appeared;
The corn-gods in a crescent round their queen,
She waves before the king her Nusku[3] green,
And sings with her sweet voice a joyful lay,
And all the Zisi join the chorus gay:

[4]A heifer of the corn am I,
Kara! Kara![5]
Yoked with the kine we gayly fly,
Kara! Kara!
The ploughman’s hand is strong and drives
The glowing soil, the meadow thrives!
Before the oxen
Sa-lum-mat-u na-si.[6]


Before the oxen
Sa-lum-mat-u na-si.

The harvesters are in the corn!
Kara! Kara!
Our feet are flying with the morn,
Kara! Kara!
We bring thee wealth! it is thine own!
The grain is ripe! oh, cut it down!
The yellow grain
Sa-lum-mat-u na-si.


The yellow grain
Sa-lum-mat-u na-si.

The fruit of death, oh, King, taste it not!
Taste not! taste not!
With fruit of Life the land is fraught
Around! around!
The fruit of Life we give to thee
And happiness, oh, ever see.
All joy is thine
Through Earth and Heaven’s bound.


All joy is thine
Through Earth and Heaven’s bound.

Our corn immortal there is high
And ripe! and ripe!
And ever ripens ‘neath that sky
As gold! as gold!
Our corn is bearded,[7] thus ’tis known,
And ripens quickly when ’tis grown.
Be joy with thee,
Our love around thee fold!


Be joy with thee,
Our love around thee fold!

Our King from us now goes, now goes!
Away! away!
His royal robe behind him glows
Afar! afar!
Across the waves where Hea reigns
The waters swollen he soon gains!
To our great seer,
He sails to him afar!


To our great seer,
He sails to him afar!

And he will reach that glorious land
Away! away!
Amid our fruit-trees he will stand
That day! that day!
Our fruit so sweet the King will eat,
Nor bitter mingle with the sweet.
In our seer’s land
That glows afar away!


In our seer’s land
That glows afar away!

The singing spirits from them fled, and he
Alone stood thinking by young Siduri.

The King leaned on his bow, and eyed the maid,
A happy look came in his eyes,–and fled,
For lo! the curtain quick aside is pushed,
And Sabitu within upon them rushed.

She stately glides across the shining floor,
And eyes them both, then turns toward the door.
But Izdubar is equal to the task,
With grace now smiling, of the maid doth ask:
“O Sabitu! wouldst thou tell me the way
To Khasisadra? for I go this day.

If I the sea may cross, how shall I go?
Or through the desert? thou the path mayst know.”
The maiden startled looks upon his face,
And thus she answers him with queenly grace:
“So soon must go? Thou canst not cross the sea,
For thou wilt perish in the waves that way.

Great Samas once the way of me did ask,
And I forbade him, but the mighty task
He undertook, and crossed the mighty deep,
Where Death’s dark waters lie in wait asleep:
His mighty car of gold swept through the skies,
With fiery chargers now he daily flies.

When I approach thee, thou from me wouldst flee?
But if thou must so soon thus go, the sea
Perhaps thou too canst cross, if thou wilt ‘void
Death’s waters, which relentless ever glide.

But Izdubar, Ur-Hea, here hath come!
The boatman of the seer, who to his home
Returns. He with an axe in yonder woods
A vessel builds to cross the raging floods.
If thou desirest not to cross with him,
We here will welcome thee through endless time;
But if thou goest, may they see thy face
Thou seekest,–welcome thee, and thy heart bless.”

[Footnote 1: “Siduri,” the “pourer” or “shedder forth,” the “all-bountiful,” the goddess who brings the rain, and mists, and running streams to fill the vegetable world with its productions; the goddess who
presides over productive nature. She was also called “the Goddess of Wisdom.”]–[Footnote 2: Seven spirits of the earth and heaven, the daughters of Hea.]–[Footnote 3: “Nusku,” a budding or blooming shrub or branch, the wand of the Queen, used in magical incantations, which was called the plant of
Nusku, the divining-rod.]–[Footnote 4: See Accadian songs, “C.I.W.A.,” vol. ii. 15, 16, and translated by Mr. Sayce in “Records of the Past, vol. xi. pp. 154, 155.]–[Footnote 5: “Kara!” cry out, sing, shout.]–
[Footnote 6: “Sa-lum-mat-u na-si,” lift up the shadows, or be joyful.]–[Footnote 7: “Our corn is bearded.” This refers to the heads of wheat which are bearded. See translation by Mr. Sayce, “the corn is bearded.” (“Records of the Past,” vol. xi. p. 156.)]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VIII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King On Leaving The Happy Halls Meets Ur-Hea (Part 43) Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Enters Hades (Part 41); Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Enters Hades (Part 41); Assyrian

(The Song Of The Dalkhi In The Cavern Of Horrors—The King Passes Through Hades To The Garden Of The Gods, And Sees The Wonderful Fountain Of Life’s Waters)

In a weird passage to the Under-World,
Where demon shades sit with their pinions furled
Along the cavern’s walls with poisonous breath,
In rows here mark the labyrinths of Death.
The King with torch upraised, the pathway finds,
Along the way of mortal souls he winds,

Where shades sepulchral, soundless rise amid
Dark gulfs that yawn, and in the blackness hide
Their depths beneath the waves of gloomy lakes
And streams that sleep beneath the sulphurous flakes
That drift o’er waters bottomless, and chasms;
Where moveless depths receive Life’s dying spasms.

Here Silence sits supreme on a drear throne
Of ebon hue, and joyless reigns alone
O’er a wide waste of blackness,–solitude
Black, at her feet, there sleeps the awful flood
Of mystery which grasps all mortal souls,
Where grisly horrors sit with crests of ghouls,
And hateless welcome with their eyes of fire
Each soul;–remorseless lead to terrors dire;
And ever, ever crown the god of Fate;
And there, upon her ebon throne she sate
The awful fiend, dark goddess Mam-mitu,
Who reigns through all these realms of La-Atzu.[1]

But hark! what are these sounds within the gloom?
And see! long lines of torches nearer come!
And now within a recess they have gone;
The King must pass their door! perhaps some one
Of them may see him! turn the hags of gloom
Upon him, as he goes by yonder room!
He nearer comes, and peers within; and see!

A greenish glare fills all the cave! and he
Beholds a blaze beneath a cauldron there;
Coiled, yonder lie the Dragons of Despair;
And lo! from every recess springs a form
Of shapeless horror! now with dread alarm
He sees the flitting forms wild whirling there,
And awful wailings come of wild despair:
But hark! the “dal-khis’“ song rings on the air!
With groans and cries they shriek their mad despair:

Oh, fling on earth, ye demons dark,
Your madness, hate, and fell despair,
And fling your darts at each we mark,
That we may welcome victims here.

Then sing your song of hate, ye fiends,
And hurl your pestilential breath,
Till every soul before us bends,
And worship here the god of Death.

In error still for e’er and aye,
They see not, hear not many things;
The unseen forces do not weigh,
And each an unknown mystery brings.

In error still for e’er and aye,
They delve for phantom shapes that ride
Across their minds alone,–and they
But mock the folly of man’s pride.

In error still for e’er and aye!
They learn but little all their lives,
And Wisdom ever wings her way,
Evading ever,–while man strives!

But hark! another song rings through the gloom,
And, oh, how sweet the music far doth come!
Oh, hear it, all ye souls in your despair,
For joy it brings to sorrowing ones e’en here!

“There is a Deep Unknown beyond,
That all things hidden well doth weigh!
On man’s blind vision rests the bond
Of error still for e’er and aye!

“But to the mighty gods, oh, turn
For truth to lead you on your way,
And wisdom from their tablets learn,
And ever hope for e’er and aye!”

And see! the hags disperse within the gloom,
As those sweet sounds resound within the room;
And now a glorious light doth shine around,
Their rays of peace glide o’er the gloomy ground.
And lo! ’tis Papsukul, our god of Hope,–
With cheerful face comes down the fearful slope
Of rugged crags, and blithely strides to where
Our hero stands, amid the poisonous air,

And says: “Behold, my King, that glorious Light
That shines beyond! and eye no more this sight
Of dreariness, that only brings despair,
For phantasy of madness reigneth here!”
The King in wonder carefully now eyes
The messenger divine with great surprise,

And says: “But why, thou god of Hope, do I
Thus find thee in these realms of agony?
This World around me banishes thy feet
From paths that welcome here the god of Fate
And blank despair, and loss irreparable.
Why comest thou to woe immeasurable?”

“You err, my King, for hope oft rules despair;
I ofttimes come to reign with darkness here;
When I am gone, the god of Fate doth reign;
When I return, I soothe these souls again.”
“So thus you visit all these realms of woe,
To torture them with hopes they ne’er can know?

Avaunt! If this thy mission is on Earth
Or Hell, thou leavest after thee but dearth!”
“Not so, my King! behold yon glorious sphere,
Where gods at last take all these souls from here!
Adieu! thou soon shalt see the World of Light,
Where joy alone these souls will e’er delight.”

The god now vanishes away from sight,
The hero turns his face toward the light;
Nine “kaspu” walks, till weird the rays now gleam,
As “zi-mu-ri” behind the shadows stream.

He sees beyond, umbrageous grots and caves,
Where odorous plants entwine their glistening leaves.
And lo! the trees bright flashing gems here bear!
And trailing vines and flowers do now appear,
That spread before his eyes a welcome sight,
Like a sweet dream of some mild summer night.

But, oh! his path leads o’er that awful stream,
Across a dizzy arch ‘mid sulphurous steam
That covers all the grimy bridge with slime.
He stands perplexed beside the waters grime,
Which sluggish move adown the limbo black,
With murky waves that writhe demoniac,

As ebon serpents curling through the gloom
And hurl their inky crests, that silent come
Toward the yawning gulf, a tide of hate;
And sweep their dingy waters to Realms of Fate.

He cautious climbs the slippery walls of gloom,
And dares not look beneath, lest Fate should come;
He enters now the stifling clouds that creep
Around the causeway, while its shadows sleep
Upon the stream that sullen moves below,–

He slips!–and drops his torch! it far doth glow
Beneath him on the rocks! Alas, in vain
He seeks a path to bring it back again.

It moves! snatched by a “dal-khu’s” hand it flies
Away within the gloom, then falling dies
Within those waters black with a loud hiss
That breaks the silence of that dread abyss.

He turns again, amid the darkness gropes,
And careful climbs the cragged, slimy slopes,
And now he sees, oh, joy! the light beyond!
He springs! he flies along the glowing ground,
And joyous dashes through the waving green
That lustrous meets his sight with rays serene,

Where trees pure amber from their trunks distil,
Where sweet perfumes the groves and arbors fill,
Where zephyrs murmur odors from the trees,
And sweep across the flowers, carrying bees
With honey laden for their nectar store;
Where humming sun-birds upward flitting soar
O’er groves that bear rich jewels as their fruit,
That sparkling tingle from each youngling shoot,
And fill the garden with a glorious blaze
Of chastened light and tender thrilling rays.

He glides through that enchanted mystic world,
O’er streams with beds of gold that sweetly twirled
With woven splendor ‘neath the blaze of gems
That crown each tree with glistening diadems.

The sounds of streams are weft with breezes, chant
Their arias with trembling leaves,–the haunt
Of gods! O how the tinkling chorus rings!–
With rhythms of the unseen rustling wings
Of souls that hover here where joy redeems
Them with a happiness that ever gleams.

The hero stands upon a damasked bed
Of flowers that glow beneath his welcome tread,
And softly sink with ‘luring odors round,
And beckon him to them upon the ground.

Amid rare pinks and violets he lies,
And one sweet pink low bending near, he eyes.
With tender petals thrilling on its stem,
It lifts its fragrant face and says to him,
“Dear King, wilt thou love me as I do thee?

We love mankind, and when a mortal see
We give our fragrance to them with our love,
Their love for us our inmost heart doth move.”
The King leans down his head, it kissing, says,
“Sweet beauty, I love thee? with thy sweet face?

My heart is filled with love for all thy kind.
I would that every heart thy love should find.”
The fragrant floweret thrills with tenderness,
With richer fragrance answers his caress.
He kisses it again and lifts his eyes,
And rises from the ground with glad surprise.

And see! the glorious spirits clustering round!
They welcome him with sweet melodious sound.
We hear their golden instruments of praise,
As they around him whirl a threading maze;
In great delight he views their beckoning arms,
And lustrous eyes, and perfect, moving forms.

And see! he seizes one bright, charming girl,
As the enchanting ring doth nearer whirl;
He grasps her in his arms, and she doth yield
The treasure of her lips, where sweets distilled
Give him a joy without a taint of guilt.

It thrills his heart-strings till his soul doth melt,
A kiss of chastity, and love, and fire,
A joy that few can dare to here aspire.
The beauteous spirit has her joy, and flees
With all her sister spirits ‘neath the trees.

And lo! the “gesdin”[2] shining stands,
With crystal branches in the golden sands,
In this immortal garden stands the tree,
With trunk of gold, and beautiful to see.

Beside a sacred fount the tree is placed,
With emeralds and unknown gems is graced,
Thus stands, the prince of emeralds,[3] Elam’s tree,
As once it stood, gave Immortality
To man, and bearing fruit, there sacred grew,
Till Heaven claimed again Fair Eridu.[4]

The hero now the wondrous fountain eyes;
Its beryl base to ruby stem doth rise,
To emerald and sapphire bands that glow,
Where the bright curvings graceful outward flow;

Around the fountain to its widest part,
The wondrous lazite bands now curling start
And mingle with bright amethyst that glows,
To a broad diamond band,–contracting grows
To “uk-ni” stone, turquoise, and clustering pearls,
Inlaid with gold in many curious curls
Of twining vines and tendrils bearing birds,

Among the leaves and blooming flowers, that words
May not reveal, such loveliness in art,
With fancies spirit hands can only start
From plastic elements before the eye,
And mingle there the charms of empery.

Beneath two diamond doves that shining glow
Upon the summit, the bright waters flow,
With aromatic splendors to the skies,
While glistening colors of the rainbow rise.

Here ends the tablet,[5] “When the hero viewed
The fountain which within the garden stood.”

[Footnote 1: “La-Atzu,” Hades, hell, the spirit-world.]–[Footnote 2: “Gesdin,” the Tree of Life and Immortality.]–[Footnote 3: See Sayce’s edition Smith’s “Chald. Acc. of Gen.,” p. 264.]–[Footntoe 4: “Eridu,” the Garden of Eden. Idem, pp. 84-86.]–[Footnote 5: “Tablet of the series; when the hero Izdubar saw the fountain.”–Sayce’s edition Smith’s “Chald. Acc. of Gen.,” p. 264, l. 14.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: The King’s Adventure At The Gate Of The Garden Of The Gods (Part 42) Assyrian

Epic Of Ishtar And Izdubar: The King Buries His Seer In The Cave (Part 40); Assyrian

Epic Of Ishtar And Izdubar: The King Buries His Seer In The Cave (Part 40); Assyrian

(And Continuing His Journey, He Meets Two Fiery Giants Who Guide The Sun In The Heavens–They Make Merry Over The King, And Direct Him On His Way)

The King within the cave his seer entombs,
And mourning sadly from the cavern comes;
The entrance closes with the rocks around,
Again upon his journey he is bound.
But soon within the mountains he is lost
Within the darkness,–as some vessel tost
Upon the trackless waves of unknown seas,
But further from the awful cavern flees.

The morning breaks o’er crags and lonely glens,
And he dismayed, the awful wild now scans.
He reins his steed and wondering looks around,
And sees of every side a mystic ground.
Before him stands the peak of Mount Masu,[1]
The cliffs and crags forlorn his eyes swift view,
And cedars, pines, among the rocks amassed,
That weirdly rise within the mountain fast.

Hark! hear that dreadful roaring all around!
What nameless horror thrills the shaking ground?

The King in terror stares! and see! his steed
Springs back! wild snorting,–trembling in his dread.
Behold! behold those forms there blazing bright!
Fierce flying by the earth with lurid light;
Two awful spirits, demons, or fierce gods,
With roaring thunders spring from their abodes!

From depths beneath the earth the monsters fly,
And upward lift their awful bodies high,
Yet higher!–higher! till their crests are crowned
By Heaven’s gates; thus reaching from the ground
To heights empyrean, while downward falls
Each form, extending far ‘neath Hades’ walls.
And see! each god as molten metal gleams,
While sulphurous flame from hell each monster climbs!

Two fiery horrors reaching to the skies,
While wrathful lightning from each monster flies!

Hell’s gate they guard with Death’s remorseless face,
And hurl the sun around the realms of space
E’en swifter than the lightning, while it goes
Along its orbit, guided by their blows.
Dire tempests rise above from their dread blows,
And ever round a starry whirlwind glows;
The countless stars thus driven whirl around,
With all the circling planets circling round.

The King astounded lifts his staring eyes,
Into his face gray fear, with terror flies;
As they approach, his thoughts the King collects,
Thus over him one of the gods reflects.
“Who cometh yonder with the form of gods?”
The second says: “He comes from man’s abodes,
But with a mortal’s feebleness he walks;
Behold upon the ground alone he stalks.”

One lifts his mighty arm across the sky,
And strikes the sun as it goes roaring by;
The fiery world with whiter heat now glows,
While a vast flood of flame behind it flows,
That curling, forms bright comets, meteors,
And planets multiplies, and blazing stars;
The robe of flames spreads vast across the sky,
Adorned with starry gems that sparkling fly
Upon the ambient ether forming suns
That through new orbits sing their orisons;
Their pealing thunders rend the trembling sky,
The endless anthem of eternity.

The monster turning to the King then says,
When nearer now his awful form doth blaze:
“So thus you see, my son, the gods are strong,
And to provoke great power, is foolish, wrong;
But whither goest thou, thou sad-eyed King,
What message hast thou;–to us here would bring?”

The King now prostrate to the monsters prayed:
“Ye gods or demons, I within your glade
Of horrors, have unwilling come to seek
Our Khasisadra, who a spell can make
To turn the anger of the gods away.
Immortal lives the seer beside the sea,
He knoweth death and life, all secret things;
And this alone your servant to you brings.

The goddess sought my hand, which I denied,
And Anu’s fury thus I have defied;
This all my troubles caused, show me the way
To Khasisadra, this I ask and pray.”

The god’s vast face broke out with wondrous smiles,
And laughing, ripples rolled along for miles;
His mouth wide opened its abyss and yawned,
As earthquake gulf, far spreading through the ground.
His roaring laughter shakes the earth around,
“Ho! ho! my son! so you at last have found
The Queen can hate, as well as love her friends,
And on thy journey Ishtar’s love thee sends?
A mortal wise thou wast, to her refuse,
For she can do with man what she may choose.

A mortal’s love, in truth, is wondrous strong,
A glorious thing it is, Life’s ceaseless song!
Within a cave upon the mountain side,
Thou there thy footsteps must to Hades guide,
Twelve “kaspu” go to yonder mountain gates,
A heart like thine may well defy the fates.
A darkness deep profound doth ever spread
Within those regions black,–Home of the Dead.

Go, Izdubar! within this land of Mas,
Thy road doth lead, and to the west[2] doth pass,
And may the maidens sitting by the walls
Refresh thee, lead thee to the Happy Halls.”

The path they take behind the rising sun
The setting sun they pass,–with wings have flown
The scorpion men,[3] within wide space have gone,
Thus from his sight the monsters far have flown.

[Footnote 1: “Mount Masu,” the Mountains of Masius, or “Mons Masius” of Strabo (vi. 12, Sec.Sec. 4, 14, 2, etc.), may be referred to by the author of the epic. These mountains are now known to the Turks as Jebel Tur and Karaiah Dag.–Rawlinson’s “Ancient Monarchies,” vol. ii. pp. 9 and 25.]–[Footnote 2: Mr. Sayce translates thus: “the path of the sun.”]–[Footnote 3: He also names the monsters “the scorpion men,” and refers to an Assyrian cylinder on which two composite winged monsters are carved, with the winged emblem of the supreme god in the centre above them. The monsters have the feet of lions and the tails of scorpions. See illustration in Smith’s revised edition, by Sayce, “Chald. Acc. of Gen.,” p. 276. The monsters were supposed to fly ahead of the sun, and as it passed guide it along its orbit.]

SOURCE: Babylonian and Assyrian Literature; Alcove II, Tablet VII (1901): Translated by Leonidas Le Cenci Hamilton, M.A.

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Izdubar Enters Hades (Part 41); Assyrian

Epic of Ishtar and Izdubar: Grief Of The King Over The Loss Of His Seer (Part 39); Assyrian