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Hammurabi Restored the Temples

” … Hammurabi’s reign was long as it was prosperous. There is no general agreement as to when he ascended the throne–some say in 2123 B.C., others hold that it was after 2000 B.C.–but it is certain that he presided over the destinies of Babylon for the long period of forty-three years.

There are interesting references to the military successes of his reign in the prologue to the legal Code. It is related that when he “avenged Larsa,” the seat of Rim-Sin, he restored there the temple of the sun god.

Other temples were built up at various ancient centres, so that these cultural organizations might contribute to the welfare of the localities over which they held sway. At Nippur he thus honoured Enlil, at Eridu the god Ea, at Ur the god Sin, at Erech the god Anu and the goddess Nana (Ishtar), at Kish the god Zamama and the goddess Ma-ma, at Cuthah the god Nergal, at Lagash the god Nin-Girsu, while at Adab and Akkad, “celebrated for its wide squares,” and other centres he carried out religious and public works.

In Assyria he restored the colossus of Ashur, which had evidently been carried away by a conqueror, and he developed the canal system of Nineveh.

[ … ]

Hammurabi referred to himself in the Prologue as “a king who commanded obedience in all the four quarters.” He was the sort of benevolent despot whom Carlyle on one occasion clamoured vainly for–not an Oriental despot in the commonly accepted sense of the term.

As a German writer puts it, his despotism was a form of Patriarchal Absolutism. “When Marduk (Merodach),” as the great king recorded, “brought me to direct all people, and commissioned me to give judgment, I laid down justice and right in the provinces, I made all flesh to prosper.”

That was the keynote of his long life; he regarded himself as the earthly representative of the Ruler of all–Merodach, “the lord god of right,” who carried out the decrees of Anu, the sky god of Destiny.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Magicians Were Poets, and Poets Were Magicians

” … The numerous incantations which were inscribed on clay tablets and treasured in libraries, do not throw much light on the progress of medical knowledge, for the genuine folk cures were regarded as of secondary importance, and were not as a rule recorded.

But these metrical compositions are of special interest, in so far as they indicate how poetry originated and achieved widespread popularity among ancient peoples. Like the religious dance, the earliest poems were used for magical purposes.

They were composed in the first place by men and women who were supposed to be inspired in the literal sense; that is, possessed by spirits. Primitive man associated “spirit” with “breath,” which was the “air of life,” and identical with wind.

The poetical magician drew in a “spirit,” and thus received inspiration, as he stood on some sacred spot on the mountain summit, amidst forest solitudes, beside a’ whispering stream, or on the sounding shore. …

Or, perhaps, the bard received inspiration by drinking magic water from the fountain called Hippocrene, or the skaldic mead which dripped from the moon.

The ancient poet did not sing for the mere love of singing: he knew nothing about “Art for Art’s sake.” His object in singing appears to have been intensely practical. The world was inhabited by countless hordes of spirits, which were believed to be ever exercising themselves to influence mankind.

The spirits caused suffering; they slew victims; they brought misfortune; they were also the source of good or “luck.” Man regarded spirits emotionally; he conjured them with emotion; he warded off their attacks with emotion; and his emotions were given rhythmical expression by means of metrical magical charms.

Poetic imagery had originally a magical significance; if the ocean was compared to a dragon, it was because it was supposed to be inhabited by a storm-causing dragon; the wind whispered because a spirit whispered in it.

Love lyrics were charms to compel the love god to wound or possess a maiden’s heart–to fill it, as an Indian charm sets forth, with “the yearning of the Apsaras (fairies);” satires conjured up evil spirits to injure a victim; and heroic narratives chanted at graves were statements made to the god of battle, so that he might award the mighty dead by transporting him to the Valhal of Odin or Swarga of Indra.

Similarly, music had magical origin as an imitation of the voices of spirits–of the piping birds who were “Fates,” of the wind high and low, of the thunder roll, of the bellowing sea. So the god Pan piped on his reed bird-like notes, Indra blew his thunder horn, Thor used his hammer like a drumstick, Neptune imitated on his “wreathed horn” the voice of the deep, the Celtic oak god Dagda twanged his windy wooden harp, and Angus, the Celtic god of spring and love, came through budding forest ways with a silvern harp which had strings of gold, echoing the tuneful birds, the purling streams, the whispering winds, and the rustling of scented fir and blossoming thorn.

Modern-day poets and singers, who voice their moods and cast the spell of their moods over readers and audiences, are the representatives of ancient magicians who believed that moods were caused by the spirits which possessed them–the rhythmical wind spirits, those harpers of the forest and songsters of ocean.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Magical Practices in Ancient Babylonia

” … magic flourished like tropical fungi. Indeed, the worker of spells was held in high repute, and his operations were in most cases allowed free play.

There are only two paragraphs in the Hammurabi Code which deal with magical practices. It is set forth that if one man cursed another and the curse could not be justified, the perpetrator of it must suffer the death penalty.

Provision was also made for discovering whether a spell had been legally imposed or not. The victim was expected to plunge himself in a holy river. If the river carried him away it was held as proved that he deserved his punishment, and “the layer of the spell” was given possession of the victim’s house.

A man who could swim was deemed to be innocent; he claimed the residence of “the layer of the spell,” who was promptly put to death.

With this interesting glimpse of ancient superstition the famous Code opens, and then strikes a modern note by detailing the punishments for perjury and the unjust administration of law in the courts.

[ … ]

When a patient was wasted with disease, growing thinner and weaker and more bloodless day by day, it was believed that a merciless vampire was sucking his veins and devouring his flesh. It had therefore to be expelled by performing a magical ceremony and repeating a magical formula. The demon was either driven or enticed away.

A magician had to decide in the first place what particular demon was working evil. He then compelled its attention and obedience by detailing its attributes and methods of attack, and perhaps by naming it.

Thereafter he suggested how it should next act by releasing a raven, so that it might soar towards the clouds like that bird, or by offering up a sacrifice which it received for nourishment and as compensation.

Another popular method was to fashion a waxen figure of the patient and prevail upon the disease demon to enter it. The figure was then carried away to be thrown in the river or burned in a fire.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Legal Rights of Women and Vestal Virgins

” … A girl might also obtain a limited degree of freedom by taking vows of celibacy and becoming one of the vestal virgins, or nuns, who were attached to the temple of the sun god. She did not, however, live a life of entire seclusion.

If she received her due proportion of her father’s estate, she could make business investments within certain limits. She was not, for instance, allowed to own a wineshop, and if she even entered one she was burned at the stake. Once she took these vows she had to observe them until the end of her days.

If she married, as she might do to obtain the legal status of a married woman and enjoy the privileges of that position, she denied her husband conjugal rites, but provided him with a concubine who might bear him children, as Sarah did to Abraham.

These nuns must not be confused with the unmoral women who were associated with the temples of Ishtar and other love goddesses of shady repute.

The freedom secured by a married woman had its legal limitations. If she became a widow, for instance, she could not remarry without the consent of a judge, to whom she was expected to show good cause for the step she proposed to take.

Punishments for breaches of the marriage law were severe. Adultery was a capital crime; the guilty parties were bound together and thrown into the river.

If it happened, however, that the wife of a prisoner went to reside with another man on account of poverty, she was acquitted and allowed to return to her husband after his release. In cases where no plea of poverty could be urged the erring women were drowned.

The wife of a soldier who had been taken prisoner by an enemy was entitled to a third part of her husband’s estate if her son was a minor, the remainder was held in trust. The husband could enter into possession of all his property again if he happened to return home.

Divorce was easily obtained. A husband might send his wife away either because she was childless or because he fell in love with another woman. Incompatibility of temperament was also recognized as sufficient reason for separation. A woman might hate her husband and wish to leave him.

“If,” the Code sets forth, “she is careful and is without blame, and is neglected by her husband who has deserted her,” she can claim release from the marriage contract. But if she is found to have another lover, and is guilty of neglecting her duties, she is liable to be put to death.

A married woman possessed her own property. Indeed, the value of her marriage dowry was always vested in her. When, therefore, she divorced her husband, or was divorced by him, she was entitled to have her dowry refunded and to return to her father’s house. Apparently she could claim maintenance from her father.

A woman could have only one husband, but a man could have more than one wife. He might marry a secondary wife, or concubine, because he was without offspring, but “the concubine,” the Code lays down, “shall not rank with the wife.”

Another reason for second marriage recognized by law was a wife’s state of health. In such circumstances a man could not divorce his sickly wife. He had to support her in his house as long as she lived.

[ … ]

The legal rights of a vestal virgin were set forth in detail. If she had received no dowry from her father when she took vows of celibacy, she could claim after his death one-third of the portion of a son. She could will her estate to anyone she favoured, but if she died intestate her brothers were her heirs.

When, however, her estate consisted of fields or gardens allotted to her by her father, she could not disinherit her legal heirs. The fields or gardens might be worked during her lifetime by her brothers if they paid rent, or she might employ a manager on the “share system.”

Vestal virgins and married women were protected against the slanderer. Any man who “pointed the finger” against them unjustifiably was charged with the offense before a judge, who could sentence him to have his forehead branded.

It was not difficult, therefore, in ancient Babylonia to discover the men who made malicious and unfounded statements regarding an innocent woman. Assaults on women were punished according to the victim’s rank; even slaves were protected.

Women appear to have monopolized the drink traffic. At any rate, there is no reference to male wine sellers. A female publican had to conduct her business honestly, and was bound to accept a legal tender. If she refused corn and demanded silver, when the value of the silver by “grand weight” was below the price of corn, she was prosecuted and punished by being thrown into the water. Perhaps she was simply ducked.

As much may be inferred from the fact that when she was found guilty of allowing rebels to meet in her house, she was put to death.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Marriage Babylonian Style

” Of special interest are the laws which relate to the position of women. In this connection reference may first be made to the marriage-by-auction custom, which Herodotus described as follows:

“Once a year in each village the maidens of age to marry were collected all together into one place, while the men stood round them in a circle. Then a herald called up the damsels one by one, and offered them for sale. He began with the most beautiful. When she was sold for no small sum of money, he offered for sale the one who came next to her in beauty. All of them were sold to be wives.

The richest of the Babylonians who wished to wed bid against each other for the loveliest maidens, while the humbler wife-seekers, who were indifferent about beauty, took the more homely damsels with marriage portions.

For the custom was that when the herald had gone through the whole number of the beautiful damsels, he should then call up the ugliest–a cripple, if there chanced to be one–and offer her to the men, asking who would agree to take her with the smallest marriage portion. And the man who offered to take the smallest sum had her assigned to him.

The marriage portions were furnished by the money paid for the beautiful damsels, and thus the fairer maidens portioned out the uglier. No one was allowed to give his daughter in marriage to the man of his choice, nor might anyone carry away the damsel whom he had purchased without finding bail really and truly to make her his wife; if, however, it turned out that they did not agree, the money might be paid back. All who liked might come, even from distant villages, and bid for the women.”

This custom is mentioned by other writers, but it is impossible to ascertain at what period it became prevalent in Babylonia and by whom it was introduced. Herodotus understood that it obtained also in “the Illyrian tribe of the Eneti,” which was reputed to have entered Italy with Antenor after the fall of Troy, and has been identified with the Venetians of later times. But the ethnic clue thus afforded is exceedingly vague.

There is no direct reference to the custom in the Hammurabi Code, which reveals a curious blending of the principles of “Father right” and “Mother right.” A girl was subject to her father’s will; he could dispose of her as he thought best, and she always remained a member of his family; after marriage she was known as the daughter of so and so rather than the wife of so and so. But marriage brought her freedom and the rights of citizenship. The power vested in her father was never transferred to her husband.

A father had the right to select a suitable spouse for his daughter, and she could not marry without his consent. That this law did not prevent “love matches” is made evident by the fact that provision was made in the Code for the marriage of a free woman with a male slave, part of whose estate in the event of his wife’s death could be claimed by his master.

When a betrothal was arranged, the father fixed the “bride price,” which was paid over before the contract could be concluded, and he also provided a dowry. The amount of the “bride price” might, however, be refunded to the young couple to give them a start in life.

If, during the interval between betrothal and marriage, the man “looked upon another woman,” and said to his father-in-law, “I will not marry your daughter,” he forfeited the “bride price” for breach of promise of marriage.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

The Stele of Hammurabi

Cuneiform Excerpt Stele of Hammurabi

Our knowledge of the social life of Babylon and the territory under its control is derived chiefly from the Hammurabi Code of laws, of which an almost complete copy was discovered at Susa, towards the end of 1901, by the De Morgan expedition.

Full Stele of Hammurabi

The laws were inscribed on a stele of black diorite 7 ft. 3 in. high, with a circumference at the base of 6 ft. 2 in. and at the top of 5 ft. 4 in. This important relic of an ancient law-abiding people had been broken in three pieces, but when these were joined together it was found that the text was not much impaired.

On one side are twenty-eight columns and on the other sixteen. Originally there were in all nearly 4000 lines of inscriptions, but five columns, comprising about 300 lines, had been erased to give space, it is conjectured, for the name of the invader who carried the stele away, but unfortunately the record was never made.

Apex Stele of Hammurabi

On the upper part of the stele, which is now one of the treasures of the Louvre, Paris, King Hammurabi salutes, with his right hand reverently upraised, the sun god Shamash, seated on his throne, at the summit of E-sagila, by whom he is being presented with the stylus with which to inscribe the legal code.

Both figures are heavily bearded, but have shaven lips and chins. The god wears a conical headdress and a flounced robe suspended from his left shoulder, while the king has assumed a round dome-shaped hat and a flowing garment which almost sweeps the ground.

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of E-sagila, Bel Merodach, Tower of Babel

” … In Greek times Babylon was famous for the hanging or terraced gardens of the “new palace,” which had been erected by Nebuchadnezzar II.

These occupied a square which was more than a quarter of a mile in circumference. Great stone terraces, resting on arches, rose up like a giant stairway to a height of about three hundred and fifty feet, and the whole structure was strengthened by a surrounding wall over twenty feet in thickness.

So deep were the layers of mould on each terrace that fruit trees were grown amidst the plants of luxuriant foliage and the brilliant Asian flowers. Water for irrigating the gardens was raised from the river by a mechanical contrivance to a great cistern situated on the highest terrace, and it was prevented from leaking out of the soil by layers of reeds and bitumen and sheets of lead.

Spacious apartments, luxuriously furnished and decorated, were constructed in the spaces between the arches and were festooned by flowering creepers. A broad stairway ascended from terrace to terrace.

The old palace stood in a square nearly four miles in circumference, and was strongly protected by three walls, which were decorated by sculptures in low relief, representing battle scenes and scenes of the chase and royal ceremonies. Winged bulls with human heads guarded the main entrance.

Another architectural feature of the city was E-sagila, the temple of Bel Merodach, known to the Greeks as “Jupiter-Belus.” The high wall which enclosed it had gates of solid brass. “In the middle of the precinct,” wrote Herodotus,

“there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight.

The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about halfway up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit.

On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side.

There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by anyone but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land.”

A woman who was the “wife of Amon” also slept in that god’s temple at Thebes in Egypt. A similar custom was observed in Lycia.

“Below, in the same precinct,” continued Herodotus, “there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter, all of gold. Before the figure stands a large golden table, and the throne whereon it sits, and the base on which the throne is placed, are likewise of pure gold….

Outside the temple are two altars, one of solid gold, on which it is only lawful to offer sucklings; the other, a common altar, but of great size, on which the full-grown animals are sacrificed.

It is also on the great altar that the Chaldaeans burn the frankincense, which is offered to the amount of a thousand talents’ weight, every year, at the festival of the god.

In the time of Cyrus there was likewise in this temple a figure of a man, twelve cubits high, entirely of solid gold…. Besides the ornaments which I have mentioned, there are a large number of private offerings in this holy precinct.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

Herodotus on the Glory of Babylon

“The rise of Babylon inaugurated a new era in the history of Western Asia.

[ … ]

Considerable wealth had accumulated at Babylon when the Dynasty of Ur reached the zenith of its power. It is recorded that King Dungi plundered its famous “Temple of the High Head,” E-sagila, which some identify with the Tower of Babel, so as to secure treasure for Ea’s temple at Eridu, which he specially favoured.

His vandalistic raid, like that of the Gutium, or men of Kutu, was remembered for long centuries afterwards, and the city god was invoked at the time to cut short his days.

No doubt, Hammurabi’s Babylon closely resembled the later city so vividly described by Greek writers, although it was probably not of such great dimensions.

According to Herodotus, it occupied an exact square on the broad plain, and had a circumference of sixty of our miles. “While such is its size,” the historian wrote, “in magnificence there is no other city that approaches to it.” Its walls were eighty-seven feet thick and three hundred and fifty feet high, and each side of the square was fifteen miles in length.

The whole city was surrounded by a deep, broad canal or moat, and the river Euphrates ran through it.

[ … ]

(Herodotus continues): In the circuit of the wall are a hundred gates, all of brass, with brazen lintels and side posts.” These were the gates referred to by Isaiah when God called Cyrus:

I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.

The outer wall was the main defence of the city, but there was also an inner wall less thick but not much inferior in strength. In addition, a fortress stood in each division of the city. The king’s palace and the temple of Bel Merodach were surrounded by walls.

All the main streets were perfectly straight, and each crossed the city from gate to gate, a distance of fifteen miles, half of them being interrupted by the river, which had to be ferried. As there were twenty-five gates on each side of the outer wall, the great thoroughfares numbered fifty in all, and there were six hundred and seventy-six squares, each over two miles in circumference.

From Herodotus we gather that the houses were three or four stories high, suggesting that the tenement system was not unknown, and according to Q. Curtius, nearly half of the area occupied by the city was taken up by gardens within the squares.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.

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