The Fall of Nabonidos

by Esteban

“The destruction of the local cults, the attempt to unify and centralise religious worship, was to the Rab-shakeh, as it was to the Babylonian scribes, and doubtless also to many of the Jews in the time of Hezekiah, an act of the grossest impiety.

An annalistic tablet, drawn up not long after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, hints that before making his final attack on the country, the Elamite prince had been secretly aided by a party of malcontents in Chaldea itself.

It is at all events significant that as soon as the army of Nabonidos was defeated, the whole population at once submitted, and that even the capital, with its almost impregnable fortifications, threw open its gates.

The revolts which took place afterwards in the reigns of Dareios and Xerxes, and the extremities endured by the Babylonians before they would surrender their city, prove that their surrender was not the result of cowardice or indifference to foreign rule. The great mass of the people must have been discontented with Nabonidos and anxious for his overthrow.

The anger of Merodach and the gods, in fact, was but a convenient way of describing the discontent and anger of an important section of the Babylonians themselves. Nabonidos did not belong to the royal house of Nebuchadnezzar; he seems to have raised himself to the throne by means of a revolution, and his attempt at centralisation excited strong local animosities against him.

Religion and civil government were so closely bound up together, that civil centralisation meant religious centralisation also; the surest sign that the cities of Babylonia had been absorbed in the capital was that the images of the gods whose names had been associated with them from time immemorial were carried away to Babylon. The cities lost their separate existence along with the deities who watched over their individual fortunes.

The removal of the gods, however, implied something more than the removal of a number of images and the visible loss of local self-government or autonomy. Each image was the centre of a particular cult, carried on in a particular temple in a particular way, and entrusted to the charge of a special body of priests.

It was no wonder, therefore, that the high-handed proceedings of Nabonidos aroused the enmity of these numerous local priesthoods, as well as of all those who profited in any way from the maintenance of the local cults.

Most of the cities which were thus deprived of their ancestral deities were as old as Babylon; many of them claimed to be older; while it was notorious that Babylon did not become a capital until comparatively late in Babylonian history.

The Sun-god of Sippara, the Moon-god of Ur, were alike older than Merodach of Babylon. Indeed, though in the age of Nabonidos the title of Bel or “lord”had come to be applied to Merodach specially, it was known that there was a more ancient Bel–Belitanas, “the elder Bel,” as the Greeks wrote the word–whose worship had spread from the city of Nipur, and who formed one of the supreme triad of Babylonian gods.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 85-6.