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Category: Dareios

Herodotus on E-Sagila

“181. This wall then which I have mentioned is as it were a cuirass for the town, and another wall runs round within it, not much weaker for defence than the first but enclosing a smaller space.

And in each division of the city was a building in the midst, in the one the king’s palace of great extent and strongly fortified round, and in the other the temple of Zeus Belos with bronze gates, and this exists still up to my time and measures two furlongs each way, being of a square shape: and in the midst of the temple is built a solid tower measuring a furlong both in length and in breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers.

An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers; and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest: and on the top of the last tower there is a large cell, and in the cell a large couch is laid, well covered, and by it is placed a golden table: and there is no image there set up nor does any human being spend the night there except only one woman of the natives of the place, whomsoever the god shall choose from all the woman, as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god.

182. These same men say also, but I do not believe them, that the god himself comes often to the cell and rests upon the couch, as happens likewise in the Egyptian Thebes according to the report of the Egyptians, for there also a woman sleeps in the temple of the Theban Zeus (and both these women are said to abstain from commerce with men), and as happens also with the prophetess of the god in Patara of Lykia, whenever there is one, for there is not always an Oracle there, but whenever there is one, then she is shut up during the nights in the temple within the cell.

183. There is moreover in the temple at Babylon another cell below, wherein is a great image of Zeus sitting, made of gold, and by it is placed a large table of gold, and his footstool and seat are of gold also; and, as the Chaldeans reported, the weight of the gold of which these things are made is eight hundred talents.

Outside this cell is an altar of gold; and there is also another altar of great size, where full-grown animals are sacrificed, whereas on the golden altar it is not lawful to sacrifice any but young sucklings only: and also on the larger altar the Chaldeans offer one thousand talents of frankincense every year at the time when they celebrate the feast in honour of this god.

There was moreover in these precincts still remaining at the time of Cyrus, a statue twelve cubits high, of gold and solid. This I did not myself see, but that which is related by the Chaldeans I relate. Against this statue Dareios the son of Hystaspes formed a design, but he did not venture to take it: it was taken however by Xerxes the son of Dareios, who also killed the priest when he forbade him to meddle with the statue. This temple, then, is thus adorned with magnificence, and there are also many private votive-offerings.”

G.C. Macaulay, trans., The History of Herodotus, 1890, pp. Book 1, Clio, 180.

Civil Centralization = Religious Centralization

“Up to the last, Babylonian religion remained local. It was this local character that gives us the key to its origin and history, and explains much that would otherwise seem inconsistent and obscure.

The endeavour of Nabonidos to undermine its local character and to create a universal religion for a centralised Babylonia, was deeply resented by both priests and people, and ushered in the fall of the Babylonian empire. The fundamental religious idea which had underlain the empire had been the supremacy of Merodach, the god of Babylon, over all other gods, not the absorption of the deities of the subject nations into a common cult.

The policy of Nabonidos, therefore, which aimed at making Merodach, not primus inter pares, but absolute lord of captive or vassal deities, shocked the prejudices of the Babylonian people, and eventually proved fatal to its author.

In Cyrus, accordingly, the politic restorer of the captive populations and their gods to their old homes, the priests and worshippers of the local divinities saw the pious adherent of the ancient forms of faith, and the real favourite of Merodach himself.

Merodach had not consented to the revolutionary policy of Nabonidos; he had, on the contrary, sympathised with the wrongs of his brother gods in Babylonia and throughout the world, and had thus deserted his own city and the renegade monarch who ruled over it.

In all this there is a sharp contrast to the main religious conception which subsequently held sway over the Persian empire, as well as to that which was proclaimed by the prophets of Judah, and in the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah was carried out practically by the Jewish kings. The Ahura-mazda whom Dareios invokes on the rock of Behistun is not only the lord of the gods, he is a lord who will not brook another god by his side.

A penciled illustration of the Behistun Inscription.

A penciled illustration of the Behistun Inscription.

The supreme god of the Persian monarch is as absolute as the Persian monarch himself. In the Persian empire which was organised by Dareios, centralisation became for the first time a recognised and undisputed fact, and political centralisation went hand-in-hand with religious centralisation as well.

In Judah, a theocracy was established on the ruins of the old beliefs which had connected certain localities with certain forms of divinity, and which found such naive expression in the words of David to Saul (1 Samuel xxvi. 19): “They have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods.”

The destruction of the high-places and the concentration of the worship of Yahveh in Jerusalem, was followed by the ever-increasing conviction that Yahveh was not only a jealous God who would allow none other gods besides Himself; He was also a God who claimed dominion over the whole world.”

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. 89-90.

The Fall of Nabonidos

“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.

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