Nabopolassar (Nabu-apal-usur, i.e. “Nabu protect the heir”), according to the Ptolemaic canon, reigned from 625 b.c. (the date of his accession thus being 626) until 605b.c., in which year he died, shortly before the victory won by his son Nebuchadrezzar over the Egyptians at Carchemish, having been in ill health before Nebuchadrezzar started for Syria. We have seen how immediately upon his accession to the throne of the Pharaohs, Neku II profited by the impotence of the Assyrian kingdom, which was enfeebled to the last degree by long years of Scythian incursions, to penetrate into the Hamath district.
[He encountered the army of Judah at Meggido—the same historical locality where, a thousand years before, Tehutimes III had vanquished the combined forces of Syria and Phœnicia. The king of Jerusalem was slain on the field, and his army, retreating in terror to the capital, made his young son, Jehoahaz, king, ignoring the claims of Eliakim, the eldest, probably because he was in favour of submitting to Neku. Pharaoh now proceeded, unmolested, to Riblah in Cœle-Syria, where he made his headquarters, and confident in his mastery over Judah, ordered Jehoahaz to appear before him. When the new king arrived he was thrown into chains and Eliakim put in his place under the name of Jehoiakim.]
Neku’s ambition was next directed to the conquest of the whole of northern Syria; a project which he actually accomplished to a great extent during the years 608 to 606, whilst the Babylonians, with their Median allies, were besieging Nineveh. He must certainly have advanced as far as Carchemish, since that was the spot where the Egyptian and Babylonian forces met in 605. The fate of Syria was sealed thereby; it became a province of Babylonia even as it had once been a province of Assyria, and Judah became a vassal kingdom to Babylonia.
Thus Nabopolassar, who died in 605, while his son was on the march for Syria, only just missed the satisfaction of seeing the new kingdom of Babylonia which he had founded enter upon the heritage of the Assyrian Empire, out of which the western province could least of all be spared. He did not see it: instead the news of his father’s death reached the young Nebuchadrezzar (Nabu-kudur-usur, i.e. “Nabu protect the crown”) shortly after the victory of the Egyptians, which decided the fate of Syria for the time being; and leaving his generals to follow up the victory, he had to return to Babylon in hot haste to assume the royal dignity that awaited him. There he received the crown at the hands of the great nobles without encountering any obstacles, and for the long period of his glorious reign, which lasted forty-two years (604-562) he guided the destinies of his country, extended and strengthened its borders, and thus made Babylonia a great power, and Babylon one of the most splendid and illustrious cities of ancient times. If we further take into consideration that it was he who likewise conquered Syria for Babylonia, we cannot but acknowledge his claim to be counted the first ruler who entered upon the full possession of Assyria and consolidated it.
Amid all the many and sometimes detailed inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar which have been found in the ruins of Babylon and other cities, not one contains any account of his campaigns; but from a passage in the preamble of the great inscription of the kingdom, we see that in spite of his preference for building and other peaceful labours he was a mighty warrior. It runs: “Under his mighty protection (i.e. that of the god Marduk) I have passed through far countries, distant mountains, from the upper sea even to the lower sea (i.e. probably from the Gulf of Issus to the mouth of the Nile) far-reaching ways, closed paths where my step was stayed and my foot could not stand, a road of hardships, a way of thirst; the disobedient I subdued and took the adversaries captive, the land I guided aright, the people I caused to be seized; I carried away the bad and the good among them, silver and gold and precious stones, copper, palm wood and cedar wood, whatsoever was costly, in gorgeous abundance; the products of the mountains and that which the sea yielded, brought I as a gift of great weight, as a rich tribute into my city of Babylon before his (the god’s) face.” And although the different campaigns of which we know are distributed over almost the whole of his long reign, we find mention of only one short war against Aahmes of Egypt in the thirty-seventh year of it.
With regard to these wars, most of them aimed at completing the work begun at the battle of Carchemish, and more particularly at preventing further interference on the part of Egypt, and at banishing her influence completely from Babylonian territory, which had now been extended to her very frontier. It was probably in the third year after Nebuchadrezzar’s battle (therefore in 602b.c.) that Syria was completely incorporated into the Babylonian kingdom, leaving him free to think of displaying his power in the eyes of Jehoiakim, whom Neku had set up as king in Jerusalem, by advancing against him with an army. The desired result promptly followed, and from 601 to 599 Jehoiakim became tributary to the king of the Chaldeans. In the fourth year, 598, the king of Judah withheld the tribute, probably at the instigation of Egypt. When the Babylonians invaded Judah (probably at the beginning of 587) Jehoiakim was just dead; his son Jehoiachin (known also as Jeconiah) was besieged at Jerusalem and, seeing further resistance useless, surrendered to Nebuchadrezzar. He was carried away captive to Babylon with his family and nearly all the princes, warriors, masons, and smiths; but, once there, their lot was no hard one, for they were permitted to settle without molestation and to exercise their own religion. A great number of them lived thus at Tel-Abib (i.e. “heap of ruins”) on the canal Chebar [a canal found near Nippur and now called Kabaru] as we know from the chronicles of Ezekiel, who was one of them. Jerusalem was not destroyed, but Jehoiachin’s kinsman, Mattaniah (another son of Josiah), was set over the few inhabitants that remained there as a vassal of Babylonia, under the new name of Zedekiah (595-587). The newly installed sovereign was a weak man, who by his own good will would have been a loyal vassal; but ultimately in spite of the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah, who fully realised the true state of affairs, he threw in his lot with the war party, who relied on the help of Egypt, and rebelled against Babylonia.
In 589 Psamthek II (Neku’s successor) himself was succeeded by the young and warlike Uah-ab-Ra (the Hophra of the Bible and the Apries of the Greeks), who sent a fleet to the assistance of the Phœnicians in an attempt they made to revolt. Thereupon Nebuchadrezzar marched his troops into Syria and set up his headquarters at Riblah, the old headquarters of Neku, so as to operate from thence against Zedekiah, Tyre, and Pharaoh. How Jerusalem was besieged (589-587) and destroyed, how in the meantime Uah-ab-Ra’s army was vanquished, and how Tyre was then invested (the siege lasting thirteen years) and forced to pay tribute, if no more—all these events are likewise known to us only from other sources than cuneiform inscriptions, and the detailed description of them, at least in so far as they relate to the downfall of the kingdom of Judah, and thus form a part of (not the opening era of) Jewish history, lies ready to every reader’s hand in the books of the Bible of which we have given a brief outline. As for Tyre (after the siege) she remained under the rule of her own kings, though as a vassal to Babylonia. All the worse was the fate which, in 587, overtook Judah, whose hopes had been so cruelly deceived, for not only was the city utterly destroyed (see the moving laments in the so-called Book of Lamentations), and the king, blinded and fettered, carried away into captivity after seeing his sons slain before his face; but with the exception of the poor, the day labourers absolutely necessary for the cultivation of the soil and vineyards, all who had escaped the previous deportation were carried away by the Babylonian king to the “waters of Babylon” (Psalm 137).
[While his soldiers were keeping their long and weary station under the walls of Tyre, Nebuchadrezzar turned his attention to another important matter. Because the people of Judah and Tyre had looked to Egypt for assistance, they had given the Babylonian king much trouble. Egypt, therefore, must suffer for this; so that she would not feel inclined to repeat her action of sending an army to Zedekiah’s aid. A new Egyptian campaign was planned.]
A fragment at the beginning of which a prayer (“Thou destroyest my enemies and makest my heart to rejoice”) was set down, assigns the above-mentioned campaign in Egypt to the year 568 (i.e.the thirty-seventh year of the reign). The passage which refers to it,—“Year 37 of Nebuchadrezzar, king of (Babylonia to the land of) Misir, (i.e. Egypt) to give a battle, he marched and (his troops A-ma)-a-su, the king of Misir assembled and …” leaves no doubt that Aahmes or Amasu is the king here meant, for only the year before, in 569, Aahmes had revolted against Uah-ab-Ra and forced him to recognise him (Aahmes) as co-regent. He soon afterward became sole ruler in Egypt; and, as such, he died in the year 528, shortly before the conquest of Egypt by the Persians. Nebuchadrezzar meanwhile contented himself with humbling the pride of Egypt, and refrained from conquering the country, which even had it been successfully done would but have raised difficulties for the Babylonian kingdom to cope with. His chief aim, to keep Syria and Palestine clear of Egyptian influence, was attained by the campaign.
Of Nebuchadrezzar’s other military expeditions, the one mentioned (Jeremiah xlix. 28-33) against the Bedouins of Kedar and the Arab tribes, which had settled to the east of Palestine, leads us again to the borders of the Occident. The town of Teredon, at the mouth of the Euphrates, was founded at this time as a bulwark against the Bedouins, and by reason of its situation became, like Gerrha, on the Persian Gulf, and Thapsacus, Tiphsah, on the middle Euphrates, a mercantile station of some importance. Not until the time of the New Kingdom of Babylonia did a flourishing trade develop along the Euphrates, with Armenia and the east coast of Arabia for its extreme poles; and from the reign of Nebuchadrezzar dates the part played by Babylon, his capital, as the greatest emporium of the ancient world, and the proverbial meaning which the name of Babylon has retained down to our times, to signify the worst aspects (luxury and license) of a capital city.
From Babylon and the mention of her trade it would be a natural transition to the buildings erected by Nebuchadrezzar, if we were not first bound to mention the northwest and east, which are of extreme importance from an historical point of view, and in which Nebuchadrezzar took the part of a mediator, if no more, between the Medes and the Lydians.
To return to the buildings erected by Nebuchadrezzar, which, up to this time form the subject of nearly all the inscriptions discovered, the latter all show his character in a favourable light. In all we find evidence of the paternal care of a prince zealous for the welfare of his dominions, and of a sincere and heartfelt piety which by no means leaves the impression that it is a mere form of speech. We can listen to his own words prefixed to his account of the buildings he erected and revealing something of his heart.
“Since the Lord, Marduk, created me, and made fair preparation for my birth from the womb, from that time forward, when I was born and created, I have visited the holy places of God, and walked in the ways of God. To Marduk, my Lord, I prayed; I took up my parable in prayer to him, the speech of my heart came (before him) to him I spoke: ‘Eternal, Holy, Lord of all things, for the king, whom thou lovest, whose name thou callest according to thy good pleasure, guide his name well, lead (or guard) him in a straight path. I, the prince, who obeyeth thee, am the work of thy hands, thou didst create me, thou didst commit unto me the royal dominion over the whole people, according to thy grace, O Lord which thou sendest forth upon all. Teach me to love thy august sovereignty, let the fear of thy divinity be in my heart, bestow (upon me) that which is pleasing unto thee, thou who preparest my life.’ Thereupon the Highest, the Glorious, the first among the gods, the august Marduk, heard my supplication and accepted my prayers, he caused his great majesty to rule favourably, he caused the fear of God to abide in my heart, I fear his majesty.” And the conclusion runs: “Babylon, the capital of the land, I established with the hills of the forest. To Marduk, my lord, I prayed and lifted up my hand: ‘Marduk, lord, the first of gods, thou mighty prince, thou hast created me, thou hast committed to me royal dominion over the multitude of the people, I love the majesty of thy courts as my precious life. Save thy city of Babylon. I have made me no other capital out of all inhabited places. As I love the fear of thy divinity and seek thy majesty, so incline graciously to my supplication (literally, to the raising of my hands), hear my prayers. I am the King, the Restorer, who delights thy heart, the zealous ruler, the restorer of all thy cities. At thy command, O merciful Marduk, may the house which I have built endure to all eternity, may I satisfy myself in its abundance. May I come to old age therein, may I satisfy myself with my glory, may I receive the weighty tribute therein from the kings of all regions of the world and from all mankind. From the horizon of the heavens unto the meridian and at (?) the rising sun may I have no enemies nor possess any adversaries (lit. them that put me in fear). May my posterity bear rule therein over the black-headed people to all eternity.’”
Nebuchadrezzar, himself, attached the greatest importance to the restoration of the temples of E-sagila and E-zida, as being the most ancient sanctuaries of Babylon, and in his briefest inscriptions, the stamp-marks on bricks, whether used for the building of these two temples or any other edifice, always had added to his title of king, that of restorer of the temples of E-sagila and E-zida. Of greater interest to us, however, since we can still admire the ruins of it, is a temple which is only briefly referred to in a few words in the long inscription, but of which we have a detailed account in another, shorter inscription, namely, the Temple of the Seven Spheres of Heaven and Earth, which was built in seven stories near (or as a ziggurat of) E-zida at Borsippa.
But although Nebuchadrezzar devoted most thought to his beloved Babylon (and to Borsippa) he in nowise neglected other seats of worship of the country. The temple of the Sun, at Sippar, the temple of a god as yet unidentified, in the city of Baz (Paszitu), the temple of Idi-Anu (the Eye of Anu), at Dilbat, the temple of Lugal-Amarda (Marad), E-Anna, the temple of Ishtar, at Erech, the temple of the Sun, at Larsa, and the temple of the Moon, at Erech, are enumerated one after another as having been rebuilt by Nebuchadrezzar. With better right than his father he calls himself on one of the Abu-Habba cylinders “the ruler of Sumer and Accad, who laid the foundation of the land” (or as Winckler translates it, “made fast the foundations of the land”), for in truth his new creations extended over the whole territory that had been Sumer and Accad as we are familiar with it in ancient Babylonian history, from the reigns of Ur-Ba’u of Ur onward. Under him, after a long sleep (lasting in places for a thousand years) among her ruins, the whole of Babylonia kept the festival of her resurrection, and joyous sacrificial hymns resounded through the length and breadth of the land during Nebuchadrezzar’s long and prosperous reign, as in the days of her distant prime.
To complete the picture of Nebuchadrezzar’s capital, we must in conclusion cast a glance at the vast fortifications with which this king girdled the city he had created, and so insured it against the most formidable assault. Nebuchadrezzar did not rest satisfied with completely restoring and enlarging these fortifications (a work that his father had begun, since they had again been impaired); he included a strip of arable land some four thousand cubits (about two to three kilometres) in breadth, on the farther side of the rampart Nimitti-Bel, within another “mountain high” wall, and made it a part of the outworks, thus casting a gigantic threefold girdle of ramparts (or walls) and moats about the city. Nor was that enough: “To quell the countenance of the enemy that he should not harass the (threefold) encompassment of Babylon, I surrounded the land with mighty streams, comparable unto the waters of the sea; to cross them was as it were to cross the ocean. To render an inundation from their midst (the midst of these artificial courses) impossible, I heaped up masses of earth, I set up brick dams round about them.”