H. is describing the Babylonian plain proper, i. e. the southern part of Mesopotamia; at the present time the Euphrates and the Tigris unite in the Shat-El-Arab, but originally they reached the sea separately. ὕεται. Rain, which is abundant in Assyria proper, falls in Babylonia chiefly in the winter and spring, and then as a rule not in large quantities. Willcocks' table (Irrigation of Mesopotamia, 1910, p. 68) shows that from May to October the land is practically rainless, in the other six months the rainfall is about eight inches, fairly evenly distributed. So far as rain is concerned the country is not a desert like Egypt, but rather a ‘steppe region capable of sustaining millions of sheep’ (p. 10). Grote (iii. 295) lays stress on the accuracy of H. in contrasting the light rains here with practically rainless Upper Egypt (iii. 10 n.). H. is quite right in saying that while the scanty spring rain (τοῦτο) ‘causes the corn to sprout, the crop ripens from irrigation’. His description of this is accurate, if we remember that he is contrasting the natural (αὐτοῦ τοῦ ποταμοῦ) Nile flood with the artificial Babylonian system. The present Euphrates, however, now that the canals are gone, floods its banks from March to July, when the Armenian snows melt. κηλωνηίοισι, ‘by swipes worked by hand’ (cf. vi. 119. 3), i. e. the shadoufs which are still used in Mesopotamia and Egypt (cf. Maspero, i. 764, and 340 for illustrations). Colonel Chesney (Survey of Tig. and Euph. 1850, ii. 653) describes it as a wooden lever, 13-15 feet long, revolving on a post 3-4 feet high with a bucket at the end, balanced when full by a weight at the other end. From the top of the bank the water was distributed over the fields in artificial channels.
For the canals cf. c. 184 n. The canal here is the ‘royal canal’ restored by Nebuchadnezzar, which ran south-east from above Babylon to the Tigris, near the later Seleucia. πρὸς ἥλιον τὸν χειμερινόν. The ancients divided the sky into
|ἀνατολή and δυσμὴ ἰσημερινή = E. and W.|
|ἀνατολή and δυσμὴ θερινή = NE. and NW.|
|ἀνατολή and δυσμὴ χειμερινή = SE. and SW.|
H. is contrasting broadly and rightly the treeless cornland of Babylonia with Greece. Strabo (742 ad fin.) says ‘three hundredfold’, without H.'s careful limitation. Lehmann (Fest. für Kiepert, 1898, pp. 305 seq.) argues that the accounts of H. and of Strabo are borrowed independently from Hecataeus (cf. c. 199 n.). His arrangement of the two accounts in parallel columns is useful, though his argument quite breaks down. φύλλα, ‘blades.’ Ancient (e. g. Theophrastus, viii. 7. 4) and modern writers confirm H. as to the fertility of Babylonia; so Chesney (ii. 602) says ‘those portions which are still cultivated, as round Hillah, show that the region has all the fertility ascribed to it by H.’ An inscription of Assurbanipal claims, with perhaps pardonable exaggeration, that grain grew five cubits high, and that the heads were five-sixths of a cubit (Winckler, Hist. of Babylonia (E. T.), p. 138).
τὰ . . . ἐχόμενα, ‘the various kinds of corn already mentioned’; the perfect ἀπῖκται has been thought to refer to a previous description by Hecataeus (v. s.). It is, however, only a picturesque anticipation of criticism; cf. Matzat, pp. 438-9. σησάμων. Layard (Nineveh, ii. 423) confirms this; cf. Xen. Anab. iv. 4. 13 for this and other substitutes for olive oil (in Armenia). It was made from the ‘sesame’ seed. φοίνικες. H. is quite right as to their abundance. καρποφόροι marks the contrast to those in the Aegean regions, which do not ripen their fruits. Cf. Theop. Hist. Plant. iii. 3. 5. Dates were a main article of food in Babylonia; for the manifold uses of the palm-tree cf. Strabo 742, who says they were 360 in number, and E. B.11 xx. 642 s. v.
H. here rightly describes the process of fertilization of figs, ἐρινασμός (Theop. H. P. ii. 8. 1; cf. also Arist. H. A. v. 32). The caprificus or wild fig produces inedible figs which are inhabited by the fig-wasp; the female wasps, hatched in these figs, make their way from them, laden with pollen, to the young figs of the ficus or fig proper, in order to lay their eggs in them; they pollinate their flowers, and thus fertilization is effected. H. wrongly thinks the purpose of the process was to prevent the fig falling off. He is wrong, too, in transferring the process to palm-trees; fertilization in these is rightly described by Theop. (u. s. ii. 8. 4) ὅταν ἀνθῇ τὸ ἄρρεν ἀποτέμνουσι τὴν σπάθην ἐφ᾽ ἧς τὸ ἄνθος εὐθὺς ὥσπερ ἔχει, τόν τε νοῦν καὶ τὸ ἄνθος καὶ τὸν κονιορτὸν κατασείουσι κατὰ τοῦ καρποῦ τῆς θηλείας. He too, however, gives the object wrongly, i. e. to prevent the falling off of the fruit. The process is represented on the monuments (cf. B. M. G. 36, and Maspero, i. 555, for picture). H. obscures his meaning by using different words βάλανος and καρπός for the same thing, and wrongly substituting ὄλυνθοι, ‘the untimely figs,’ for ἐρινεοί, i. e. fici caprifici.