), in later times called also Babylonia (Justin, 1.2
; Solin. 100.37
: Eth. Βαβυλώνιος,
, Eth. Babylonius
, rarely Eth. Βαβυλωνεύς,
fem. Eth. Βαβυλωνίς
),the chief town of Babylonia, and the seat of empire of the Babylonio-Chaldaean kingdom.
It extended along both sides of the Euphrates, which ran through the middle of it, and, according to the uniform consent of antiquity, was,at the height of its glory,of immense size.
There seems good reason for supposing that it occupied the site, or was at least in the immediate vicinity, of Babel, which is mentioned in Genesis (10.10) as the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom, and in Genesis (11.1--9) as the scene of the confusion of tongues: its name is a Graecized form of the Hebrew Babel.
There is, however, no evidence that it was at an early period a place of importance, or, like Ninus (Nineveh), the imperial seat of a long line of kings.
The name of Babel is said to be derived from the circumstance of its having been the place of this confusion of tongues (Gen.
11.9); another and perhaps more natural derivation would give it the meaning of the gate or court of Bel, or Belus, the Zeus of that country.
A tradition of this event has been preserved in Berossus, who says that a tower was erected in the place where Babylon now stands, but that the winds assisted the gods in overthrowing it.
He adds that the ruins still exist at Babylon, that the gods introduced a diversity of tongues among men, and that the place where the tower was built is called Babylon on account of the confusion of tongues ; for confusion is by the Hebrews called Babel. (Beross. ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. ix.; Syncell. Chron.
44; Euseb. Chron.
A tradition of the diversity of tongues and its cause is preserved also in a fragment of Histiaeus (ap. Joseph. Ant. 1.4), and in Alex. Polyhist. (ap. Sync. 44, and Joseph. Ant.
1.4). Eupolemus also (ap. Euseb. Fraep. Evang. ix.) attributes the foundation of Babylon to those who escaped from the Deluge, and mentions the tower and its overthrow.
He adds that Abraham lived in a city of Babylonia called Camarina, or by some Uric [i.e. Ur], which is interpreted to mean a city of the Chaldaeans.
Of Babel or Babylon, believing them, as we do, to represent one and the same place, we have no subsequent notice in the Bible till the reign of Hoshea, about B.C. 730 (2 Kings,
17.24), when the people of Samaria were carried away captive.
It seems probable that during this long period Babylon was [p. 1.356]
a place of little consequence, and that the great ruling city was the Assyrian capital Ninus.
As late as the time of Hezekiah (B.C. 728--700) it is clear that Babylon was dependent on the Assyrian Empire, though Merodach-Baladan is mentioned in Isaiah (39.1) as, at that time, king or ruler in that city; for Polyhistor (ap. Euseb. Arm. Chron. 42) states that after the reign of the brother of Sennacherib, Acises ruled; and that, after Acises had reigned thirty days, he was slain by Merodach-Baladanus, who held the government, but was in his turn slain and succeeded by Elibus. Polyhistor adds that, in the third year of the reign of Elibus, Sennacherib came up and conquered the Babylonians, took their king prisoner away into, Assyria, and made his own son Asardanus king in his place. Abydenus (ap. Euseb. ibid. p. 53) states the same thing, adding that he built Tarsus after the plan of Babylon.
The fragments preserved of Berossus, who lived in the age of Alexander the Great, and who testifies to the existence of written documents at Babylon which were preserved with great care, supply some names, though we have no means of ascertaining how far they maybe depended on.
The commencement of the narrative of Berossus is a marvellous and fabulous account of the first origin of Babylonia.
In it he speaks of Belus, whom he interprets to mean Zeus,and states that some of the most remarkable objects which he has noticed were delineated in the temple of that god at Babylon. (See Castor, ap. Euseb. Arm. Chron. 81; Eupol. ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. ix.; Thallus, ap. Theophan. ad Ant. 281; Aesch. Supp. 318
and 322; Hesiod, Fragm. ap. Strab.
i. p. 42; and Eustath. ad Dionys.
927, for the name of Belus, and various legends connected with it.) Berossus mentions the name Xisuthrus, and with him a legend of a great flood, which has so remarkable a resemblance to the narrative of the Bible, that it has been usual to suppose that Xisuthrus represents the Noah of Holy Scripture; adding that, after the flood, the people returned to Babylon, built cities and erected temples, and that thus Babylon was inhabited again. (Beross. ap. Sync. Chron. 28 ; Euseb. Chron.
5. 8.) Apollodorus, professing to copy from Berossus, gives a different and fuller list of rulers, but they are a mere barren collection of names. (Apoll. ap. Sync. Chron. 39; Euseb. Chron.
5.) The Astronomical canon of Ptolemy commences with the era of Nabonassar, whose reign began B.C. 747 twenty-three years after the appearance of the Assyrian King Pul, on the W. of the Euphrates.
It has been argued from this fact, in connection with a passage in Isaiah (23.13) “Behold the land of the Chaldees; this people was not, till the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness,” that the first rulers of Babylon were of Assyrian origin; but this seems hardly a necessary inference.
It is, however, curious that Syncellus, after stating that the Chaldaeans were the first who assumed the title of kings, adds that of these the first was Evechius, who is known to us by the name of Nebrod (or Nembrod) who reigned at Babylon for six years and one third. Nabonassar is said to have destroyed the memorials of the kings who preceded him. (Sync. Chron.
207) Of the monarchs who succeeded him according to the Canon we know nothing, but it is probable that they were for the most part tributary to the kings of Ninus (Nineveh). Mardoch-Empadus, the fifth, is probably the Merodach-Baladan of the Bible, who sent to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery from sickness. (2 Kings,
31.1.) Somewhat later Manasses, king of Judah, is carried by the king of Assyria into captivity to Babylon. Then follow Saosduchinus and Chyniladan, who appear to have ruled partly at one city and partly at the other; and then Nabopollasar, who finally overthrew Ninus, and removed the seat of the empire of western Asia from the banks of the Tigris to Babylon.
With his son Nebuchadnezzar commenced, in all probability, the era of Babylonian greatness, and the accounts in the Bible and in other writings are, for his reign, remarkably consistent with one another. The Bible relates many events of the reign of this king, his carrying the Jews into captivity, his siege and conquest of Tyre (Ezek.
xxix 18), his descent into Egypt, and his subsequent return to Babylon and death there. Berossus (ap. Joseph. c. Ap.) states that Nebuchadnezzar was sent with a great army against Egypt and Judaea, and burnt the temple at Jerusalem and removed the Jews to Babylon, that he conquered Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, and Arabia, and exceeded in his exploits all that had reigned before him in Babylon and Chaldaea.
He adds that, on the return of the king from his Jewish war, he devoted much time to adorning the temple of Belus, rebuilding the city, constructing a new palace adjoining those in which his forefathers dwelt, but exceeding them in height and splendour, and erecting on stone pillars high walks with trees to gratify his queen, who had been brought up in Media, and was therefore fond of a mountainous situation. (Beros. ap. Joseph. c. Ap. 1.19; Syncell. Chron.
220; Euseb. Praep. Evang.
Berossus goes on to state that after a reign of 43 years, Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by Evilmerodachus, Neriglissoorus, and Labrosoarchodus, whose united reigns were little more than six years, till at length, on a conspiracy being formed against the last, Nabonnedus obtained the crown, and reigned sixteen years, till, in his seventeenth year, Cyrus took Babylon, the king having retired to the neighbouring city of Borsippus; that, on Cyrus proceeding to besiege Borsippus, Nabonnedus surrendered himself to the king of Persia, who sent him out of Babylonia and placed him in Carmania, where he died. (Beros. ap. Joseph. c. Ap. 1.20; Euseb. Praep. Evang.
Megasthenes (ap. Abyden.; Euseb. Praep. Evan.
49) tells nearly the same story, slightly changing the names of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar, and adding, that, Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt Babylon, turned the course of the Armakale (Nahr-Malcha), which was a branch of the Euphrates, constructed a vast receptacle for its waters above the city of Sippara, and built the city of Teredon near the Erythraean Sea, i. e. the Persian Gulf, to check the incursions of the Arabs.
The first Greek who visited Babylon, so far as we know, was Antimenidas, the brother of the Poet Aleaeus, who was there B.C. 600--580 (Strab. xiii. p.617
; Fragm. Alc.,
Müller, Rhein. Mus.
p. 287); and the earliest Greek historian who gives any description of Babylon is Herodotus, who travelled thither about a century after the first conquest by Cyrus. His testimony is more valuable than that of any other writer, for he is the only one whom we know to have been an eye-witness, and whose account of what he describes has reached us uncurtailed.
There is more or less uncertainty about all the others. Thus, of Ctesias, we have only what Diodorus and others have extracted. Of Berossus, who was a [p. 1.357]
century and a half later than Herodotus, we have only a few fragments. We have no: proof that Arrian or Strabo themselves visited Babylon, though the treatise of the former has this value, that he drew his information from the Notes of Aristobulus and Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who were there with Alexander. Of Cleitarchus, who also accompanied Alexander, and wrote τα περὶ Ἀλέξανδρου,
we have no remains, unless, as has been supposed by some, his work was the basis of that by Curtius.
The incidental remarks of Herodotus have a manifest appearance of truth, and convey the idea of personal experience. Thus, in 1.177, he distinguishes between the length of the Royal and the Ordinary Cubit; in 1.182, 183, he expresses his doubts on some of the legends which he heard about the Temple of Belus, though the structure itself (or its remains) he evidently must have seen, as he describes it as still existing (ἐς ἐμὲ τοῦτο ἔτι ἔον,
1.181.) His account also of the country round Babylon (1.179, and 1.192--200) is, as is shown elsewhere [BABYLONIA
], confirmed by all other writers, as well ancient as modern.
According to Herodotus, Babylon, which, after the fall of Ninus, became the seat of the Assyrian empire (1.178), had already been ruled over by several kings, and by two remarkable queens, Semiramis and Nitocris, at an interval of five generations from one to the other. (1.184, 185.) Of these, the elder erected immense embankments to keep the water of the Euphrates within its proper channel, the second made the course of the Euphrates, which had previously been straight, so tortuous that it thrice passed the village of Ardericca, dug an immense lake, and having turned the waters of the river into this lake, faced its banks with a wall of baked bricks, and threw a bridge across within Babylon, so as to connect the two sides of the river. (1.186.) Herodotus adds a story of her tomb, which we may reasonably question, as he himself could only have heard of it by tradition when he was at Babylon (1.187), and states that it was against the son of this queen, Labynetus, that Cyrus marched. Labynetus is, therefore, the Nabonnedus of Berossus, the Belshazzar of Holy Scripture. Herodotus says nothing about the founders of Babylon, and what is scarcely less remarkable, does not mention Nebuchadnezzar,--he simply describes the town as we may presume he saw it.
He states that it was placed in a great plain, and was built as no other city was with which he was acquainted; that it was in form an exact square, each side being 120 stadia long, with a broad and deep trench round it, the materials dug from which helped to make the bricks, of which a wall 200 royal cubits high, and 50 broad, was composed. Warm bitumen procured from the village of Is (now Hit
) served for mortar, a layer of reeds being inserted at every thirtieth course. (1.178, 179.)
A hundred brazen gates opened into the city, which was divided into two distinct quarters by the Euphrates, had all its streets at right angles one to the other, and many houses of three and four stories. (1.180.) Another wall, hardly inferior in strength, but less gigantic, went round the city within the one just described.
In each of the two quarters of the city, there was an immense structure: one, the Royal Palace, the other, the brazen-gated Temple of Belus, within a square space two stadia each way, itself one stadium in length and breadth; on the ground-plan of which a series of eight towers were built, one above the other.
He adds some further remarks about the temple, and speaks of several things,which, as we have remarked, he did not see, and, apparently, did not believe (1.181--183).
The vast size Herodotus gives to Babylon has, in modern days, led scholars to doubt his history altogether, or at least to imagine he must have been misinformed, and to adopt the shorter measures which have been given by other authors. (Grosskurd, ad Strab.
xvi. p. 738; Heeren, As. Nat.;
Olearius, ad Philostr. Vit. Apoll.
1.25.) Yet the reasoning on which they have rested seems inconclusive; it is as difficult or as easy to believe in the 360 stadia of Ctesias (himself also an eye-witness) as in the 480 stadia of Herodotus. All that was required to effect such works was what the rulers of Babylon had, an ample supply of human labour and time; and, with more than thirty pyramids in Egypt and the wall of China still existing, who can set bounds to what they might accomplish?
The simple narrative of Herodotus we find much amplified, when we turn to later writers.
According to Diodorus (2.6
), who, apparently, is quoting from Ctesias, Semiramis, the wife of Ninus, king of Assyria, founded Babylon (according to one statement, after the death of Ninus), and built its walls of burnt brick and asphalt, and accomplished many other great works, of which the following are the principal:--
A bridge across the Euphrates, where it was narrowest, five stadia long. (Strab. xvi. p.738
, says its breadth was only one stadium, in which opinion Mr. Rich [Babylon,
p. 53] very nearly concurs.)
Two palaces or castles at each end of the bridge, on the E. and W. sides of the river, commanding an extensive view over the city, and the keys of their respective positions. On the inner walls of the western castle were numerous paintings of animals, excellently expressing their natural appearance; and on the towers representations of hunting scenes, and among them one of Semiramis herself slaying a leopard, and of Ninus, her husband, attacking a lion with a lance. (Is it possible that Ctesias preserves here a popular tradition of the bas-reliefs lately discovered at Nimrúd
--the situation of the scenes having been changed from Assyria to Babylonia?)
This palace he states far exceeded in magnificence that on the other side of the river.
The temple of Belus or Zeus, in the centre of the city, a work which, in his day, he adds, had totally disappeared (Diod. 6.9
), and in which were golden statues and sacrificial vessels and implements.
On the other hand, many of the ancients, besides Herodotus, seem to have doubted the attribution to Semiramis of the foundation of Babylon. Thus Berossus (ap. Joseph. c. Ap.
1) states that it was a fiction of the Greeks that Semiramis built Babylon; Abydenus (ap. Euseb. Praep. ix.) that Belus surrounded the town with a wall, the view also taken by Dorotheus Sidonius, preserved in Julius Firmicus. Curtius (5.1
) affirms the double tradition, and Amnmianus (23.6) gives the building of the walls to Semiramis and that of the citadel to Belus: lastly, Orosius (2.6
) asserts that it was founded by Nimrod the Giant, and restored by Ninus or Semiramis.
It has been suggested that the story of Belus is, after all, a Chaldaean legend: but this cannot, we think, be satisfactorily shown (see, however, Volney, Chron. Bab.;
Perizon. Orig. Bab.;
and Freinsheim. ad Curt.
5.1). [p. 1.358]
Of the successors of Semiramis (supposing that she did reign in or found an empire at Babylon) we are in almost entire ignorance; though some names, as we have seen, have been preserved in Ptolemy (Astron. Canon.
), and elsewhere.
With regard to Nebuchadnezzar, another and an ingenious theory has been put forth, which seems generally to have found favour with the German writers.
According to Heeren (As. Nat.
i. p. 382), it has been held that, some time previous to Nebuchadnezzar's ascent of the throne in Babylon, a revolution had taken place in Western Asia, whereby a new race, who, descending from the north, had been for some time partially established in the plain country of Babylonia, became the ruling people; and that Nebuchadnezzar was their first great sovereign.
The difficulty of accounting for the Chaldaeans has given a plausibility to this theory, which however we do not think it really merits. The Bible does not help us, as there is a manifest blank between Esarhaddon and Nebuchadnezzar which cannot be satisfactorily filled up, if at all, from fragments on which we cannot rely. So far as the Bible is concerned, Nebuchadnezzar appears before us from first to last, simply as a great ruler, called, indeed, the Chaldaean, but not, as we think, for that reason, necessarily of a race different from the other people of the country. Diodorus, indeed (2.10), attributes the Hanging Gardens to a Syrian king, telling the same story which we find in Berossus.
It is probable, however, that he and Curtius (5.1
) use the word Syrian in the more extended sense of the word Assyrian, for all western and southern Asia, between Taurus and the Persian Gulf.
Differing accounts have been given of the manner in which Babylon was taken, in the Bible, in Herodotus, and in Xenophon's Cyropaedeia.
That in the Bible is the shortest. We are simply told (Dan.
5.2--11 ) that Belshazzar, while engaged at a great feast, was alarmed by a strange writing on the wall of his banqueting room, which Daniel interpreted to imply the immediate destruction of the empire by the combined army of the Medes and Persians. “In that night,” the Sacred Record adds, “was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldaeans slain.” (Dan.
5.28.) Herodotus (1.177
, seq.) describes the gradual advance of the army under Cyrus, and his attempt to take the city by a regular siege, which, however, its vast extent compelled him to convert into a blockade.
He mentions the draining the waters of the Euphrates by means of a canal cut above the city, and that by this means the Persians were enabled to enter the city, the water being only thigh-deep, the inhabitants being more careless of their defences, as the day on which they entered happened to be one of their great festivals. (Her. 1.191.)
The narrative of Xenophon (Xen. Cyrop. 7.5
) is substantially the same, though he gives many details which are not found elsewhere.
He mentions especially, that the time of attack was one of general festivity, the drunkenness of the royal guards, and the death of the king on the palace being forced.
The subsequent history of Babylon may be told in a few words. From the time of its overthrow by Cyrus it never recovered its previous splendour, though it continued for some centuries a place of considerable importance, and the winter residence of its conqueror Cyrus during seven months of each year. (Xen. Cyrop. 8.7. 22
) Between the reign of Cyrus and that of Dareius, the son of Hystaspes, we hear nothing of it.
In the reign, however, of the latter king, Herodotus (3.150
) mentions a revolt of the Babylonians, and the cruel plan they adopted to prevent a scarcity of provision in the siege they expected: he appears, however, to have confounded this revolt with a subsequent one which took place in the reign of Xerxes. (Ctes. Persic.
ap. Phot. p. 50, ed. Didot.) Herodotus, however, states that, at this time, the walls of the city were beaten down, which Cyrus had left standing, and 3000 of the inhabitants were put to death; though Berossus (ap. Joseph. c. Apion.
1.20) and Eusebius (Chron. Armen.
i. p. 75) say that Cyrus only destroyed the outer walls.
In neither case is it indeed necessary to suppose that much more ruin was caused than was necessary to render the place useless as one of strength.
It is certain that Babylon was still the chief city of the empire when Alexander went there; so that the actual injury done by Dareius and Xerxes could not have been very great. The Behistan inscription mentions two revolts at Babylon, the first of which was put down by Dareius himself, who subsequently spent a considerable time there, while the second was quelled by his lieutenant. (Rawlinson, As. Journ.
vol. x. pp. 188--190.)
In the reign of Xerxes, Herodotus (1.183
) states that that king plundered the Temple of Belus of the golden statue which Dareius had not dared to remove; and Arrian (7.17) adds, that he threw down the temple itself, on his return from Greece, and that it was in ruins when Alexander was at Babylon, and was desirous of rebuilding it, and of restoring it to its former grandeur. Strabo (xvi. p.738
) adds, that he was unable to do so, as it took 10,000 men to clear away the ruins. Pliny (6.26
), on the other hand, appears to have thought that the temple of Belus was still existing in his time.
From the time of Alexander's death its decay became more rapid. Strabo (xvi. p.738
) states, that of those who came after him (Alexander) none cared for it; and the Persians, time, and the carelessness of the Macedonians aided its destruction. Shortly after, Seleucus Nicator built Seleuceia, and transferred to it the seat of government, till, at length, adds the geographer, speaking probably of his own time, it may be said of Babylon, as was said of Megalopolis by the Comic poet, “The vast city is a vast desert.” (Cf. also Plin. Nat. 6.26
; Paus. 4.31
; D. C. 75.9
But though Babylon had ceased, after the foundation of Seleuceia, to be a great city, it still continued for many centuries to exist.
At the time that Demetrius Poliorcetes took Babylon, two fortresses still remained in it (Diod. 19.100
), one only of which he was able to take.
Evemerus, a king of Parthia, B.C. 127, reduced many of the Babylonians to slavery, and sent their families into Media, burning with fire many of their temples, and the best parts of their city. About B.C. 36 a considerable number of Jews were resident in Babylon, so that when Hyrcanus the High Priest was released from confinement by Phraates, king of Parthia, he was permitted to reside there (J. AJ 15.2
), and that this Babylon was not, as has been supposed by some, another name for Seleuceia, is, we think, clear, because when Josephus (J. AJ 18.2.4
. § § 8, 9) speaks of Seleuceia, he adds, “on the Tigris,” showing, therefore, that he was acquainted with its position.
In the reign of Augustus, we learn from Diodorus that but a small part was still inhabited, the remainder [p. 1.359]
of the space within the walls being under cultivation. Strabo, as we have seen, looked upon it as a desert, when he wrote in the reign of Augustus, though, at the same time, manifestly as a place still existing, as he draws a parallel between it and Seleuceia, which, he says, was at that time the greater city; so great, indeed, that Pliny (5.26
) asserts it contained 600,000 inhabitants; and according to Eutrop. (5.8) at the time of its destruction, 500,000. Indeed, it is the magnitude of Seleuceia that has misled other writers. Thus Stephanus B. speaks of Babylon as a Persian metropolis called Seleuceia, and Sidonius Apollinaris (9.19, 20) describes it as a town intersected by the Tigris.
When Lucan speaks of the trophies of Crassus which adorned Babylon, he clearly means Seleuceia.
A few years later it was, probably, still occupied by a considerable number of inhabitants, as it appears from 1 Peter,
5.13, that the First Epistle of St. Peter was written from Babylon, which must have been between A.D. 49--63.
It has indeed been held by many (though we think without any sufficient proof) that the word Babylon is here used figuratively for Rome; but it is almost certain that St. Peter was not at Rome before A.D. 62, at the earliest, while the story of his having been at Babylon is confirmed by Cosmas Indico-Pleustes, who wrote in the time of Justinian. Again, not more than twenty years earlier there was evidently a considerable multitude (probably of Jews) in Babylon, as they were strong enough to attack and defeat two formidable robbers, Anilaeus and Asinaeus, who had for some time occupied a fortress in the neighbourhood. (J. AJ 18.9
The writers of the succeeding century differ but little in their accounts. Thus Lucian of Samosata (in the reign of M. Aurelius) speaks of Babylon as a city which once had been remarkable for its numerous towers and vast circumference, but which would soon be, like Ninus (Nineveh), a subject for investigation. (Lucian, Charon.
In the third century, Eusebius of Caesareia states that the people of the surrounding country, as well as strangers, avoided it, as it had become completely a desert.
St. Jerome believed that the ancient walls had been repaired, and that they surrounded a park in which the kings of Persia kept animals for hunting.
He states that he learnt this from an Elamite father residing at Jerusalem, and it is certain that he was satisfied that in his time there were few remains of Babylon.
St. Cyril of Alexandreia, about A.D. 412, tells us that the canals drawn from the Euphrates having filled up, the soil of Babylon had become nothing better than a marsh. Theodoret, who died A.D. 460, states it was no longer inhabited either by Assyrians or Chaldaeans, but only by some Jews, whose houses were few and scattered.
He adds that the Euphrates had changed its course, and passed through the town by a canal. Procopius of Gaza, in the middle of the sixth century, speaks of Babylon as a place long destroyed.
Ibn Haukal, in A.D. 917, calls Babel a small village, and states that hardly any remains of Babylon were to be seen.
Lastly, Benjamin of Tudela (ed. Asher, 1841), in the twelfth century, asserts that nothing was to be seen but the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's palace, into which no one dared enter, owing to the quantity of serpents and scorpions with which the place was infested. (Rich, Babylon,
Introd. pp. xxvii--xxix.)
The ruins of Babylon, which commence a little S. of the village of Mohawill, 8 miles N. of Hillah, have been examined in modern times by several travellers, and by two in particular, at the interval of seven years, the late Resident at Baghdád, Mr. Rich, in 1811, and Sir Robert K. Porter, in 1818.
The results at which they have arrived are nearly identical, and the difference between their measurements of some of the mounds is not such as to be of any great importance.
According to Mr. Rich, almost all the remains indicative of the former existence of a great city are to be found on the east side of the river, and consist at present of three principal mounds, in direction from N. to S., called, respectively, by the natives, the Mujelebè,
and Amran Ibn Ali,
from a small mosque still existing on the top of it. On the west side of the river, Mr. Rich thought there were no remains of a city, the banks for many miles being a perfect level. To the NW., however, there is a considerable mound, called Towareij;
and to the SW., at a distance of 7 or 8 miles, the vast pile called the Birs-i-Nimnrúd.
Of the mounds on the E. side, the Msjelebè
is much the largest, but the Kasr
has the most perfect masonry.
The whole, however, of the ruins present an extraordinary mass of confusion, owing to their having been for centuries a quarry from which vast quantities of bricks have been removed for the construction of the towns and villages in the neighbourhood. Mr. Rich subsequently visited the Birs-i-Nimrúd,
the size of which is nearly the same as that of the Mujelebè;
but the height to the top of the wall is at least 100 feet higher; and he then discusses at some length the question which of these two mounds has the best claim to represent the Tower of Babel of the Bible, and the Temple of Belus of profane authors. His general conclusions incline in favour of the Birs-i-Nimrúd,
but he thinks it is impossible satisfactorily to accommodate the descriptions of ancient authors with what now remains; while it is nowhere stated positively in which quarter of the city the Temple of Belus stood. Along the E. side of the river, the line of mounds parallel to the Kasr, at the time Mr. Rich was there, were, in many places, about 40 feet above the river, which had incroached in some places so much as to lay bare part of a wall built of burnt bricks cemented with bitumen, in which urns containing human bones had been found. East of Hillah,
about 6 miles, is another great mound, called Al Heimar,
constructed of bricks, similar to those at Babylon.
On the publication of Mr. Rich's memoir in the Fundgruben des Orients,
Major Rennell wrote an Essay in 1815, which was printed in the Archaeologia,
vol. xviii., in which he combated some of the views which Mr. Rich had stated in his memoir, which produced a rejoinder from Mr. Rich, written in 1817, in which he goes over again more completely the ground mentioned in his first notice, and points out some things in which Major Rennell had been misled by imperfect information.
The chief points of discussion are, as to how far any of the existing ruins could be identified with things mentioned in the classical narratives, whether or not the Euphrates had ever flowed between the present mounds, and whether the Birs-i-Nimrúd
could be identified with the Temple of Belus.
It is sufficient here to mention that Rennell considered that honour to belong to the Mujelebè,
and Mr. Rich to the Birs-i-Nimrúd, [p. 1.360]
an idea which appears to have occurred to Niebuhr (Voy.
vol. ii. p. 236), though the state of the country did not allow him to pay it a visit. Ker Porter, who surveyed the neighbourhood of Babylon with great attention in 1818, differs from Mr. Rich in thinking that there are remains of ruins on the western side of the river, almost all the way to the Birs-i-Nimrúd,
although the ground is now, for the most part, very flat and marshy.
He considers also that this ruin must have stood within the limits of the original city, at the extreme SW. angle.
With regard to this last and most celebrated ruin, it has been conjectured that, after all, it was no part of the actual town of Babylon, the greater part of which, as we have seen, in all probability dates from Nebuchadnezzar, in accordance with his famous boast, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built?” (Dan.
4.30), but that it represents the site of the ancient Borsippus (to which Nabonnedus is said to have fled when Cyrus took Babylon), its present name of Birs recalling the initial letters of the ancient title.
According to Col. Rawlinson, the name Borsippa is found upon the records of the obelisk from Nimrúd, which is at least two centuries and a half anterior to Nebuchadnezzar (As. Journ.
xii. pt. 2. p. 477), and Mr. Rich had already remarked (p. 73) that the word Birs has no meaning in the present language (Arabic) of the country.
It is certain that this and many other curious matters of investigation will not be satisfactorily set at rest, till the cuneiform inscriptions shall be more completely decyphered and interpreted.
It is impossible to do more here than to indicate the chief subjects for inquiry. (Rich, Babylon and Persepolis;
Ker Porter, Travels,
vol. ii.; Rawlinson, Journ. As. Soc.
vol. xii. pt. 2.) [V