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sometimes bore also a short sword or battle-axe. The
nation of the Scythians comprised within it a number
of distinct tribes. At the head of all was a royal tribe
corresponding to the " Golden Horde " of the jMongols,
which was braver and more numerous than any other,
and regarded all the remaining tribes as slaves. To this
belonged the families of the kings, who ruled by heredi-
tary right, and who seem to have exercised a very con-
siderable authority. We often hear of several kings as
bearing rule at the same time ; but there is generally
some indication of disparity, from -which we gather that,
in times of danger at any rate, the supreme power was
always really lodged in the hands of a single man.^

1 The above description I have taken, with slight abridgment, from G.
Rawliuson, The Five Great Jlonarrhles (1881), vol. ii, p. 223 f., whose sum-


§ 811. The details of the invasion that have thus come
down to us must be treated with some discrimination.
The exact date of the incursions is in any case uncei'tain.
Herodotus gives twenty-eight years as the duration of
their visit. But this is manifestly impossible. So long a
stay would amount to a settlement on the part of at least
large sections of the confederation, and would have left
permanent traces in types of population and manners. It
may be, however, that the informants of Herodotus counted
backwards in their rough fashion, from the capture of Nine-
veh, 607 B.C. This would make the earliest inroads to
have occurred in 6-35, a date which suits all the condi-
tions as far as we know them. At that time there were
still nine j^ears left of the reign of Asshurbanipal, and it
is likely that the most formidable of the Scythian inva-
sions took place during the maintenance of military order
under that king. If the most serious inroads had occurred
during the brief reigns of his two feeble successors, they
would have had a material share in the ruin of the empire.
As we know, however, it was by neither Kimmerians nor
Scythians that the Assyrian dominion received its final
death-blow. Two further traditional exaggerations must
be corrected. These people could not have come all in
one swarm ; nor did they cover the whole face of the
Assyrian empire at once. The}' arrived in successive
migrations ; they made gradual advances, and that by
definite routes.

§ 812. Indeed, the Assyrian empire proper, as above
outlined (§ 808), could not possibly be the chief sufferer.
Coming, as these Scythians did, into southwestern Asia
from over the Caucasus, they had first to encounter the
Aryan ]\Iedes, now alread}^ organized into a powerful
kingdom (§ 822). With them, indeed, as it would appear,
their most prolonged struggle was maintained, and appar-

mary of the information given by the Greek writers has in a sense
become classical. Further notices are given in the continuation of the
above extract, along with full references to the literature.


ently the Medians came off well from the conflict. Then
they would have to meet the hardy warriors of Armenia,
and, in their westward course, those of Cappadocia, to
whose population the Kimmerian accessions lent a vigor-
ous element. They avoided the desert ways. But as they
traversed the rich plains of Mesopotamia, and marched
against the strong fortresses of Syria, they had to encoun-
ter not merely the Assyrian garrisons, but also many a
troop of Arabs, who could match the invaders with their
own weapons, and inflict endless damage by hanging per-
petually upon their rear. As to the fortunes of the south-
west under this visitation, we have good reason to believe
that Palestine was little harassed, if at all.^ It is related
that Psammetichus, the prince of the Delta who had re-
stored the independence of Egypt (§ 768), being warned
of their approach when they had got as far as Askalon,
bought them off from invading Egypt by valuable gifts.^
If Palestine suffered to any great extent, it must have been
in the territory east of the Jordan, which might furnish
congenial pasture ground to these rangers of the steppes.
They were scarcely very formidable in numbers by the time
they reached the south of the Philistian plain. We may
safely take it for granted that the terror which they in-
spired was their most serious infliction upon the "people of
Judah. The visitation was made during the minority of
Josiah (§ 807), when the military spirit was at its lowest.
If an assault had really been made upon the cities of Judah,
little would have survived. And the calamity, which would
have been worse than the evils wrought by Sinacherib, would
have found some historical notice in the Hebrew literature.
§ 813. Hence we cannot agree with those who think
that the Scythians are the northern invaders described in

1 Tlie name Scythopolis, given in later times to Beth-sliean in Manas-
seh west of Jordan (Beisan), may possibly contain a reminiscence of this
visitation, but we must be cautious about making a broad induction upon
so narrow a foundation.

- Herodotus, i, 105 ; cf. ii, 157.


Jer. iv.-vi. Nor can we adopt the hypothesis that Jere-
miah, one of the most practical of prophets, was here
merely reproducing the details of the Scythian scourge,
after the event, for the purpose of intimidating the faithless
people of Jehovah. Jeremiah did not begin his prophetic
work till 626 B.C. (ch. xxv. 3 ; cf. i. 2), the year of
the death of Asshurbanipal, when the northern marauders
had withdrawn from the Assyrian empire proper. Hence
there can be no allusion to the Scythians directly. It is
true that certain expressions (see ch. v. 17; vi. 22 f.)
seem to point to them rather than to the other foe, the Chal-
dieans, who afterwards also came by the way of the north.
The key to the whole difficulty is found in ch. i. 15,
where it is said, " Lo, I will call all the families of the
kingdoms of the north, saith Jehovah, and they shall come
and shall set each one his seat at the entrance of the gates
of Jerusalem, and beside all her walls round about, and
beside all the cities of Judah." The present prophecy,
presumably the earliest of Jeremiah's compositions, is
general in character, and does not refer to any one specific
invasion. It was really fulfilled in the assaults and devas-
tations of the Chakheans (cf. ch. v. 15). Now as to the
language employed, we need to keep three things in mind.
We must remember that the " Chaldcean " army was by no
means composed of Babylonians alone. Like the Assyrian
hosts, of which it was the direct successor, it was made up
of detachments from the various subject states. And as the
former were called by their leaders " soldiers of Asshur "
(§ 697, note), so an equally comprehensive appellation
must have been employed everywhere for the army of
Nebuchadrezzar. The references to enemies that came
armed with bow and spear and rode upon horses (ch.
vi. 23) might apply to many a detachment in the Chal-
dtean army not of Scythian origin. Again, it may be
assumed that in consequence of the recent destructive
march of the Scythians over the fairest portions of West-
ern Asia, the language of the prophet would naturally be


coloured by that notable infliction. In like manner the
" north " and the " uttermost parts of the eartli " (ch.
vi. 22) are expressions which, while somewhat vague, are
yet natural in the mouth of a Hebrew observer of the time,
since the region in c^uestion had come to be the source of
periodic invasions threatening ruin and destruction to the
whole of the southern lands. Finally, there may very
well have been companies of Scythians settled here and
tliere within the Assyrian empire at the date of this
prophecy, whom Jeremiah looked upon as eligible soldiery
for the next great invasion, whoever might be the leaders.

§ 814. The case is quite different with Ezekiel xxxviii.
Ezekiel was an idealist, Avho in some of his discourses made
little note of the order of time or of external causal rela-
tion. The suggestions and the terminology are here drawn
from the inroads of northern barbarians, the last of which,
the great Scj'thian invasion, was perhaps one of the vivid
reminiscences of the prophet's youth. In these references,
however, Gomer, Togarmah, Gog and Magog, are merely
symbols of the nations that were to assemble for the over-
throw of Israel, to be themselves discomfited by the inter-
vention of Jehovah. They furnish in fact the psychological
basis of much of the apocalyptic literature of both the Old
and the New Testament (cf. Rev. xx. 7 ff.). Of Zepha-
niah, an earh- contemporary of Jeremiah, we can only say
what has been said already of his great colleague. His
brief prophecy has for its motive the doom of impenitent
Jerusalem, the lesson being enforced from tlie fate of the
nations (ch. ii.), Philistia, Moab, Egypt, and Ethiopia,
and finally Assyria and Nineveh. With him also the rec-
ollections of the Scythian invasion have lent a touch of
colour to the picture, though the expressions used are more
general than those employed by Jeremiah.

§ 815. The Scythians doubtless invaded the territory
of Assyria proper ; but it is difficult to believe that they
there inflicted any very serious loss. Enfeebled as the em-
pire of the Tigris was in its dependencies and colonies, in


the closing years of Asshurbanipal, it was still strong in
and around Nineveh. The disciplined veterans of the
Babylonian and Arabian wars were not to be turned aside
by these outlandish barbarians far from their homes and
their patron gods. We may therefore assume that not only
did Nineveh escape a siege, but that the savages were kept
at a safe distance from the capital. Nor must we ascribe
to the Scythian invasion entirel}', or even chiefly, the swift
decline of the great empire of the Sargonides (§ 809).
That they accelerated its disintegration is evident ; and a
reconquest of the many regions, which ipso facto were
liberated through their transient interference, was virtu-
ally impossible even after they had disappeared as an
organized aggressive force, through their absorption, dis-
persion, disease, death on the battle-field, or voluntary
return to the steppes of the north.

§ 816. It was thus as ruler of a dissolving empire that
Asshurbanipal spent his closing years, his pride rebuked,
his power curtailed, his gods averting their faces. One
solace remained to him to the end. His distinctive pas-
sion was for literatu]'e and art ; and it is for the encour-
agement afforded to both that he deserves an eminent
place among the rulers of the Orient. His character is
more interesting to the historical student than that of any
other of the Assyrian kings, for the reason that it was so
fully a product not only of his nation, but of his memora-
ble times. The preceding monarchs of his country had
been strenuous statesmen and warriors, because the main-
tenance of the glory of Asshur depended on a strong,
directing mind. Esarhaddon had at length placed the
crown upon all their highest ambitions, and when his son
came to the throne, he fondly trusted that the empire,
now so well organized, might dispense with the active
intervention of its head. Hence, to a large degree, came
the personal inactivity of Asshurbanipal in military affairs.
Another occasion thereof was scarcely less potent. The
personal sympathies and early associations of his father


had brought him into sympathetic relation with Baby-
lonia. It may indeed be said that since the time of the
great Tiglath-pileser, Assyria had been coming to under-
stand the Babylonian life and character. But the effect
of this closer contact was conspicuously seen in the edu-
cation of Asshurbanipal, on which he lays such stress in
his own inscriptions.^ It was seen also in the impetus
which was given to literary pursuits in the Assyrian cap-
ital. Of this brief but brilliant renascence Asshurbanipal
was himself the chief official representative.

§ 817. But the literary activity of his scribes and sec-
retaries, which under an Oriental despotism was neces-
sarily impersonal, was something quite phenomenal in its
extent and choice of subjects. We must suppose that the
fashionable patronage of Babylonian learning so favoured
by Esarhaddon led to the employment of many Babylonian
teachers, at least among the people of the court and the
wealthy magnates. Culture Avas not confined to the
priestly class. The astronomical and astrological know-
ledge, which was at once the business and the ornament
of their profession, is supplemented in the literary monu-
ments of the age by geographical, botanical, and zoological
learning, which would naturally be acquired by mili-
tary and diplomatic attaches, commercial agents, or pri-
vate travellers. Of this and a manifold culture besides,
Assliurbanipal was a munificent and apparently an intel-
ligent patron. Even the official annals, supervised and
inspired by himself, in spite ~of their general adaptation
to the monotonous prescriptive form of such documents,
reveal in their ornate and polished style and wealth of dic-
tion the impress of a wide intellectual movement. These
records, however, present their hero as the would-be rival
of his great predecessors in the arts of war and government
— a r81e in which he appears to signal disadvantage. But
the multitudinous tablets which bear his signature, found
in the ruins of his great palace in Ku3'unjik. form of them-

1 V R. 1, 31 ff.


selves a library of varied content which is unique in the
history of the human mind. The majority of them, or at
least of the originals, were obtained from Babylon. Hence
it is to them rather than to monuments found in their
proper home, that we owe our knowledge of the ancient
Babylonians as a people, their manners and customs,
their language and religion, and their varied intellectual

§ 818. But the form and mode of this very intel-
lectual relationship with Babylonia betrays, after all, the
inherent inefficiency of the Assyrian civilization and polit-
ical system. These productions of the ancient Babylonian
genius, which were literally appropriated and reproduced
by the thousand, were regarded and spoken of as the
spoil of the Assyj'ian king. It was thought that the mere
acquisition and study of these monuments of reflection
and research would confer upon the Ninevites all the
jDrestige and moral advantage of the Babylonian culture.
The process of appropriation was in fact an essential part
of the enterprise of transferring the centre of Semitic
influence from the banks of the Euphrates to those of
the Tigris. Necessarily it failed. The basis of the Assyr-
ian civilization was essentially force, as its most honoured
gods, Adar, Nergal, and Nusku, were personifications of
terror, war, and desolation. Nebo, the wise revealer
of the will of the gods, and Merodach, their healing and
comforting agent among men, were the patron deities of
Babylon. It was in vain that Asshurbanipal officially
proclaimed himself to be endowed with the intelligence
and wisdom of Nebo, whose political tutelage he dis-
owned. Nebo still ruled in Babylon, and had no mind
to dwell among the intellectual and moral aliens of the
kingdom of the Tigris. Only in sculpture, architecture,
and the mechanic arts did the Assyrians surpass their
teachers. Yet even in these their lack of originality is
as apparent as in the realms of literature and science.
Nor can it be truly said that time and opportunity foi- the


higher mental attainments were lacking to Assyria. The
era of Esarhaddon and Asshurbanipal, following upon
that of Sargon, was eminently favourable for all forms
of higher culture. It is, therefore, with a feeling of very
qualified admiration that we contemplate the varied monu-
ments of Assyria's one great epoch of intellectual achieve-

§ 819. While we have learned to reject the classical
traditions with regard to " Sardanapalus,' ' we have also
found it necessary to abate something of the admiration
with which he is regarded by modern writers on Oriental
history. It is not easy to discover any broad principle of
statesmanship in his conduct of imperial affairs. His pol-
icy in the western lands was fairly successful, because he
followed in the main the path struck out by his father.
Yet otherwise he made no advance, except by the use
of barbaric methods which recoiled upon the agent. The
most important and delicate matter of all Avas the Baby-
lonian question. This had been admirably adjusted by
Esarhaddon, and it might have been possible to continue
his conciliatory attitude. The cardinal defect of the
administration was the selfish isolation of the king. Esar-
haddon's influence had been won by his personal visita-
tions and residence among his subjects. His son remained
at home absorbed in his pleasures and learned pursuits.
He knew how to deal with his many enemies and revolted
vassals only in a petulant, inconsistent fashion, which was
marked by the extremes of malicious cruelty and whimsi-
cal indulgence. There is apparently some ground for the
reputation of effeminacy which he bore in the legends
preserved by Ctesias. The contrary has been argued from
his prowess as a hunter, commemorated in many a palace-
wall relief. These, however, are probably only the exag-
gerated efforts of official flatterers. The character of a
mighty hunter was essential to every king of Assyria, as
the annual battue is a mark of the type of royalty proper
to modern continental Europe. The alleged fact that he


reigned for over forty years without domestic insurrection ^
is a more plausible evidence of kingly character. But we
do not know the details of his later life, except that at his
death the empire was being disrupted and dwindling away
to the shadow of its ancient form and substance.

§ 820. This sudden decline was the beginning of the
swiftly approaching end. A strange mantle of obscurity
continues to envelope the history of the few memorable
years which were still allotted to the kingdom of Nineveh.
The son of Asshurbanipal who followed him upon the
throne was called Asshur-etil-ildni-ukinni ("Asshur, the
lord of the gods, has established me"). For the sake
of convenience, the last element of his name was usually
dropped. Of his deeds we only know that he rebuilt the
temi^le of Nebo in Kalach. The inscription ^ recording
the fact was found in the ruins of the southeast palace in
Nimrud (Kalach), of which he was thus apparently the
builder. This revival of the cultivation of the patron god
of Babylonia was perhaps significant of better relations
with the latter country than had marked the first half
of his father's rule. We do not know how lonof his reia'u
extended beyond his fourth year, which is the date of a
tablet found at Nippur by the American explorers. His
successor was named Sin-mr-iskun^ ("Sin has installed
the king"), under whose brief and dubious sovereignty
Nineveh and Assyria met their predestined doom.

§ 821. It is as yet, and perhaps will always remain,
impossible to reconstruct the history of the closing years
of the Assyrian kingdom. We must therefore content
ourselves with a general sketch of the national and racial
movements by which its overthrow was so largely condi-

1 Telle, GAB. p. 405.

2 Published in I E. 8, nr. 3 ; cf. KB. II, 268 f., and III E. 16, 2. For
the temple of Nebo, see vol. i, p. 411 f. Did the story of Semiramis now
become popularized ?

3 Tlie Sarakos of the Greeks, whose story has been merged in that of
Asshurbanipal in the legend of " Sardanapalus. "


tioned. The disintegrating work of the Kimmerians and
Scythians had been done before the time of the end (§ 773,
810 ff.). No important inroads into the empire proper by
the latter and more formidable invaders can have been
made after 620 B.C., though the northern regions were
doubtless still visited by them from time to time. Nor
do we hear of any uprisings in Syria or Palestine. If the
w'estern communities had combined, even a nominal alle-
giance to their old oppressor might now have been safely
abjured. But by this time most of them had become politi-
cally supine and indifferent, partly through the long As-
syrian administration (^§ 808) and also to some extent
from the effects of the Scythian scourge. They were,
taken as a whole, now prepared to yield their homage
to the strongest representative of the Assyrio-Babylonian
idea of eastern predominance, as in fact they did ere long
submit to the accredited Chaldfean successor of the Nine-
vite over-lord. ]Many of them, however, had doubtless
quietly or formally renounced their dependence. The
Phoenician city-states were certainly now rejoicing in
unaccustomed exemption from tribute. In Judah the
scrupulous fidelity of Josiah would have kept him, in
any case, true to his oath of allegiance. Northern Syria
and Mesopotamia had long been without political life and
movement apart from their Assyrian governors.

§ 822. Thus, if the growing weakness of Assyria were
to become the occasion for her violent overthrow, the
impulse must come from the seat of ancient Semitic
supremacy, the oft-subdued but still intellectually and
morally superior Babylonia, — not, however, directly from
the ancient realm of Shumer and Akkad, but from the sea-
land, the home of the virile and indomitable Chaldajans.
The story of this extraordinary people has been told with
sufficient fulness, and the reader will not be surprised to
learn that they were equal to even larger occasions than
those which marked the patriotic endeavours of ]\Ierodach-
baladan and his heroic race. From unmistakable sicj-ns we


gather that during the last quarter of a century of the
Ninevite rule a better understanding had been arrived at
with the Chaldfeaus. Perhaps it was the consciousness
of growing decrepitude which brought the successor of
Asshurbanipal to perceive that it was after all best to
grant a measure of self-government to all Babylonia (cf.
§ 825). At an}- rate, we find that, on the accession of
the new Assyrian king in 625 B.C., Nabopalassar (^JVabil-
apil-usur^ "Nebo protect the son!"), a Chaldsean, was
made viceroy in Babylon.^ This we may assume to have
been the result of a claim formally set up by the Chal-
dsean chief. Of the compromise thus effected the most
was made by the ambitious pretender. He was prudent
enough to take one step at a time ; and as the next step
was to make him the heir to Nineveh itself, it behoved
him to look well before he should leap.

§ 823. But Nabopalassar had need of timely as well as
of cautious action. A rival claimant — the king of the
Medes — at the head of a young and vigorous nationality
threatened soon to be master of Nineveh and therewith of
the whole Semitic realm. It was with him that Nabo-
palassar began that series of negotiations and combinations
which ended with the subjection of Asia from the INIediter-
ranean to the borders of India to one single ruler, who
was neither a Median nor a Babylonian. The Medes were
a composite nationality. We first hear of them in Assyrian
history two centuries before the present crisis, under Shal-
manezer II ^ and his two successors (cf. § 247 f.). Their
name seems to have been long a geographical rather than
an ethnical expression. At first they were not more impor-
tant than the numerous neighbouring tribes of non-Aryan

1 According to the Canon of Ptolemy he was 'king' in Babylon, but
as we have seen (§ 820) Asshur-etil-ilani was acknowledged in central
Babylonia four years after that date.

2 See Winckler, UAG. p. 109 ff. : Zur medischen und altpersichen
Geschichte ; also Oppert, Le peuple et la langue des Medes, 1878 ; Delattre,
Lepeuple et V empire des Medes, 1883.


race, who, like them, were repeatedly coerced by the
Assyrians, and as often rejected their sovereignty. Sargon
carried his conquests further among them,^ though the
absolute submission of them all was never achieved by
him or by any other Assj-rian ruler. After his time there
was little interference with them from the side of the Nine-
vite empire ; and wlien once the inroads of the Kimmerians

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 39)