(CIVILIZATION in MESOPOTAMIA – continued)
With the passing of generations, the Amorites who had overrun the Sumerians, adopted Sumerian culture. They fought off new waves of migrating peoples, and they increased their skills in the art of combat. Amorites spread through more of Mesopotamia. They joined in the trade that remained among Mesopotamian cities, and they extended their trade into Asia Minor, exchanging woolen cloth and tin for gold, silver and copper. Amorite merchants created colonies to their west, in parts of southern Asia Minor. The center of this empire was the city of Ashur, and Ashur was the center of a kingdom that was to become known as Assyria.
Around 1800 BCE an Amorite king at Babylon, Hammurabi, sent his armies out and conquered other kingdoms, cutting down his enemies, as he put it, "like dolls of clay." Hammurabi overran Assyria and conquered Ashur. He established his authority from the Persian Gulf to the city of Haran. Like Sargon, he built a new network of roads. He created a postal system, and he delegated power to governors, who were to rule conquered territories in his name.
Babylon was a city where trade routes crossed. Under Hammurabi it became a bronze-age city of commerce and agriculture. It was a city with skilled artisans, architects, bricklayers and businessmen, with an efficient secular administration and a chain of command. The city was at the hub of an intricate network of canals. It was surrounded by great fields of barley, melons, fruit trees and the wheat the Babylonians used in making unleavened, pancake-like bread. From their barley, the Babylonians made beer. They sheared wool from their flocks of sheep. And they imported wood from Lebanon and metals from Persia.
Like other emperors, Hammurabi operated a protection racket, offering towns he captured the security of his superior military might in exchange for their obedience and tribute (payment of taxes). He believed that where he had conquered he had put an end to war, and he wanted to protect his subjects from the terror of nomads.
Like king Urukagina of Lagash and the pharaoh Amenemhet and others, Hammurabi wished to promote what he saw as welfare and justice for his subjects. He saw that contracts between people had to be witnessed and ratified, that deeds of partnership had to be maintained, that properties had to be registered and wills written. Hammurabi established laws that protected landholders from the landless. He regulated the treatment of women and slaves. A law made a doctor liable if the doctor made his patient worse, and an architect might be executed if his negligence resulted in the collapse of a house he had designed.
Like other rulers among the civilized, Hammurabi saw some people as more worthy than others. His laws divided his subjects into three classes: the nobles; merchants and ordinary farmers; and slaves. All classes were to be protected from what he believed was unnecessary abuse, but punishments were to differ according to one's class. If a noble destroyed the eye of another noble he might have his own eye put out, or if he broke the bone of another noble he had one of his own bones broken. But if he broke the bone of a common person or destroyed that person's eye, he only had to pay a fine.
Hammurabi claimed that he received his laws from Babylon's sun god and god the of justice, Shamash. According to Hammurabi's scribes, the people of Babylon saw events as directed by the gods, and they saw Hammurabi as wise and as having created a world of order and justice under Shamash.
Babylonians were looking to the movement of stars to discern the intentions of the gods. Their calculations were an astronomy, which, associated with the intentions of the gods, was another instance in the practice of astrology among ancient people. With gods permeating everything, there was as yet no distinction made between astronomy and astrology.
There were ritual specialists, something beyond the voluntary shamanism that had preceded civilization. Among them were healers and experts in magic, building from the belief in magic and the ever-presence of gods that had been a part of Stone Age religion. There were oracles – people believed to have an unusual ability to communicate with a certain god and thought to be a mouthpiece for that god. People consulted the oracles. It was verbal communication, and the oracles sometimes communicated in riddles. With gods associated with events, any event that could be matched by imagination with something someone said was easily attributed to that person having prophesied. The gods were already seen as selective in whom they were to leak their secrets, and very stingy in that leaking.
The Babylonians believed that the gods punished people for lack of respect for god-given laws. And during the reign of Hammurabi's son, the Babylonians believed that such a punishment had arrived in the form of an invasion by those called Kassites, from the mountainous region just east of Mesopotamia – the first people known to have entered Mesopotamia on horseback. It was more than a thousand years before Hebrew prophets, as described in the Old Testament, would see their god of justice, Yahweh, as sending the Assyrians to punish the people of Israel. [note]
Whether drought or plague or something else weakened the Babylonians, preventing them from defeating the Kassites, is unknown. Hammurabi's son led an army that was able to drive the Kassites away, but the Kassites returned and were able to overrun Babylon. Hammurabi's descendants continued to rule in Babylon, but with reduced power and perhaps only locally.
Babylon declined as a great power, and other kings in and around Mesopotamia began a new competition for resources and trade routes. Kassite warriors settled down, adopted Mesopotamian culture and made accepted Babylon's literature as sacred. Sumerian writings had been preserved in modified form. This included versions and copies of the creation story that was to become known as the Enuma Elish, a story the elevated the Babylonian god Marduk above the other gods of Mesopotamia. Contact between cultures had been creating cultural diffusion, which was to persist in West Asia with more contacts between different peoples.
Copyright © 1999-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.