(CIVILIZATION in MESOPOTAMIA – continued)
By the year 2000 an illiterate warlike Indo-European people called Hittites had migrated on foot southward into Asia Minor, where they overran and conquered tribal, bronze-age farming communities. Like Sargon's warriors, the conquering Hittites made themselves an aristocratic warrior elite living off the labors of those they had conquered. And like Sargon and others they saw their victories as willed by their gods and as proof of the righteousness of their conquests. Like others, the Hittites made deities of their dead kings, but they saw their living kings as human and expected them to obey their laws. Their neighbors considered them sexually lax. But the Hittites were less brutal than some: they disliked the mutilations of human bodies that they saw among other peoples, and they were less inclined to punish people by killing them.
From those they overran, the Hittites learned how to make bronze. And sometime after the coming of the Kassites to Mesopotamia, the Hittites acquired horses and chariots. With horses and light chariots, the well trained, highly disciplined Hittites launched a new conquest of neighboring peoples in Asia Minor. A horse pulling a man on a lightweight chariot was faster than a horse carrying a man on its back, and the Hittites were able to move rapidly, sometimes under the cover of darkness, and spring surprise assaults upon their adversaries.
The Hittite king, Mursilis I, forced a loose federation of city-states into the first Hittite empire. A Hittite army crossed the Taurus Mountains into Mesopotamia, and in 1593 BCE they sacked Babylon, ending the dynasty that had been created there by Hammurabi. But Babylon was too distant for the Hittites to rule – 1200 miles from their capital at Hattusas – and the Hittites withdrew from Babylon.
The Hittites remained the leading power north of Egypt until 1590, when the Hittite king, Mursilis, was assassinated by his brother-in-law. More palace intrigues and murderous struggles for power followed among Hittite princes, priests, nobles, regents and ambitious widows. It was to be a recurring development elsewhere in the world, and for the Hittites it brought what it would often bring to others: a decline in power.
After the Hittite invasion of Mesopotamia, an Indo-Iranian people called Hurrians, from the Zagros Mountains, poured into Mesopotamia and overran the Assyrians. The Hurrians settled down, gradually adopted civilized ways and became dominant in such cities as Mari, on the upper Euphrates, and Nuzi, which became a thriving commercial center. Then came another wave of Kassites, who occupied Babylon and briefly overran other parts of Mesopotamia. Kassite warriors settled down, adopted Mesopotamian culture and made themselves warrior-aristocrats. A few of them became rulers of great estates from which they dominated surrounding territory. And from this elite came Babylon's new kings.
The Hurrians weakened themselves with internal conflict. The Hittites regained their strength, warred with and further weakened the Hurrians, and this helped Assyrians in northeastern Mesopotamia free themselves from Hurrian domination.
Having experienced oppression under the Hurrians, the Assyrians were motivated to build a great military machine, led by their horse-breeding and landed nobility. The Assyrian king, Ashur the Great (who ruled from 1365 to 1330), married his daughter to a Babylonian, and he invaded Babylon after Kassite nobles there murdered his grandchild. Ashur's successors continued Assyria's war against the Babylonians and the Hurrians, and by around 1300 the Assyrians controlled all of Mesopotamia.
Between 1200 and 1000 BCE, nomads called Chaldeans pushed against the Babylonians and against the Assyrians. A camel breeding Bedouin people called Aramaeans from northern Arabia also marauded their way across Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans settled near what had been Sumer. The Aramaeans settled around the upper Euphrates River and in Syria and established numerous city-kingdoms. Assyria became exhausted from warring against the invaders. Its trade fell, but it held onto much of Mesopotamia and territory as far as the Caucasus Mountains. With the passing of generations, some Aramaeans maintained their nomadic ways and became the foremost traders in West Asia. Their language spread, and in the coming centuries Aramaic would be the most widely spoken language in West Asia – the language resorted to for diplomacy and business, and a language spoken by those called Hebrews.
Centuries of migrations into Mesopotamia resulted in genetic and cultural blending. Sumerians had integrated with Semites. Hittite queens had Hurrian names. Kassites had integrated with the Amorites. Aramaeans assimilated and intermarried with various peoples. At least one Aramaean married Assyrian royalty, and around the year 1050 another Aramaean became king of Babylon. Cities in Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan – especially port cities – had become cosmopolitan. And in much of Mesopotamia, Syria and Canaan an ethnic tolerance had developed.
The people of different areas in Mesopotamia had come to worship gods that were similar in character and sometimes in name. The goddess Ishtar was worshiped in various cities, but with different characteristics in different cities. The Sumerian god Enlil was also worshiped among various peoples in Mesopotamia. Enlil was looked upon as the force behind hurricanes and floods, and being the creator of floods he was viewed as the god of punishment. It was to Enlil that the righteous prayed in attempts to inflict punishments on those they thought to be sinners. Another god worshiped across Mesopotamian was Ea, who, as described in the Gilgamesh epic, was a god of knowing, understanding and wisdom. Mesopotamians also believed in a sun god commonly called Shamash, who was the giver of light and life. They saw Shamash as a giver of justice and as able to see wickedness and evil in people.
Mesopotamians continued to believe that not fearing the gods was the greatest of human errors. They believed in discovering what they had done wrong in the eyes of the gods so that they could make amends. Someone suffering from an ailment might ask himself whether he had alienated a son from his father or a father from his son, or a daughter from her mother or a mother from her daughter, or a brother from brother, or a friend from a friend. He might ask whether he had offended his father or mother, sister or brother, or a god or goddess. He might ask whether he had used false scales or had erroneously moved a boundary stone. He might consider whether he had approached his neighbor's wife, carried off his neighbor's clothes, told lies or whether his heart had been untrue. To avoid wrongdoing, one scribe suggested charity: responding with kindness to "an evil doer," or providing an enemy with justice, or honoring and clothing one who begs for alms.
Meanwhile, Mesopotamians living in villages and towns faced the problem of rubbish, sewage and contaminated water. Royal families and some others among the wealthy had indoor lavatories, but most people in villages and within town walls used nearby fields or orchards as their lavatory. Most towns or cities had no rubbish collection. Refuse was often merely thrown into the streets, where pigs, dogs and rats were free to scavenge. Often corpses were buried in very shallow graves. And with rains and a waterlogged ground, sewage and refuse washed into local rivers and contaminated water supplies. The result was typhus and other epidemics, which spread and lasted for years, while people saw disease as the result of sin or the work of demon-gods or someone's witchcraft.
In addition to appealing to the gods, Mesopotamians saw remedy to illness in sprinkling cleansing water upon the sick. Coincidences led them to believe a variety of specious remedies and things to avoid. In Babylon, the sick were left in the street so that any passerby might advise them. There and other places in Mesopotamia, priests attempted to foretell the course of a disease by examining the livers of sacrificed animals.
Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: the Evolution of an Urban Landscape, by Guillermo Algaze, 2008
History Begins at Sumer, by Samuel Noah Kramer, 3rd Edition, 1989
The Sumerians – Their History, Culture and Character, by Samuel Noah Kramer, 1971
Sumer and Sumerians, by Harriet Crawford, 1991
Babylonians, by HWF Saggs, 1999 (Includes Ubaid period and the Sumerians to 500 BCE)
Ancient Near Eastern Texts, editor James B Pritchard, Princeton University Press, 1955
A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion, Chapter 1, "Science in the Ancient World," by Sir William Dampier, 1948
The Origins of History, by Sir Herbert Butterfield, 1981
Civilization before Greece and Rome, by HWF Saggs, 1991,
The Quest for Food: Its Role in Human Evolution & Migration, by Ivan Crowe, 2000
The Ancient Near East, by Charles Burney, 1977
Secret of the Hittites: the Discovery of an Ancient Empire, CW Ceram, 1973
The Coming Age of Iron by Theodore A. Wertime and James D. Muhry, 1980
Topsoil and Civilization, Chapter 3, "Mesopotamia," by Tom Dale and Vernon G Carter, 1955
Ancient Turkey: a Traveller's Guide of Anatolia, by Steten Lloyd, 1989
Copyright © 1999-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved