Ancient History & Civilisation

CHAPTER 24

THE SPLENDOUR OF BABYLON

Short as it was (626 – 539 B.C.) the rule of the Chaldaean kings has left deep traces in the records of history. Monuments, royal inscriptions, letters, legal and commercial documents in great number concur to help us form of the Neo-Babylonian kingdom a fairly complete and accurate picture, and from this collection of data two main features emerge which give the whole period a character of its own: a religious revival combined with extensive architectural activity, and a resurgence of the temples as major social and economic units.

Geography, circumstances and the will of her rulers had turned Assyria into an expanding military nation. The same factors, acting through a thousand years of political abeyance, had made Babylonia the heir and guardian of Sumero-Akkadian traditions, the ‘sacred area’ of Mesopotamia, acknowledged as such and generally respected by the Assyrians themselves. A Babylonian renaissance in the sixth century B.C. was therefore bound to take the form of a religious revival. To the rebuilding of sanctuaries, the restoration of age-old rites, the celebration of religious festivals with increased ceremonial display, the Chaldaean kings devoted much time, energy and money. In their official inscriptions the stress was constantly laid on their architectural rather than their warlike performances. They could have claimed, like their predecessors, kingship over ‘the Universe’ of ‘the Four Quarters of the World’; they preferred to call themselves ‘Provider (zaninu) of Esagila and Ezida’* – a title which appears on thousands of bricks scattered throughout southern Iraq. Their colossal work of reconstruction involved all the main cities of Sumer and Akkad, from Sippar to Uruk and Ur, but the capital-city was given, as expected, preferential treatment: rebuilt anew, enlarged, fortified and embellished, Babylon became one of the world's marvels. Jeremiah the prophet, while predicting its fall, could not help calling it ‘a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken’, and Herodotus, who is believed to have visited it c. 460 B.C, admiringly proclaimed: ‘It surpasses in splendour any city of the known world.’1

Was this reputation deserved or was it, as in other instances, the product of Oriental exaggeration and Greek credulity? The answer to this question should not be sought in the barren mounds and heaps of crumbling brickwork which today form most of this famous site, but in the publications of R. Koldewey and his co-workers, who, between 1899 and 1917, excavated Babylon on behalf of the Deutsche Orient Gesellschaft.2 It took the Germans eighteen years of hard and patient work solely to recover the plan of the city in broad outline and unearth some of its main monuments, but we now possess enough archaeological evidence to complete, confirm or amend Herodotus's classical description and often share his enthusiasm.

Babylon, the Great City

Unquestionably, Babylon was a very large town by ancient standards. It covered an area of some 850 hectares, contained, we are told, 1,179 temples of various sizes, and while its normal population is estimated at about 100,000, it could have sheltered a quarter of a million people, if not more. The city proper, roughly square in plan, was bisected by the Euphrates, which now flows to the west of the ruins, and was surrounded by an ‘inner wall’. But ‘in order that the enemy should not press on the flank of Babylon’, Nebuchadrezzar had erected an ‘outer wall’, about eight kilometres long, adding ‘four thousand cubits of land to each side of the city’. The vast area comprised between these two walls was suburban in character, with mud-houses and reed-huts scattered amidst gardens and palm-groves, and contained, as far as we can judge, only two official buildings: Nebuchadrezzar's ‘summer palace’, whose ruins form in the north-eastern corner of the town the mound at present called Bâbil, and perhaps the bît akîtu, or Temple of the New Year Festival, not yet exactly located.

Reinforced by towers and protected by moats, the walls of Babylon3 were remarkable structures, much admired in antiquity. The inner fortified line surrounding the city proper consisted of two walls of sun-dried bricks, separated by a seven-metre wide space serving as a military road; its moat, about fifty metres wide, contained water derived from the Euphrates. The outer fortification, some eight kilometres long, was made of three parallel walls, two of them built of baked bricks. The spaces between these walls were filled with rubble and packed earth. According to Herodotus, the twenty-five metre wide top of this outer town wall could accommodate one or even two chariots of four horses abreast, enabling a rapid movement of troops from one end of the town to the other. When tested, however, this formidable defensive system proved useless: probably helped by accomplices in the city, the Persians entered Babylon through the bed of the Euphrates at low water and took it by surprise, proving that every armour has its faults and that the value of fortifications lies in the men behind them.

Eight gates, each of them named after a god, pierced the inner wall. The north-western gate, or Ishtar Gate, which played an important part in the religious life of the city, is fortunately the best preserved, its walls still rising some twelve metres above the present ground-level.4 Like most city gates in the ancient Near East, it consisted of a long passage divided by projecting towers into several gateways, with chambers for the guard behind each gateway. But the main interest of Ishtar Gate resides in its splendid decoration. The front wall as well as the entire surface of the passage were covered with blue enamelled bricks on which stood out in relief red-and-white dragons (symbolic of Marduk) and bulls (symbolic of Adad), arranged

Caption
Plan of central Babylon.
Montage of the author after the plans of R. Koldewey, Das wieder erstehende Babylon, 1925.

in alternating rows. Even the foundations were similarly decorated, although not with enamelled bricks. The total number of animal figures has been estimated at 575. The passage was roofed over, and the sight of these strange creatures shining in the dim light of torches and oil-lamps must have produced the most startling, awe-inspiring effect.

The Ishtar Gate was approached from the north through a broad, truly magnificent avenue called by the Babylonians Ai-ibur-shabu, ‘may the enemy not cross it’, but better known today as ‘Procession Street’. The avenue, more than twenty metres wide, was paved with slabs of white limestone and red breccia and was bordered by two thick walls which were no less impressive than those of the Gate, for on each side sixty mighty lions (symbolic of Ishtar) with red or yellow manes were cast in relief on blue ceramic. Behind these walls were three large buildings called by the Germans ‘Northern Citadel’ (Nord-burg), ‘Main Citadel’ (Hauptburg) and ‘Advanced Work’ (Vor-werk). All three formed part of the defensive system of the city, though the Hauptburg seems to have also been used as a royal or princely residence or as a kind of museum.5 It ruins have yielded a number of inscriptions and sculptures ranging from the second millennium to the fifth century B.C., among which the basalt statue of a lion trampling on a man, known as ‘the lion of Babylon’. The origin of this colossal, roughly made piece of work is unknown, but foreign as it is to all that we know of Mesopotamian sculpture, it conveys such an impression of strength and majesty that it has become a symbol of the glorious past of Iraq. Beyond Ishtar Gate, Procession Street continued, somewhat narrower, through the city proper. It passed in front of the Royal Palace, crossed over a canal called Libil hegalla (‘may it bring abundance‘), skirted the vast precinct of the ziqqurat and, turning westwards, reached the Euphrates at the point where the river was spanned by a bridge of six piers shaped like boats. It divided the city into two parts: to the east lay the tangle of private houses (mound of Merkes),6 to the west and south were grandiose palaces and temples.

Immediately behind the city-wall and close to the Ishtar Gate lay the ‘Southern Citadel’ (Südburg), ‘the House the marvel of mankind, the centre of the Land, the shining Residence, the dwelling of Majesty’ – in simpler words, the palace built by Nebuchadrezzar over the smaller palace of Nabopolas-sar, his father.7 This very large building was entered from Procession Street through one single monumental gate and comprised five courtyards in succession, each of them surrounded by offices, reception rooms and royal apartments. The throne-room was enormous (c. 52 by 17 metres) and seems to have been vaulted. In contrast with the Assyrian palaces, no colossi of stone guarded the doors, no sculptured slabs or inscribed orthostats lined the walls. The only decoration – obviously intended to please the eye rather than inspire fear – consisted of animals, pseudo-columns and floral designs in yellow, white, red and blue on panels of glazed bricks. Of special interest was a peculiar construction included in the north-eastern corner of the palace. It lay below ground-level and was made of a narrow corridor and fourteen small vaulted cellars. In one of the cellars was found an unusual well of three shafts side by side, as used in connection with a chain-pump. It was extremely tempting to see in this construction the understructure of roof gardens, the famous ‘hanging gardens of Babylon’ described by classical authors and erected – so one legend tells us – by Nebuchadrezzar for the pleasure of his wife, the Median princess Amytis.8 Recent excavations there have yielded less romantic results: these rooms merely served as stores for administrative tablets.9

To the south of the royal palace, in the middle of a vast open space surrounded by a buttressed wall, rose the ‘Tower of Babel’, the huge ziqqurat called E-temen-an-ki, ‘the Temple Foundation of Heaven and Earth’. As old as Babylon itself, damaged by Sennacherib, rebuilt by Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar, it was, as will be seen, completely destroyed, so that only its foundations could be studied by the archaeologists. Any reconstruction of Etemenanki therefore rests essentially upon the meagre data yielded by these studies, upon the eyewitness description of Herodotus, and upon the measurements given in rather obscure terms in a document called ‘the Esagila tablet’.10 It was certainly a colossal monument, 90 metres wide at its base and perhaps of equal height, with no less than seven tiers. On its southern side a triple flight of steps led to the second tier, the rest of the tower being ascended by means of ramps. At the top was a shrine (sahuru) ‘enhanced with bricks of resplendent blue enamel’, which, according to Herodotus,11contained a golden table and a large bed and was occupied by a ‘native woman chosen from all women’ and occasionally by Marduk, this statement being sometimes taken as referring to a ‘Sacred Marriage’ rite in Babylon, for which there is no other evidence.

E-sag-ila, ‘the Temple that Raises its Head’, was the name given to the temple of Marduk, the tutelary god of Babylon and the supreme deity of the Babylonian pantheon since the reign of Hammurabi. It was a complex of large and lofty buildings and vast courtyards lying to the south of Etemenanki, on the other side of Procession Street and not at the foot of the ziqqurat, as did most Mesopotamian temples. All the kings of Babylon had bestowed their favours upon the greatest of all sanctuaries, and Nebuchadrezzar, in particular, had lavishly rebuilt and adorned ‘the Palace of Heaven and Earth, the Seat of Kingship’:

Silver, gold, costly precious stones, bronze, wood from Magan, everything that is expensive, glittering abundance, the products of the mountains, the treasures of the seas, large quantities (of goods), sumptuous gifts, I brought to my city of Babylon before him (Marduk).

In Esagila, the palace of his lordship, I carried out restoration work. Ekua, the chapel of Marduk, Enlil of the gods, I made its walls gleam like the sun. With shining gold as if it were gypsum… with lapis-lazuli and alabaster I clothed the inside of the temple…

Du-azag, the place of the Naming of Destiny… the shrine of kingship, the shrine of the god of lordship, of the wise one among the gods, of the prince Marduk, whose construction a king before me had adorned with silver, I clothed with shining gold, a magnificent ornament…

My heart prompts me to rebuild Esagila; I think of it constantly. The best of my cedars, which I brought from Lebanon, the noble forest, I sought out for the roofing of Ekua… Inside (the temple), these strong cedar beams… I covered with shining gold. The lower beams of cedar I adorned with silver and precious stones. For the building of Esagila, I prayed every day.12

The wealth of Esagila is also emphasized by Herodotus who, having described the ziqqurat, speaks of a ‘lower temple’:

Where is a great golden image of Zeus (Marduk), sitting at a great golden table, and the footstool and chair are also of gold; the gold of the whole was said by the Chaldaeans to be of 800 talents' weight (3 tons). Outside the temple is a golden altar. There is also another great altar, whereon are sacrificed the full-grown of the flocks. Only sucklings may be sacrificed on the golden altar, but on the greater altar the Chaldaeans even offer a thousand talents' weight of frankincense yearly…13

Twenty-three centuries after Herodotus visited Babylon however, the great temple of Marduk lay buried under more than twenty metres of earth and sand, making extensive excavations almost impossible. At the cost of a considerable effort, the Germans were able to unearth the main sanctuary (‘Hauptbau’) where, among the many rooms symmetrically arranged around a central courtyard, they identified Ekua, the shrine of Marduk, the smaller chapel of Marduk's consort, the goddess Sarpanitum and chapels devoted to other deities, such as Ea and Nabû. Of an adjacent building (‘Anbau’), only the outer walls and gates could be traced. Thoroughly plundered in antiquity, Esagila yielded practically no object of value. On top of the artificial hill that concealed it the tomb of 'Amran ibn 'Ali, a companion of the Prophet, perpetuates for the Moslems the sacred character attached to that part of Babylon.

The New Year Festival

Once a year, in the spring, the religiosity diffused throughout Sumer and Akkad crystallized in Babylon. For several days the thoughts of the entire population were focused on the ceremonies which took place in the capital-city, because they offered an answer to the fears and hopes of every Mesopotamian. It was felt that mankind shared in the great renewal undergone by nature, that the past was abolished, that the cosmos momentarily reverted to chaos, that the fate of the country depended upon the judgement pronounced by the gods. Nothing short of a complex ritual loaded with magical virtues could solve the unavoidable crisis and put an end to the terrible uncertainty that overwhelmed the human race.

The New Year Festival, or akîtu, as celebrated in Babylon during the first millennium B.C.,14 resulted from the confluence of two powerful currents of religious thought: an extremely old Fertility Cult, consisting of seasonal feasts and a ‘Sacred Marriage’ ceremony, which is only attested in certain cities and up to the first half of the second millennium B.C., and a comparatively more recent cosmogony developed by the theologians of Nippur, wherein the creation of the world was attributed to Enlil following his victory over Tiamat and the forces of Chaos. After the world was created, a general assembly of the gods presided by the ‘Lord Wind’ decreed the Destinies of the Land, the fate of humanity. Creation and the naming of Destiny were not unique and final, but annual and conditional. The great cosmic struggle was believed to take place every year and its outcome was unpredictable. In the Babylonian akîtu-festival, the passage of nature from want to fruitfulness was made to coincide with the restoration of divine order, and the main role was played by Marduk, who combined the personality of Enlil, champion and king of the gods, with his own personality of fertilizing city-god.

The New Year Festival began on the day called zagmuk, in the month of Nisan (March – April), and lasted eleven or twelve days. The tablets which describe it are unfortunately damaged, but enough is legible for us to follow, albeit with some gaps, the ceremonies of the first six days. From what remains concerning the first day we can only gather that a priest unlocked the ‘Lofty Gate’ of Esagila and opened its great courtyard. On the second day the great-priest (sheshgallu) rose before dawn and washed himself with Euphrates water; he then entered the temple, recited a secret prayer asking Marduk to bestow his favours on Babylon and its people, and let in the erib bîti priests, the incantators (kalû) and the singers, who performed their rites. What follows is too fragmentary to be understood, but it seems that it referred to difficult times, speaking of ‘forgotten rites’, ‘enemies’ and ‘malediction of Marduk’. The third day began very much like the second day, but three artisans were summoned and provided with material to make two statuettes of wood adorned with precious stones and clad in red garments; one statuette was brandishing a serpent, the other a scorpion. On the fourth day prayers to Marduk and his spouse Sarpanitum were chanted in the early morning, and after the second meal, in the late afternoon, the sheshgallu-priest recited the long poem Enuma elish (the Epic of Creation) in its entirety, whilst Anu's tiara and Enlil's seat remained covered by deference to these gods who, in the Epic, had been replaced by Marduk.

The first part of the fifth day was devoted to the purification of the temple. A specialized priest, the mashmashu went around Esagila with a censer and a torch, sprinkled its walls with Tigris water and smeared them with cedar resin. A slaughterer was then called in to cut off the head of a sheep, take its body around inside the temple and, with the help of the priest, throw head and body into the river, the ‘scapegoat’ being supposed to take away all the sins of the previous year; whereupon both the mashmashu and the slaughterer left Babylon to remain in the open country until the end of the Festival. The sheshgallu – who had kept away from these ceremonies to avoid becoming impure – ordered craftsmen to cover the shrine of Marduk's son, Nâbu,– who was then travelling by boat from Barsippa (Birs Nimrud)15 to Babylon – with a veil of blue material embroidered with gold.

In the evening, the king proceeded to Esagila. Before the statue of Marduk, he surrendered the insignia of kingship – the sceptre, the circle and the mace – to the sheshgallu-priest, who deposited them on a chair in front of Marduk, and then struck the king on the cheek:

He (the priest), says the ritual to which we owe these details, shall accompany him (the king) into the presence of the god Bêl… he shall drag him by the ears and make him bow down to the ground… The king shall speak the following (only) once:

‘I did not sin, lord of the countries. I was not neglectful of your godship. I did not destroy Babylon; I did not command its overthrow… The temple Esagila, I did not forget its rites. I did not rain blows on the cheek of a subordinate… I did not humiliate them. I watched out for Babylon; I did not smash its walls…’

The priest reassured the king:

‘Have no fear… The god Bêl will listen to your prayer… He will magnify your lordship… He will exalt your kingship… The god Bêl will bless you for ever. He will destroy your enemy, fell your adversary.’

The king was given back his insignia and struck once more:

He (the priest) shall strike the king's cheek. If, when he strikes the king's cheek, the tears flow, (it means that) the god Bêl is friendly; if no tears appear, the god Bêl is angry: the enemy will rise up and bring about his downfall.16

The symbolism of this humiliating ritual is clear: the king, scapegoat of the community, atoned for his sins and was reminded that he owed his powers to none but the gods. Later in the night, he took part in other ceremonies involving the burning of a bull in a fire of reeds.

All we know about the sixth day is that Nabû arrived from Barsippa and that, at the same time, the two ‘statuettes of evil’, which had been made three days before, were decapitated and their heads cast into fire. Our main narrative breaks off here, but other texts indicate that other gods reached Babylon, notably from Sippar, Kutha and Kish. On the ninth day, the king entered Marduk's shrine, ‘took his hand’ – a gesture which came to summarize the royal participation in the Festival17 – and installed him in theubshukkinnachapel, together with the other deities. In this first divine assembly was proclaimed the sovereignty of Marduk, as stated in the Epic of Creation and the Destinies were named for the first time. A great, solemn cortége was then formed, including the statues of all the gods and goddesses. Headed by Marduk on his chariot glittering with gold and precious stones and led by the king, it went down Procession Street across Babylon in an aura of incense, songs and music, while people were kneeling down in adoration as it passed by. Through Ishtar Gate the cortége left the city, and after a short journey on the Euphrates, reached the bît akîtu, a temple filled with plants and flowers in the middle of a large park.18 We lack details concerning the ceremonies which took place there but the triumph of Marduk over the forces of evil was certainly celebrated.19 The gods stayed in the bît akîtu for three days. On the eleventh of Nisan they returned to Esagila, where they assembled again to decree, once more, ‘the Destinies of the Land’. What is meant by this vague expression, we do not know exactly. Perhaps oracles concerning definite events, such as wars, famines, inundations, etc., were pronounced; perhaps the gods simply reaffirmed their protection over the Babylonians and their monarch in general terms. The session ended in a huge banquet accompanied by music and prayers. On the twelfth of Nisan all the gods who had come to Babylon returned to their respective cities, the priests to their temples, the king to his palace. The great New Year Festival was over.

Economic Life

From the lofty summits of religious thought to the mundane realities of economic life the distance in Chaldaean Babylonia was not very great, since in many places the clergy cared for both the spiritual and material needs of the population. For instance, the archives of E-Anna, the great sanctuary of Uruk, show that the temple owned large estates which were partly let out to tenants, carried out extensive trade within and outside Mesopotamia and formed a social and economic unit almost independent of the central government.20 These various activities were directed by an ‘administrator’ (shatammu), assisted by an ‘overseer’ (qipu) and by the head scribe (tupshar bîti). The temple employed a considerable number of people: notables (mâr bâni) and artisans (ummane) engaged in various professions. Hired men and slaves ploughed and harvested its fields, dug and maintained its canals, grazed its cattle and flocks, and assured the transportation and storage of goods. Among the temple servants special mention should be made of the shirkê (sing. shirku), literally ‘consecrated‘, men and women of different social classes who had been ‘offered’ in perpetuity to the temple, performed various tasks, received no pay, but were fed and kept by the clergy.21 The produce of the land, the profits of trade, the rent of fields and houses, taxes levied on the community and part of the offerings and sacrifices – in theory optional, but in practice compulsory – constituted the revenues of the temple. A similar organization probably existed in other cities, though most of the documents from Babylon, Sippar, Nippur, Barsippa and Ur published up to now deal mainly with transactions between individuals.2 2

The importance assumed at least by some temples under the Chaldaean dynasty probably originated in the tenth and eleventh centuries B.C. Prior to that date, the general trend in history had been towards a gradual reduction of the temples' privileges through the creation of large royal estates and the development of private property. But during the ‘dark age’ of Aramaean invasion events took a different course. Despite the lack of written evidence, we may reasonably assume that while the invaders ransacked and occupied the open country, the Mesopotamian farmers and craftsmen took refuge in or immediately around the cities, and put themselves at the service of the only remaining authority, the local clergy. The temples then became the social, economic and cultural centres of southern Mesopotamia – a state of affairs reminiscent of the role played by the monasteries in our Middle Ages – with unlimited facilities for enlarging their domains. Under the Assyrian domination, when texts again become available, it appears that the wealth of Babylonia was concentrated in her ‘holy cities’. The kings of Assyria, who relied a great deal upon the temples to maintain the political stability of Babylonia, bestowed their favours upon them and generally exempted them from taxes and duties; but they also kept them under tight administrative control and, on occasion, ‘borrowed’ from their treasures.23 The collapse of Assyria to a great extent freed the temples from governmental interference, and if Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar, out of personal devotion and faithfulness to a well-established tradition, materially rebuilt and adorned the sanctuaries, they abstained from interfering with their organization and contented themselves with a twenty per cent return on their revenue. Nabonidus, however, attempted to bring the temples' business under closer royal scrutiny. We know that in 553 he appointed two high officials – the ‘Royal Officer Lord of the Appointment’ and the ‘Royal Officer over the King's Coffer’ – over the E-Anna of Uruk, with instructions to supervise its transactions and ensure the regular collection of royal tithe and taxes. In all probability it was this, more than the king's ‘heresy’, which alienated the priests from him and threw them on Cyrus's side.

This new, unpopular policy was no doubt dictated by serious financial difficulties. Nebuchadrezzar had spent fabulous sums in the rebuilding of Babylon and other cities, and the ‘archaeological’ activities of Nabonidus himself were hardly less costly. In addition, the government had to support a large and permanent army. With the exception of Elam, all the northern and eastern countries were now practically closed to Mesopotamian trade, and if Syria – Palestine was still in Babylonian hands, frequent revolts made these distant provinces a burden more than an asset. Moreover, the Phoenician cities had lost much of their former wealth. The sixth century B.C. was precisely the great period of Greek maritime and colonial expansion, and the main commercial centres of the eastern Mediterranean were no longer on the Lebanese coast, but in Greece, Ionia, Lydia, Cilicia and Egypt. Increased expenditures and reduced income drained heavily on the royal treasury and deeply affected the general economy of Babylonia. A study of the hire and sale contracts reveals a marked increase in prices between the beginning and the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. Thus a male slave costing 40 shekels of silver about 600 B.C., cost 50 shekels some fifty years later. Under Nebuchadrezzar 1 shekel could buy from 2 to 4 qa of cultivated land, but only 1 to 2 qa under Nabonidus.24 A similar increase affected foodstuffs, clothes and other daily necessities. For various reasons it is difficult to draw an exact scale of wages, but they seem to have remained fairly low throughout the period. The average monthly salary of an unskilled labourer, for instance, was about 1 shekel; with this, he could purchase 2 bushels of grain and 3 bushels of dates, just enough for him to feed his family. In consequence, people took to borrowing money on a long-term basis, and credit inflation rendered the Babylonian economy even more unhealthy.

The term ‘money’ here should not be taken in its ordinary sense, for minted coins – said to have been invented by the Lydians in the seventh century B.C. – did not circulate widely in the Near East before the reign of Darius I (521 – 486 B.C.). What the Babylonians used as currency were bits of silver of various shapes and standardized weights: the shiqlu (shekel), weighing about three-tenths of an ounce; the mana (mine or pound) of 67 shekels, weighing about 18 ounces; and the biltu (talent) of 60 mines, weighing about 67 pounds. In current use were also the half-shekel and, occasionally, the she, literally a ‘grain’ of silver. The system was very old, since ingots of bronze stamped with some inscription or image which guaranteed their fineness appear in Mesopotamia as early as the second millennium B.C, and the Assyrians used cast objects of silver, lead and, later, copper in their commercial dealings. What was novel in the Neo-Babylonian period was the adoption of the silver standard, the ratio of silver to gold varying between 14 and 10 to 1. Standardized currency taken as a system of reference made accounting considerably easier and facilitated transactions, but the silver standard also encouraged the development of credit, for the simple reason that silver ‘coins’ were easy to store and manipulate. ‘Usury, mortgages and enslaved debtors followed the new medium of exchange wherever it was introduced.’25 Private business on a scale hitherto unknown flourished in Babylonia during the sixth century B.C., and while most of the population endured considerable hardship, a few ‘dynasties’ of capitalists and businessmen – such as the Egibi family in Babylon – made a fortune in real estate, slave trade, money-lending societies, commercial and agricultural companies and banking operations, such as loans and the handling of deposits on behalf of their clients.26

The emergence of a monetary system and the development of capitalism are phenomena the importance of which cannot be overstressed; but the resurgence of the temples as major social and economic units is equally important. Both help to explain what happened after Babylonia had lost her political autonomy. Economic depression contributed to the decline of the Mesopotamian civilization, but the temples kept it alive for almost six hundred years. By a remarkable coincidence, this civilization was to die as it was born: under the wings of the gods.

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