Ancient History & Civilisation


Robert Koldewey was born in 1855 in Blankenburg, in Germany. He studied architecture, archæology, and the history of art in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna. Before he was thirty years old he had dug at Assos and on the island of Lesbos. In 1887 he dug in Babylonia at Surgul and El-Hibba, later in Syria, southern Italy, and Sicily, and again in Syria in 1894.

From his fortieth to his forty-third year he was employed, most unhappily, as a teacher in the architectural school of Görlitz; then in 1898, aged forty-three, he began the excavation of Babylon.

Koldewey was an unusual man, and in the eyes of his professional colleagues a very dubious kind of scientist. His great love for archæology enabled him to overlook the fact that its findings, as a rule, were embalmed by specialists in a dead, dry style utterly foreign to his lively nature. He was ever susceptible to the charm of his surroundings and the thousand amusing incidents of everyday, and his archæological passion never hindered his looking about him long and hard at land and people wherever he went. Nothing could stopper the wellspring of his humor.

The learned archæologist, Koldewey, wrote innumerable tumbling little rhymes out of sheer joie de vivre. It was also his waggish habit to compose quirk-some aphorisms in verse. At fifty-two the world-famous professor wrote this New Year’s greeting:

Dunkel sind des Schickals Wege,

ungewiss der Zukunft Stern,

eh’ ich mich zu Bette lege,

trink ich einen Kognak gern!

(In darkness lie the ways of fate,

The future is a mystery deep,

I like to drink a cognac straight,

Before I lay me down to sleep!)

He also wrote countless letters that more earnest scholars looked at askance, thinking them unworthy of the archæological profession. He reported on an Italian journey in this manner:

“Outside of digging, nothing much ever happens in Selinus [in Sicily]. At one time, however, the devil was on the rampage in these parts.… As far as the eye could see, the undulating littoral shone with the fruit of the field, orchard, and vine. And all this opulence belonged to the Greeks of Selinus, who for a couple of centuries enjoyed it all in peace and mutual understanding. This lasted until about 409, at which date, as a consequence of a quarrel with the neighboring Elymi of Segesta, the Carthaginians arrived on the scene. Hannibal Gisgon directed his battering rams against the walls of the horrified Selinusians. This was a sticky bit of business on Hannibal’s part, in view of the fact that, shortly before, the Selinusians had fought on the Carthaginian side. But Hannibal forced open the neglected walls, and after a terrible nine-day street fight, in which the ladies of the town took vigorous part, 16,000 dead accumulated in the thoroughfares. The Carthaginian barbarians robbed and plundered and rousted through places profane and holy, their belts decorated with lopped-off hands and other abominable trophies. From this episode Selinus has not recovered to this day. Because of it rabbits hop freely through the streets. And because of it, too, I suppose, we have rabbit to eat of an evening now and then. These specimens are shot by Signor Gioffré, and are roasted for us as we bathe our archæologically wearied bodies in the broadly rushing surf of the ever restless sea.”

When Nineveh was elevated to the rank of capital and commenced to figure prominently in Mesopotamian history, the city of Babylon had already been a capital for thirteen centuries. In fact, it had reached the peak of power and arrogance about a thousand years before, under Hammurabi, the lawgiver.

When Nineveh was destroyed, it was destroyed with a thoroughness that inspired Lucian to have his Mercury say to Charon: “My good ferryman, Nineveh is so completely destroyed that one cannot say where it stood, for not a trace of it remains.” This was not so with Babylon, which was rebuilt after being razed. The general Nabopolassar created a new Babylonian Empire and made Babylon its capital. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II, again led the Babylonians to the heights of power and splendor. The city outlasted Nineveh by seventy-three years before falling into the hands of Cyrus, the Persian.

Cross section of walls fortifying north side of the south citadel of Babylon. On the middle wall of the three with battlements, a warrior has been drawn to provide a scale. A1 and A3: Nabopolassar’s Walls; G1: Walls of Imgur-Bel’s Tomb; SL: South Brick Wall; S: Wall of Sargon.

When in 1899 Koldewey struck his spade into the east side of the mound of Kasr, the citadel of Babylon, he, unlike Botta and Layard, was acquainted in general with the history buried in the great piles of debris. The excavations at Khorsabad, Nimrud, and Kuyunjik and, above all, the huge library of Assurbanipal had yielded considerable information about the peoples and rulers of the estuary region of the two great rivers. Which Babylon would arise from the earth as Koldewey dug it free: the primeval Babylon of Hammurabi, the eleventh King of the Amurru dynasty, or a younger Babylon, reconstructed after its fearful devastation at the hands of Sennacherib?

Koldewey was aware in January 1898, though the matter had not been officially sealed, that he was going to be assigned to the supervision of the Babylonian excavations. At the time, however, he was merely reconnoitering the different mounds of rubble. During this period he sent a report on Babylon to the directors of the Royal Museum in Berlin. “In any case,” he wrote to them from Baghdad, “chiefly works from the period of Nebuchadnezzar will be found there” (that is, at Kasr). Was he setting his sights too high? His jubilation when his commission finally came through allays this suspicion. And presently rich finds stilled all doubts whatsoever.

On April 5, 1899 he wrote: “I have been digging for fourteen days, and the whole business is a complete success.” His first strike was the tremendous wall of Babylon. Along this wall he found innumerable fragments of reliefs—sculptured lion teeth, tails, claws, and eyes; human feet, beards, eyes; the legs of a slender-boned species of animal, probably a gazelle; and carved boar’s teeth. Along one stretch of wall measuring only 25.6 feet in length he found a thousand fragments. Since he estimated the total length of the broken relief as 960 feet, he wrote in the same letter cited above: “I am counting [on finding] some 37,000 fragments.”

We have Herodotus to thank for our most graphic description of Babylon, him and Ctesias, the physician-in-ordinary of Artaxerxes II. The greatest marvel of Babylon as reported by both these historians was the city wall. The dimensions which Herodotus assigned to this structure were thought for two thousand years to be the usual exaggerations of the professional traveler of olden times. According to Herodotus, the composite walls were broad enough to accommodate the passage from opposite directions of two chariots, each drawn by four horses.

Koldeway wasted no time getting at these famous walls. The digging was extremely difficult, harder by far than at any other excavation site in the world. Whereas everywhere else on the mound of Kasr the masses of rubble lay only six, nine, and up to nineteen feet deep, at the walls the litter was piled 38 feet, and sometimes as much as 77 feet or more deep. All this heavily packed cover had to be removed. For more than a decade and a half Koldewey dug steadily with a force of more than two hundred workers.

His first triumph was his demonstration that Herodotus’ description of the walls of Babylon had not been greatly overdrawn. (Observe how often we encounter such confirmation. Schliemann showed that there was much truth in Homer and Pausanias; Evansdemonstrated the kernel of truth in the Minotaur legend; and Layard the literal accuracy of certain Biblical descriptions.)

Ground plan of a Babylonian house. The notched arrangement on the front side goes back to the time when wooden beams were used, the projections then serving as end-supports. This architectural feature, though it no longer had any practical meaning, was carried over into stone construction.

Koldewey laid bare a wall 22.4 feet thick, made of common brick. Next, 38.4 feet outside it, came another wall of brick, this 25 feet thick. Then there was still another wall of brick originally lining the inner side of the citadel fosse, this last wall likewise of kiln brick, and 12 feet thick. The fosse, during times of danger, had been flooded.

The space between the walls had apparently been filled with earth up to the rim of the outer bastion, so forming a path wide enough to accommodate four span of horses abreast. Guards patrolled the walls, and every 160 feet there were watchtowers. Koldewey estimated that the inner wall had 360 of these towers, and according to Ctesias there were 250 of them on the outer wall.

Koldewey had excavated the largest citadel the world had ever seen. The walls showed that Babylon had been the largest city of the Middle East, even larger than Nineveh. Indeed, if one thinks of a city in the medieval sense of being a “walled dwelling-place,” Babylon, even to this day, was the largest of all cities of the type.

“I caused a mighty wall to circumscribe Babylon in the east,” wrote Nebuchadnezzar. “I dug its moats; and its escarpments I built out of bitumen and kiln brick. At the edge of the moat I built a powerful wall as high as a hill. I gave it wide gates and set in doors of cedarwood sheathed with copper. So that the enemy, intending evil, would not threaten the sides of Babylon, I surrounded them with mighty waters as the billows of the sea flood the land. Their passage was as the passage of the great sea, the waters of salt. In order that no one might break through by way of the moat, I heaped up a heap of earth beside it, and surrounded it with quay walls of brick. This bastion I strengthened cunningly, and of the city of Babylon made a fortress.”

The Citadel of Babylon must have been impregnable to all means of assault known at the time. And yet it is a historic fact that Babylon was taken. There is only one explanation: the enemy conquered from within, not from without. Enemies were constantly threatening, the internal politics of the city were in a state of turmoil, and there were always fifth columnists ready to let in the enemy as liberators. In this fashion the greatest fortress on earth finally fell.

Yes, Koldewey found the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar. It was Nebuchadnezzar, he whom Daniel exhorted as “king of kings” and “head of gold,” who commenced the reconstruction of the city on a monumental scale: the restoration of the Temple Emach on the fortress height, of the temples called E-sagila and Ninurta, and the older Temple of Ishtar at Merkes. He also restored the walls of the Arachtu Canal and built the first stone bridge over the Euphrates. He dug the Libil-higalla Canal, finished the construction of the South Citadel and its palaces, and decorated the Gate of Ishtar with gaily enameled animal reliefs.

Whereas Nebuchadnezzar’s predecessors had used sun-baked bricks, which soon deteriorated in wind and weather, he generally used properly fired brick, particularly in his fortifications. If older Mesopotamian structures have left little trace beyond great heaps of rubble, this is due to the fact that they were made of perishable material. Nebuchadnezzar’s buildings, however, which were made of much harder stuff, also met the same fate. But in this case they were demolished, through the centuries, by local inhabitants who wanted the bricks for new construction, just as the temples of heathen Rome were razed during the Middle Ages for papal works. The modern city of Hilleh and several neighboring villages are built out of Nebuchadnezzar’s bricks. The King’s stamp is visible on them. Even a modern dam that diverts the waters of the Euphrates into the Hindiyye Canal is made largely of the same bricks that the people of ancient Babylon once trod. When at some future date the dam has fallen into desuetude, excavators may well be misled into thinking that they have hit on another of Nebuchadnezzar’s works.

Cross section through arches which, according to Koldewey, very probably held up the “Hanging Gardens of Semiramis (or of Babylon).”

The Citadel of Babylon contained a whole complex of palaces, covering a considerable area. Nebuchadnezzar was forever adding new structures, for those already built, in his opinion, were “unworthy of the royal dignity.” With its lavish decoration, its splendidly enameled and brightly shining brick reliefs, the Citadel could truly claim to be a wonder of the world, a miracle of cool, strange, barbaric splendor. Nebuchadnezzar, moreover, declared that he had built the whole in fifteen days, a statement that was credulously accepted as the truth for many centuries.

Of this group three works unearthed by Koldewey are of particular interest: a garden, a tower, and a street.

One day in the northeast corner of the South Citadel Koldewey found an arched structure which he at once recognized as something out of the ordinary, and which to this very day is still considered to be unique. In the first place, here were the first cellar spaces discovered at Babil, oldest part of the metropolis. Secondly, they were the first examples of vaulted construction to appear in Babylonian architecture. Thirdly, among these ruins was a well, made in the form of a triple shaft. After a great deal of thought, though not even then with absolute certainty, Koldewey identified the triple shaft as a draw-well that once, in its original state—of course the machinery had long since disappeared—had been provided with a chain pump to furnish a continuous supply of water. Fourthly, building stone had been used in the construction of the arches, as well as the customary bricks. In all Babylon there was only one other instance of stone construction; this was located at the north wall of the Kasr.

Considering all the features of this curious structure, Koldewey visualized an installation that, for the times, showed unusually fine technical and architectonic planning. Evidently the arches had served a special purpose.

In a lucky hour, Koldewey guessed what this vaulted building had been. Throughout the whole literature concerning Babylon, in Josephus, Diodorus, Ctesias, and Strabo and in all the cuneiform inscriptions relating to the “wicked city” deciphered up to that time, there were only two mentions, both emphatic, of the use of stone. One reference involved the north wall of the Kasr—where Koldewey had already found stone—the other the “Hanging Gardens of Semiramis.”

Had Koldewey discovered them, those shining gardens, renowned through the ages for their beauty, numbered among the Seven Wonders of the World, and immemorially linked with the name of the legendary Semiramis?

Koldewey’s instinctive belief that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually had been found evoked moments of feverish tension at the diggings. Everyone connected with the job debated the matter, on and off the diggings. Everybody was looking forward to the moment when the mystery of millennia would be clarified.

Koldewey again examined all the ancient sources. He weighed every sentence, every line, every word, he even ventured into the alien field of philology. Finally he felt that he was in a position to back up his claim. Yes, the arches must have held up the “Hanging Gardens.” The well, a great novelty in its day, had been built to supply the plants with water.

But now the wonder of the thing shrank, the legendary trappings fell away. What did these Hanging Gardens amount to, if Koldewey’s identification was correct? They had been magnificent, to be sure, an imposing arrangement on the roof of a cleverly designed building, and certainly a technical miracle for the period. Still, were they not rather insignificant in comparison with other Babylonian structures that the Greeks had not thought to include among the wonders of the world?

Moreover, all our information on the legendary Semiramis is questionable. Mostly it comes from Ctesias, who is noted for his powers of invention. According to Ctesias, the giant structure at Behistun built by Darius represents Semiramis surrounded by a hundred lifeguards. According to Diodorus, Semiramis, after being abandoned as a child, was fed by doves, grew up to marry a royal counselor, was later taken from her husband by the King, wore a garment “that did not show whether she was man or women,” and finally, after handing over the royal authority to her son, flew out of the palace in the form of a dove, in which shape she entered directly into immortality.

In Genesis xi, 3–4, it is written of the Tower of Babel:

“And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

Koldewey actually excavated only the great base of the Tower, which none the less had once existed, as described in the Bible. The original structure was probably razed as early as the reign of Hammurabi, and at a later date another “tower” was built in memory of the first. Nabopolassar left these words to enlighten us: “At that time Marduk commanded me to build the Tower of Babel, which had become weakened by time and fallen into disrepair; he commanded me to ground its base securely on the breast of the underworld, whereas its pinnacles should strain upwards to the skies.” Nebuchadnezzar, Nabopolassar’s son, supplemented this announcement by saying: “To rise up the top of E-temen-an-ki that it might rival heaven, I laid to my hand.”

The Babylonian ziggurat of Etemenanki, the temple grounds, and the bridge over the Euphrates. A reconstruction.

The original Tower rose up in a series of enormous terraces. Herodotus describes a series of eight super-imposed stages, each one somewhat smaller than the one below it. The uppermost terrace formed the base of a temple that looked out far over the land. (Actually there were seven of these terraces.)

The Tower was built in the hollow known as “Sachn,” or “the pan.” “Our Sachn, however,” Koldewey writes, “is nothing but a contemporary simulacrum of the ancient sacred precinct where was built the ziggurat of ‘Etemenanki,’ the ‘House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth,’ that is, the Tower of Babel. The sacred zone was surrounded by a wall, with all manner of buildings connected with the cult [of Marduk] backing up to it.” (Ziggurat, zikurat, ziggura are variations of the name for the Sumerian-Babylonian staged pyramids, or temple towers, and come from the Assyrio-Babylonian word ziqquratu, meaning pinnacle, or mountain top.)

The base of the Tower was 288 feet on a side, the total height of Tower and temple also 288 feet. The first stage was 105.6 feet in height; the second, 57.6 feet; the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth, 19.2 feet each; and the Temple of Marduk 48 feet in height. The temple housed the most important god in the Babylonian pantheon. The walls of the temple were plated with gold, and decorated with enameled brickwork of a bluish hue, which glittered in the sun, greeting the traveler’s eye from afar.

“But what are all these written descriptions in comparison with a first-hand impression of the ruins, however badly damaged they may be?” Koldewey writes. “The colossal massif of the Tower, which the Jew of the Old Testament considered to be the epitome of human arrogance, set amid the haughty palaces of the priests, capacious storehouses, innumerable exotic spaces—white walls, bronze gates, threatening circumambient fortifications with tall portals and a forest of a thousand towers—all this must have made a staggering impression of greatness, might, and abundance seldom seen elsewhere in the great Babylon kingdom.”

Every large Babylonian city had its ziggurat, but none compared with the Tower of Babel. Fifty-eight million bricks went into the Tower’s construction, and the whole landscape was dominated by its terraced mass.

The Tower of Babel was built by slaves. Here, too, overseers cracked their whips, as in the building of the Egyptian pyramids. In one respect, however, the situation was basically different. An Egyptian king built his pyramid in the course of a single lifetime, for the egocentric purpose of housing his mummy and his ka; the staged towers were built by generations of rulers: what the grandfather began, the grandson was still carrying on. When the Egyptian pyramids deteriorated, or when they were desecrated and robbed, not a hand was lifted to restore them or to replenish the stolen treasures within the burial chamber; but the Babylonian ziggurats were repeatedly restored and redecorated.

For the rulers who “laid to their hands” on the construction of the ziggurats were building for everyone, not for themselves alone. The ziggurats were public shrines, the goal of processions of thousands marching to honor Marduk, greatest of the gods. What a picture it must have been when the marchers streamed through the city! The lower temple housed the god in a likeness half animal, half human, made of pure gold, seated on a throne beside a large table of pure gold and with a footstool of the same precious stuff. According to the description found in Herodotus, the total weight of statue and accoutrements amounted to 800 talents—800 talents of pure gold, worth roughly $24,000,000 at present values. In one of the priestly houses the “ur-talent” was found, a stone duck. According to the inscription chiseled on it, it was “a true talent.” Its weight was 29.68 kilograms, or 66 pounds. On this scale the statue of Marduk with its accessories—if Herodotus can be credited with the truth—weighed about 23,700 kilograms, or 26.07 tons. Of pure gold!

What a spectacle, then, when the crowd in broad procession mounted the gigantic stone steps leading up to the first terrace level, 105.6 feet high! Meanwhile the priestly van of the pilgrimage would have reached the middle of the third-story flight, whence they proceeded by way of additional secret flights of stairs to the peak of the Tower, where stood the shrine of Marduk.

The glazed brickwork of the topmost temple was a deep, gleaming blue. Herodotus saw the shrine about the year 458 B.C.; that is, about one hundred and fifty years after the completion of the whole ziggurat, while it was still in a good state of repair. In contrast to the “temple below,” the “temple on high” did not contain a statue of the god. There was nothing in it but a large couch, “handsomely furnished”—all highborn Mesopotamians, as well as Greeks and Romans, reclined while eating—and near the couch a gilded table. This holy of holies was not open to the common people, for within the precincts hovered Marduk himself, whose gaze could not have been endured by the ordinary mortal. No one but a chosen woman lived there, to provide pleasure for the god according to his fancy. “They say, too,” Herodotus cautiously remarks, “that the god himself visits the temple and lies down upon its couch—but that does not seem believable to me.”

Occupying the walled space below the Tower were the buildings where pilgrims from distant parts were housed while preparing for the procession. In this same area were also located the houses given over to the priests of Marduk. They, being the servants of a god who crowned the Babylonian kings, undoubtedly wielded great power. The courtyard precincts lying about Etemenanki may be thought of as a sort of Babylonian Vatican, though darker in aspect and of cyclopean motif.

Tukulti-Ninurta, Sargon, Sennacherib, and Assurbanipal stormed Babylon and destroyed the shrine of Marduk, Etemenanki, the Tower of Babel.

Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the Tower. When, long after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, in 539 B.C., the city was conquered by Cyrus, the Persian, he was the first to spare the great temple ziggurat. Being of younger mentality, in the historical sense, he was so fascinated by the colossality of the structure that he not only forbore from destroying the Tower, but had the monument built over his grave fashioned in the shape of a miniature ziggurat, or little Etemenanki.

Nevertheless, once more the Tower was brought crashing down. Xerxes, the Persian, reduced it to rubble, a heap of ruins that Alexander the Great inspected on his expedition into India. Alexander, like Cyrus, was entranced by the sight. For two months he put ten thousand men to work clearing away the debris, and for a time assigned his whole army to the task, expending, according to Strabo’s report, some 600,000 work days on the project.

Twenty-two centuries later a Western scholar stood on the same spot. Unlike Alexander, he was seeking knowledge, not fame, and his command consisted of 250 rather than 10,000 men. Yet in eight years of unremitting labor he caused 800,000 work days to be expended on the task of reconstruction. Through Koldewey’s effort Babylon was restored to a fair approximation of its original aspect—an architectural complex unparalleled.

The ancients had thought of the Hanging Gardens as one of the wonders of the world, and even today the Tower of Babel is remembered as the very symbol of human vainglory. Now Koldewey opened up another part of the city, already known through inscriptions, but as yet outside the pale of direct knowledge.

Koldewey excavated only one street in this sector, but this street turned out to be the most splendid thoroughfare of the ancient world, greater than any Roman way, greater perhaps than any avenue of modern times, if splendor is not gauged by length. The street’s primary function was not to accommodate daily traffic, but to serve as a processional path dedicated to the great lord Marduk, when he was worshipped by the entire population of the city, including Nebuchadnezzar, at the Tower of Babel.

Work on the processional street must have continued without interruption during the forty-three years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Nebuchadnezzar described the origin and use of Procession Street in this manner: “Aibur-shabu, the street of Babylon, I filled with a high fill for the procession of the great lord Marduk, and with Turminabanda stones and Shadu stones I made this Aibur-shabu fill for the procession of his godliness, and linked it with those parts which my father had built, and made the way a shining one.”

That is exactly what it was: Marduk’s Procession Street. At the same time it was integrated with the defenses of the city. For the street was constructed in the form of a tremendous trench; neither to the right nor to the left could the eye roam freely. Both sides of the deep way were hemmed in by formidable walls, 22.4 feet in height. Since the Sacred Way of Babylon ran gullylike from the outer city walls to the Gate of Ishtar (the Ishtar-sakipatebisha of the inscriptions), which offered primary access to the interior Citadel of Babylon, any enemy aiming to storm the gate had to approach it by way of this sunken road—whereupon the road became a death trap.

Nebuchadnezzar’s brick seals. The text was repeated on each of the millions of bricks used in building the royal structures. The text reads: “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, guardian of E-Sagila and Egida, son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon.”

The daunting effect of this stony gorge on all would-be attackers must have been heightened (especially at a time when the popular imagination teemed with monsters and daemons of all kinds) by the parade of about 120 lions, each nearly seven feet long, adorning the walls in colored glazed reliefs, and seeming to stride toward the enemy. In splendor and pride they stalked the length of the frieze—maws gaping to bare their teeth—with white or yellow pelts, yellow or red manes, against a background of light or dark blue glazes. The avenue itself was 73.6 feet wide.

In its center massive blocks of limestone more than a yard square rested on a base of brick covered with asphalt. Its sides were edged with breccia slabs about half the size of the limestone blocks, veined red and white, their angular interstices also filled in with asphalt. On its buried side each slab bore the following inscription:

“Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, am I. The road of Babel I have paved with Shadu slabs for the procession of the great lord Marduk. Marduk, Lord, grant eternal life.”

The Gate of Ishtar resembled this kind of language. To this day the remains of its walls, some forty feet high, are the most impressive sight left of Babylon. They were once two enormous gatehouses, each with two prominent towers. Wherever one looked one was dazzled by the multicolored images of sacred beasts worked into the walls—about 575 by Koldewey’s estimate. This terrifying host, in brilliant colors against a blue background, must have fascinated and thoroughly awed anyone approaching the might of the royal establishment behind such a gate.

It was not the lion, identified with the goddess herself, that adorned the Gate of Ishtar, but the bull, sacred to Ramman (or Adad), the weather god, and the “Sirrush”—we really have no adequate name for the dragon or serpent-griffon that was sacred to Marduk, himself the ruler of the gods. Sirrush was four-footed, long-legged, with talons on his hind paws. The long neck of his scaly body ended in a large-eyed, flat snake-head with straight vertical horns and a split tongue darting forward. Such was the dragon of Babylon.

Once more a Biblical truth had been freed from the overlays of legend. When the prophet Daniel had been miraculously saved by Yahweh in the lion’s den of Babel, he had served to prove the impotence of the dragon god against his own, “the living God,” of future millennia.

The “Great Lord Marduk,” highest of the gods. At his feet, the animal sacred to him, the “Sirrush,” or dragon of Babylon.

“It may well be imagined,” says Koldewey, “that the priests of E-sagila captured some sort of dragon-like animal, a reptile, perhaps, maybe the arval, which is found in this region, and kept him in the twilit temple room where he was exhibited as a living Sirrush. It is not surprising that the ‘deity’ [as described in the Apocrypha] should turn his head away from the little ‘fowl’ that Daniel had prepared for him out of hair and asphalt.”

What a sight the great New Year procession along the street of Marduk must have been! Koldewey tries to capture the scene. “Once I saw the silver image, larger than life, of the Virgin Mary,” he says, “laden with rings, precious stones, gold, and silver as votive offerings, being carried by fourteen men on a litter out through the portal of the Syracuse Cathedral. It seemed to float high over the heads of the teeming throng as it was brought forth, to the accompaniment of ecstatic music and the crowd’s stormy prayers, into the Gardens of the Stonecutters. A procession in honor of Marduk, I think, must have looked the same when the god was carried in triumph out of E-sagila, perhaps through the peribolos (enclosed court) and along the great Procession Street.”

Surely this analogy is inadequate. The procession of Marduk—we know the rite fairly well—must have been more violent, more forceful, more ostentatious and barbaric, entailing as it did the transport of the lesser gods from the “Chamber of Fate” in the Temple E-sabila as far as the banks of the Euphrates, where they were prayed to for three days before being triumphantly returned to their homes.

Babylon’s depopulation and decline began under the rule of the Parthians. The great buildings lapsed into ruin. During the Sassanid period, A.D. 226–636, people were still living on the debris of the ancient palaces. By the Arabic Middle Ages nothing but hutswere left at Babylon, a condition that continued until the twelfth century of our era.

Today one’s gaze sweeps over a Babylon reawakened by Koldewey, over ruins, shining fragments, remains of former splendors. What are the words of the prophet Jeremiah?

“Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation.”

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