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NATIONS OF ASIA AND AFRICA FROM THE DISPERSION at Babel
PART I. ASIATIC
VIEW OF THE GEOGRAPHY OF ASIA.
12. ASIA, the largest division of the Eastern Hemisphere, possesses the greatest variety of soil, climate, and products. Its central and principal portion is a vast table-land, surrounded by the highest mountain chains in the world, on whose northern, eastern, and southern inclinations great rivers have their rise. Of these, the best known to the ancients were the Tigris and Euphra'tes, the Indus, Etyman ́der, `Arius, Oxus, Jaxarʼtes, and Jordan.
13. NORTHERN ASIA, north of the great table-land and the Altai range, is a low, grassy plain, destitute of trees, and unproductive, but intersected by many rivers abounding in fish. It was known to the Greeks under the general name of Scythia. From the most ancient times to the present, it has been inhabited by wandering tribes, who subsisted mainly upon the milk and flesh of their animals.
14. CENTRAL ASIA, lying between the Altai on the north, and the Elburz, Hindu Kûsh, and Himala'ya Mountains on the south, has little connection with ancient History. Three countries in its western part are of some importance: Choras'mia, between the Caspian and the Sea of Aral; Sogdia'na to the east, and Bactria to the south of that province. The modern Sam'arcand is Maracan'da, the ancient capital of Sogdiana. Bactra, now Balkh, was probably the first great city of the Aryan race.
15. SOUTHERN ASIA may be divided into eastern and western sections by the Indus River. The eastern portion was scarcely known to the
Persians, Greeks, and Romans; and materials are yet lacking for its authentic history: the western, on the contrary, was the scene of the earliest and most important events.
16. SOUTH-WESTERN ASIA may be considered in three portions: (1) Asia Minor, or the peninsula of Anato ́lia; (2) The table-land eastward to the Indus, including the mountains of Arme'nia; (3) The lowland south of this plateau, extending from the base of the mountains to the Erythræ'an Sea.
17. ASIA MINOR, in the earliest period, contained the following countries: Phrygia and Cappado'cia, on its central table-land, divided from each other by the river Ha'lys; Bithy'nia and Paphlago'nia on 'the coast of the Euxine; Mysia, Lydia, and Caria, on that of the Æge'an; Lycia, Pamphyl'ia, and Cilic'ia, on the borders of the Mediterranean. It possessed many important islands: Proconne'sus, in the Propon'tis; Ten'edos, Les'bos, Chi'os, Sa'mos, and Rhodes, in the Ægean; and Cyprus, in the Levant'.
18. Phrygia was a grazing country, celebrated from the earliest times for its breed of sheep, whose fleece was of wonderful fineness, and black as the plumage of the raven. The Ango'ra goat and the rabbit of the same region were likewise famed for the fineness of their hair. Cappadocia was inhabited by the White Syrians, so called because they were of fairer complexion than those of the south. The richest portion of Asia Minor lay upon the coast of the Ægean; and of the three provinces, Lydia, the central, was most distinguished for wealth, elegance, and luxury. The Lydians were the first who coined money. The River Pacto ́lus brought from the recesses of Mt. Tmolus a rich supply of gold, which was washed from its sands in the streets of Sardis, the capital.
19. The Grecian colonies, which, at a later period, covered the coasts of Asia Minor, will be found described in Book III.* This peninsula was the field of many wars between the nations of Europe and Asia. From its intermediate position, it was always the prize of the conqueror; and after the earliest period of history, it was never occupied by any kingdom of great extent or of long duration.
20. The highlands of south-western Asia contained seventeen countries, of which only the most important will here be named. Armeʼnia has been called the Switzerland of Western Asia. Its highest mountain is Arʼarat, 17,000 feet above the sea-level. From this elevated region the Tigris and Euphrates take their course to the Persian Gulf; the Halys to the Euxine; the Arax'es and the Cyrus to the Caspian Sea. Colchis lay east of the Euxine, upon one of the great highways of ancient traffic. It was celebrated, in very early times, for its trade in linen. Media was a mountainous region, extending from the Araxes to the Caspian Gates. Persia
*See Book III, 22 35-37, 84-86.
lay between Media and the Persian Gulf. Its southern portion is a sandy plain, rendered almost desert in summer by a hot, pestilential wind from the Steppes of Kerman. Farther from the sea, the country rises into terraces, covered with rich and well-watered pastures, and abounding in pleasant fruits. The climate of this region is delightful; but it soon changes, toward the north, into that of a sterile mountain tract, chilled by snows, which cover the peaks even in summer, and affording only a scanty pasturage to flocks of sheep.
21. The lowland plain of south-western Asia comprised Syria, Arabia, Assyria, Susia'na, and Babylonia. Syria occupied the whole eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and consisted of three distinct parts: (1) Syria Proper had for its chief river the Oron'tes, which flowed between the parallel mountain ranges of Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. (2) Phœni'cia comprised the narrow strip of coast between Lebanon and the sea. (3) Palestine, south of Phoenicia, had for its river the Jordan, and for its principal mountains Hermon and Carmel. Syria becomes less fertile as it recedes from the mountains, and merges at last into a desert, with no traces of cities or of settled habitations. Yet even this sandy waste is varied by a few fertile spots. The site of Palmy'ra, "Queen of the Desert," may be discerned even now in her magnificent ruins. In more prosperous days she afforded entertainment to caravans on their way from India to the coast of the Mediterranean.
22. Arabia is a vast extent of country south and east of Syria, lying between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Though more than one-fourth the size of Europe, it was of little importance in ancient times; for its usually rocky or sandy soil sustained few inhabitants, and afforded little material for commerce.
Assyria Proper lay east of the Tigris and west of the Median Mountains. The great empire which bore that name varied in extent under different monarchs, and the name of Assyria is often applied to all the territory between the Zagros Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. The region between the two great rivers and north of Babylonia was called by the Greeks Mesopotamia. It differed from the more southerly province in being richly wooded: the forests near the Euphrates more than once supplied materials for a fleet to Roman emperors in later times.
Susiana lay along the Tigris, south-east of Assyria. It was crossed by numerous rivers, and was very rich in grain. Its only important city was Susa, its capital.
23. Babylonia comprised the great alluvial plain between the lower waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and sometimes included the country south of the latter river, on the borders of Arabia Deserta, which is better known as Chaldea. When the snows melt upon the mountains of Armenia, both rivers, but especially the Euphrates, become suddenly
swollen, and tend to overflow their bauks. In fighting against this aggression of Nature, the Babylonians early developed that energy of mind which made their country the first abode of Eastern civilization. The net-work of canals which covered the country served the three purposes of internal traffic, defense, and irrigation. Immense lakes were dug or enlarged for the preservation of surplus waters; and the earth thrown out of these excavations formed dykes along the banks of the rivers. The fertile plain, so thoroughly watered, produced enormous quantities of grain, the farmer being rewarded with never less than two hundred fold the seed sown, and in favorable seasons, with three hundred fold. We shall not be surprised, therefore, to learn that Babylonia was, from the earliest times, the seat of populous cities, crowded with the products of human industry, and that its people long constituted the leading state of Western Asia. Though the plain of Babylonia afforded neither wood nor stone for building, Nature had provided for human habitations a supply of excellent clay for brick, and wells of bitumen which served for mortar. (Gen. xi: 3.)
24. SOUTH-EASTERN ASIA. India extends from the Indus eastward to the boundaries of China, being bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the north by the Himala'yas, from whose snowy heights many great rivers descend to fertilize the plains. The richness of the soil fits it for the abode of a swarming population; and roads, temples, and other structures, dating from a very remote period, attest the skill and industry of the people. Herodotus* names them as the greatest and wealthiest of nations, though he had not seen them. It was only in the fifth century before Christ that the Indian peninsulas became distinctly known to the Greeks; and it was two centuries later, in the invasion by Alexander, that the remarkable features of the country were first described to the Western world. by eye-witnesses. "Wool-bearing trees" were mentioned as a most peculiar production; for cotton, as well as sugar, was first produced in India. The pearl fisheries, however, of the eastern coast, the diamonds of Golcon'da, the rubies of Mysore', as well as the abundant gold of the riverbeds, the aromatic woods of the forests, and the fine fabrics of cotton, silk, and wool, for which India was already famous, † drew the merchants of Phoenicia at a much earlier period to the banks of the Indus.
25. China was even less known than India to the inhabitants of the ancient world. The province of Seʼrica, which formed the north-western
* Herodotus, the Father of History, was a Greek of Halicarnassus, a Doric city in Caria, and was born B. C. 484. He collected the materials for his works by extensive travels and laborious research.
† Our word "shawl" belongs to the Sanskrit, the oldest known language of India, showing that "India shawls" have been objects of luxury and commerce from the earliest ages.
corner of what is now the Chinese Empire, was visited, however, by Babylonian and Phoenician merchants, for its most peculiar product, silk. The extreme reserve of the Chinese in their dealings with foreigners, may already be observed in the account given by Herodotus of their trade with the neighboring Scythians. The Sericans deposited their bales of wool or silk in a solitary building called the Stone Tower. The merchants then approached, deposited beside the goods a sum which they were willing to pay, and retired out of sight. The Sericans returned, and, if satisfied with the bargain, took away the money, leaving the goods; but if they considered the payment insufficient, they took away the goods and left the money. The Chinese have always been remarkable for their patient and thorough tillage of the soil. Chin-nong, their fourth emperor, invented the plow; and for thousands of years custom required each monarch, among the ceremonies of his coronation, to guide a plow around a field, thus paying due honor to agriculture, as the art most essential to the civilization, or, rather, to the very existence of a state.
26. After the dispersion of other descendants of Noah from Babel, * Nimrod, grandson of Ham, remained near the scene of their discomfiture, and established a kingdom south of the Euphrates, at the head of the Persian Gulf. The unfinished tower was converted into a temple, other buildings sprang from the clay of the plain, and thus Nimrod became the founder of Babylon, though its grandeur and magnificent adornments date from a later period. Nimrod owed his supremacy to the personal strength and prowess which distinguished him as a mighty hunter before the Lord." In the early years after the Flood, it is probable that wild beasts multiplied so as to threaten the extinction of the human race, and the chief of men in the gratitude and allegiance of his fellows was he who reduced their numbers. Nimrod founded not only Babylon, but E'rech, or O'rchoë, Ac'cad, and Cal'neh. The Chaldæans continued to be notable builders; and vast structures of brick cemented with bitumen, each brick bearing the monarch's or the architect's name, still attest, though in ruins, their enterprise and skill. They manufactured, also, delicate fabrics of wool, and possessed the arts of working in metals and engraving on gems in very high perfection. Astronomy began to be studied in very early times, and the observations were carefully recorded. The name of Chaldæan became equivalent to that of seer or philosopher.
27. The names of fifteen or sixteen kings have been deciphered upon
* See p. 10, and Gen. xi: 1-9.