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38. About 740 B. C., according to Herodotus, the Medes revolted from Assyria, and chose for their king Dei'oces, whose integrity as a judge had marked him as fittest for supreme command. He built the city of Ecbat'ana, which he fortified with seven concentric circles of stone, the innermost being gilded so that its battlements shone like gold. Here Deioces established a severely ceremonious etiquette, making up for his want of hereditary rank by all the external tokens of the divinity that "doth hedge a king." No courtier was permitted to laugh in his presence, or to approach him without the profoundest expressions of reverence. Either his real dignity of character or these stately ceremonials had such effect, that he enjoyed a prosperous reign of fifty-three years. Though Deioces is described by Herodotus as King of the Medes, it is probable that he was ruler only of a single tribe, and that a great part of his story is merely imaginary.
39. The true history of the Median kingdom dates from B. C. 650, when Phraor'tes was on the throne. This king, who is called the son of Deioces, extended his authority over the Persians, and formed that close connection of the Medo-Persian tribes which was never to be dissolved. The supremacy was soon gained by the latter nation. The double kingdom was seen by Daniel in his vision, under the form of a ram, one of whose horns was higher than the other, and "the higher came up last." (Daniel viii: 3, 20.) Phraor'tes, reinforced by the Persians, made many conquests in Upper Asia. He was killed in a war against the last king of Assyria, B. C. 633.
40. Determined to avenge his father's death, Cyaxares renewed the war with Assyria. He was called off to resist a most formidable incursion of barbarians from the north of the Caucasus. These Scythians became masters of Western Asia, and their insolent dominion is said to have lasted twenty-eight years. A band of the nomads were received into the service of Cyaxares as huntsmen. According to Herodotus, they returned one day empty-handed from the chase; and upon the king's expressing his displeasure, their ferocious temper burst all bounds. They served up to him, instead of game, the flesh of one of the Median boys who had been placed with them to learn their language and the use of the bow, and then fled to the court of the King of Lydia. This circumstance led to a war between Alyat'tes and Cyaxares, which continued five years without any decisive result. It was terminated by an eclipse of the sun occurring in the midst of a battle. The two kings hastened to make peace; and the treaty, which fixed the boundary of their two empires at the River Halys, was confirmed by the marriage of the son of Cyaxares with the daughter of Alyattes. The Scythian oppressions were ended by a general massacre of the barbarians, who, by a secretly concerted plan, had been invited to banquets and made drunken with wine.
41. Cyaxares now resumed his plans against Assyria. In alliance with Nabopolassar, of Babylon, he was able to capture Nineveh, overthrow the empire, and render Media a leading power in Asia. The successful wars of Cyaxares secured for himself and his son nearly half a century of peace, during which the Medes rapidly adopted the luxurious habits of the nations they had conquered. The court of Ecbatana became as magnificent as that of Nineveh had been when at the height of its grandeur. The courtiers delighted in silken garments of scarlet and purple, with collars and bracelets of gold, and the same precious metal adorned the harness of their horses. Reminiscences of the old barbaric life remained in an excessive fondness for hunting, which was indulged either in the parks about the capital, or in the open country, where lions, leopards, bears, wild boars, stags, and antelopes still abounded. The great wooden palace, covered with plates of gold and silver, as well as other buildings of the capital, showed a barbarous fondness for costly materials, rather than grandeur of architectural ideas. The Magi, a priestly caste, had great influence in the Median court. The education of each young king was confided to them, and they continued throughout his life to be his most confidential counselors.
42. B. C. 593. Cyaxares died after a reign of forty years. His son, Asty'ages, reigned thirty-five years in friendly and peaceful alliance with the kings of Lydia and Babylon. Little is known of him except the events connected with his fall, and these will be found related in the history of Cyrus, Book II.
NOTE. It is impossible to reconcile the chronology of the reign of Cyaxares with all the ancient accounts. If the Scythian invasion occurred after the beginning of his reign, continued twenty-eight years, and ended before the Fall of Nineveh, it is easy to see that the date of the latter event must have been later than is given in the text. The French school of Orientalists place it, in fact, B. C. 606, and the accession of Cyaxares in 634. The English school, with Sir H. Rawlinson at their head, give the dates which we have adopted.
43. For nearly five hundred years, Babylon had been governed by Assyrian viceroys, when Nabonassar (747 B. C.) threw off the yoke, and established an independent kingdom. He destroyed the humiliating records of former servitude, and began a new era from which Babylonian time was afterward reckoned.
B. C. 721-709.
44. Merodach-baladan, the fifth king of this line, sent an embassy to Hezekiah, king of Judah, to congratulate him upon his recovery from illness, and to inquire concerning an extraordinary phenomenon connected with his restoration. (Isaiah xxxviii: 7,8; xxxix: 1.) This shows that the Babylonians were no less alert for astronomical observations than their predecessors, the Chaldæans. In fact, the brilliant clearness of their heavens early led the inhabitants of this region to a study of the stars. The sky was mapped out in constellations, and the fixed stars were catalogued; time was measured by sun-dials, and other astronomical instruments were invented by the Babylonians.
45. The same Merodach-baladan was taken captive by Sargon, king of Assyria, and held for six years, while an Assyrian viceroy occupied his throne. He escaped and resumed his government, but was again dethroned by Sennacherib, son of Sargon. The kingdom remained in a troubled state, usually ruled by Assyrians, but seeking independence, until Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib, conquered Babylon,
B. C. 680-667.
built himself a palace, and reigned alternately at that city and at Nineveh. His son, Sa'os-duchi'nus, governed Babylon as viceroy for twenty years, and was succeeded by Cinnelada'nus, another
Assyrian, who ruled twenty-two years.
B. C. 667-647.
B. C. 647-625.
B. C. 625-604.
46. B. C. 625. SECOND PERIOD. Nabopolas'sar, a Babylonian general, took occasion, from the misfortunes of the Assyrian Empire, to end the long subjection of his people. He allied himself with Cyaxares, the Median king, to besiege Nineveh and overthrow the empire. In the subsequent division of spoils, he received Susiana, the Euphrates Valley, and the whole of Syria, and erected a new empire, whose history is among the most brilliant of ancient times. The extension of his dominions westward brought him in collision with a powerful neighbor, Pharaoh-ne'choh, of Egypt, who actually subdued the Syrian provinces, and held them a few years. Nabopolassar sent his still more powerful son, Nebuchadnezzar, who chastised the Egyptian king in the battle of Car'chemish, and wrested from him the stolen provinces. He also besieged Jerusalem, and returned to Babylon laden with the treasures of the temple and palace of Solomon. He brought in his train Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and several young persons of the royal family, among whom was the prophet Daniel.
B. C. 608.
B. C. 605.
47. During his son's campaign, Nabopolassar had died at Babylon, and the victorious prince was immediately acknowledged as B. C. 604-561. king. Nebuchadnezzar made subsequent wars in Phoenicia,
Palestine, and Egypt, and established an empire which extended westward to the Mediterranean Sea. He deposed the king of Egypt, and placed Amasis upon the throne as his deputy. Zedeki'ah, who had been elevated
to the throne of Judah, rebelled against Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar set out in person to punish his treachery. He besieged Jerusalem eighteen months, and captured Zedekiah, who, with true Eastern cruelty, was compelled to see his two sons murdered before his eyes were put out, and he was carried in chains to Babylon. In a later war, Nebuzar-adan, general of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem, burned the temple and palaces, and carried the remnant of the people to Babylon. The strong and wealthy city of Tyre revolted, and resisted for thirteen years the power of the great king, but at length submitted, and all Phoenicia remained under the Babylonian yoke. B. C. 585.
48. The active mind of Nebuchadnezzar, absorbed in schemes of conquest, began to be visited by dreams, in one of which the series of great empires which were yet to arise in the east was distinctly foreshadowed. Of all the wise men of the court, Daniel alone was enabled to interpret the vision; and his spiritual insight, together with the singular elevation and purity of his character, gained him the affectionate confidence of the king. (Read Daniel ii.)
49. The reign of Nebuchadnezzar was illustrated by grand public works. His wife, a Median princess, sighed for her native mountains, and was disgusted with the flatness of the Babylonian plain, the greatest in the ancient world. To gratify her, the elevated-rather than "hanging"-gardens were created. Arches were raised on arches in continuous series until they overtopped the walls of Babylon, and stairways led from terrace to terrace. The whole structure of masonry was overlaid with soil sufficient to nourish the largest trees, which, by means of hydraulic engines, were supplied from the river with abundant moisture. In the midst of these groves stood the royal winter residence; for a retreat, which in other climates would be most suitable for a summer habitation, was here reserved for those cooler months in which alone man can live in the open air. This first great work of landscape gardening which history describes, comprised a charming variety of hills and forests, rivers, cascades, and fountains, and was adorned with the loveliest flowers the East could afford.
50. The same king surrounded the city with walls of burnt brick, two hundred cubits high and fifty in thickness, which, together with the gardens, were reckoned among the Seven Wonders of the World. During his reign and that of his son-in-law, Nabona'dius, the whole country was enriched by works of public utility: canals, reservoirs, and sluices were multiplied, and the shores of the Persian Gulf were improved by means of piers and embankments.
51. Owing to these encouragements, as well as to her fortunate position midway between the Indus and the Mediterranean, with the Gulf and the two great rivers for natural highways, Babylon was thronged with the merchants of all nations, and her commerce embraced the known world.
Manufactures, also, were numerous and famous.
The cotton fabrics of the
towns on the Tigris and Euphrates were unsurpassed for fineness of quality and brilliancy of color; and carpets, which were in great demand among the luxurious Orientals, were nowhere produced in such magnificence as in the looms of Babylon.
52. It is not strange that the pride of Nebuchadnezzar was kindled by the magnificence of his capital. As he walked upon the summit of his new palace, and looked down upon the swarming multitudes who owed their prosperity to his protection and fostering care, he said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" At that moment the humiliation foretold in a previous dream, interpreted by Daniel, came upon him. We can not better describe the manner of the judgment than in the king's own words (Daniel iv : 31–37):
"While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws. And at the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. . . . . At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honor and brightness returned unto me; and my counselors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase."
B. C. 561-559.
53. The immediate successors of Nebuchadnezzar were not his equals in character or talent. Evil-merodach, his son, was murdered after a reign of two years by Nereglis'sar, his sister's husband. This prince was advanced in years when he ascended the throne, having been already a chief officer of the crown thirty years before at the siege of Jerusalem. He reigned but four years, and was succeeded by his son, La'borosoar'chod. The young king was murdered, after only nine months' reign, by Nabona'dius, who became the last king of Babylon. The usurper strengthened his title by marrying a
B. C. 559-555.