Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations eBook

Archibald Sayce
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations.

Babylonia and Assyria were both administered by a bureaucracy, but whereas in Assyria the bureaucracy was military, in Babylonia it was theocratic.  The high-priest was the equal and the director of the king, and the king himself was a priest, and the adopted child of Bel.  In Assyria, on the contrary, the arbitrary power of the monarch was practically unchecked.  Under him was the Turtannu or Tartan, the commander-in-chief, who commanded the army in the absence of the king.  The Rab-saki, Rab-shakeh, or vizier, who ranked a little below him, was the head of the civil officials; besides him we hear of the Rab-sa-resi or Rabsaris, “the chief of the princes,” the Rab-mugi or Rab-Mag, “the court physician,” and an endless number of other officers.  The governors of provinces were selected from among the higher aristocracy, who alone had the privilege of sharing with the king the office of limmu, or eponymous archon after whom the year was named.  Most of these officers seem to have been confined to Assyria; we do not hear of them in the southern kingdom of Babylonia.  There, however, from an early period royal judges had been appointed, who went on circuit and sat under a president.  Sometimes as many as four or six of them sat on a case, and subscribed their names to the verdict.

The main attention of the Assyrian government was devoted to the army, which was kept in the highest possible state of efficiency.  It was recruited from the free peasantry of the country—­a fact which, while it explains the excellence of the Assyrian veterans, also shows why it was that the empire fell as soon as constant wars had exhausted the native population.  Improvements were made in it from time to time; thus, cavalry came to supersede the use of chariots, and the weapons and armour of the troops were changed and improved.  Engineers and sappers accompanied it, cutting down the forests and making roads as it marched, and the commissariat was carefully attended to.  The royal tent was arranged like a house, and one of its rooms was fitted up as a kitchen, where the food was prepared as in the palace of Nineveh.  In Babylonia it was the fleet rather than the army which was the object of concern, though under Nebuchadrezzar and his successors the army also became an important engine of war.  But, unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians had been from the first a water-faring people, and the ship of war floated on the Euphrates by the side of the merchant vessel and the state barge of the king.

Such then were the kingdoms of Babylonia and Assyria.  Each exercised an influence on the Israelites and their neighbours, though in a different way and with different results.  The influence of Assyria was ephemeral.  It represented the meteor-like rise of a great military power, which crushed all opposition, and introduced among mankind the new idea of a centralised world-empire.  It destroyed the northern kingdom of Samaria, and made Palestine once more what it had been in pre-Mosaic days, the battle-ground between the nations of the Nile and the Tigris.  On the inner life of western Asia it left no impression.

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Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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