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The Old Babylonian period



Isin and Larsa :-


During the collapse of Ur III, Ishbi-Erra established himself in Isin and founded a dynasty there that lasted from 2017 to 1794. His example was followed elsewhere by local rulers, as in Der, Eshnunna, Sippar, Kish, and Larsa. In many localities an urge was felt to imitate the model of Ur; Isin probably took over unchanged the administrative system of that state. Ishbi-Erra and his successors had themselves deified, as did one of the rulers of Der, on the Iranian border. For almost a century Isin predominated within the mosaic of states that were slowly reemerging. Overseas trade revived after Ishbi-Erra had driven out the Elamite garrison from Ur, and under his successor, Shu-ilishu, a statue of the moon god Nanna, the city god of Ur, was recovered from the Elamites, who had carried it off. Up to the reign of Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1934-c. 1924), the rulers of Isin so resembled those of Ur, as far as the king's assessment of himself in the hymns is concerned, that it seems almost arbitrary to postulate a break between Ibbi-Sin and Ishbi-Erra. As a further example of continuity it might be added that the Code of Lipit-Ishtar stands exactly midway chronologically between the Code of Ur-Nammu and the Code of Hammurabi. Yet it is much closer to the former in language and especially in legal philosophy than to Hammurabi's compilation of judgments. For example, the Code of Lipit-Ishtar does not know the lex talionis "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", the guiding principle of Hammurabi's penal law.



Political fragmentation :-


It is probable that the definitive separation from Ur III came about through changing components of the population, from "Sumerians and Akkadians" to "Akkadians and Amorites." An Old Babylonian liver omen states that "he of the steppes will enter, and chase out the one in the city." This is indeed an abbreviated formula for an event that took place more than once: the usurpation of the king's throne in the city by the "sheikh" of some Amorite tribe. These usurpations were regularly carried out as part of the respective tribes became settled, although this was not so in the case of Isin because the house of Ishbi-Erra came from Mari and was of Akkadian origin, to judge by the rulers' names. By the same linguistic token the dynasty of Larsa was Amorite. The fifth ruler of the latter dynasty, Gungunum (ruled c. 1932-c. 1906), conquered Ur and established himself as the equal and rival of Isin; at this stage--the end of the 20th century BC--if not before, Ur had certainly outlived itself. From Gungunum until the temporary unification of Mesopotamia under Hammurabi, the political picture was determined by the disintegration of the balance of power, by incessant vacillation of alliances, by the presumption of the various rulers, by the fear of encroachments by the Amorite nomads, and by increasingly wretched social conditions. The extensive archive of correspondence from the royal palace of Mari (c. 1810-1750) is the best source of information about the political and diplomatic game and its rules, whether honoured or broken; it covers treaties, the dispatch and reception of embassies, agreements about the integration of allied armies, espionage, and "situation reports" from "foreign" courts. Devoid of exaggeration or stylization, these letters, dealing as they do with everyday events, are preferable to the numerous royal inscriptions on buildings, even when the latter contain historical allusions.



Literary texts and increasing decentralization :-


Another indirect but far from negligible source for the political and socioeconomic situation in the 20th-18th centuries BC is the literature of omens. These are long compendiums in which the condition of a sheep's liver or some other divinatory object (for instance, the behaviour of a drop of oil in a beaker filled with water, the appearance of a newborn baby, and the shape of rising clouds of incense) is described at length and commented on with the appropriate prediction: "The king will kill his dignitaries and distribute their houses and property among the temples"; "A powerful man will ascend the throne in a foreign city"; "The land that rose up against its shepherd' will continue to be ruled by that shepherd'"; "The king will depose his chancellor"; and "They will lock the city gate and there will be a calamity in the city."

Beginning with Gungunum of Larsa, the texts allow greater insight into the private sector than in any other previous period. There is a considerable increase in the number of private contracts and private correspondences. Especially frequent among the private contracts are those concluded about loans of silver or grain (barley), illustrating the common man's plight, especially when driven to seek out a creditor, the first step on a road that in many instances led to ruin. The rate of interest, fixed at 20 percent in the case of silver and 33 percent in that of grain, increased further if the deadline for repayment, usually at harvest time, was not kept. Insolvency resulted in imprisonment for debt, slavery by mortgage, and even the sale of children and the debtor's own person. Many private letters contain entreaties for the release of family members from imprisonment at the creditor's hands. Yet considerable fortunes were also made, in "liquid" capital as well as landed property. As these tendencies threatened to end in economic disaster, the kings prescribed as a corrective the liquidation of debts, by way of temporary alleviation at least. The exact wording of one such decree is known from the time of Ammisaduqa of Babylon.

Until the Ur III period, the only archives so far recovered dealt with temples or the palace. However, belonging to the Old Babylonian period, along with documents pertaining to civil law, were an increasing number of administrative records of privately managed households, inns, and farms: settlements of accounts, receipts, and notes on various transactions. Here was clearly a regular bourgeoisie, disposing of its own land and possessing means independent of temple and palace. Trade, too, was now chiefly in private hands; the merchant traveled (or sent his partners) at his own risk, not on behalf of the state. Among the civil-law contracts there was a substantial increase in records of land purchases. Also significant for the economic situation in the Old Babylonian era was a process that might be summarized as "secularization of the temples," even if all the stages of this development cannot be traced. The palace had probably possessed for centuries the authority to dispose of temple property, but, whereas UruKAgina of Lagash had still branded the tendency as leading to abuses, the citizen's relationship to the temple now took on individual traits. Revenues from certain priestly offices--benefices, in other words--went to private individuals and were sold and inherited. The process had begun in Ur, where the king bestowed benefices, although the recipients could not own them. The archives of the "canonesses" of the sun god of Sippar furnish r a particularly striking example of the fusion of religious service and private economic interest. These women, who lived in a convent called gagūm, came from the city's leading families and were not allowed to marry. With their property, consisting of land and silver, they engaged in a lively and remunerative business by granting loans and leasing out fields.

The tendency toward decentralization had begun in the Old Babylonian period with Isin. It concluded with the 72-year reign of the house of Kudur-Mabuk in Larsa (c. 1834-c. 1763). Kudur-Mabuk, sheikh of the Amorite tribe of the Jamutbal, despite his Elamite name, helped his son Warad-Sin to secure the throne. This usurpation allowed Larsa, which had passed through a period of internal unrest, to flourish one more time. Under Warad-Sin and in the long reign of his brother Rim-Sin, large portions of southern Babylonia, including Nippur, were once again united in one state of Larsa in 1794. Larsa was conquered by Hammurabi in 1763.


Political fortunes :-


Hammurabi (c. 1792-c. 1750 BC) is surely the most impressive and by now the best-known figure of the ancient Middle East of the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. He owes his posthumous reputation to the great stela into which the Code of Hammurabi was carved and indirectly also to the fact that his dynasty has made the name of Babylon famous for all time. In much the same way in which pre-Sargonic Kish exemplified the non-Sumerian area north of Sumer and Akkad lent its name to a country and a language, Babylon became the symbol of the whole country that the Greeks called Babylonia. This term is used anachronistically by Assyriologists as a geographic concept in reference to the period before Hammurabi. Originally the city's name was probably Babilla, which was reinterpreted in popular etymology as Bab-ili "Gate of the God".

The 1st dynasty of Babylon rose from insignificant beginnings. The history of the erstwhile province of Ur is traceable from about 1894 onward, when the Amorite Sumuabum came to power there. What is known of these events fits altogether into the modest proportions of the period when Mesopotamia was a mosaic of small states. Hammurabi played skillfully on the instrument of coalitions and became more powerful than his predecessors had been. Nonetheless, it was only in the 30th year of his reign, after his conquest of Larsa, that he gave concrete expression to the idea of ruling all of southern Mesopotamia by "strengthening the foundations of Sumer and Akkad," in the words of that year's dating formula. In the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi the king lists the following cities as belonging to his dominions: Eridu, Ur, Lagash and Girsu, Zabalam, Larsa, Uruk, Adab, Isin, Nippur, Keshi, Dilbat, Borsippa, Babylon itself, Kish, Malgium, Mashkan-shapir, Kutha, Sippar, Eshnunna in the Diyala region, Mari, Tuttul on the lower Balikh (a tributary of the Euphrates), and finally Ashur and Nineveh. This was on a scale reminiscent of Akkad or Ur III. Yet Ashur and Nineveh cannot have formed part of this empire for long because at the end of Hammurabi's reign mention is made again of wars against Subartu [in Assyria].

Under Hammurabi's son Samsuiluna (c. 1749-c. 1712 BC) the Babylonian empire greatly shrank in size. Following what had almost become a tradition, the south rose up in revolt. Larsa regained its autonomy for some time, and the walls of Ur, Uruk, and Larsa were leveled. Eshnunna, which evidently had also seceded, was vanquished about 1730. Later chronicles mention the existence of a state in the Sealand, with its own dynasty (by "Sealand" is understood the marshlands of southern Babylonia). Knowledge of this new dynasty is unfortunately very vague, only one of its kings being documented in contemporary texts. About 1741 Samsuiluna mentions the Kassites for the first time; about 1726 he constructed a stronghold, "Fort Samsuiluna," as a bulwark against them on the Diyala near its confluence with the Tigris.

Like the Gutians before them, the Kassites were at first prevented from entering Babylonia and pushed into the mid-Euphrates region; there, in the kingdom of Khana (centred on Mari and Terqa, both below the junction with the Khabur River), a king appears with the Kassite name of Kashtiliashu, who ruled toward the end of the Babylonian dynasty. From Khana the Kassites moved south in small groups, probably as harvest workers. After the Hittite invasion under Mursilis I, who is said to have dethroned the last king of Babylon, Samsuditana, in 1595, the Kassites assumed the royal power in Babylonia. So far, the contemporary sources do not mention this epoch, and the question remains unresolved as to how the Kassite rulers named in king lists mesh with the end of the 2nd millennium BC.


Babylonian literature :-


The literature and the literary languages of Babylonia during the three centuries following Ur III deserve attention. When commenting on literary and historical texts such as the inscriptions of the kings of Akkad, it was pointed out that these were not originals but copies of Old Babylonian vintage. So far, such copies are the main source for Sumerian literature. Yet, while the Old Babylonian period witnessed the creation of much literature (royal hymns of the kings of Isin, Larsa, and Babylon and elegies), it was above all a time of intensive cultivation of traditional literature. The great Sumerian poems, whose origins or first written version, respectively, can now be traced back to about 2600, were copied again and again. After 2000, when Sumerian as a spoken language rapidly receded to isolated regions and eventually disappeared altogether, texts began to be translated, line by line, into Akkadian until there came to be bilingual versions. An important part of this, especially in the instructional program in schools, were the so-called lexicographical texts. Sumerian word lists are almost as old as cuneiform writing itself; they formed the perfect material for those learning to write. In the Old Babylonian period, the individual lexical entries were translated and often annotated with phonetic signs. This led to the creation of "dictionaries," the value of which to the modern philologist cannot be exaggerated. Since Sumerian had to be taught much more than before, regular "grammatical treatises" also came into being: so far as it was possible, in view of the radically different structures of the two languages, Sumerian pronouns, verb forms, and the like were translated into Akkadian, including entire "paradigms" of individual verbs.

In belles lettres, Sumerian still predominates, although there is no lack of Akkadian masterpieces, including the oldest Akkadian version of the epic of Gilgamesh. The very high prestige still enjoyed by Sumerian should not be underestimated, and it continued to be used for inscriptions on buildings and the yearly dating formulas. Aside from being the language of practical affairs (i.e., letters and contracts), there was a high incidence of Akkadian in soothsaying and divinatory literature. To be sure, the Sumerians also practiced foretelling the future from the examination of animal entrails, but as far as is known they did not write down the results. In Akkadian, on the other hand, there are extensive and "scientifically" arranged compendiums of omens based on the liver (as well as other omens), reflecting the importance that the divination of the future had in religion, in politics, and in all aspects of daily life.

Judging by its increasingly refined juridical thought, its ability to master in writing ever more complicated administrative procedures, its advanced knowledge of mathematics, and the fact that it marks the beginning of the study of astronomy, the Old Babylonian period appears to have been a time of exceedingly active intellectual endeavour--despite, if not because of, its lack of political cohesiveness.


Babylonian law :-


The Code of Hammurabi is the most frequently cited cuneiform document in specialized literature. Its first scholarly publication in 1902 led to the development of a special branch of comparative jurisprudence, the study of cuneiform law. Following the division made by the first editor, Jean-Vincent Scheil, the Code of Hammurabi contains 280 judgments, or "paragraphs," on civil and criminal law, dealing in the main with cases from everyday life in such a manner that it becomes obvious that the "lawgiver" or compiler had no intention of covering all possible contingencies. In broad outline, the themes treated in the Code of Hammurabi are libel; corrupt administration of justice; theft, receiving stolen goods, robbery, looting, and burglary; murder, manslaughter, and bodily injury; abduction; judicature of tax lessees; liability for negligent damage to fields and crop damage caused by grazing cattle; illegal felling of palm trees; legal problems of trade enterprises, in particular, the relationship between the merchant and his employee traveling overland, and embezzlement of merchandise; trust monies; the proportion of interest to loan money; the legal position of the female publican; slavery and ransom, slavery for debt, runaway slaves, the sale and manumission of slaves, and the contesting of slave status; the rent of persons, animals, and ships and their respective tariffs, offenses committed by hired labourers, and the vicious bull; family law: the price of a bride, dowry, the married woman's property, wife and concubine, and the legal position of the respective issue, divorce, adoption, the wet nurse's contract, and inheritance; and the legal position of certain priestesses.

A similar if much shorter compendium of judgments, probably antedating that of Hammurabi by a generation or two, has been discovered in Eshnunna.

Hammurabi, who called his own work dinat misarim, or "verdicts of the just order," states in the epilogue that it was intended as legal aid for persons in search of advice. Whether these judgments were meant to have binding force in the sense of modern statutes, however, is a matter of controversy. The Code of Hammurabi differs in many respects from the Code of Lipit-Ishtar, which was written in Sumerian. Its most striking feature lies in the extraordinary severity of its penalties and in the principle of the lex talionis. The same attitude is reflected in various Old Babylonian contracts in which defaulters are threatened with bodily punishment. It is often said, and perhaps rightly so, that this severity, which so contrasts with Sumerian judicial tradition, can be traced back to the Amorite influence. There is yet another way in which the Code of Hammurabi has given rise to much discussion. Many of its "paragraphs" vary according to whether the case concerns an awilum, a muskenum, or a wardum. A threefold division of the populace had been postulated on the basis of these distinctions. The wardum is the least problematic: he is the slave--that is, a person in bondage who could be bought and sold, unless he was able to regain his freedom under certain conditions as a debtor-slave. The muskenum were, under King Hammurabi at least, persons employed by the palace who could be given land in usufruct without receiving it as property. Awilum were the citizens who owned land in their own right and depended neither on the palace nor on the temple. As the Soviet scholar Igor M. Diakonov has pointed out, the distinction cannot have been very sharply drawn, because the classes awilum and muskenum are not mutually exclusive: a man in high palace office could fairly easily purchase land as private property, whereas the free citizen who got into debt as a result of a bad harvest or some other misfortune had one foot in the slave class. Still unanswered is the question as to which segment of the population could be conscripted to do public works, a term that included the levy in case of war.

Ammisaduqa (c. 1646-c. 1626 BC) comes a century and a half after Hammurabi. His edict, already referred to, lists, among others, the following social and economic factors: private debts in silver and grain, if arising out of loans, were canceled; also canceled were back taxes that certain officials owed the palace and that had to be collected from the people; the female publican had to renounce the collection of outstanding debts in beer and barley and was, in turn, excused from paying amounts of silver and barley to the king; taxes on leased property were reduced; debt slaves who had formerly been free (as against slaves made over from debtor to creditor) were ransomed; and high officials were forbidden on pain of death to press those who held property in fee into harvest work by prepayment of wages. The phrase "because the king gave the land a just order" serves as a rationale for many of these instances. In contrast to the codes, about whose binding force there is much doubt, edicts such as those of Ammisaduqa had legal validity since there are references to the edicts of other kings in numerous legal documents of the Old Babylonian period.



The Kassites, the Mitanni, and the rise of Assyria :-

About 150 years after the death of Hammurabi, his dynasty was destroyed by an invasion of new peoples. Because there are very few written records from this era, the time from about 1560 BC to about 1440 BC (in some areas until 1400 BC) is called the dark ages. The remaining Semitic states, such as the state of Ashur, became minor states within the sphere of influence of the new states of the Kassites and the Hurrians/Mitanni. The languages of the older cultures, Akkadian and Sumerian, continued or were soon reestablished, however. The cuneiform script persisted as the only type of writing in the entire area. Cultural continuity was not broken off, either, particularly in Babylonia. A matter of importance was the emergence of new Semitic leading classes from the ranks of the priesthood and the scribes. These gained increasing power.


The Hurrians :-


The Hurrians enter the orbit of ancient Middle Eastern civilization toward the end of the 3rd millennium BC. They arrived in Mesopotamia from the north or the east, but it is not known how long they had lived in the peripheral regions. There is a brief inscription in Hurrian language from the end of the period of Akkad, while that of King Arishen (or Atalshen) of Urkish and Nawar is written in Akkadian. The language of the Hurrians must have belonged to a widespread group of ancient Middle Eastern languages. The relationship between Hurrian and Subarean has already been mentioned, and the language of the Urartians, who played an important role from the end of the 2nd millennium to the 8th century BC, is likewise closely related to Hurrian. According to the Soviet scholars Igor M. Diakonov and Sergei A. Starostin, the Eastern Caucasian languages are an offshoot of the Hurrian-Urartian group.

It is not known whether the migrations of the Hurrians ever took the form of aggressive invasion; 18th-century-BC texts from Mari speak of battles with the Hurrian tribe of Turukku south of Lake Urmia (some 150 miles from the Caspian Sea's southwest corner), but these were mountain campaigns, not the warding off of an offensive. Proper names in cuneiform texts, their frequency increasing in the period of Ur III, constitute the chief evidence for the presence of Hurrians. Nevertheless, there is no clear indication that the Hurrians had already advanced west of the Tigris at that time. An entirely different picture results from the 18th-century palace archives of Mari and from texts originating near the upper Khabur River. Northern Mesopotamia, west of the Tigris, and Syria appear settled by a population that is mainly Amorite and Hurrian; and the latter had already reached the Mediterranean littoral, as shown by texts from Alalakh on the Orontes. In Mari, literary texts in Hurrian also have been found, indicating that Hurrian had by then become a fully developed written language as well.

The high point of the Hurrian period was not reached until about the middle of the 2nd millennium. In the 15th century, Alalakh was heavily Hurrianized; and in the empire of Mitanni the Hurrians represented the leading and perhaps the most numerous population group.


The Kassites in Babylonia :-

The Kassites had settled by 1800 BC in what is now western Iran in the region of Hamadan-Kermanshah. The first to feel their forward thrust was Samsuiluna, who had to repel groups of Kassite invaders. Increasing numbers of Kassites gradually reached Babylonia and other parts of Mesopotamia. There they founded principalities, of which little is known. No inscription or document in the Kassite language has been preserved. Some 300 Kassite words have been found in Babylonian documents. Nor is much known about the social structure of the Kassites or their culture. There seems to have been no hereditary kingdom. Their religion was polytheistic; the names of some 30 gods are known.

The beginning of Kassite rule in Babylonia cannot be dated exactly. A king called Agum II ruled over a state that stretched from western Iran to the middle part of the Euphrates valley; 24 years after the Hittites had carried off the statue of the Babylonian god Marduk, he regained possession of the statue, brought it back to Babylon, and renewed the cult, making the god Marduk the equal of the corresponding Kassite god, Shuqamuna. Meanwhile, native princes continued to reign in southern Babylonia. It may have been Ulamburiash who finally annexed this area around 1450 and began negotiations with Egypt in Syria. Karaindash built a temple with bas-relief tile ornaments in Uruk around 1420. A new capital west of Baghdad, Dur Kurigalzu, competing with Babylon, was founded and named after Kurigalzu I (c. 1400-c. 1375). His successors Kadashman-Enlil I (c. 1375-c. 1360) and Burnaburiash II (c. 1360-c. 1333) were in correspondence with the Egyptian rulers Amenhotep III and Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV). They were interested in trading their lapis lazuli and other items for gold as well as in planning political marriages. Kurigalzu II (c. 1332-c. 1308) fought against the Assyrians but was defeated by them. His successors sought to ally themselves with the Hittites in order to stop the expansion of the Assyrians. During the reign of Kashtiliash IV (c. 1232-c. 1225), Babylonia waged war on two fronts at the same time--against Elam and Assyria--ending in the catastrophic invasion and destruction of Babylon by Tukulti-Ninurta I. Not until the time of the kings Adad-shum-usur (c. 1216-c. 1187) and Melishipak (c. 1186-c. 1172) was Babylon able to experience a period of prosperity and peace. Their successors were again forced to fight, facing the conqueror King Shutruk-Nahhunte of Elam (c. 1185-c. 1155). Cruel and fierce, the Elamites finally destroyed the dynasty of the Kassites during these wars (about 1155). Some poetical works lament this catastrophe.

Letters and documents of the time after 1380 show that many things had changed after the Kassites took power. The Kassite upper class, always a small minority, had been largely "Babylonianized." Babylonian names were to be found even among the royalty, and they predominated among the civil servants and the officers. The new feudal character of the social structure showed the influence of the Kassites. Babylonian town life had revived on the basis of commerce and handicrafts. The Kassitic nobility, however, maintained the upper hand in the rural areas, their wealthiest representatives holding very large landed estates. Many of these holdings came from donations of the king to deserving officers and civil servants, considerable privileges being connected with such grants. From the time of Kurigalzu II these were registered on stone tablets or, more frequently, on boundary stones called kudurrus. After 1200 the number of these increased substantially, because the kings needed a steadily growing retinue of loyal followers. The boundary stones had pictures in bas-relief, very often a multitude of religious symbols, and frequently contained detailed inscriptions giving the borders of the particular estate; sometimes the deserts of the recipient were listed and his privileges recorded; finally, trespassers were threatened with the most terrifying curses. Agriculture and cattle husbandry were the main pursuits on these estates, and horses were raised for the light war chariots of the cavalry. There was an export trade in horses and vehicles in exchange for raw material. As for the king, the idea of the social-minded ruler continued to be valid.

The decline of Babylonian culture at the end of the Old Babylonian period continued for some time under the Kassites. Not until approximately 1420 did the Kassites develop a distinctive style in architecture and sculpture. Kurigalzu I played an important part, especially in Ur, as a patron of the building arts. Poetry and scientific literature developed only gradually after 1400. The existence of earlier work is clear from poetry, philological lists, and collections of omens and signs that were in existence by the 14th century or before and that have been discovered in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, in the Syrian capital of Ugarit, and even as far away as Palestine. Somewhat later, new writings appear: medical diagnoses and recipes, more Sumero-Akkadian word lists, and collections of astrological and other omens and signs with their interpretations. Most of these works are known today only from copies of more recent date. The most important is the Babylonian epic of the creation of the world, Enuma elish. Composed by an unknown poet, probably in the 14th century, it tells the story of the god Marduk. He began as the god of Babylon and was elevated to be king over all other gods after having successfully accomplished the destruction of the powers of chaos. For almost 1,000 years this epic was recited during the New Year's festival in the spring as part of the Marduk cult in Babylon. The literature of this time contains very few Kassitic words. Many scholars believe that the essential groundwork for the development of the subsequent Babylonian culture was laid during the later epoch of the Kassite era.


Babylonia under the 2nd dynasty of Isin :-


In a series of heavy wars about which not much is known, Marduk-kabit-ahheshu (c. 1152-c. 1135) established what came to be known as the 2nd dynasty of Isin. His successors were often forced to continue the fighting. The most famous king of the dynasty was Nebuchadrezzar I (Nabu-kudurri-usur; c. 1119-c. 1098). He fought mainly against Elam, which had conquered and ravaged a large part of Babylonia. His first attack miscarried because of an epidemic among his troops, but in a later campaign he conquered Susa, the capital of Elam, and returned the previously removed statue of the god Marduk to its proper place. Soon thereafter the king of Elam was assassinated, and his kingdom once again fell apart into small states. This enabled Nebuchadrezzar to turn west, using the later years of peace to start extensive building projects. After him, his son became king, succeeded by his brother Marduk-nadin-ahhe (c. 1093-c. 1076). At first successful in his wars against Assyria, he later experienced heavy defeat. A famine of catastrophic proportions triggered an attack from Aramaean tribes, the ultimate blow. His successors made peace with Assyria, but the country suffered more and more from repeated attacks by Aramaeans and other Semitic nomads. Even though some of the kings still assumed grand titles, they were unable to stem the progressive disintegration of their empire. There followed the era known as the 2nd dynasty of the Sealand (c. 1020-c. 1000), which included three usurpers. The first of these had the Kassitic name of Simbar-Shihu (or Simbar-Shipak; c. 1020-c. 1003).

Toward the end of its reign, the dynasty of the Kassites became completely Babylonianized. The changeover to the dynasty of Isin, actually a succession of kings from different families, brought no essential transformation of the social structure. The feudal order remained. New landed estates came into existence in many places through grants to deserving officers; many boundary stones (kudurrus) have been found that describe them. The cities of Babylonia retained much of their former autonomy. The border provinces, however, were administered by royally appointed governors with civil and military functions.

In the literary arts this was a period of creativity; thus the later Babylonians with good reason regarded the time of Nebuchadrezzar I as one of the great eras of their history. A heroic epic, modeled upon older epics, celebrates the deeds of Nebuchadrezzar I, but unfortunately little of it is extant. Other material comes from the ancient myths. The poet of the later version of the epic of Gilgamesh, Sin-leqe-unnini (c. 1150-?) of Uruk, is known by name. This version of the epic is known as the Twelve-Tablet Poem; it contains about 3,000 verses. It is distinguished by its greater emphasis on the human qualities of Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu; this quality makes it one of the great works of world literature.

Another poet active at about the same time was the author of a poem of 480 verses called Ludlul bel nemeqi ("Let Me Praise the Possessor of Wisdom"). The poem meditates on the workings of divine justice, which sometimes appear strange and inexplicable to suffering human beings; this subject had acquired an increasing importance in the contemporary religion of Babylon. The poem describes the multifarious sufferings of a high official and his subsequent salvation by the god Marduk.

The gradual reduction of the Sumerian pantheon of about 2,000 gods by the identification and integration of originally distinct gods and goddesses of similar functions resulted in a growing number of surnames or compound names for the main gods (Marduk, for example, had about 50 such names) and later in a conception of "the god" and "the goddess" with interchangeable names in the cults of the great temples. There was a theology of identifications of gods, which was documented by god lists in two columns with hundreds of entries in the form "Enzag = Nabū of (the island of) Dilmun," as well as by many hymns and prayers of the time and by later compositions.

As a consequence of the distinction of an enormous number of multifarious sins, the concept of a universal sinfulness of mankind is increasingly observed in this period and later. All human beings, therefore, were believed to be in need of the forgiveness afforded by the deities to sincere worshipers. Outside of Israel, the concept of sinfulness can be found in ancient times only in Babylonia and Assyria.


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