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THE FALL OF BABYLON.
BY TIMOTHY BIGELOW.
The greatness and splendor of Babylon, the prophecies and omens that preceded its fall, and the deep shadows of Divine displeasure which have rested upon the spot for ages, combine to render the Chaldean city an object of universal but melancholy interest. Situated in the most fertile portion of Western Asia, this metropolis possessed the varied riches and resources which are the united tribute of commerce, agriculture and art. In its marts, the emeralds and jaspers of Bactria, the golddust and dye-stuffs of India, the myrrh and the frankincense of Arabia, the pearls and the spices of Eastern Islands, the wool of Cashmire, and the ivory of Africa, were exchanged by Phænician traffickers for the fine linen and embroidered vestments of Chaldean looms, and the luxuriant products of Babylonian gardens. In its midst, with eight towers one above another, rose the colossal temple of Belus, from whose summit the earliest astronomers gazed nightly at the stars, and whose mystic chambers were enriched and beautified with the spoils of vanquished nations, and the idolatrous offerings of ages. Still more conspicuous for architectural magnificence was the palace of the kings,—made famous by the hanging gardens which travellers from Athens praised, and which were adorned with those trees and flowers that Amytis had loved in her mountain-home of Ecbatana. Around the city were walls three hundred feet in height, seventy-five feet in width, and nearly fifty miles in extent. The inclosed area was divided into six hundred and seventy-six squares, variously appropriated to buildings, pleasure-grounds and gardens. One hundred gates of massive brass opened to afford egress into the surrounding country; and from two hundred and fifty towers the sentinels kept constant watch for invaders and foes. Such, briefly, was the famous Babylon, whose foundation fable ascribes to Semiramis, but which, history informs us, was greatly enlarged and beautified by Nebuchadnezzar and the Queen Nitocris.
But when this imperial metropolis had ascended to the loftiest heights of earthly greatness; when captive monarchs mourned within its prison walls, and enslaved nations followed the homeward march of its triumphant armies ; when unnumbered worshippers thronged the courts of Belus, and pagan superstition invested the ministering priests with matchless wisdom and power; at that very time the inspired prophet of God pronounced against the city these memorable but awful words : “ Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire. And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragons: It shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert. And 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.”*
The stream of time rolled along, and bore on its bosom the fulfilment of the prophetic denunciation. On a banquet night, — when the doom of Belshazzar, traced by no earthly hand, still blazed upon the palace walls,—the Medes and Persians captured the city, and slew the impious monarch and his nobles. Cyrus, with that elevation of mind that Xenophon ascribes to him, disdained to mutilate the monu
ments of art; but Darius Hystaspes, having retaken the place after a desperate revolt, broke down the walls and removed the brazen gates. Xerxes, his son, returning from his disastrous Grecian expedition, partly from a desire to overthrow the Sabian idolatry, but mainly with the design of enriching himself after the costly defeats of Salamis and Platæa, plundered the golden treasures of the temple, and left the building in ruins. The population of Babylon was greatly reduced by war, pestilence and emigration during the two hundred and fifty years succeeding its capture; and so light were the ties which bound the remaining inhabitants to their native land, that at the founding of Seleucia on the Tigris, they chiefly removed to this new metropolis. Indeed, so deserted did the old city become, that when Strabo was there, he found it almost desolate ; and travellers of a later day reported, that the prophecies which foretold that “ Babylon should be without an inhabitant,” and “wild beasts should dwell in her pleasant palaces,” were at length accomplished
Thus night closed upon Babylon ; its ruin was total. The armies of Parthia and Persia, of Rome and Arabia, of Tartary and Turkey, have swept by the spot; but whether victorious or vanquished, their shouts or their sighs were not echoed in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. Kings and khans, emirs and emperors, caliphs and sultans, have held sway over the land; but they did not repair to the plains of Shinar to muse over the fall of monarchs once as mighty as themselves. The march of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane lay near the ruined city; but they turned not aside from their paths of blood to study the greatest lesson ever read to conquerors or kings. In the neighborhood, the Magi have discussed the doctrines of the Zend Avesta; and the white flag of the Ommiades, and the black banner of the Abbassides, have been unfurled by rival sects of Moslems; but no Chaldean priest came forth from the silent temple of Belus to dispute the authority of Zoroaster or Mahomet. It seemed as if the evil spirit of the old Persian theology had triumphed over Ormuzd, the principle of light, and at last reigned with absolute dominion amid its native darkness.
Fourteen hours' ride from Bagdad, over a level country crossed by numerous decayed canals, brings the traveller to all that now remains of Babylon. The ruins are situated near the town of Hillah, and lie mainly on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. When seen from a distance, they appear like hills of