Babylonia And Assyria. I. Geography. - Geographically as well as ethnologically and historically, the whole district enclosed between the two great rivers of western Asia, the Tigris and Euphrates, forms but one country. The writers of antiquity clearly recognized this fact, speaking of the whole under the general name of Assyria, though Babylonia, as will be seen, would have been a more accurate designation. It naturally falls into two divisions, the northern being more or less mountainous, while the southern is flat and marshy; the near approach of the two rivers to one another, at a spot where the undulating plateau of the north sinks suddenly into the Babylonian alluvium, tends to separate them still more completely. In the earliest times of which we have any record, the northern portion was included in Mesopotamia; it was definitely marked off as Assyria only after the rise of the Assyrian monarchy. With the exception of Assur, the original capital, the chief cities of the country, Nineveh, Calah and Arbela, were all on the left bank of the Tigris. The reason of this preference for the eastern bank of the Tigris was due to its abundant supply of water, whereas the great Mesopotamian plain on the western side had to depend upon the streams which flowed into the Euphrates. This vast flat, the modern El-Jezireh, is about 250 miles in length, interrupted only by a single limestone range, rising abruptly out of the plain, and branching off from the Zagros mountains under the names of Sarazūr, Hamrin and Sinjar. The numerous remains of old habitations show how thickly this level tract must once have been peopled, though now for the most part a wilderness.
North of the plateau rises a well-watered and undulating belt of country, into which run low ranges of limestone hills, sometimes arid, sometimes covered with dwarf-oak, and often shutting in, between their northern and north-eastern flank and the main mountain-line from which they detach themselves, rich plains and fertile valleys. Behind them tower the massive ridges of the Niphates and Zagros ranges, where the Tigris and Euphrates take their rise, and which cut off Assyria from Armenia and Kurdistan.
The name Assyria itself was derived from that of the city of Assur (q.v.) or Asur, now Qal`at Sherqat (Kaleh Shergat), which stood on the right bank of the Tigris, midway between the Greater and the Lesser Zab. It remained the capital long after the Assyrians had become the dominant power in western Asia, but was finally supplanted by Calah (Nimrūd), Nineveh (Nebi Yunus and Kuyunjik), and Dur-Sargina (Khorsabad), some 60 m. farther north (see Nineveh).
In contrast with the arid plateau of Mesopotamia, stretched the rich alluvial plain of Chaldaea, formed by the deposits of the two great rivers by which it was enclosed. The soil was extremely fertile, and teemed with an industrious population. Eastward rose the mountains of Elam, southward were the sea-marshes and the Kaldā or Chaldaeans and other Aramaic tribes, while on the west the civilization of Babylonia encroached beyond the banks of the Euphrates, upon the territory of the Semitic nomads (or Suti). Here stood Ur (Mugheir, more correctly Muqayyar) the earliest capital of the country; and Babylon, with its suburb, Borsippa (Birs Nimrūd), as well as the two Sipparas (the Sepharvaim of Scripture, now Abu Habba), occupied both the Arabian and Chaldaean sides of the river (see Babylon). The Arakhtu, or "river of Babylon," flowed past the southern side of the city, and to the south-west of it on the Arabian bank lay the great inland freshwater sea of Nejef, surrounded by red sandstone cliffs of considerable height, 40 m. in length and 35 in breadth in the widest part.
Above and below this sea, from Borsippa to Kufa, extend the famous Chaldaean marshes, where Alexander was nearly lost (Arrian, Exp. Al. vii. 22; Strab. xvi. 1, § 12); but these depend upon the state of the Hindiya canal, disappearing altogether when it is closed.
Eastward of the Euphrates and southward of Sippara, Kutha and Babylon were Kis (Uhaimir, 9 m. E. of Hillah), Nippur (Niffer) - where stood the great sanctuary of El-lil, the older Bel - Uruk or Erech (Warka) and Larsa (Senkera) with its temple of the sun-god, while eastward of the Shatt el-Hai, probably the ancient channel of the Tigris, was Lagash (Tello), which played an important part in early Babylonian history. The primitive seaport of the country, Eridu, the seat of the worship of Ea the culture-god, was a little south of Ur (at Abu Shahrain or Nowāwis on the west side of the Euphrates). It is now about 130 m. distant from the sea; as about 46 m. of land have been formed by the silting up of the shore since the foundation of Spasinus Charax (Muhamrah) in the time of Alexander the Great, or some 115 ft. a year, the city would have been in existence at least 6000 years ago. The marshes in the south like the adjoining desert were frequented by Aramaic tribes; of these the most famous were the Kaldā or Chaldaeans who under Merodach-baladan made themselves masters of Babylon and gave their name in later days to the whole population of the country.
The combined stream of the Euphrates and Tigris as it flowed through the marshes was known to the Babylonians as the nār marrati, "the salt river" (cp. Jer. l. 21), a name originally applied to the Persian Gulf.
The alluvial plain of Babylonia was called Edin, the Eden of Gen. ii., though the name was properly restricted to "the plain" on the western bank of the river where the Bedouins pastured the flocks of their Babylonian masters. This "bank" or kisad, together with the corresponding western bank of the Tigris (according to Hommel the modern Shatt el-Hai), gave its name to the land of Chesed, whence the Kasdim of the Old Testament. In the early inscriptions of Lagash the whole district is known as Gu-Edinna, the Sumerian equivalent of the Semitic Kisad Edini. The coast-land was similarly known as Gu-ābba (Semitic Kisad tamtim), the "bank of the sea." A more comprehensive name of southern Babylonia was Kengi, "the land," or Kengi Sumer, "the land of Sumer," for which Sumer alone came afterwards to be used. Sumer has been supposed to be the original of the Biblical Shinar; but Shinar represented northern rather than southern Babylonia, and was probably the Sankhar of the Tell el-Amarna tablets (but see Sumer). Opposed to Kengi and Sumer were Urra (Uri) and Akkad or northern Babylonia. The original meaning of Urra was perhaps "clayey soil," but it came to signify "the upper country" or "highlands," kengi being "the lowlands." In Semitic times Urra was pronounced Uri and confounded with uru, "city"; as a geographical term, however, it was replaced by Akkadu (Akkad), the Semitic form of Agadē - written Akkattim in the Elamite inscriptions - the name of the elder Sargon's capital, which must have stood close to Sippara, if indeed it was not a quarter of Sippara itself.
The rise of Sargon's empire was doubtless the cause of this extension of the name of Akkad; from henceforward, in the imperial title, "Sumer and Akkad" denoted the whole of Babylonia. After the Kassite conquest of the country, northern Babylonia came to be known as Kar-Duniyas, "the wall of the god Duniyas," from a line of fortification similar to that built by Nebuchadrezzar between Sippara and Opis, so as to defend his kingdom from attacks from the north. As this last was "the Wall of Semiramis" mentioned by Strabo (xi. 14. 8), Kar-Duniyas may have represented the Median Wall of Xenophon (Anab. ii. 4. 12), traces of which were found by F. R. Chesney extending from Faluja to Jibbar.
The country was thickly studded with towns, the sites of which are still represented by mounds, though the identification of most of them is still doubtful. The latest to be identified are Bismya, between Nippur and Erech, which recent American excavations have proved to be the site of Udab (also called Adab and Usab) and the neighbouring Fāra, the site of the ancient Kisurra. The dense population was due to the elaborate irrigation of the Babylonian plain which had originally reclaimed it from a pestiferous and uninhabitable swamp and had made it the most fertile country in the world. The science of irrigation and engineering seems to have been first created in Babylonia, which was covered by a network of canals, all skilfully planned and regulated. The three chief of them carried off the waters of the Euphrates to the Tigris above Babylon, - the Zabzallat canal (or Nahr Sarsar) running from Faluja to Ctesiphon, the Kutha canal from Sippara to Madain, passing Tell Ibrahim or Kutha on the way, and the King's canal or Ar-Malcha between the other two.
This last, which perhaps owed its name to Khammurabi, was conducted from the Euphrates towards Upi or Opis, which has been shown by H. Winckler (Altorientalische Forschungen, ii. pp. 509 seq.) to have been close to Seleucia on the western side of the Tigris. The Pallacopas, called Pallukkatu in the Neo-Babylonian texts, started from Pallukkatu or Faluja, and running parallel to the western bank of the Euphrates as far as Iddaratu or Teredon (?) watered an immense tract of land and supplied a large lake near Borsippa. B. Meissner may be right in identifying it with "the Canal of the Sun-god" of the early texts. Thanks to this system of irrigation the cultivation of the soil was highly advanced in Babylonia. According to Herodotus (i. 193) wheat commonly returned two hundred-fold to the sower, and occasionally three hundred-fold. Pliny (H. N. xviii. 17) states that it was cut twice, and afterwards was good keep for sheep, and Berossus remarked that wheat, sesame, barley, ochrys, palms, apples and many kinds of shelled fruit grew wild, as wheat still does in the neighbourhood of Anah. A Persian poem celebrated the 360 uses of the palm (Strabo xvi. 1. 14), and Ammianus Marcellinus (xxiv. 3) says that from the point reached by Julian's army to the shores of the Persian Gulf was one continuous forest of verdure.