III. Modern Discovery. - The excavations of P. E. Botta and A. H. Layard at Nineveh opened up a new world, coinciding as they did with the successful decipherment of the cuneiform system of writing. Layard's discovery of the library of Assur-bani-pal put the materials for reconstructing the ancient life and history of Assyria and Babylonia into the hands of scholars. He also was the first to excavate in Babylonia, where C. J. Rich had already done useful topographical work. Layard's excavations in this latter country were continued by W. K. Loftus, who also opened trenches at Susa, as well as by J. Oppert on behalf of the French government. But it was only in the last quarter of the 19th century that anything like systematic exploration was attempted. After the death of George Smith at Aleppo in 1876, an expedition was sent by the British Museum (1877-1879), under the conduct of Hormuzd Rassam, to continue his work at Nineveh and its neighbourhood. Excavations in the mounds of Balawāt, called Imgur-Bel by the Assyrians, 15 m. east of Mosul, resulted in the discovery of a small temple dedicated to the god of dreams by Assur-nazir-pal III. (883 B.C.), containing a stone coffer or ark in which were two inscribed tables of alabaster of rectangular shape, as well as of a palace which had been destroyed by the Babylonians but restored by Shalmaneser II. (858 B.C.). From the latter came the bronze gates with hammered reliefs, which are now in the British Museum. The remains of a palace of Assur-nazir-pal III. at Nimrūd (Calah) were also excavated, and hundreds of enamelled tiles were disinterred.
Two years later (1880-1881) Rassam was sent to Babylonia, where he discovered the site of the temple of the sun-god of Sippara at Abu-Habba, and so fixed the position of the two Sipparas or Sepharvaim. Abu-Habba lies south-west of Bagdad, midway between the Euphrates and Tigris, on the south side of a canal, which may once have represented the main stream of the Euphrates, Sippara of the goddess Anunit, now Dēr, being on its opposite bank.
Meanwhile (1877-1881) the French consul, de Sarzec, had been excavating at Tello, the ancient Lagash, and bringing to light monuments of the pre-Semitic age, which included the diorite statues of Gudea now in the Louvre, the stone of which, according to the inscriptions upon them, had been brought from Magan, the Sinaitic peninsula. The subsequent excavations of de Sarzec in Tello and its neighbourhood carried the history of the city back to at least 4000 B.C., and a collection of more than 30,000 tablets has been found, which were arranged on shelves in the time of Gudea (c. 2700 B.C.). In 1886-1887 a German expedition under Dr Koldewey explored the cemetery of El Hibba (immediately to the south of Tello), and for the first time made us acquainted with the burial customs of ancient Babylonia. Another German expedition, on a large scale, was despatched by the Orientgesellschaft in 1899 with the object of exploring the ruins of Babylon; the palace of Nebuchadrezzar and the great processional road were laid bare, and Dr W. Andrae subsequently conducted excavations at Qal`at Sherqat, the site of Assur. Even the Turkish government has not held aloof from the work of exploration, and the Museum at Constantinople is filled with the tablets discovered by Dr V. Scheil in 1897 on the site of Sippara. J. de Morgan's exceptionally important work at Susa lies outside the limits of Babylonia; not so, however, the American excavations (1903-1904) under E. J. Banks at Bismya (Udab), and those of the university of Pennsylvania at Niffer (see Nippur) first begun in 1889, where Mr J. H. Haynes has systematically and patiently uncovered the remains of the great temple of El-lil, removing layer after layer of débris and cutting sections in the ruins down to the virgin soil.
Midway in the mound is a platform of large bricks stamped with the names of Sargon of Akkad and his son Naram-Sin (3800 B.C.); as the débris above them is 34 ft. thick, the topmost stratum being not later than the Parthian era (H. V. Hilprecht, The Babylonian Expedition, i. 2, p. 23), it is calculated that the débris underneath the pavement, 30 ft. thick, must represent a period of about 3000 years, more especially as older constructions had to be levelled before the pavement was laid. In the deepest part of the excavations, however, inscribed clay tablets and fragments of stone vases are still found, though the cuneiform characters upon them are of a very archaic type, and sometimes even retain their primitive pictorial forms.
IV. Chronology. The later chronology of Assyria has long been fixed, thanks to the lists of limmi, or archons, who gave their names in succession to their years of office. Several copies of these lists from the library of Nineveh are in existence, the earliest of which goes back to 911 B.C., while the latest comes down to the middle of the reign of Assur-bani-pal. The beginning of a king's reign is noted in the lists, and in some of them the chief events of the year are added to the name of its archon. Assyrian chronology is, therefore, certain from 911 B.C. to 666, and an eclipse of the sun which is stated to have been visible in the month Sivan, 763 B.C., is one that has been calculated to have taken place on the 15th of June of that year. The system of reckoning time by limmi was of Assyrian origin, and recent discoveries have made it clear that it went back to the first days of the monarchy. Even in the distant colony at Kara Euyuk near Kaisariyeh (Caesarea) in Cappadocia cuneiform tablets show that the Assyrian settlers used it in the 15th century B.C. In Babylonia a different system was adopted.
Here the years were dated by the chief events that distinguished them, as was also the case in Egypt in the epoch of the Old Empire. What the event should be was determined by the government and notified to all its officials; one of these notices, sent to the Babylonian officials in Canaan in the reign of Samsu-iluna, the son of Khammurabi, has been found in the Lebanon. A careful register of the dates was kept, divided into reigns, from which dynastic lists were afterwards compiled, giving the duration of each king's reign as well as that of the several dynasties. Two of these dynastic compilations have been discovered, unfortunately in an imperfect state. In addition to the chronological tables, works of a more ambitious and literary character were also attempted of the nature of chronicles. One of these is the so-called "Synchronous History of Assyria and Babylonia," consisting of brief notices, written by an Assyrian, of the occasions on which the kings of the two countries had entered into relation, hostile or otherwise, with one another; a second is the Babylonian Chronicle discovered by Dr Th. G. Pinches, which gave a synopsis of Babylonian history from a Babylonian point of view, and was compiled in the reign of Darius. It is interesting to note that its author says of the battle of Khalulē, which we know from the Assyrian inscriptions to have taken place in 691 or 690 B.C., that he does "not know the year" when it was fought: the records of Assyria had been already lost, even in Babylonia. The early existence of an accurate system of dating is not surprising; it was necessitated by the fact that Babylonia was a great trading community, in which it was not only needful that commercial and legal documents should be dated, but also that it should be possible to refer easily to the dates of former business transactions.
The Babylonian and Assyrian kings had consequently no difficulty in determining the age of their predecessors or of past events. Nabonidus (Nabunaid), who was more of an antiquarian than a politician, and spent his time in excavating the older temples of his country and ascertaining the names of their builders, tells us that Naram-Sin, the son of Sargon of Akkad, lived 3200 years before himself (i.e. 3750 B.C.), and Sagarakti-suryas 800 years; and we learn from Sennacherib that Shalmaneser I. reigned 600 years earlier, and that Tiglath-pileser I. fought with Merodach-nadin-akhi (Marduk-nadin-akhē) of Babylon 418 years before the campaign of 689 B.C.; while, according to Tiglath-pileser I., the high-priest Samas-Hadad, son of Isme-Dagon, built the temple of Anu and Hadad at Assur 701 years before his own time. Shalmaneser I. in his turn states that the high-priest Samas-Hadad, the son of Bel-kabi, governed Assur 580 years previously, and that 159 years before this the high-priest Erisum was reigning there.
The raid of the Elamite king Kutur-Nakhkhuntē is placed by Assur-bani-pal 1635 years before his own conquest of Susa, and Khammurabi is said by Nabonidus to have preceded Burna-buryas by 700 years.
V. History. - In the earliest period of which we have any Early Sumerian period. knowledge Babylonia was divided into several independent states, the limits of which were defined by canals and boundary stones. Its culture may be traced back to two main centres, Eridu in the south and Nippur in the north. But the streams of civilization which flowed from them were in strong contrast. El-lil, around whose sanctuary Nippur had grown up, was lord of the ghost-land, and his gifts to mankind were the spells and incantations which the spirits of good or evil were compelled to obey. The world which he governed was a mountain; the creatures whom he had made lived underground. Eridu, on the other hand, was the home of the culture-god Ea, the god of light and beneficence, who employed his divine wisdom in healing the sick and restoring the dead to life. Rising each morning from his palace in the deep, he had given man the arts and sciences, the industries and manners of civilization. To him was due the invention of writing, and the first law-book was his creation. Eridu had once been a seaport, and it was doubtless its foreign trade and intercourse with other lands which influenced the development of its culture.
Its cosmology was the result of its geographical position: the earth, it was believed, had grown out of the waters of the deep, like the ever-widening coast at the mouth of the Euphrates. Long before history begins, however, the cultures of Eridu and Nippur had coalesced. While Babylon seems to have been a colony of Eridu, Ur, the immediate neighbour of Eridu, must have been colonized from Nippur, since its moon-god was the son of El-lil of Nippur. But in the admixture of the two cultures the influence of Eridu was predominant.
We may call the early civilization of Babylonia Sumerian. The race who first developed it spoke an agglutinative language, and to them was due the invention of the pictorial hieroglyphs which became the running-hand or cuneiform characters of later days, as well as the foundation of the chief cities of the country and the elements of its civilization. The great engineering works by means of which the marshes were drained and the overflow of the rivers regulated by canals went back to Sumerian times, like a considerable part of later Babylonian religion and the beginnings of Babylonian law. Indeed Sumerian continued to be the language of religion and law long after the Semites had become the ruling race.