Page 0249

249 BABYLONIA- THE COUNTRY.

The region of Tiberias and the sheet of water itself may claim considerable beauty-more

than any other region of Palestine. The traveler stands on the beach and sees around a

large circumference of the lake a well-defined, pebbly shore; before him a lake of bright,

pure water; around him a background of hills. Water-fowl on graceful wing alight here and

there, and the finny tribes break the surface in their sport.

A few miles north of Tiberias is Lake Merom, now known as the BAHR-EL-HULEH. It is nearly

circular in shape, and has an area of about twenty-five square miles. The country round

about is a marsh, covered with swamp-grass, reeds, and rushes. Through these the traveler

beats a difficult passage down to the lake. Wild fowl take to flight, and the water teems

with fishes.

Passing from the country of the Jordan and entering the valley of the Orontes, we find the

BAHR-EL-KADES, similar in all respects to the lakes Tiberias and Merom. The first is, like

the latter two, an expansion of the river to which it owes its supply. The area-of the

Kades lake is nearly the same as that of Merom, being about eight miles long by three in

width. There is a tradition extant that the lake in question owes its origin to a dam

which was built across the Orontes in. the times of Alexander the Great, and there are

some evidences that the basin has been artificially formed by the deflection of the river.

If such is, indeed, the origin of Bahr-el-Kades, the lake had no existence in the times of

Nebuchadnezzar--a thing quite possible.

About one hundred and fifteen miles north of the last mentioned body of water lies the Sea

of Antioch, the BAHR-EL-MELAK of modern geography. It lies nearly foursquare, with the

angles, like the corners of an Assyrian palace, facing the points of the compass. It is a

shallow lagoon, only a few feet in depth. The surrounding country is a marsh, like the

region about Merom. The banks are fringed around the whole circumference with a thick

growth of reeds, and the huts of fishermen

are seen here and there-as they have been from immemorial times.

Such were the general features of the great Empire of the Babylonians. To the east lay

Persia, between which and .the Chaldsean plains rose an almost impassable barrier of

mountains. After the conquest of Assyria by Media, the latter country bounded Babylonia on

the north, nor was there any physical obstacle to invasion from that direction. It will be

remembered, however, that from the circumstances attending the overthrow of Nineveh,

relations of amity were established between the Medes and the Babylonians, and were long

maintained. The danger, therefore, to which the kings of Babylon might have been exposed

from possible attack by their ambitious and warlike neighbors on the north was from the

first reduced to a minimum.

On the south of Babylonia lay ARABIA-a desert waste. Such was the country that no great

population could be maintained upon its treeless, blasted surface. For this reason the

Empire had little to fear from the Arabs, who could never muster in sufficient numbers to

menace a compact and powerful people like the Babylonians. On the extreme west of the

dominions of the great king spread the MEDITERRANEAN, from whose billows no threatening

foe was to be expected. On the south-west border, however, lay the land of the Pharaohs,

the most ancient and for a long time the most powerful of kingdoms. Egypt was the rival of

Babylonia. The monarchs of the two great nations eyed each other askance; and causes of

quarrel were found not a few. The remoteness of the two countries was the saving fact

which prevented almost continual war. If Egypt had the greater fertility, it was

restricted to narrow boundaries. The wider domains and larger and more warlike population

gave the advantage to the Babylonians, who waxed great and branched like a cedar, while

the declining energies of the Egyptians wasted to feebleness and extinction.