Page 0277


however, it should always be borne in mind that the office of the priest in most of the

nations of antiquity was that of a natural philosopher, rather than of a spiritual guide.

However these questions may be decided, there is no doubt that the philosophers and

priests of the Babylonian Empire exercised great influence in the affairs of the state.

They held high office. They were the king's advisers. They conducted the ceremonials of

religion. They were reputed to have the confidence of the gods. By degrees the priests

became a caste. They had their own rules and discipline. Their sons were brought up to

perform the duties of their fathers. Around this organization grew a certain body of

literature, in which were recorded the traditions of the past and the speculations of the

present. The history of the ancient Chaldaeans, chronological lists of kings real and

mythical, treatises on grammar and law and science-such were the materials of which the

Babylonian sages constructed their meager kingdom of letters.

The principal schools and seats of learning in Babylonia were at the old towns of Erech

and Borsippa. At these places a certain degree of mental activity and even audacity was

developed. There were scholastic schisms and disputatious factions suggestive of Greek

wrangling and mediaeval dogmatism. But under this superficial agitation, such as will

always exist when the human mind undertakes to drag Nature up to the temple of Truth,

there was a vast deal of practical scientific knowledge. Mathematics, astronomy, and other

branches of natural philosophy were cultivated with such success as to leave a trace on

all subsequent history.

As already indicated the two principal pursuits of the Babylonian common folk were

agriculture and commerce; after these, manufactures loomed into much importance. Of the

kinds of agricultural work and the methods of tillage not much is known beyond what has

already been presented in the history of Chaldaea. The products were the same, and the

cultivation perhaps identical.

From Babylon the lines of commerce stretched out to nearly all the countries of the known

world. The merchants, resident and traveling, constituted a large percent of the

population. Their energy and success are attested by tradition and history. They were both

exporters and importers; and the shops of Babylon displayed an array of goods from almost

every land. Not only by land, but by sea as well, was this commerce carried on. Around the

shores of the Persian Gulf, and as ambition and cupidity increased, along the distant

coasts of Africa and India, the ships of the merchant princes of the great city sailed

with their cargoes and returned laden. Babylon was called the "City of Merchants," and the

Babylonians in the army of Xerxes were known as the "Navigators of Ships."

The leading articles of merchandise were wool, .linen, cotton, and the fabrics made there

from. The precious metals were imported from distant mines. From Phoenicia were brought

tin and copper. Gold and ivory were gathered from Arabia; silk, from India. Media

contributed wool and several varieties of precious stones. From Upper Mesopotamia were

imported-by way of the great rivers-wine and gems, emery and building stone. With these

imports came foreign merchants as well as native traders-in the shops of Babylon was heard

the jargon of tongues and the noise of them who sell and get gain.

The staple of the Babylonian table was the dried fruit of the date tree; this for the

common peasants. Herodotus declares it to have been the bread of the people. The dates

were gathered when ripe, and were pressed into cakes in the same manner in which they are

prepared at the present time. The goat furnished milk and cheese. The sap and pith of the

palm yielded, under fermentation, the palm-wine which was served on the table. Of

vegetables the chief were cucumbers and melons. Of the oddities of the Babylonian board

may be mentioned gourds and pickled bats-the latter especially being a dish which could

hardly excite the appetite of a modern epicure. The markets of the country always abounded

in fish. It constituted one