Babylonia and Assyria

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During the period when they were competing for dominance in Iraq, the neighbouring sister-states of Babylonia and Assyria differed essentially in character. Babylonia was a land of merchants and agriculturists; Assyria became an organized military power,[1] with an autocratic king as its supreme ruler,[2] whilst in Babylonia, the priesthood was the highest authority. The Assyrian dynasties were founded by successful generals; in Babylonia it was the priests whom a revolution raised to the throne. The Babylonian king remained a priest to the last, under the control of a powerful hierarchy; the Assyrian king was the autocratic general of an army, at whose side stood in early days a feudal nobility, aided from the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III onwards by an elaborate bureaucracy. His palace was more sumptuous than the temples of the gods, from which it was quite separate. The people were soldiers and little else; even the sailor belonged to the state. Hence the sudden collapse of Assyria when drained of its fighting population in the age of Ashurbanipal.

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Social life in Babylonia and Assyria

The priesthood of Babylonia was divided into a great number of classes, including a medicinal class. It had a counterpart in the military aristocracy of Assyria. The army was raised by conscription; the concept of a standing army seems to have been first organized in Assyria. Successive improvements were introduced into it by the kings of the second Assyrian empire; chariots were replaced by cavalry; Tiglath-Pileser III gave the riders saddles and high boots, and Sennacherib created a corps of slingers. Tents, baggage-carts and battering-rams were carried on the march, and the tartan or commander-in-chief ranked next to the king.

In both countries, there was a large body of slaves; above them came the agriculturists and commercial classes, who were comparatively few in Assyria. The scribes, on the other hand, were a more important class in Assyria than in Babylonia. Both countries had their artisans, money-lenders, poets and musicians.

The houses of the people contained little furniture; chairs, tables and couches were used, and Ashurbanipal is represented as reclining on his couch at a meal while his wife sits on a chair beside him.

After death, the body was usually partially cremated, along with the objects that had been buried with it. The cemetery adjoined the city of the living, and was laid out in streets through which ran rivulets of "pure" water. Many of the tombs, built of crude brick, were provided with gardens, and there were shelves or altars with offerings to the dead. As the older tombs decayed, a fresh city of tombs arose on their ruins. It is remarkable that thus far, no cemetery older than the Seleucid or Parthian period has been found in Assyria.

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