National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine The Oriental Institute A Lowly Dog Left His Signature Beside That of a Powerful Assyrian Emperor Sargon (II) was the first Mesopotamian emperor to enjoy the fruits of the conquest of Israel. Khorsabad, his capital, has yielded many impressive sculptures and wall paintings (pages 43 and 98). It also contained many small inscriptions. One of these has an added, unscheduled touch. Before the clay was dried and baked some 2,670 years ago, a stray dog trod upon it, leaving his paw prints. The death of Alexander the Great in Baby lon wrote an end, at long last, not only to that city's hopes and ambitions but also to the individual existence of the country and to its age-old independent culture. Mesopota mia, as such, ceased to be. Its inner vitality, however, was far from spent. Sundry elements of the civilization that had grown up in Mesopotamia continued to live on and blend with other notable achievements of mankind, under Hellenism and its successors. And thus they survive to our own day, in common with other Meso potamian contributions that had found their way in the meantime to Palestine and Asia Minor, and thence had entered the main stream of western civilization. A Way of Life Endures What then are the enduring cultural values that make of Mesopotamian civilization a light that did not fail with the collapse of the polit ical structure? A full list would take us too far afield. Nor is an exhaustive tally needed. For nearly all of the region's achievements that time has been unable to obliterate are grouped into a harmonious pattern which adds up to the Mesopotamian way of life. Once that pattern has been outlined, the main details will fall readily into place. If civilization is largely a way of fixing man's place in Nature and society, how did the ancient Mesopotamians make these all important adjustments? Very briefly, Na ture was to the thoughtful inhabitant of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley a combination of ca pricious and violent forces, each personified by one or more gods. The gods' actions were unpredictable; hence life on earth was ever restless and uncertain. Man must be everlastingly at pains to please and appease the gods, so as to influence his own fate for the better. This requirement applied to the mightiest king no less than to his lowliest subject. The king was no supernatural being, as in Egypt, but a mortal, abject in his submission to the powers of Nature. To this extent, at least, all men were equal. The place of society in Nature becomes ulti mately a matter of the rights and responsi bilities of the individual-any individual. Here we have the essentials on which democ racy is founded.