National Geographic : 1951 Jan
A Babylonian Procession Greets the New Year W ITH ASSYRIA crushed and Nine veh razed to the ground, Baby lon had at last the opportunity to regain the prominence and prestige that had been its lot more than a thousand years earlier, during the golden age of Hammurabi. Its fond est hopes were realized under the long and able rule of Nebuchadnezzar II. The Old Testament remembers this king as the ruthless conqueror who destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B. c. Babylonian history, however, cele brates him primarily as the con scientious administrator and tireless builder who made his capital the greatest city of that time in the world. To be sure, this brilliance was to be only temporary. Just as the end of Ashurbanipal's reign at Nineveh was separated by only a few years from that city's destruction, mainly at the hands of the Medes, so was Babylon's glory under Nebuchadnezzar to be followed by the triumph of another Iranian army, led this time by the great Persian king Cyrus, who oc cupied the ancient metropolis in 539 B. c. The Babylon whose praises Herod otus sang was the Babylon that Neb uchadnezzar had fashioned. Among its many outstanding attractions was the famous Procession Street which passed under the unforgettably im pressive Ishtar Gate. South of the Ishtar Gate, and along the west side of the great avenue, could be seen the fabulous "hanging" roof gardens and the seven-staged temple tower, the Tower of Babel, some three hun dred feet tall. The Procession Street got its name from the annual procession of the gods in connection with the New Year's festival. Assembled from all the provinces of the kingdom, the statues of the principal deities were first moved with solemn ceremony and in a rigidly observed order of preced ence through the Ishtar Gate and out to the northern outskirts of the city. There they were transferred to boats and taken to the Garden Temple up the river. Then followed the most dramatic part of the entire cycle, the consum mation of the sacred marriage of the principal god and goddess, on which depended the fertility and prosperity of the whole land. Our scene witnesses the joyous re turn of the procession, on the eleventh day of the month of Nisan, through the north side of the Ishtar Gate. The beautifully enameled decoration speaks for itself. The approximate dimensions of the north side of the Gate are 70 feet for the height of the towers and 35 feet for the height of the vaulted passageway; the width of the entrance was about 15 feet. The south end was considerably taller. The gods are placed in so-called carriage boats, each decorated with gold, lapis, and carnelian. On the first boat rides Marduk, attended by four priests, one at each canopy post. Behind the first boat is the royal chariot drawn by three steeds; on it ride the driver, the king, and the parasol holder. The second boat carries Marduk's consort, whose crown is surmounted by an eight-pointed star. Next comes a boat with the seated figure of the sun-god, Shamash. Hidden from view is a seemingly endless procession of other deities, whose name and rank are supplied by the texts. The illustration is based on the carvings from Malatya, far north of Babylon. Each major city celebrated the festival in much the same way.