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A Library of Clay Tablets

With the death of Hammurabi, another desert tribe became the chief people in the land of the two rivers. As early as 3000 B.C. this tribe had settled on the Tigris, north of Babylon, at a place which they called Assur, in the land we call Assyria. Here they learnt town-life and writing from the men of Babylon, and they became the greatest soldiers of the ancient Middle East. They learnt the use of iron from the Hittites, and they were the first soldiers to have iron weapons.

After the fall of the Egyptian Empire, they had reached the Mediterranean. By 750 B.C. they had conquered Babylon, and they were ruling with an iron hand the whole of the Fertile Crescent between the mountains and the desert. Then they founded the greatest empire the world had yet seen.

They built a wonderful city at Nineveh. Their greatest king, Sennacherib (d. 681 B.C.), overran Palestine in the time of the prophet Isaiah, and destroyed Babylon. He surrounded Nineveh with massive walls, and he made a marvellous palace with huge staircases, and the entrance was formed by great arches, on either side of which were vast human-headed bulls made of alabaster.

The Assyrian rule was harsh and cruel. (See Old Testament: Isaiah v.) In 612 B.C. Nineveh was destroyed by men from the desert and men from the mountains, and this fall of the tyrants caused great rejoicings even from the Caspian to the Nile. (See Old Testament: Nahum ii.-iii) Today Nineveh is a vast heap of rubbish, where modern scholars have found a library of thousands of clay tablets which had been lost to sight for more than 2,000 years. The Chaldeans were the last of the desert people to rule Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar (604-561 B.C.) was their greatest king, and it was he who destroyed Jerusalem and carried off the Jews to Babylon. The magnificent "hanging gardens" of his great palace were regarded as one of the wonders of the world. Soon the great days of Babylon were over.