The plain of Babylonia was once wonderfully fertile. The alluvial soil, when properly irrigated, yielded abundant harvests of wheat, barley, and millet. The fruit of the date palm provided a nutritious food. Although there was no stone, clay was everywhere. Molded into brick and afterward dried in the sun, the clay became adobe, the cheapest building material imaginable., Nature, indeed, has done much for Babylonia. We can understand, therefore, why from prehistoric times people have been attracted to this region, and why it is here that we find another seat of early civilization.
The Babylonian plain (” land of Shinar “) included two districts : Sumer in the south, where the Sumerians settled, and Akkad in the north, where the Semites settled. Notice that the Persian Gulf formerly extended much farther north than now. Since 3000 B.C. it has been filled up by the rivers for about 15o miles and is therefore that much shorter at the present day. The valley of the Tigris-Euphrates, unlike that of the Nile was not isolated. It opened on extensive mountain and steppe regions, the home of hunting or of pastoral peoples. Their inroads and migrations into the fertile plain of the two rivers formed a constant feature of Babylonian history. The earliest inhabitants of the “land of Shinar,” about whom we know anything, were the Sumerians.
The Sumerian city of Ur is referred to in the Old Testament as the early home of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. Its site, a gigantic heap of ruins in the desert, was fixed about the middle of the 19th century, and since 1922 important excavations have been conducted there by archreologists of the British Museum. The city, which was sacred to the moon god Sin, seems to have been inhabited from a remote period, perhaps as early as 3500 B.C. The outstanding architectural feature was the ziggurat, or tower temple, the best preserved structure of the sort in Babylonia. It forms a solid mass of masonry, the core being of crude mud bricks, and the facing of burnt bricks set in bitumen, a kind of pitch. The tower rose in three stages and stood upon a high raised platform. The view shows the northeast face, with the converging flights of stairs.
They entered the country through the passes of the eastern or northern mountains, about four thousand years before Christ, gradually settled down to an agricultural life, and formed a number of independent city-states, each with its king and its patron god. Of their history we have little detailed knowledge. The political annals mainly tell of ceaseless struggles on the part of each little city-state to win dominion over its neighbors.