Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nabonidus, Ancient Babylonia's Last King : End of the Chaldean Empire

Esagila Temple Complex : Ziggurat commonly referred to as Tower of Babel on left and temple of Bel-Marduk on right

A contributing factor in the Persian defeat of Babylon was likely Nabonidus's undeniable unpopularity. While researching my current historical I learned that one of Nabonidus's own governors conspired against him and actually joined the Persian army in their attack on Babylon. This cropped up in almost every place I looked yet nowhere could I learn the why of it. Why would a high ranking official betray his king? Finally, in an obscure text that unfortunately burned in our house fire a few years ago, I learned that either Nabonidus or Belshazzar had killed the governor's son. The circumstances were not given, just the fact of his death at the hands of the king. Suddenly it made perfect sense.

Moon god 'Sin'  generally represented as an old man with a flowing beard and his crescent moon symbol - from

Many of Nabonidus's decisions did not endear him to the populace either. He threatened to elevate the moon god, Sin, to a place of pre-eminence, removing Bel-Marduk, the supreme god of the land and patron god of Babylon, from his own temple with the intention of installing Sin in his place.

Excavations of Temple of Bel at Nippur -

Nabonidus left Babylon and remained in Tema for ten years. During his absence from Babylon the annual New Year Festival, necessary for the continued prosperity of both the city and the empire, could not be held. The king was supposed to enter the temple of Bel-Marduk to take part in a ritual in which he would declare that he had cared for Babylon, not neglected the Esagila temple complex nor forgotten its ritual, etc. Unfortunately, Nabonidus had left Babylon, had neglected Esagila and according to cuneiform texts, mixed up the rituals, confused the oracles and uttered unnamed 'blasphemies'.  His contemporaries considered him dangerous to the stability of the country and unfit to be ruler of Babylonia.

As Cyrus and the Persian army advanced into Babylonia, the gods were brought to Babylon, ostensibly for protection. However, Nabonidus ensured the loyalty of the Babylonian cities by keeping their gods in Babylon. A city's loyalty to Nabonidus was guaranteed as long as its gods were held hostage to him in the capital. Put another way: if a god showed support for Nabonidus by fleeing to Babylon, his priests (no matter who appointed them) could not be true to the god and at the same time support Cyrus. A city could not switch outward allegiance from Nabonidus to Cyrus as long as Nobonidus held its gods in his power. (1) Some cities saw through this subterfuge and refused to relinquish their gods.

All in all it is small wonder that the Babylonians may have given little resistance to the incursion of the Persian army.
(1) The Priest and the Great King by Lisbeth S. Fried
Citizens gathering outside Ishtar Gate for procession to Akitu festival house

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Spencer's First Christmas....With Us

When you buy a shelter dog you never know what you're getting. You don't know who their previous owners were or how they were treated. You don't know if they've had a good life or a bad life. You don't know what will trigger a panic attack that sends them running for cover.

Spencer is a shelter dog. We got him this past May. He was found wandering the streets and in need of urgent veterinary care. The day we went to the shelter to look at dogs he'd just completed a course of antibiotics and was cleared for adoption. They judged his age to be around five years old and his breed is mixed, as you can tell - miniature poodle/cocker spaniel.

Spencer fits into our family perfectly. Introducing him to a harness and leash had him wiggling with excitement so we knew he was used to going for walks. He'd never seen a dog door before but, with some assistance, had it down pat after only a few tries. We weren't sure whether or not he'd ever been to a groomer and the groomer come to our home so we could be on hand in case she got into trouble. He was as good as gold, so another tick mark. He'd obviously been to the groomers.

The longer we had him the more we wondered what had happened to him. He's well-behaved and house trained, likes to go for walks and loves people. We're sure someone misses him. Not that we'd give him up now. We figure he probably got loose when tourists were passing through and they couldn't find him so had to leave without him.

When the Christmas season arrived and we took the tree out of the shed (I have asthma so can't have a real tree), we weren't sure how he'd react to it. Some dogs are petrified at this big thing looming high over their heads, some attack it or bark at it. We put it up, got the lights working and draped the skirt around the bottom, all without incident. Spencer just watched. When it was time to start hanging the decorations we realized that not only was he not the least bit apprehensive, he figured it was his. He grabbed his toys and brought them under the tree, where they stayed until we screwed things up for him by laying presents under it.

Now that the decorations are up and there are presents under the tree, he's careful not to step on the gifts. But he races around just under the edges when he's playing and sets the balls swinging and the lights twinkling and rocking.

Yup, Spencer loves Christmas just as much as we do.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Babylon and Babylonia : Has Babylon Always Existed?

A couple of days ago someone asked this question on my post, Writing and Scribes in Ancient Babylon.

Babylon & Babylonia. Has Babylon always existed or did it come out of nowhere when Hammurabi came to rule it? And was it here Babylonia happened? When was Babylon established and when was Babylonian established?

Hammurabi's Babylonia - from Wikimedia Commons

The city of Babylon, according to the Bible, was established after the flood by Noah's great grandson, Nimrod. Genesis 10:10 says about Nimrod, "And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel (Babylon), and Erech (Uruk) and Accad (Akkad) and Calneh, in the land of Shinar."

There is little evidence that Babylon was much more than a small town before the Old Babylonian period (approx. 2000BC - 1600BC) . Sargon of Akkad ruled the whole Euphrates Valley between 2334BC and 2279BC. Texts say he enlarged Babylon and built a palace there.

It was likely only after the collapse of the UrIII empire ( 2112BC - 2004BC) that Babylon became a city. An Amorite chief called Sumu-abum (1894BC - 1881 BC) built the city walls and fortifications and made it the center for his operations. He founded a dynasty which ruled Babylon for 300 years. His aim was to gain control over cities in the immediate neighborhood but the real building program that was to propel Babylon into a major city was begun by Sin-muballit (1812BC - 1793BC) and then, most notably, by his son Hamurabi (1792BC - 1750BC).

Residents visit ancient city of Babylon near Hilla - from 

Geographically, Babylonia refers to the southern portion of the modern country of Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, encompassing the land roughly between Baghdad (close to the site of ancient Opis) at its northern limit and the head of the Arabian Gulf at its southern limit.

Historically, the term Babylonia reflects a relatively late unification of the country under Babylon's First Dynasty (1894BC - 1595BC), although the word itself is of later origin.  You might say Babylonia became an independent state around 1894BC with Babylon as its capital city during Sumu-abum's reign. From very early times, the northern part of Babylonia was referred to as Akkad and the southern as Sumer.

As to Babylonian, if you're referring to the Babylonian language, it was a dialect of Akkadian, an extinct Semitic language replaced by Aramaic some time during the 8th century BC.

Aeriel view of ancient city of Babylon - from

Hope that's been of some help to you, Rose.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Losing the Christmas Tree Wars

This post is a continuation of the December 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month's prompt is "250-Word Story Chain, or, The Blog-O-Phone."

Snowy Road in Forest -

Wiggins ignored the loud 'whump' behind him and continued to give chase, brandishing his empty gas can.

"Nussbaum! Ostafinski! Just wait 'til I get my hands on you!"

Cal decapitated the snowman with a single swing of his axe and leaped over the white heap, Alan close on his heels.

"Stop. Following. Me." Cal panted. "Split up. Can't chase us both."

Alan veered off, stumbled and fell face first into a snowdrift.
"All I wanted was a tree." he moaned, clawing snow out of his eyes and nose.

Cal wove his way around tree after tree, going deeper into the woods. A quick glance back confirmed Wiggins still doggedly floundering in his footsteps.Why did that lousy Wiggins have to follow him?

Cal ducked under a densely branched tree and started backing out of sight. He was about to congratulate himself on outsmarting Wiggins when a low rumbling growl froze him in his tracks.

The other participating bloggers are:

orion_mk3  -
Ralph Pines -
Angyl78 -
MsLaylaCakes -
meowzbark -
BBBurke -

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When Life Paralyzes Creativity

I'd planned to write a rather fun post about dragons and ancient Babylon but my heart just isn't in it. My cousin, who usually paints in oils but did this water color for us last year, is dying of cancer and her days are fast coming to an end. I'm heartbroken. Although other cousins have been in and out of my life over the years, Janet and I have stayed in touch and visits were special times.

She had a big, big heart. When her own mother passed away and she inherited the family home she took in all the strays - people who had nowhere else to go or not enough money to pay rent, had health problems or mental problems. In all the years she housed sometimes dangerous folks, not one of them stole from her or injured her physically, as many of them easily could have done.

Earlier in the year she was diagnosed with liver cancer. After the normal round of chemotherapy she was put on a new treatment option in June. It promised to give her six more good months and it did, practically to the day.
But she won't be with us for much longer and in fact, isn't with us now. Her body is still functioning but her mind is gone. Thankfully she has no pain as they have her constantly on morphine to combat the pain she's unable to articulate.

She will likely be gone before Christmas which is hard to think about. I'm so glad I have this horse painting as well as one she's done of a wolf. She loved animals and was particularly fond of these big guys of ours. It will be a good memory.

I'll post again when I can but right now I need a bit of time to grieve.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christmas Tree Wars!

Here is the third scene of the December 2013 blog chain at Absolute Write. This month's prompt is "250-word story chain" or "the blog-o-phone".
The opening scene, Into Mossfallow Wood, is written by orion_mk3. The second scene,  Into the Woods, is written by Ralph Pines.

"Hey! Ozzy! Waddya think yer doin?"
Carl Ostafinski bore down on the much smaller man wielding his axe like a medieval claymore. Rooster style, he shoved his size XXX chest against Oswald's. "I saw that tree first and it's mine!"

Ozzy stuck out his chin and got in Carl's face.
"I don't think so Ostafinski."
"Oh yeah?" Carl bellowed.

Carl shoved and held Ozzy against the disputed tree with the head of his axe. "Look Ozzy. If you don't back away from my tree you'll be sorry."
Ozzy snorted. "What're you gonna do about it?"
"You know where I work dontcha?" Carl challenged.
"Doll assembly line. Big deal." Grinning, Ozzy added. "You gonna chuck Barbies at me?"
"No." Carl paused for dramatic effect. "Snowmen."

Ozzy blanched. Now some people were petrified of clowns but Ozzy - snowmen gave him the heebyjeebies. Those phoney stick smiles and cold coal eyes creeped him out. The toy snowmen Carl made were the worst. Their high-pitched maniacal laughter sent chills down his spine.

Ozzy stepped away from the tree and swallowed hard. "It's all yours." he said in strangled tones.
Carl grunted. "I thought so."
He swung the enormous axe with all his strength and sunk it deep into the trunk. The huge tree shuddered and the two men stared upward at the crashing sound that came closer and closer as tree branches began falling all around them.
Carl pointed, eyes wide and staring. "Look! It can't be!"
Further scenes are or will be written by the following bloggers:
Note: maniacal snowmen courtesy of my daughter and son-in-law

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ancient Babylon: A Hedonistic Society

The idea of ancient Babylonians being a society of pleasure seekers, devoted primarily to sensual self-indulgence, appears well supported.

One of the principal deities of ancient Babylon was the goddess Ishtar who presided over all aspects of sexuality. According to a line in an ancient Mesopotamian poem, the Erra Epic, Ishtar's sacred prostitutes 'frequently do abominable acts to please the heart of Ishtar'. A hymn dedicated to Ishtar declares her to be the supreme Woman, beautiful, desirable, 'with a fondness for sensual pleasures and delights, full of seduction, charm and voluptuousness'. Licentious activities were common in and around her temple precincts and such 'worship' of Ishtar was encouraged. The goddess is usually pictured naked, supporting her breasts with her hands.

Goddess Ishtar 

That the ancient Babylonians saw nothing unusual about the shocking activity of Ishtar's prostitutes, transsexual performers and acts of more or less public copulation, puzzled me a fair bit. It seemed like an almost frenzied attempt to wring as much physical pleasure from life as they could. But why? A bit of research into the society provided possibilities.
First of all, they worshipped a vast number of gods who created man to take over their work so the gods could rest. The gods are almost morbidly ill-tempered, are incapable of gathering together without drinking excess..are violent, gluttonous, uncontrolled, faithless and vindictive.(1)
A person's well-being was tied to the correct worship of these fickle deities and they were lousy role models.
                                  Tiamet, dragon goddess
Secondly, the Babylonians believed their world to be populated by vast numbers of ghosts and demons. Demons were invisible enemies, deformed monsters that compassed them on every side, lying wait for them by day and night, for if a person angered his god through disobedience he would be without any protection from them. There were incubi and succubi whose embraces no man could escape, she-demons who prevented children from being born or killed new-borns, or the 'evil eye' under the influence of which nothing could prosper. There were also spirits of those whose lives had been unhappy, who had been cheated of an expectation, died a violent death or had not enjoyed the happiness they craved. They were much feared as dangerous, vengeful ghosts who haunted the living.
                                        Humbaba, Babylonian demon

Thirdly, the gods reserved eternal life for themselves and decreed death to be man's fate. The Babylonians had no hope of anything being better in the afterlife, no matter how well they'd behaved in this life. Man had to enjoy life on earth while it lasted since life in the underworld was, for the most part, miserable for all. The realm of the dead was described as a dreary place:

"To the gloomy house, seat of the netherworld,
To the house which none leaves who enters,
To the road whose journey has no return,
To the house whose entrants are bereft of light,
Where dust is their sustenance and clay their food,
They see no light but dwell in darkness." (2)

The most they could expect in death was a bit to eat and drink in this dark place, provided by family members at their gravesite. Food was set near the burying place and liquids were poured through a pipe in the ground. The Babylonians were in constant dread of angering a host of unstable gods and being harassed by multitudes of demons and ghosts relentlessly dogging their footsteps. I think it's fairly easy to understand why they might prefer to live by a motto similar to Eat, Drink and Be Merry, For Tomorrow We Die!

Ereshkigal, goddess of underworld and sister of Ishtar

(1) excerpted from Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria by Georges Contenau 
(2) excerpted from Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia by Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Miranda's Folly: Part 2 - Steampunk Short Story continued

It has been suggested that I continue Miranda's misadventure with the bathing machine's 'spatial dilation portal' so here it is. You'll want to read the first part, well, first, because it won't make much sense otherwise. 

Victorian Attic by OokamiKasumi

Although her bedroom was comfortably situated on the first floor, Miranda often avoided Madam by retreating to the privacy of the attic. And she needed time alone, time to consider the difficult position in which she found herself.

Think Miranda, think. If Madam Hamilton questioned her, what should she say? What could she say? It took her well nigh half the night to settle on a course of  action but when summoned by the bell the following morning she'd settled on an excellent response.

Tyntesfield servants bells

Miranda carried the hot tea into Madam's bedroom carefully. She used the gilt tray specially set aside for the purpose and was ruefully reminded that she was as skinny as a barber's cat with her small bosom. After all, didn't Mrs. Chatterton, unknowingly implicated in Miranda's scheme, boast such an enormous bosom that she could carry two cups of tea upon them without spilling a drop?

Miranda opened the heavy drapes to let in a little sunshine then jostled Madam to awaken her. Her mistress stirred, yawned and sat up, accepting the tea without a word. While Madam sipped the hot brew, Miranda laid out her morning clothes and waited to see if anything would be said about yesterday's bathing incident. She didn't have long to wait.
"Miranda, I have a somewhat indelicate question for you." Madam Hamilton began. "It seems that a woman wearing a bathing dress identical to my own - which is impossible as you well know - appeared suddenly near the gentlemen's swimming area. Miranda, I am forced to ask.  Did you use Mr. Pastorini's portal?"
Miranda was ready and quickly whipped up a few tears as she dropped her head and nodded in as miserable a fashion as she could manage.
"Oh, Madam," she wailed, quite impressed with the pitiful sound of her own voice. "Oh, I did. I did. I am horribly sorry for my brazen act but oh, Madam, I was in such a state I hardly knew what I was doing."
She peeked up through her lashes to gauge Madam Hamilton's reaction. Satisfied, she went on, keeping her tone bleak.
"It's my Wendell, madam. We are engaged and well, I am afraid he may be playing me for a fool with a ladies' maid in service at Chatterton House."
Madam gasped. "Mary Chatterton's, in the Queen's Hotel alleyway?"
"Yes, Madam, the very one."
Madam Hamilton frowned. "But what has that to do with ...?"
"Well, Madam." Miranda plunged on, warming to her subject. "I recognized Wendell farther along the beach drawing up horses behind Mrs. Chatterton's bathing machine - you know, the one with the pink door? I wanted to see if he was there with her and thought I might catch them out while Mrs. Chatterton was swimming. But I couldn't think how I could do that and yet remain unseen. Then it came to me. If I used the portal - I know it was wrong of me but I was desperate - I could turn the dial a bit more and be instantly farther along the beach out in the sea, close enough to get a proper view and judge for myself if he was being true to me or not."
Madam raised her eyebrows in understanding and motioned for Miranda to continue, thankfully asking nothing further about the nonexistent Wendell.
"But it all went wrong. I turned the dial too far and the portal shot me out as far along as the gentlemen's beach. Once I realized my appalling mistake I instantly pressed the dial to return through the portal into the bathing house."
"And it worked? You came back unhurt?"
"Yes, Madam. Well, not quite, Madam. I had gone out so far that my return was quite brutal and the portal  threw me against the back wall with terrific force. I was severely bruised." 
"I see," Madam said slowly, and then, "You could show me how you turned the dial? So that I don't repeat your error." she added quickly.
Miranda brightened. "Oh yes, Madam. To be sure, Madam."
The next time Miranda accompanied Madam Hamilton to the beach, wisps of steam drifted gently from the brass tubes of the portal's vent holes and she was surprised to see the back wall of the bathing machine heavily reinforced with layers of padding.
Her mistress had the good grace to redden slightly, then recovered and said in as severe a tone as any good teacher instructing a dull pupil. "Spatial dilation is an imprecise science, Miranda, and mistakes must be anticipated. Now, show me the dial position on the circlet."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tower of Babel in Babylon : What Did it Really Look Like?

The precise age of the original Tower of Babel is unknown. When Gertrude Bell visited the archaeological site of Babylon in 1914 she wrote in her diary, "So across the Sahn to the Tower of Babel. We sat on the edge of the pit, looked at it - Etemenanki. The outer brick is all gone - some robbed by Alexander who piled up Hommera with it. They have found half a cylinder here and the other half in Hommera. The sundried brick core is there in part. Within it a core not yet of bricks. I call that old said K (Koldewey, archaeologist responsible for many of the discoveries in Babylon) How old? said I. 10,000, 20,000 years how can I tell. It is one of the oldest temples in Babylonia."

Depictions for The Tower of Babel are similar to the one painted above by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in 1563 - a cone-shaped structure with each tier of reducing size as you ascend. But did it really look like that fanciful creation ? As my novel-in-progress is set in ancient Babylon I looked at what evidence I could find and this is what I learned.

Founder of the neo-Babylonian dynasty, Nabopolassar (625-605 BC) restored the Babylonian tower during his reign. "The lord Marduk commanded me concerning Etemenanki, the staged tower of Babylon, which before my time had become dilapidated and ruinous, that I should make its foundations secure in the bosom of the nether world, and make its summit like the heavens."

A tablet giving the dimensions of Etemenanki, the ziggurat, dates from 'the twenty-sixth day of the ninth month of Seleucus king' , being December 12, 229 BC. After careful study by expert Assyriologists, the cryptic language was interpreted and the first storey calculated to be 295 feet long by 295 feet wide by108 feet high; a perfect square with each of the stages continuing on up in perfect squares of diminishing size.

(aerial view of Babylon - ruin of Etemenanki below arrow - Saddam Hussein's modern palace on top left circular mound, directly across from partial restoration of Nebuchadrezzar's ancient palace complex)

I couldn't think how to envision the actual scale of the thing so I tried to consider it in terms of an average house. The base of the tower was 87,025 square feet so using a 1,500 square foot house as a template you could fit 58 houses in the area taken up by the first stage of the structure. The second level would contain 43 houses, the third 26 houses, the fourth 19 houses, the fifth 12 houses, the sixth 8 houses, the seventh around 4 houses.

 The first stage rose to a height of approximately 5 houses and all seven stages added up to a height of 295 feet, just 5 feet shy of the height of the city walls. However, that was still roughly the height of a 15 storey building. But there was an eighth level without any recorded measurements that would have been the crowning glory of the edifice, a great temple richly appointed in gold.

(closer view of ruins. projecting arm likely the indentation left by a walled road leading up to the structure, probably a ramp-like stairway given the top of the first tier was at a height of about 5 houses! And no elevators.)

But was their interpretation of the measurements correct? Herodotus viewed the ziggurat tower in about 450 BC and he said it was "a solid tower measuring a furlong both in length and breadth, and on this tower another tower has been erected, and another again upon this, and so on up to the number of eight towers. An ascent to these has been built running outside round about all the towers: and when one reaches about the middle of the ascent one finds a stopping-place and seats to rest upon, on which those who ascend sit down and rest:"

Now a furlong is 660 feet, not 295 feet, or about an eighth of a mile so Herodotus thought it was much larger. Still square though. Who is correct? We may never know. All in all the thing was massive and easily visible over the city walls by any traveler approaching Babylon. Pretty cool.

Above is the ruin of The Tower of Babel as seen from ground level. Not very impressive. The rubble at the bottom right could be the remains of a walled walkway leading into the tower's precinct or, if Herodotus is to be believed, possibly into an enormous temple that enclosed the tower, but don't quote me on that.

(Ur Ziggurat)

The ziggurat at Ur is probably closer to the design of The Tower of Babel, Etemenanki. While only the foundation survived, Saddam Hussein partially reconstructed its fa├žade and staircase. Hussein's intention was to rebuild it with three terrace levels but it was never completed. You can see the original ruin projecting out of the rebuilt portion at the top. The Ur ziggurat's foundation was only 31,500 square feet - enormous but less than half the footprint of the Babylon tower. It is speculated that it would have been around 100 feet high so again, not nearly as lofty.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Did They Exist?

digital art by Sergy Lekhachev

Elevated gardens probably did, but likely not in Babylon. Too bad because I wanted to include the gardens in the novel I'm currently writing set in ancient Babylon. Sadly research not only confirms the things we've always 'known', it also destroys some of our romantic notions.

Early in my research I came across the diary of Gertrude Bell, a British writer and adventurer who accompanied Robert Johann Koldewey, the German architect and archaeologist who became famous for excavating much of Babylon.

On March 31, 1914 Gertrude wrote, "So we went to Esagila (temple of Marduk, patron god of Babylon). The outer lines of the temple have been found by subterranean diggings. They have left the inner cella which K (Koldewey) wants to dig out completely. So down to the Parthian houses which he would very much like to dig. The very long colonnade is possibly an agora. The Hanging Gardens were built by Nebuch. for a Susan. wife to remind her of her mountains! But the gardens were not planted high up. They were low down beneath the vaulted substructures. It is still possible that they may be found in the Babil mound."

supposed site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - photo by Raymond Kleboe

Although a vaulted structure was found at the northeast corner of Babylon's massive southern palace, its fourteen large rooms and thick walls probably housed a royal storehouse. A Babylonian ration list was found within the structure, confirming its logical use. Instead of being the underpinnings for the magnificent Hanging Gardens it was likely merely a giant storage facility.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, supposedly visited Babylon around 450BC but in describing all the amazing buildings and sites of the city he did not mention the Hanging Gardens, which according to legend would have been magnificent and higher than the city's soaring walls.

So, how did the story start? Where did it come from? Stephanie Dalley in The Mystery of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced, posited an interesting theory. That Josephus, the first century historian, may have been misled by a novelist! How cool. A writer living in south-west Turkey in the first century wrote a novel containing the theme of a woman abroad, crossing the Euphrates from the west and homesick for her native land.

The theme of homesickness is unknown and unlikely in Babylonian and Assyrian literature and Babylonian gardens were described as being set in flat areas. However, the description does match a type of elevated garden made in Nineveh at the palace of Khorsabad by Sargon II, father of Sennacherib. He said,  "a high garden imitating the Amanus mountains in which are planted all the aromatic trees of northern Syria, all the mountain's fruits, I created alongside (Khorsabad)"

A stone panel carved in bas-relief and found in the palace of Sargon at Khorsabad, shows such a garden, possibly even the very garden he described. Here it is below. The carving is difficult to make out so I've also included a drawing I found that makes it easier to see and enjoy.

But what did Nebuchadnezzar have to say about it? Nothing. Nothing at all. Found by Sir Harford Jones Bridges in Babylon, an engraved column of black basalt bears Nebuchadnezzar's own description of his building efforts. And while he mentions the walls he rebuilt and fortified, the gates, temples, shrines and palaces he built, there is no mention of any garden. Discovered to the north of the palace was an enormous elevated reservoir. For the garden? Evidently not. After detailing his rebuilding of the palace of My Royalty for the land of Babylon he simply says, and a depth of waters I collected.

Below is a photo of a vaulted water conduit next to the palace taken by Gertrude Bell while she was in Babylon. This conduit likely carried the water from the reservoir into the palace buildings.


The legend of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is no doubt untrue, as it is unsupported by archaeology or the kings of Sumer and Akkad. Disappointing but I guess it's better to get your facts straight before attempting to write historical fiction. Fictitious characters are fine, fictitious history not so much.

Friday, November 1, 2013


I'd become a pretty good thief. I started slow, testing the waters so to speak. A wallet here, a wallet there. At parties small valuables disappeared but I was never suspected. It wasn't that I needed the money for myself. It was my wife. Now there was a girl who needed money, and lots of it. Magenta. Who names their kid Magenta?

Don't get me wrong. She was a beautiful woman and beautiful women are high maintenance. I just hadn't realized how high. I made a fairly decent living but she was draining me pretty good. Once the bloom was off the rose I realized I'd made a huge mistake.

But to satisfy Magenta's demands and keep us out of the poorhouse, my life of crime began. And I would have gladly continued if she'd spent the money on something normal - clothes, jewellery, even cosmetic surgery. But no. She had this ridiculous obsession with unicorns. A unicorn picture hung over our bed. I had to sleep under that thing.

image from  

She painted her nails with something called 'unicorn droppings'.

                                   image from

She chewed 'unicorn poop' bubblegum. She doesn't even like gum.

                                  image from

  When she started on the statuary though, I knew I was in trouble.
                                 image from
"Dahling", she said. She never pronounced the 'r'. I don't know why.
"Dahling", she said, "I simply must have this. The garden absolutely cries out for such a magnificent beast. Don't you think?"
I didn't think but I plastered a brave smile on my face and vowed that this was going to be over - and soon. I just couldn't take it any longer. So I upped my game, began hitting jewellery stores. Magenta had no idea that while I dutifully doled out money so she could buy her crazy unicorn stuff, I was also accumulating a small fortune for myself. I fantasized about leaving her high and dry with her bizarre unicorn collection.
And my plan was going great. I had a pile of cash and unset gems crammed into my office wall safe. I could taste freedom. I was daydreaming in front of the open safe when the unthinkable happened. Magenta walked into my office. She never came into my office. She said watching me work made her head hurt.
"What do you have there, dahling?" Magenta's voice was smooth and honeyed.
I was speechless. Horrified.
She reached out a spotty-nailed hand to the gemstones spilling from the safe's top shelf. "Wasn't Braemar's Jewellers robbed last night?" she asked, idly sifting through the colorful, glittering pile.
I'd forgotten how to put words together and I gibbered unintelligibly.
She looked at me. "What did you say? What are these?"
At last I found my voice and blurted out."They're unicorn droppings."
I grinned foolishly. Who would ever buy that? What an idiot.
Dumbly I watched as Magenta scooped up a handful of gems. I followed her out the door and into our bedroom where she crossed to the bedside table sitting under that stupid unicorn picture. She opened her purse, exposing a short stack of twenty dollar bills, then sprinkled the stones over the cash.
I was confused and I guess it showed on my face for Magenta gave me a slow, long-lashed wink and said, "Fertilizer, dahling. Fertilizer."    
This short story is in response to the Absolute Write November blog chain prompt 'unicorn droppings'.
My fellow participants are:

BB Burke -
julzperri -


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Recently, after reading Jenny Schoberl's blog post at Holdin' Holden about her kids' restaurant antics I started thinking about my own children in similar situations. Our daughter, Kimberly, loved going to restaurants. Mind you, something must have gone very wrong when her bladder was forming because it seemed to be the size of a grape seed. Eventually I became suspicious of the never ending trips to the bathroom when the four year old spent more time dawdling past tables smiling and flirting with male patrons than she did using the facilities.

At six years old,our son Ryan was an extremely sophisticated diner. While his sister ordered regular kid meals like cheese pizza or fries and a glass of pop, Ryan eschewed such pedestrian fare in favor of Szechuan shrimp and bottled mineral water. Imagine his disgust then, when we went for a quick bite at a local fast food restaurant with only burgers on the menu. He detailed his choice explicitly, what he wanted and what he didn't want.

We no sooner sat down to eat in the crowded restaurant than Ryan whipped the top bun off of his burger, pointed an accusing finger and yelled loud enough to be heard a mile away. "What is that?"
Conversation stopped and all eyes turned our way. What horrors lay beneath that innocent-looking bun? Mouse terds? Giant spider legs? Nope. A slice of tomato. Did I say? He loathed tomatoes.


Restaurants weren't the only public places for shaming one's parents. No, not by a long shot. Airports were great too. Our family was at Vancouver International Airport - can't remember if we were waiting to board or if we were meeting someone - I've tried to forget. Anyway, my husband and I and the kids were milling around to pass the time. How can I phrase this in a politically correct way? (We Canadians are all about political correctness - well most of us anyway) There was a midget. He seemed to be showcased. He was standing in the middle of a large area with plenty of space around him, the rest of the terminal occupants on the fringes. When I saw him I prayed Ryan would not. No such luck. Ryan zeroed in on him at once. As soon as I noticed Ryan notice him and make a move toward him I began slowly backing away. I suspected what was coming and I didn't want anyone to realize he belonged to me. I'd seen that look on his face before. Quizzical, on the verge of speech. Hands on hips, Ryan circled the small man a couple of times and then addressed him directly, once again in that voice that carries well beyond what was required for everyone in the vicinity to hear him.
"Do you know you're short?"

Now generally little people are used to the curiosity of children but this guy was not amused in the least. His travelling companion was however and roared with laughter, making things worse. My husband rushed over, swept up Ryan and apologized then came back to me and whispered. "Chicken." He'd seen me saunter for cover.

One should be safe from embarrassment in your own home shouldn't you? Home sweet home. Where you're protected and loved and sheltered. Hah. We were enjoying an after dinner cup of coffee with some friends we hadn't seen in a while, reminiscing and laughing, when Ryan came into the room. I looked at him. He was looking at them. With that look. Great. What was it this time? Ryan walked right up to our friends. Not shy, our boy. While they waited politely for him to speak, he inspected first one and then the other then opened his mouth and out came, "Are you guys ever fat!"

I inhaled my mouthful  of coffee and began to choke. My husband smiled - ever so slightly. Our friends, momentarily lost for words just stared at him. Finally the husband spoke up. "Yeah, we are, aren't we." And laughed. Disaster averted.

One of the coolest things about kids is that they say exactly what they think. One of the mortifying things about kids is that they say exactly what they think.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Writing and Scribes in Ancient Babylon

As far as is presently known, writing began in Sumer, in ancient Mesopotamia, around 3000BC. Evolving from pictography, cuneiform (wedge-shaped) made use of the fluted end of a reed to form characters with sharp jabs and tails that looked a lot like nails. The stylus was pressed into the soft clay of cushion shaped tablets and then left out to dry. Documents requiring permanency were baked in an oven.

The most important man in ancient Mesopotamia was the scribe.

Education was generally a privilege restricted to the sons of the wealthy, who could afford to maintain an unproductive child for a long period. Pictured at the top is the school for scribes known as the tablet house. Young boys began their training as early as 5 to 7 years of age. I can't imagine sitting on those hard seats all day every day. The little dishes you see on the floor were for mixing clay with water to make new tablets.

In a discovered tablet from Ur a young pupil complained of having only six days of freedom in a month. Their long days were spent copying out and memorizing lists of names, technical terms, and legal phrases plus grammar and mathematics. Corporal punishment was meted out liberally and, needless to say, rebellion among the students was frequent. A scribe's education lasted well into young adulthood. Some poor boys did not have a real head for it as evidenced in this excerpt from a 'school days' text.

"What have you done, what good came of your sitting here? You are already a ripe man and close to being aged! Like an old ass you are not teachable any more. Like withered grain you have passed the season. How long will you play around? But, it is still not too late! If you study night and day and work all the time modestly and without arrogance, if you listen to your colleagues and teachers, you still can become a scribe!"
(from City Invincible by C.H. Kraeling and R.M. Adams, Chicago)

Probably the most famous of all cuneiform texts is the Code of Hammurabi. Inscribed on diorite rock, the stele is in the shape of a huge index finger. The original is currently on display in The Louvre. This Babylonian law code dates back to about 1722BC and is the longest surviving cuneiform text from the Old Babylonian period. The so-called 'fingernail' at the top of the stele shows King Hammurabi standing before Shamash, god of law and justice.

Here is a close-up of the stele. Thanks to the hard rock on which the code was carved it has survived extremely well don't you think?

In the preface to his law code, King Hammurabi says,
"Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and evil-doers so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule all of the black-headed people like Shamash and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind."

Four of the laws found on the stele are:

"If any one break a hole into a house (break in to steal) he shall be put to death before that hole and be buried."
"If a 'sister of a god' open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death."
"If a man's wife be surprised (in flagrento dilecto) with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves."
"If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off."

Pretty serious stuff as is Hammurabi's final demand at the conclusion of the 282 laws that all future kings pay attention. An enormous litany of curses are rained upon any king who doesn't observe his laws exactly or puts his own image on the monument or defaces it in any way. Hammurabi's last words on the stele are,
"May Bel curse him with the potent curses of his mouth that cannot be altered, and may they come upon him forthwith."

Guess it's no wonder the monument has survived. Yikes.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I've found that keeping a blog is a terrific procrastination tool. While I should be working on my novel, I'm checking pageviews by country - Belarus? Really? - blog traffic sources - referring urls and sites - anyone know how to block a porn site? I'm even looking at browsers and operating systems. How ridiculous is that.

I never dreamed when I started this blog a couple of months ago that it would consume so much of my time. And I have precious little of it.

We have a home-based business so work is pretty much 24-7. Okay, this isn't me and it might not be quite this bad but it's getting there.

And my frustration level is pretty much like this woman's and the mess - yeah - my desk gets like this.

I need to be working on my novel. Did I say that? Between blog stuff and work stuff I don't have much time for writing.

No, I don't write on this. That's not what's slowing me down. Although I think you need finger muscles like a body builder to type on one of these old beauties.

I sometimes use pencils but not these although there are people who think using pencils is about as archaic as using quills. Shame on you. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils - heavenly.

And even though I'm writing about ancient Babylon I haven't resorted to clay tablets, even if the scribes in my story have to use them. Hm-m-m, would be kinda fun to try though. Maybe I'll see if I can't find some clay and.....


No, it's just that I'm WASTING TIME. I'm procrastinating. And blogging related obsessions aren't the only problem. I have other procrastination tools as well - in fact, my toolbox is full. Can't write, need to take the garbage cans out to the locked shed so the bears, racoons, dogs (insert pest) don't get into them. Can't write, need to take the laundry out of the dryer because I keep forgetting it, I've put it on 'steam refresh' three times and it's going to shrink to the size of babies' pjs. Can't write, getting company and have to see if there's any food in the fridge left to cook with and if not run out and get something amazing or at least edible. Can't write, have to bath the dog and it takes the stealth of an international spy to set out the bath things without him catching on the water is running for him.  And on and on it goes.

Blogging is a new and shiny tool which calls for some self-imposed restrictions. Sadly the bills need to be paid so work has to come first. My novel is my next biggest priority so if I'm on a roll my blog will have to take a back seat. I. Need. More. Hours. In. My. Day!!!

I just saw an ad for an Irish whiskey called 'Writers Tears'. Sounds like something I could use about now. Join me?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My!

For those who have never seen or don't remember  the 1939 fantasy adventure, The Wizard of Oz, my post title is taken from a scene in the movie. Dorothy has joined forces with Tin Man and Scarecrow. When they enter a forest Dorothy is nervous and says she doesn't like it because it's dark and creepy. She asks the other two if they think they'll come across any wild animals. Tin Man tells her they might and Scarecrow wants to know if the animals will eat straw. Tin Man replies that some might but mostly they'll meet up with lions, tigers and bears. Dorothy cries, "Lions?", Scarecrow cries, "Tigers?" Tin Man nods. "And bears". To bolster their courage they make a chant of it and skip through the forest singing, "Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!" over and over.  However, they only meet up with the fellow in this picture, the Cowardly Lion.

In ancient Babylon, the processional road leading to the principal gate of the city was flanked by tall walls of intimidating guardian lions, mouths agape in warning roars. The road itself was called Aibur-shabu, 'the enemy shall never pass'. Archaeologists excavated these walls in the early 20th century. Reconstructed, they now reside in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

In ancient China the tiger was revered as the mightiest of the wild beasts. The tiger inspired Chinese folk tales in which the tiger kills evil men and protects good men. The 'tiger claw' amulet is said to ward off sudden fright and give the wearer the courage of the tiger.
This guy may look cute now but he grows up to be this guy.
 In the mid 1800's James C. Adams attempted to 'tame' a grizzly bear by repeatedly hitting it with a club. The bear was not amused and Adams suffered a fatal blow when the animal returned the favor. Grizzly bears are unpredictable and have a powerful bite, making them extremely dangerous. Early Native American Indians regarded grizzlies with awe and at times even as gods.
"If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.."
It won't be a teddy bear's picnic but it might be lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
Today's post is in response to the October Absolute Write Blog Chain prompt of the same name.
My fellow blog chain participants are:
Ralph Pines
dclary                    URL TBD