« PreviousContinue »
THE PRINCIPALITY OF THE CAPTIVE JEWS.
W. FRANCIS AI
Regions of the Euphrates-Territory of the Captive Jews-An Extent of
Two Hundred Miles Islanded Town of Haditha-Nearda of the JewsIsland and Ruins of Jubba-Pombeditha of the Jews, Bitumen Fountains of Hit-The Throne of Trajan-Mound and Ruins of Sifairah— The Romans in Babylonia-Synagogue of Sura—Extinction of the Princes of the Captivity.
The valley of the Euphrates may be considered as divided into twelve distinct regions, which are not less remarkable in their general aspect and physical characters than they are in their incidents of history and divers populations. Thus the higher portions of the river belong to the elevated and frozen uplands of hardy Armenia. A second region comprises Cappadocian Taurus, through whose rocky depths the waters have to force
for a considerable distance, ere they gain the third and fertile, but still hilly districts of Commagena, renowned in the history of Alexander's successors, and of an early Christianity. A fourth region is the Syrian Euphratensis
, a more level country, distinguished by the number and lustre of its ancient towns, and terminated by a sombre rocky district, at one period the seat of dark rites performed in the high temples of Ba'al, Magog, and Astaroth; and at another, the oft-disputed battlefield of Roman and Persian power. The fifth is forest land, amid which the river expands to leave a ford or pass, renowned from all antiquity, and which also reveals the shady summer retreats of luxurious yet tasteful and artistic Khalifs, and the marble palaces of the Queen of Palmyra. A sixth leads by the valley of the Habor-the perpetual limits of Roman power and dominion in the east, to the scriptural Rehoboth and the strongholds of Saladin. This is essentially Mesopotamian Euphrates. The seventh is the Arabian or central part of the river, characterised by its palm groves and Persian water wheels, which clothe an arid and sandy soil with gardens and shrubbery, amid which arise the minarets and temples, the domed sepulchral chapels, and the earth-coloured, windowless houses, thickly interspersed with ruins, of modern Islamism.
The next, and the eighth district in succession, and to which the progress of the descent now conducts us, is a drear and wild territory of rugged and naked rocks, only here and there fertilised by plains of alluvium, and interspersed with rich valleys and islands of exceeding verdure. This region extends from the picturesque town of Ana to the plains of Babylonia, a distance of about two hundred miles by river, and it contains, secluded within its bosom, the sites of what were once the chief towns and strongholds, and the chief schools and synagogues of the captive Jews.
It was in this territory that, like Deiotarus, the Paphlagonian king, driven within the limits of a metropolis, a citadel, and a treasury in the
valley of the Halys, the Resh-Glutha, or Prince of the Captivity, isolated by rocks and sands, which, except for an occasional snake or lizard, are abandoned to fear and famine, supported all the state and splendour of an oriental sovereign, far outshining in pomp the rival prince and patriarch at Tiberias, and that for a long time after the fane of Islamism, had taken the place of the Temple of Solomon..
The steamer Euphrates left its station above Ana early in the morning of the 31st of May, and keeping to the right of the long line of verdant islands, passed safely through the various difficulties presented at this point to the navigation of the river. These impediments overcome, the steamer brought to for a short time on the Mesopotamian side of the river, a mile or two below the town. I went ashore with others, and having gone inland to examine the rocks, was unaware of the steamer having started, till turning accidentally round, I saw her already on her way, and beyond reach of voice or signals. I had nothing left but to make the best of my way after her, and I walked from this moment, with a few hours rest at night, till about the same hour, or nine o'clock, the ensuing day, when I rejoined my ship at the islanded town of Haditha, a distance by river of sixtysix miles from Ana, but probably not more than fifty by the left bank.
At Al Buni, about six miles below Ana, an irregular ledge of rocks and wall extends about three hundred yards into the river, and causes a broken falling current, difficult for a steamer to breast; and a little beyond this was a castellated mansion corresponding to the castle called Sbéria by Balbi.
About seven miles above Haditha, a few date trees on the left bank, and soine ruins, mark the site of a small town called Zidba, and apparently the same place that is written Zovia by Balbi, and Zawyhé in Texeira. At this point a wall nearly crosses the river, leaving a passage of only from thirty to thirty-five feet wide, close in with the right bank, with rocks further obstructing the passage below.
All along this portion of the river's course, the ruins of walls are met with, to which formerly wheels were attached for the purpose of irrigating the country, attesting to the population and industry which smiled upon these lands in the time of its occupation by the Israelites.
Haditha or Haddisa is a small island which now only contains a few cottages of sedentary Arabs, embosomed amid palm trees and pomegranates, and which struggle into life amid ruins of older edifices. The population of agricultural Arabs in the surrounding district is still, however, considerable ; but the ruling shaykh takes up his residence in the village on the island. Harassed by the Arabs of the desert, who come down in harvest time to plunder the crops, these people, expressed through their chief, an ardent desire to pass under the rule of a nation which had found the means of navigating their riyer, and which could : give them a real protection by means of armed steamers.
Haditha is surnamed by the Arabian geographers, Al Núr, or " The Luminous," from the circumstance of its having been a celebrated seat of learning among the Jews. The facts collected in favour of this identity, by D'Anville, are further corroborated by Benjamin of Tudela, who distinctly associates Pombeditha with Jubba, which is a site in the same neighbourhood. It appears, however, to have been known by other names than Nearda, for Benjamin of Tudela notices in his “ Itinerary,"
p. 63, Aliobar, as being with Pombeditha in Nehardea. This Aliobar would appear also to be the same as the Olabus of Isidorus of Charax, which that author places at a distance of twelve schæni from Anatho, and hence another mediæval name for this fortified synagogue and school of the Babylonian Jews.
Josephus, in his “ Antiquities,” describes Nearda as a populous Babylonian town, possessing fertile and extensive lands, and capable of defying an enemy, being surrounded on all sides by strong walls and the river Euphrates. Ptolemy places Nearda in Mesopotamia, which only proves, as Cellarius justly remarks, that it was a Pimitrophal town.
The same island fortress appears under the name of Achaiachala in Ammianus Marcellinus, as having been passed by the Roman army
after Thisutha, and like that fort, being calculated by its nature and artificial defences to make a strong resistance, it was neither attacked nor subdued. *
The same morning that I joined the steamer at Haditha (June 1st), we started on our onward course, through a country of the same stern aspect, with the exception of a fertile vale called the Wadi Hárún on the Babylonian side. After a brief navigation of twenty miles, we arrived at the large island called Jubba, in which the cottages of Arabs and modern sepulchral chapels are dispersed, with the ruins of a castle, and other fragments of antiquity, amid a dense growth of palm trees and pomegranate shrubs. There were also many modern houses, and traces. of olden times on the Babylonian side of the river, and a Muhammadan masjid made itself distinguished amidst the far-spreading groves and gardens.
Benjamin of Tudela saves all trouble of identification in regard to the mediæval history of this place, by his attesting Al Jabar, as he designates it, to be the site of the Jewish Pombeditha, one of the most distinguished of the Babylonian schools. D'Anville, also remarks that the position given to Pombeditha in the oriental part, “ Orbis Romani,” corresponds to the position of Jubba.
The distance given by the historian of Julian's descent, of 200 stadia, or twenty miles from Achaiachala to Baiasmalcha, also written Baraxmalcha, also identifies the place so named with Jubba. As the name given by Ammianus to Haditha, appears to have some reference to its rocky castle, so that of Baiasmalcha appears to allude to the existence of a malik, or king, at the place; in the same way as we afterwards find him calling the nahr-malik or royal river, Naarmalcha. This would lead to the supposition that Pombeditha was the chosen residence of the Prince of the Captivity.
On descending the river the following day (June 2), from Jubba to Hit, we passed, at a short distance from the first-mentioned site, an Arab village, above which, à Muhammadan masjid occupied a prominent position upon a rocky headland, while groves of palm trees and gardens fringed the river banks below. This site, called Nasia by the Arabs, and noticed by Idrisi, as being twenty-one Arabian miles above Hit, corresponds to the Diacira of Ammianus, or Aaxipa of Zozimus, seven
Hadatha is also mentioned among the metropolitan and episcopal churches subject to the Catholicos of the Chaldeans, and Hadith, in Assyria, as among the Jacobite Episcopacies.
miles below Baraxmalcha, and which was taken and destroyed by the Romans. Isidorus Characenus has also a town which he calls Izzanesopolis, situated between Olabus and Aiopolis, where are the fountains of bitumen (Hit), and which would appear to be the same as Pombeditha, were it not for the distance given of twelve schæni from Olabus. But as the same author also gives sixteen schæni from Izzanesopolis to Aiopolis, and there is not one half of that amount of twenty-eight schæni, or 168 miles from Haditha to Hit; we must suppose that the distance between Ana and Haditha is, by inadvertence, repeated from Haditha to Izzanesopolis.
As we approached the celebrated bitumen fountains of Babylonia, the hilly ranges became lower, having also less abrupt slopes, and verging off to an undulating territory, which, however, preserved the same arid and repulsive aspect.
Celebrity has not conferred riches on Hit. Besides its productive market for bitumen and salt, it is also a station in the great caravan road, and is, nevertheless a poor town of about one hundred houses, with only a few stunted date trees growing around. The soil loaded with saline matters and permeated by sulphureous exhalations, is infertile and unproductive; and the camel, patient of thirst and toil
, merely passes by a naked spot, where even the waters are unrefreshing:
These fountains renowned in all antiquity, which furnished the imperishable mortar of the Babylonian structures, and which were made objects of especial visit by Alexander, by Trajan, Severus, and Julian, are several in number, and at some distance from one another; two of the largest occur about a mile from the town, the waters of which are received in shallow reservoirs, the bitumen floating on the surface is collected and allowed to harden, while the evaporation of the waters affords a large supply of fine salt, which is not only sought for at Baghdad and Basra, but also at Bombay. The temperature of the springs was varied from 889 of Fahrenheit to 98o. The water was clear, but evolved gases, having a sulphureous smell, in large quantities. The different springs unite to flow in one stream into the Euphrates, corresponding to the small river called Is by Herodotus (lib. i., c. 179).
We have seen that Isodorus of Charax designates the bitumen springs by the name of Aiopolis, and Zozimus calls the same place Zita, or Sitha, which has some approximation to the existing name of Ayun Hit, or the springs of Hit, the appearance of the place appears to have been pretty nearly the same in Olivier's time as it is at present. It could scarcely boast of a thousand inhabitants and but few date trees grew around it.
The oriental geographers notice at the same place the tomb of Abd' ullah, son of Mubak, a mussulman of great sanctity.
Quitting Hit on the 3rd of June, the country continued to lower, the hills gradually sinking to the level of the plains, and every thing characteristic of solidity and durability disappearing fast, till we came to a point where the last low and nearly level upland advanced to the west or on the Arabian side, bearing upon nearly its extreme point, a Muhammadan temple, called Masjid Sandabiya, and which itself rose up from amidst ruins of greater antiquity.
A site, still regarded with veneration by the Arabs, as being on the
last remnant of rocky lands, was also a seat of worship in olden times, for Isidorus describes it under the name of Besachana, as the seat of a temple of Atergatis.
Zozimus relates that Julian proceeded from Zita by Megia to Zaragardia, where was a lofty throne built of stone, and which the natives related to have been built by Trajan. Ammianus also speaks of wh he calls Ozogardana, an abandoned town, which the Romans burnt, and where the people pointed out the Throne of Trajan.
It is obvious, although history does not record the fact, that Trajan in erecting a throne for himself was imitating therein the precedents given to him by oriental pomp and pride. The Takhti Suliman, or Throne of Solomon, on the plain of Murgab, still represents, according to Sir William Ousely and the Baron de Bode, the throne of the ancient Kings of Persia, where they used to sit in public, in unison with oriental taste, and in conformity with oriental climate.
Such also was the Takhti Jamshid, or Throne of Dejoces, at Persepolis, the Takhti Ba’lkis, the Throne of the Queen of Sheba, and the wellknown Takhti Khusrau, the Throne of Chosroes, at Ctesiphon. Even the captive Valerian had his throne allotted to him, a hillock on the plain of Susiana, crowned with the ruins of an ancient edifice still bear
the name of Takhti Kaisar, or Cæsar's throne. But none of these bear comparison in point of splendour of situation, and for peculiarity of concurrent circumstances, to the site chosen by the conqueror of the Parthians for his eastern throre. From this place, the wide and level plains of Babylonia stretched before him as far as the
eye could reach, like a boundless sea of land. In this great monotonous extent, covered with towns, villages, and palm groves, dotted with temple-bearing mounds, and watered by innumerable canals, the eye would see in imagination the distant towers of Babylon, the far-off beacons of Chaldea, and the walls of Seleucia, crowned by the proud arch of Ctesiphon; for nothing but the spherical shape of the earth or want of power in the eye, could obstruct in this region of clear skies and pellucid horizons, a farseeking vision. Immediately below the same spot, the hum of men would make itself heard from cities of renown, the great wall of Semiramis, would lay like a girdle upon the flanks of the Babylonian territory, o'ertopped by the lofty towers of the biblical Accad; while the river itself-the mighty Euphrates—was all the time flowing beneath the very
dow of the marble-seat, exulting at its proud approach to the land of brazen gates and gilded palaces, and where its azure bosom would be fretted and chequered by lights like the starry heavens.
By the time that we had attained the parallel of Masjid Sandabiya, all traces of hills or rocks had disappeared on the left bank, out of the level plains, of which the great mound of Sifairah rose, surrounded by fragments of ruin to indicate the point from whence the great wall of Media, or of Semiramis, now called Khalu, or Sidd Nimrud, took its departure to follow a north-westerly direction, still marking the limits of rock and plain, till it reached the Tigris at Opis, or Aski Baghdad, a distance of from fifty to sixty miles.
Below the plain and ruins of Sifairah, the soil lowered into lake and marsh, designated as Kara Gül—the black lake, and sometimes Rumilah; from whence the first great canal takes its departure from the Euphrates