BEWARE THE WRATH OF ABIBARSHIM!
Recently excavated clay tablets
shed new light on the most famous engineering failure in antiquity.
Although some of the words are conjectural, this translation contains a
clear message for modern engineers. Do you know someone who might benefit
from this voice from the past?
I, Abibarshim, Great King, King of Kings,
Ruler of Kish, Babil, Agade and Sankhar, and of the regions across the
Hilla, conqueror of Ninevah, destroyer of Sepharia, having striven
mightily and met with grief, lay down this Code that ye may not also
strive mightily and meet with grief, nor fall flat on thy ass.
I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, and all that, did buy many Aethyopeans and
hire many artisans and scribes and masons and Makers of Engines and
Designers of Buildings. And great was their craft and great their number,
which was one hundred and forty four thousand, give or take a few
job-shoppers. Yea, they did strive mightily, too, for they knew what would
happen if they strove not mightily.
And the name of my capital improvement project was the Tower of
Yea, great was their craft and wonderful to behold what the
Designers of Buildings wrought on the papyrus. All who looked thereon did
marvel at their genius. I, Abibarshim, did also look thereon and did
declare their designs to have much nift.
But many days did pass,
and many times did the moon wax and wane, and the tower was not yet
So I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, did hie me to the palace
by the Arakhtu where dwelt the Designers of Buildings and Makers of
Engines. And there I found not Designers
of Buildings and Makers of Engines, but Drinkers of Coffee and Tellers of
Tales (whom men call hurlers of bull dung). So I vented my royal spleen,
which did perturb them mightily.
"Look here, O King, etc.," said
the Chief of the Makers of Engines. "Some things can't be rushed. If thou
wantest us to get thy bloody tower builded on time, then thou hadst better
give us a little respect. For canst thou build thy tower without
"But I have given thee this palace in which thy work may be
done, and I pay thee many talents of gold and silver, plus all the usual
fringies. What more wouldst thou have me do to get this project
"Well, thou canst start with alabaster lamps for the
draughtsmen," saith the Chief of the Makers of Engines, refilling his cup.
"And maybe draughting instruments of silver and electrum…"
shalt have them. Just get my tower builded." And I, Abibarshim, King of
Kings, did depart the palace of the Makers of Engines with my tail betwixt
And many days did pass, and many times did the moon wax
and wane, and the tower was still not yet builded. So I, Abibarshim, did
corner the Chief Scribe and ask him, "What goeth on here?"
Chief Scribe fell to his knees and said: "O Great and Merciful King, the
Makers of Engines give us scrolls of materials for to purchase. But,
verily, no man knoweth what the scrolls signify, save the Makers of
Engines themselves. For they call not a spade a spade, but call it here a
delver and there a digger and another place an entrenching tool and yet
another a geovolvometer, so that the scroll of material agreeth not with
the design papyrus. And strange to behold is their numerology."
I, Abibarshim, gave certain orders to try to keep the Makers of Engines
from creating their own language, saying, "How did it come to pass that
those who have such swiftness of mind, even as the gazelle, lack the sense
And many days did pass, and many times did the moon wax
and wane, and the estimate did wax and never wane, and the tower was not
So then I did ask the Chief Mason, "What giveth?" and
he, throwing himself prostrate before me, spake thus:
every day we toil from dawn until the dusk! Every week the Makers of
Engines say they have wrought new and niftier designs, of which we knew
not, and what we have builded hath been fashioned into obsolete papyri.
Then my team teareth down and starteth over, O Great King, Merciful King,
King of Kings…"
So I, Abibarshim, gave certain orders that did fix
those designs thenceforth.
But many days did pass, and the tower
did rise slower than sap rolleth down the bark of a tree.
Abibarshim, did seek out the Chief Aethyopean, who seemed to know where
it's at, and asked, "How come no tower?"
And he did answer, "O
Great and Merciful King, I be running short of bolt
"Well, buy some more!"
"I have, O King, but
each one either getteth used up or runneth off as soon as he learneth his
"The Makers of Engines have designed the
granite facing panels such that no man hath arms long enough nor thin
enough to reach the bolts. Thus each panel requires that a bolt tightener
crawl behind and affix the bolts."
"So then he cannot
get back out, O King, but is entombed there forever."
Abibarshim, did then call for a redesign which cost us three months and
one thousand gold talents. But the days did pass and the tower had
attained only four tiers in height. So I did go to the Chief Scribe to
"O King, we have been awaiting, lo, these many months,
the columns of Corinthian marble for the fifth tier."
from Corinth so hard to find, then?"
"Nay, Sire, but the Corinthian
stone cutters make columns only in heights which be whole numbers of
cubits. And the Makers of Engines have specified cubits which be twelve
cubits plus eleven-seventeenths part of a cubit. Such columns are not to
be found in all of Corinth as an off-the-shelf item."
just change the drawings and round them off to thirteen cubits
"Nay, Sire, for they must match unto the interior columns,
which are bought pre-cut from Ionia and which we have
"Okay, we'll cut the Ionian columns down and go unto
twelve cubit columns all around."
"Nay, for the Ionian columns be
all of one piece with their capitals. To shorten them would mean cutting
off their capitals."
"What in the name of Marduk is wrong with
that? We can just fit new capitals on top of the shortened
"Nay again, Sire. The entire structure unto the very top
is designed around monobloc capitals. To add new capitals would weaken the
fifth and higher tiers and require a complete redesign!"
Abibarshim, King of Kings, avouch that Makers of Engines, for all their
craft, know not how to fly. For surely the Chief of the Makers of Engines
and all his men would have flown down, had they known how, from the fourth
level of my tower, from which parapet I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, had
Therefore have I, Abibarshim, King of Kings, created
this Code and ordered it displayed at the Coffee Machine and all other
places where hangeth out the Designers of Buildings and Makers of