Babylonia (/ˌbæbəˈloʊniə, -ˈloʊnjə/) was an ancient
Akkadian-speaking state and cultural area based in central-southern
Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). A small Amorite-ruled state emerged in
1894 BC, which contained the minor administrative town of Babylon.
It was merely a small provincial town during the
(2335–2154 BC) but greatly expanded during the reign of
the first half of the 18th century BC and became a major capital city.
During the reign of
Hammurabi and afterwards,
Babylonia was called
"the country of Akkad" (Māt Akkadī in Akkadian).
It was often involved in rivalry with the older state of
the north and
Elam to the east in Ancient Iran.
became the major power in the region after
Hammurabi (fl. c.
1792–1752 BC middle chronology, or c. 1696–1654 BC, short
chronology) created a short-lived empire, succeeding the earlier
Akkadian Empire, Third Dynasty of Ur, and Old Assyrian Empire. The
Babylonian empire, however, rapidly fell apart after the death of
Hammurabi and reverted back to a small kingdom.
Like Assyria, Babylonian state retained the written
for official use (the language of its native populace), despite its
Amorite founders and
who spoke a language isolate, not being native Mesopotamians. It
Sumerian language for religious use (as did Assyria), but
already by the time
Babylon was founded, this was no longer a spoken
language, having been wholly subsumed by Akkadian. The earlier
Akkadian and Sumerian traditions played a major role in Babylonian and
Assyrian culture, and the region would remain an important cultural
center, even under its protracted periods of outside rule.
The earliest mention of the city of
Babylon can be found in a clay
tablet from the reign of
Sargon of Akkad
Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 BC), dating back
to the 23rd century BC.
Babylon was merely a religious and cultural
centre at this point and neither an independent state nor a large
city; like the rest of Mesopotamia, it was subject to the Akkadian
Empire which united all the
Akkadian and Sumerian speakers under one
rule. After the collapse of the
Akkadian empire, the south
Mesopotamian region was dominated by the
Gutian people for a few
decades before the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur, which restored
order to the region and which, apart from northern Assyria,
encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, including the town of Babylon.
1.1 Pre-Babylonian Sumero-
First Babylonian Dynasty
First Babylonian Dynasty –
Amorite Dynasty, 1894–1595 BC
1.2.1 Empire of Hammurabi
1.2.3 The sack of
Babylon and ancient
Near East chronology
Kassite Dynasty, 1595–1155 BC
Iron Age – Native Rule, Second Dynasty of Isin,
1.5 Period of Chaos, 1026–911 BC
1.6 Assyrian rule, 911–619 BC
Neo-Babylonian Empire (Chaldean Era)
1.8 Persian Babylonia
2.1 Babylonian culture
2.1.1 Art and architecture
2.2 Neo-Babylonian culture
4 See also
8 External links
The extent of the Babylonian Empire at the start and end of
Mesopotamia had already enjoyed a long history prior to the emergence
of Babylon, with Sumerian civilisation emerging in the region c. 3500
BC, and the Akkadian-speaking people appearing by the 30th century BC.
During the 3rd millennium BC, an intimate cultural symbiosis occurred
between Sumerian and Akkadian-speakers, which included widespread
bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian on
Akkadian and vice versa
is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to
syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has
prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and
Akkadian in the third
millennium as a sprachbund.
Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of
Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the third and the second
millennium BC (the precise timeframe being a matter of debate), but
Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and
scientific language in
Mesopotamia as late as the 1st century
From c. 3500 BC until the rise of the
Akkadian Empire in the 24th
Mesopotamia had been dominated by largely Sumerian cities
and city states, such as Ur, Lagash, Uruk, Kish, Isin, Larsa, Adab,
Eridu, Gasur, Assur, Hamazi, Akshak, Arbela and Umma, although Semitic
Akkadian names began to appear on the king lists of some of these
states (such as
Eshnunna and Assyria) between the 29th and 25th
centuries BC. Traditionally, the major religious center of all
Mesopotamia was the city of
Nippur where the god
Enlil was supreme,
and it would remain so until replaced by
Babylon during the reign of
Hammurabi in the mid-18th century BC.
Akkadian Empire (2334–2154 BC) saw the
Akkadian Semites and
Mesopotamia unite under one rule, and the Akkadians fully
attain ascendancy over the Sumerians and indeed come to dominate much
of the ancient Near East.
The empire eventually disintegrated due to economic decline, climate
change and civil war, followed by attacks by the
Gutians from the
Sumer rose up again with the
Third Dynasty of Ur
Third Dynasty of Ur in
the late 22nd century BC, and ejected the
Gutians from southern
Mesopotamia. They also seem to have gained ascendancy over much of the
territory of the
Akkadian kings of
Assyria in northern
Following the collapse of the Sumerian "Ur-III" dynasty at the hands
Elamites in 2002 BC, the Amorites, a foreign Northwest
Semitic-speaking people, began to migrate into southern Mesopotamia
from the northern Levant, gradually gaining control over most of
southern Mesopotamia, where they formed a series of small kingdoms,
while the Assyrians reasserted their independence in the north. The
states of the south were unable to stem the
Amorite advance, and for a
time may have relied on their fellow Akkadians in
Ilu-shuma (c. 2008–1975 BC) of the Old Assyrian Empire
(2025–1750 BC) in a known inscription describes his exploits to the
south as follows: "The freedom[n 1] of the Akkadians and their
children I established. I purified their copper. I established their
freedom from the border of the marshes and Ur and Nippur, Awal, and
Kish, Der of the goddess Ishtar, as far as the City of (Ashur)."
Past scholars originally extrapolated from this text that it means he
defeated the invading
Amorites to the south and
Elamites to the east,
but there is no explicit record of that, and some scholars believe the
Assyrian kings were merely giving preferential trade agreements to the
These policies were continued by his successors
Erishum I and Ikunum.
Sargon I (1920–1881 BC) succeeded as king in Assyria
in 1920 BC, he eventually withdrew
Assyria from the region, preferring
to concentrate on continuing the vigorous expansion of Assyrian
Anatolia and the Levant, and eventually southern
Mesopotamia fell to the Amorites, a Northwest Semitic-speaking people
from the northern Levant. During the first centuries of what is called
Amorite period", the most powerful city states in the south were
Eshnunna and Larsa, together with
Assyria in the north.
First Babylonian Dynasty
First Babylonian Dynasty –
Amorite Dynasty, 1894–1595 BC
Main article: First Babylonian Dynasty
One of these
Amorite dynasties founded a small kingdom of Kazallu
which included the then still minor town of
Babylon circa 1894 BC,
which would ultimately take over the others and form the short-lived
first Babylonian empire, also called the First Babylonian Dynasty.
Amorite chieftain named
Sumu-abum appropriated a tract of land
which included the then relatively small city of
Babylon from the
Amorite ruled Mesopotamian city state of Kazallu, of
which it had initially been a territory, turning his newly acquired
lands into a state in its own right. His reign was concerned with
establishing statehood amongst a sea of other minor city states and
kingdoms in the region. However Sumuabum appears never to have
bothered to give himself the title of King of Babylon, suggesting that
Babylon itself was still only a minor town or city, and not worthy of
He was followed by Sumu-la-El, Sabium, Apil-Sin, each of whom ruled in
the same vague manner as Sumuabum, with no reference to kingship of
Babylon itself being made in any written records of the time.
Sin-Muballit was the first of these
Amorite rulers to be regarded
officially as a king of Babylon, and then on only one single clay
tablet. Under these kings, the nation in which
Babylon lay remained a
small nation which controlled very little territory, and was
overshadowed by neighbouring kingdoms that were both older, larger,
and more powerful, such as; Isin, Larsa,
Assyria to the north and Elam
to the east in ancient Iran. The
Elamites occupied huge swathes of
southern Mesopotamia, and the early
Amorite rulers were largely held
in vassalage to Elam.
Empire of Hammurabi
Babylon remained a minor town in a small state until the reign of its
Hammurabi (1792–1750 BC, or fl. c.
1728 – 1686 BC (short). He conducted major building work in
Babylon, expanding it from a small town into a great city worthy of
kingship. He was a very efficient ruler, establishing a bureaucracy,
with taxation and centralized government.
Elamite dominance, and indeed drove them from southern Mesopotamia
entirely. He then gradually expanded Babylonian dominance over the
whole of southern Mesopotamia, conquering the cities and states of the
region, such as Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna, Kish, Lagash, Nippur, Borsippa,
Ur, Uruk, Umma, Adab, Sippar, Rapiqum, and Eridu. The conquests of
Hammurabi gave the region stability after turbulent times and
coalesced the patchwork of small states of southern and central
Mesopotamia into one single nation, and it is only from the time of
Hammurabi that southern
Mesopotamia came to be known historically as
The armies of
Hammurabi were well-disciplined. He
turned eastwards and invaded what was a thousand years later to become
Iran, conquering Elam, Gutians,
Lullubi and Kassites. To the west, the
Amorite states of the
Syria and Jordan) including the
powerful kingdoms of Mari and
Yamhad were conquered.
Hammurabi then entered into a protracted war with the Old Assyrian
Empire for control of
Mesopotamia and dominance of the Near East.
Assyria had extended control over much of the Hurrian and Hattian
parts of southeast
Anatolia from the 21st century BC, and from the
latter part of the 20th century BC had asserted itself over the north
Levant and central
Mesopotamia also. After a protracted
unresolved struggle over decades with the powerful Assyrian kings
Shamshi-Adad I and Ishme-Dagan,
Hammurabi forced their successor
Mut-Ashkur to pay tribute to
Babylon c. 1751 BC, thus giving Babylonia
control over Assyria's centuries old Hattian and Hurrian colonies in
One of the most important works of the First Babylonian Dynasty, as it
was called by the native historians, was the compilation of Babylonian
law, a law code both influenced by and improved upon the much earlier
codes of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria. This was made by order of Hammurabi
after the expulsion of the
Elamites and the settlement of his kingdom.
In 1901, a copy of the Code of
Hammurabi was discovered on a stele by
Jacques de Morgan
Jacques de Morgan and
Jean-Vincent Scheil at
Susa in Elam, where it
had later been taken as plunder. That copy is now in the Louvre.
From before 3000 BC until the reign of Hammurabi, the major cultural
and religious center of southern
Mesopotamia had been the ancient city
of Nippur, where the god
Enlil was supreme. However, with the rise of
Hammurabi, this honour was transferred to Babylon, and the south
Marduk rose to supremacy in the pantheon of southern
Mesopotamia (with the god Ashur, and to some degree
remaining the long dominant deity in the northern Mesopotamian state
of Assyria). The city of
Babylon became known as a "holy city" where
any legitimate ruler of southern
Mesopotamia had to be crowned.
Hammurabi turned what had previously been a minor administrative town
into a powerful and influential major city, increasing its size and
population dramatically, extended its rule over the entirety of
southern Mesopotamia, and conducting a number of impressive
Amorite ruled Babylonians, like their predecessor states, engaged
in regular trade with the
Amorite and Canaanite city-states to the
west; with Babylonian officials or troops sometimes passing to the
Levant and Canaan, with
Amorite merchants operating freely throughout
Mesopotamia. The Babylonian monarchy's western connections remained
strong for quite some time. An
Amorite chieftain named Abi-ramu or
Abram (possibly the Biblical Abraham) was the father of a witness to a
deed dated to the reign of Hammurabi's grandfather;
Ammi-Ditana, great-grandson of Hammurabi, still titled himself "king
of the land of the Amorites". Ammi-Ditana's father and son also bore
Abi-Eshuh and Ammi-Saduqa.
Mesopotamia had no natural, defensible boundaries, making it
vulnerable to attack. After the death of Hammurabi, his empire began
to disintegrate rapidly. Under his successor
BC) the far south of
Mesopotamia was lost to a native Akkadian
speaking king called
Ilum-ma-ili who ejected the
Babylonians. The south became the native Sealand Dynasty, remaining
Babylon for the next 272 years.
Both the Babylonians and their
Amorite rulers were driven from Assyria
to the north by an Assyrian-
Akkadian governor named
Puzur-Sin c. 1740
BC, who regarded king
Mut-Ashkur as both a foreign
Amorite and a
former lackey of Babylon. After six years of civil war in Assyria, a
native king named
Adasi seized power c. 1735 BC, and went on to
appropriate former Babylonian and
Amorite territory in central
Mesopotamia, as did his successor Bel-bani.
Amorite rule survived in a much reduced Babylon, Samshu-iluna's
Abi-Eshuh made a vain attempt to recapture the Sealand
Dynasty for Babylon, but met defeat at the hands of king Damqi-ilishu
II. By the end of his reign
Babylonia had shrunk to the small and
relatively weak nation it had been upon its foundation, although the
city itself was far larger than the small town it had been prior to
the rise of Hammurabi.
He was followed by
Ammi-Ditana and then Ammi-Saduqa, both of whom were
in too weak a position to make any attempt to regain the many
territories lost after the death of Hammurabi, contenting themselves
with peaceful building projects in
Samsu-Ditana was to be the last
Amorite ruler of Babylon. Early in his
reign he came under pressure from the Kassites, a people speaking an
apparent language isolate originating in the mountains of what is
today northwest Iran.
Babylon was then attacked by the
Hittites in 1595 BC.
Shamshu-Ditana was overthrown following the "sack of Babylon" by the
Hittite king Mursili I. The
Hittites did not remain for long, but the
destruction wrought by them finally enabled their
Kassite allies to
The sack of
Babylon and ancient
Near East chronology
The date of the sack of
Babylon by the
Hittites under king Mursili I
is considered crucial to the various calculations of the early
chronology of the ancient Near East, as it is taken as a fixed point
in the discussion. Suggestions for its precise date vary by as much as
230 years, corresponding to the uncertainty regarding the length of
the "Dark Age" of the ensuing Late Bronze Age collapse, resulting in
the shift of the entire Bronze Age chronology of
regard to the Egyptian chronology. Possible dates for the sack of
ultra-short chronology: 1499 BC
short chronology: 1531 BC
middle chronology: 1595 BC
long chronology: 1651 BC
ultra-long chronology: 1736 BC
Kassite Dynasty, 1595–1155 BC
Main article: Kassites
The extent of the Babylonian Empire during the
Kassite dynasty was founded by
Gandash of Mari. The Kassites, like
Amorite rulers who had preceded them, were not originally native
to Mesopotamia. Rather, they had first appeared in the Zagros
Mountains of what is today northwestern Iran.
The ethnic affiliation of the
Kassites is unclear. However, their
language was not Semitic nor Indo-European, and is thought to have
been either a language isolate or possibly related to the
Urartian language family of Anatolia, although the evidence
for its genetic affiliation is meager due to the scarcity of extant
texts. However, several
Kassite leaders may have borne Indo-European
names, and they may have had an Indo-European elite similar to the
Mitanni elite that later ruled over the
Hurrians of central and
Karduniaš and their rule lasted for 576
years, the longest dynasty in Babylonian history.
This new foreign dominion offers a striking analogy to the roughly
contemporary rule of the
Hyksos in ancient Egypt. Most divine
attributes ascribed to the
Amorite kings of
Babylonia disappeared at
this time; the title "god" was never given to a
Babylon continued to be the capital of the kingdom and one of
the 'holy' cities of western Asia, where the priests of the ancient
Mesopotamian religion were all-powerful, and the only place where the
right to inheritance of the short lived old Babylonian empire could be
Babylonia experienced short periods of relative power, but in general
proved to be relatively weak under the long rule of the Kassites, and
spent long periods under Assyrian and Elamite domination and
It is not clear precisely when
Kassite rule of
Babylon began, but the
Anatolia did not remain in
long after the sacking of the city, and it is likely the Kassites
moved in soon afterwards.
Agum II took the throne for the
1595 BC, and ruled a state that extended from
Iran to the middle
Euphrates; The new king retained peaceful relations with Erishum III,
the native Mesopotamian king of Assyria, but successfully went to war
with the Hittite Empire, and twenty-four years after, the Hittites
took the sacred statue of Marduk, he recovered it and declared the god
equal to the
Kassite deity Shuqamuna.
Burnaburiash I succeeded him and drew up a peace treaty with the
Assyrian king Puzur-
Ashur III, and had a largely uneventful reign, as
did his successor Kashtiliash III.
Sealand Dynasty of southern
Mesopotamia remained independent of
Babylonia and in native Akkadian-speaking hands. However, Ulamburiash
managed to attack it conquered parts of the land from Ea-gamil, a king
with a distinctly Sumerian name, around 1450 BC, whereupon Ea-Gamil
fled to his allies in Elam. The
Sealand Dynasty region still remained
independent however, and the
Kassite king seems to have been unable to
finally conquer it.
Ulamburiash began making treaties with ancient
Egypt, which then was ruling southern Canaan, and
Assyria to the
Karaindash built a bas-relief temple in
Uruk and Kurigalzu I
(1415–1390 BC) built a new capital
Dur-Kurigalzu named after
himself, transferring administrative rule from Babylon. Both of these
kings continued to struggle unsuccessfully against The Sealand
Agum III also campaigned against the Sealand Dynasty, finally wholly
conquering the far south of
Mesopotamia for Babylon, destroying its
Enlil in the process. From there
Agum III extended farther
south still, invading what was many centuries later to be called the
Arabian Peninsula, and conquering the pre-
Arab state of
Karaindash strengthened diplomatic ties with the Assyrian king
Ashur-bel-nisheshu and the Egyptian Pharaoh
Thutmose III and protected
Babylonian borders with Elam.
Kadašman-Ḫarbe I succeeded Karaindash, and briefly invaded Elam
before being eventually defeated and ejected by its king Tepti Ahar.
He then had to contend with the Suteans, ancient Semitic-speaking
peoples from the southeastern
Levant who invaded
Babylonia and sacked
Uruk. He describes having "annihilated their extensive forces", then
constructed fortresses in a mountain region called Ḫiḫi, in the
desert to the west (modern Syria) as security outposts, and "he dug
wells and settled people on fertile lands, to strengthen the
Kurigalzu I succeeded the throne, and soon came into conflict with
Elam, to the east. When Ḫur-batila, the successor of Tepti Ahar took
the throne of Elam, he began raiding the Babylonia, taunting Kurigalzu
to do battle with him at Dūr-Šulgi. Kurigalzu launched a campaign
which resulted in the abject defeat and capture of Ḫur-batila, who
appears in no other inscriptions. He went on to conquer the eastern
lands of Elam. This took his army to the Elamite capital, the city of
Susa, which was sacked. After this a puppet ruler was placed on the
Elamite throne, subject to Babylonia.
Kurigalzu I maintained friendly
relations with Assyria,
Egypt and the
Hittites throughout his reign.
Enlil I (1374–1360 BC) succeeded him, and continued his
Burna-Buriash II ascended to the throne in 1359 BC, he retained
friendly relations with Egypt, but the resurgent Middle Assyrian
Empire (1365–1050 BC) to the north was now encroaching into northern
Babylonia, and as a symbol of peace, the Babylonian king took the
daughter of the powerful Assyrian king
Ashur-uballit I in marriage. He
also maintained friendly relations with Suppiluliuma I, ruler of the
He was succeeded by Kara-ḫardaš (who was half Assyrian, and the
grandson of the Assyrian king) in 1333 BC, however a usurper named
Nazi-Bugaš deposed him, enraging Ashur-uballit I, who invaded and
sacked Babylon, slew Nazi-Bugaš, annexed Babylonian territory for the
Middle Assyrian Empire, and installed
Kurigalzu II (1345–1324 BC) as
his vassal ruler of Babylonia.
Arik-den-ili succeeded the throne of
Assyria in 1327 BC,
Kurigalzu III attacked
Assyria in an attempt to reassert Babylonian
power. After some impressive initial successes he was ultimately
defeated, and lost yet more territory to Assyria. Between 1307 BC and
1232 BC his successors, such as Nazi-Maruttash, Kadashman-Turgu,
Enlil II, Kudur-
Enlil and Shagarakti-Shuriash, allied with
the empires of the
Hittites and the Mitanni, (who were both also
losing swathes of territory to the resurgent Assyrians). in a failed
attempt to stop Assyrian expansion, which nevertheless continued
Kashtiliash IV's (1242–1235 BC) reign ended catastrophically as the
Tukulti-Ninurta I (1243–1207 BC) routed his armies,
sacked and burned
Babylon and set himself up as king, ironically
becoming the first native Mesopotamian to rule the state, its previous
rulers having all been non-Mesopotamian
Amorites and Kassites.
Kashtiliash himself was taken to
Ashur as a prisoner of war.
An Assyrian governor/king named
Enlil-nadin-shumi was placed on the
throne to rule as viceroy to Tukulti-Ninurta I, and Kadashman-Harbe II
Adad-shuma-iddina succeeded as Assyrian governor/kings, subject to
Tukulti-Ninurta I until 1216 BC.
Babylon did not begin to recover until late in the reign of
Adad-shuma-usur (1216–1189 BC), as he too remained a vassal of
Assyria until 1193 BC. However, he was able to prevent the Assyrian
Enlil-kudurri-usur from retaking Babylonia, which, apart from its
northern reaches, had mostly shrugged off Assyrian domination during a
short period of civil war in the Assyrian empire, in the years after
the death of Tukulti-Ninurta.
Meli-Shipak II (1188–1172 BC) seems to have had a peaceful reign.
Despite not being able to regain northern
Babylonia from Assyria, no
further territory was lost,
Elam did not threaten, and the Late Bronze
Age collapse now affecting the Levant, Canaan, Egypt, the Caucasus,
Anatolia, Mediterranean, North Africa, northern
Iran and Balkans
seemed (initially) to have little impact on
Babylonia (or indeed
Assyria and Elam).
War resumed under subsequent kings such as Marduk-apla-iddina I
(1171–1159 BC) and
Zababa-shuma-iddin (1158 BC). The long reigning
Ashur-dan I (1179–1133 BC) resumed expansionist
policies and conquered further parts of northern
Babylonia from both
kings, and the Elamite ruler
Shutruk-Nakhunte eventually conquered
most of eastern Babylonia. Enlil-nadin-ahhe (1157–1155 BC) was
finally overthrown and the
Kassite dynasty ended after Ashur-dan I
conquered yet more of northern and central Babylonia, and the equally
powerful Shutruk-Nahhunte pushed deep into the heart of Babylonia
itself, sacking the city and slaying the king. Poetical works have
been found lamenting this disaster.
Despite the loss of territory, general military weakness, and evident
reduction in literacy and culture, the
Kassite dynasty was the
longest-lived dynasty of Babylon, lasting until 1155 BC, when Babylon
was conquered by
Shutruk-Nakhunte of Elam, and reconquered a few years
later by the Nebuchadnezzar I, part of the larger Late Bronze Age
Iron Age – Native Rule, Second Dynasty of Isin, 1155–1026
Elamites did not remain in control of
Babylonia long, instead
entering into an ultimately unsuccessful war with Assyria, allowing
Marduk-kabit-ahheshu (1155–1139 BC) to establish the Dynasty IV of
Babylon, from Isin, with the very first native Akkadian-speaking south
Mesopotamian dynasty to rule Babylonia, with Marduk-kabit-ahheshu
becoming only the second native Mesopotamian to sit on the throne of
Babylon, after the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I. His dynasty was to
remain in power for some 125 years. The new king successfully drove
Elamites and prevented any possible
Kassite revival. Later in
his reign he went to war with Assyria, and had some initial success,
briefly capturing the south Assyrian city of
ultimately suffering defeat at the hands of Ashur-Dan I.
Itti-Marduk-balatu succeeded his father in 1138 BC, and successfully
repelled Elamite attacks on
Babylonia during his 8-year reign. He too
made attempts to attack Assyria, but also met with failure at the
hands of the still reigning Ashur-Dan I.
Ninurta-nadin-shumi took the throne in 1137 BC, and also attempted an
invasion of Assyria, his armies seem to have skirted through eastern
Aramea (modern Syria) and then made an attempt to attack the Assyrian
city of Arbela (modern Erbil) from the west. However this bold move
met with defeat at the hands of
Ashur-resh-ishi I who then forced a
treaty in his favour upon the Babylonian king.
Nebuchadnezzar I (1124–1103 BC) was the most famous ruler of this
dynasty. He fought and defeated the
Elamites and drove them from
Babylonian territory, invading
Elam itself, sacking the Elamite
capital Susa, and recovering the sacred statue of
Marduk that had been
carried off from
Babylon during the fall of the Kassites. Shortly
afterwards, the king of
Elam was assassinated and his kingdom
disintegrated into civil war. However, Nebuchadnezzar failed to extend
Babylonian territory further, being defeated a number of times by
Ashur-resh-ishi I (1133–1115 BC), king of the Middle Assyrian
Empire, for control of formerly Hittite-controlled territories in Aram
and Anatolia. The
Hittite Empire of the northern and western Levant
Anatolia had been largely annexed by the Middle Assyrian
Empire, and its heartland finally overrun by invading
the Balkans. In the later years of his reign,
Nebuchadnezzar I devoted
himself to peaceful building projects and securing Babylonia's borders
against the Assyrians,
Elamites and Arameans.
Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his two sons, firstly Enlil-nadin-apli
(1103–1100), who lost territory to Assyria. The second of them,
Marduk-nadin-ahhe (1098–1081 BC) also went to war with Assyria. Some
initial success in these conflicts gave way to a catastrophic defeat
at the hands of the powerful Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I
(1115–1076 BC), who annexed huge swathes of Babylonian territory,
thus further expanding the Assyrian Empire. Following this a terrible
famine gripped Babylon, inviting attacks and migrations from the
Suteans from the Levant.
In 1072 BC
Marduk-shapik-zeri signed a peace treaty with
Ashur-bel-kala (1075–1056 BC) of Assyria, however his successor
Kadašman-Buriaš was not so friendly to Assyria, prompting the
Assyrian king to invade
Babylonia and depose him, placing
Adad-apla-iddina on the throne as his vassal. Assyrian domination
continued until c. 1050 BC, with
Marduk-ahhe-eriba and Marduk-zer-X
regarded as vassals of Assyria. After 1050 BC the Middle Assyrian
Empire descended into a period of civil war, followed by constant
warfare with the Arameans, Phrygians,
Neo-Hittite states and Hurrians,
Babylonia to once more largely free itself from the Assyrian
yoke for a few decades.
However East Semitic-speaking
Babylonia soon began to suffer further
repeated incursions from West Semitic nomadic peoples migrating from
Levant during the Bronze Age collapse, and during the 11th century
BC large swathes of the Babylonian countryside was appropriated and
occupied by these newly arrived
Arameans and Suteans.
much of the countryside in eastern and central
Babylonia and the
Suteans in the western deserts, with the weak Babylonian kings being
unable to stem these migrations.
Period of Chaos, 1026–911 BC
The ruling Babylonian dynasty of
Nabu-shum-libur was deposed by
Arameans in 1026 BC, and the heart of Babylonia, including
the capital city itself descended into anarchic state, and no king was
Babylon for over 20 years.
However, in southern
Mesopotamia (a region corresponding with the old
Dynasty of the Sealand), Dynasty V (1025–1004 BC) arose, this was
ruled by Simbar-shipak, leader of a
Kassite clan, and was in effect a
separate state from Babylon. The state of anarchy allowed the Assyrian
Ashur-nirari IV (1019–1013 BC) the opportunity to attack
Babylonia in 1018 BC, and he invaded and captured the Babylonian city
of Atlila and some northern regions for Assyria.
The south Mesopotamian dynasty was replaced by another
(Dynasty VI; 1003–984 BC) which also seems to have regained control
Babylon itself. The
Elamites deposed this brief
Mar-biti-apla-usur founding Dynasty VII (984–977 BC).
However, this dynasty too fell, when the
Arameans once more ravaged
Babylonian rule was restored by
Nabû-mukin-apli in 977 BC, ushering
in Dynasty VIII. Dynasty IX begins with Ninurta-kudurri-usur II, who
ruled from 941 BC.
Babylonia remained weak during this period, with
whole areas of
Babylonia now under firm Aramean and Sutean control.
Babylonian rulers were often forced to bow to pressure from Assyria
and Elam, both of which had appropriated Babylonian territory.
Assyrian rule, 911–619 BC
Babylonia remained in a state of chaos as the 10th century BC drew to
a close. A further migration of nomads from the
Levant occurred in the
early 9th century BC with the arrival of the Chaldeans, another
nomadic northwest Semitic people described in Assyrian annals as the
"Kaldu". The Chaldeans settled in the far southeast of Babylonia,
joining the already long extant
Arameans and Suteans. By 850 BC the
migrant Chaldeans had established their own land in the extreme south
east of Mesopotamia.
From 911 BC with the founding of the
Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605
BC) by Adad-nirari II,
Babylon found itself once again under the
domination and rule of its fellow Mesopotamian state for the next
Adad-nirari II twice attacked and defeated
Shamash-mudammiq of Babylonia, annexing a large area of land north of
Diyala River and the towns of
Hīt and Zanqu in mid Mesopotamia.
He made further gains over
Nabu-shuma-ukin I later in
Tukulti-Ninurta II and
Ashurnasirpal II also forced
Babylonia into vassalage, and
Shalmaneser III (859–824 BC) sacked
Babylon itself, slew king Nabu-apla-iddina, subjugated the Aramean,
Sutean and Chaldean tribes settled within Babylonia, and installed
Marduk-zakir-shumi I (855–819 BC) followed by Marduk-balassu-iqbi
(819–813 BC) as his vassals. It was during the late 850's BC, in the
annals of Shalmaneser III, that the Chaldeans and
Arabs are first
mentioned in the pages of written recorded history.
Upon the death of Shalmaneser II,
Baba-aha-iddina was reduced to
vassalage by the Assyrian queen
Shammuramat (known as
Semiramis to the
Armenians and Greeks), acting as regent to his successor
Adad-nirari III who was merely a boy.
Adad-nirari III eventually
Baba-aha-iddina and ruled there directly until 800 BC until
Ninurta-apla-X was crowned. However he too was subjugated by
Adad-Nirari II. The next Assyrian king,
Shamshi-Adad V then made a
vassal of Marduk-bel-zeri.
Babylonia briefly fell to another foreign ruler when Marduk-apla-usur
ascended the throne in 780 BC, taking advantage of a period of civil
war in Assyria. He was a member of the Chaldean tribe who had a
century or so earlier settled in a small region in the far south
eastern corner of Mesopotamia, bordering the
Persian Gulf and south
Shamshi-Adad V attacked him and retook northern
Babylonia, forcing a border treaty in Assyria's favour upon him.
However he was allowed to remain on the throne, and successfully
stabilised the part of
Babylonia he controlled. Eriba-Marduk, another
Chaldean, succeeded him in 769 BC and his son,
Babylonia appears to have been in a state of chaos during this
time, with the north occupied by Assyria, its throne occupied by
foreign Chaldeans, and civil unrest prominent throughout the land.
The Babylonian king
Nabonassar overthrew the Chaldean usurpers in 748
BC, and successfully stabilised Babylonia, remaining untroubled by
Ashur-nirari V of Assyria. However, with the accession of
Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727 BC)
Babylonia came under renewed
Babylon was invaded and sacked and
Nabonassar reduced to
vassalage. His successors Nabu-nadin-zeri,
Nabu-suma-ukin II and
Nabu-mukin-zeri were also in servitude to Tiglath-Pileser III, until
in 729 BC the Assyrian king decided to rule
Babylon directly as its
king instead of allowing Babylonian kings to remain as vassals of
Assyria as his predecessors had done for two hundred years.
It was during this period that
Eastern Aramaic was introduced by the
Assyrians as the lingua franca of the
Neo-Assyrian Empire, and
Mesopotamian Aramaic began to supplant
Akkadian as the spoken language
of the general populace of both
Assyria and Babylonia.
The Assyrian king
Shalmaneser V was declared king of
Babylon in 727
BC, but died whilst besieging
Samaria in 722 BC.
Revolt was then fomented against Assyrian domination by
Marduk-apla-iddina II, a Chaldean malka (chieftain) of the far south
east of Mesopotamia, with strong Elamite support. Merodach-Baladan
managed to take the throne of
Babylon itself between 721–710 BC
whilst the Assyrian king
Sargon II (722–705 BC) were otherwise
occupied in defeating the
Cimmerians who had attacked
Assyria's Persian and Median vassal colonies in ancient Iran.
Marduk-apla-iddina II was eventually defeated and ejected by Sargon II
of Assyria, and fled to his protectors in Elam.
Sargon II was then
declared king in Babylon.
Sennacherib (705–681 BC) succeeded Sargon II, and after ruling
directly for a while, he placed his son
Ashur-nadin-shumi on the
throne. However Merodach-Baladan and his Elamite protectors continued
to unsuccessfully agitate against Assyrian rule. Nergal-ushezib, an
Elamite, murdered the Assyrian prince and briefly took the throne.
This led to the infuriated Assyrian king
Sennacherib invading and
Elam and sacking Babylon, laying waste to and largely
destroying the city.
Babylon was regarded as a sacred city by all
Mesopotamians, including Assyrians, and this act eventually led
Sennacherib to be murdered by his own sons while praying to the god
Nineveh in 681 BC. A puppet king
Marduk-zakir-shumi II was
placed on the throne by the new Assyrian king Esarhaddon. However,
Merodach-Baladan returned from exile in Elam, and briefly deposed him,
Esarhaddon to attack and defeat him, whereupon he once more
fled to his masters in Elam, where he died in exile.
Esarhaddon (681–669 BC) ruled
Babylon personally, he completely
rebuilt the city, bringing rejuvenation and peace to the region. Upon
his death, and in an effort to maintain harmony within his vast empire
(which stretched from the
Nubia and from Cyprus
to Iran), he installed his eldest son
Shamash-shum-ukin as a subject
king in Babylon, and his youngest, the highly educated Ashurbanipal
(669–627 BC), in the more senior position as king of
overlord of Shamash-shum-ukin.
Despite being an Assyrian himself, Shamash-shum-ukin, after decades
subject to his brother Ashurbanipal, declared that the city of Babylon
(and not the Assyrian city of Nineveh) should be the seat of the
immense empire. He raised a major revolt against his brother,
Ashurbanipal. He led a powerful coalition of peoples also resentful of
Assyrian subjugation and rule, including; Elam, the Persians, Medes,
the Babylonians, Chaldeans and
Suteans of southern Mesopotamia, the
Arameans of the
Levant and southwest Mesopotamia, the
Dilmunites of the
Arabian Peninsula and the Canaanites-Phoenicians.
After a bitter struggle
Babylon was sacked and its allies vanquished,
Shamash-shum-ukim being killed in the process.
Elam was destroyed once
and for all, and the Babylonians, Persians, Chaldeans, Arabs, Medes,
Suteans and Canaanites were violently subjugated,
with Assyrian troops exacting savage revenge on the rebelling peoples.
An Assyrian governor named
Kandalanu was placed on the throne to rule
on behalf of the Assyrian king. Upon Ashurbanipal's death in 627
BC, his son
Ashur-etil-ilani (627–623 BC) became ruler of Babylon
Assyria soon descended into a series of brutal internal civil
wars which were to cause its downfall.
Ashur-etil-ilani was deposed by
one of his own generals, named
Sin-shumu-lishir in 623 BC, who also
set himself up as king in Babylon. After only one year on the throne
amidst continual civil war,
Sinsharishkun (622–612 BC) ousted him as
Babylonia in 622 BC. However, he too was beset by
constant unremitting civil war in the Assyrian heartland. Babylonia
took advantage of this and rebelled under Nabopolassar, a previously
unknown malka (chieftain) of the Chaldeans, who had settled in south
Mesopotamia by c. 850 BC.
It was during the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun that Assyria's vast empire
began to unravel, and many of its former subject peoples ceased to pay
tribute, most significantly for the Assyrians; the Babylonians,
Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians,
Arameans and Cimmerians.
Neo-Babylonian Empire (Chaldean Era)
Neo-Babylonian Empire and Chaldea
The Neo-Babylonian Empire
In 620 BC
Nabopolassar seized control over much of
Babylonia with the
support of most of the inhabitants, with only the city of
some northern regions showing any loyalty to the beleaguered Assyrian
Nabopolassar was unable to yet utterly secure Babylonia, and
for the next four years he was forced to contend with an occupying
Assyrian army encamped in
Babylonia trying to unseat him. However, the
Assyrian king, Sin-shar-ishkun was plagued by constant revolts among
his people in Nineveh, and was thus prevented from ejecting
The stalemate ended in 615 BC, when
Nabopolassar entered the
Babylonians and Chaldeans into alliance with Cyaxares, an erstwhile
vassal of Assyria, and king of the Iranian peoples; the Medes,
Sagartians and Parthians.
Cyaxares had also taken advantage
of the Assyrian destruction of the formerly regionally dominant
pre-Iranian Elamite and Mannean nations and the subsequent anarchy in
Assyria to free the
Iranic peoples from three centuries of the
Assyrian yoke and regional Elamite domination. The
north of the Caucasus, and the
Cimmerians from the
Black Sea who had
both also been subjugated by Assyria, joined the alliance, as did
regional Aramean tribes.
In 615 BC, while the Assyrian king was fully occupied fighting rebels
Cyaxares launched a surprise
attack on the Assyrian heartlands, sacking the cities of
Biblical Calah, Nimrud) and
Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk),
still pinned down in southern
Mesopotamia and thus not involved in
From this point on the coalition of Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes,
Sagartians fought in unison
against a civil war ravaged Assyria. Major Assyrian cities such as
Ashur, Arbela (modern Irbil), Guzana,
Dur Sharrukin (modern
Khorsabad), Imgur-Enlil, Nibarti-Ashur, Gasur, Kanesh, Kar
Tushhan fell to the alliance during 614 BC.
Sin-shar-ishkun somehow managed to rally against the odds during 613
BC, and drove back the combined forces ranged against him.
However, the alliance launched a renewed combined attack the following
year, and after five years of fierce fighting
Nineveh was sacked in
late 612 BC after a prolonged siege, in which Sin-shar-ishkun was
killed defending his capital.
House to house fighting continued in Nineveh, and an Assyrian general
and member of the royal household, took the throne as Ashur-uballit II
(612–605 BC). He was offered the chance of accepting a position of
vassalage by the leaders of the alliance according to the Babylonian
Chronicle. However he refused and managed to successfully fight his
way out of
Nineveh and to the northern Assyrian city of
Mesopotamia where he founded a new capital. The fighting
continued, as the Assyrian king held out against the alliance until
607 BC, when he was eventually ejected by the Medes, Babylonians,
Scythians and their allies, and prevented in an attempt to regain the
city the same year.
The Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, whose dynasty had been installed as
Assyria in 671 BC, belatedly tried to aid Egypt's former
Assyrian masters, possibly out of fear that
Egypt would be next to
succumb to the new powers without
Assyria to protect them, having
already been ravaged by the Scythians. The Assyrians fought on with
Egyptian aid until what was probably a final decisive victory was
achieved against them at
Carchemish in north western
Assyria in 605
BC. The seat of empire was thus transferred to Babylonia for the
first time since
Hammurabi over a thousand years before.
Nabopolassar was followed by his son Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 BC),
whose reign of 43 years made
Babylon once more the ruler of much of
the civilized world, taking over portions of the former Assyrian
Empire, with the eastern and north eastern portion being taken by the
Medes and the far north by the Scythians.
Nebuchadnezzar II may have also had to contend with remnants of the
Assyrian resistance. Some sections of the Assyrian Army and
Administration may have still continued in and around
Assyria for a time, however by 599 BC Assyrian imperial
records from this region also fell silent. The fate of Ashur-uballit
II remains unknown, and he may have been killed attempting to regain
Harran, at Carchemish, or continued to fight on, eventually
disappearing into obscurity.
Scythians and Cimmerians, erstwhile allies of
Nabopolassar, now became a threat, and Nebuchadnezzar II was forced to
Anatolia and rout their forces, ending the northern threat
to his Empire.
The Egyptians attempted to remain in the Near East, possibly in an
effort to aid in restoring
Assyria as a secure buffer against
Babylonia and the
Medes and Persians, or to carve out an empire of
their own. Nebuchadnezzar II campaigned against the Egyptians and
drove them back over the Sinai. However an attempt to take Egypt
itself as his Assyrian predecessors had succeeded in doing failed,
mainly due to a series of rebellions from the Israelites of Judah and
the former kingdom of Ephraim, the
Caanan and the
Arameans of the Levant. The Babylonian king crushed these rebellions,
deposed Jehoiakim, the king of Judah and deported a sizeable part of
the population to Babylonia. Cities like Tyre,
also subjugated. The
Arabs and other South Arabian peoples who dwelt
in the deserts to the south of the borders of
Mesopotamia were then
In 567 BC he went to war with Pharaoh Amasis, and briefly invaded
Egypt itself. After securing his empire, which included marrying a
Median princess, he devoted himself to maintaining the empire and
conducting numerous impressive building projects in Babylon. He is
credited with building the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Marduk succeeded to the throne and reigned for only two years.
Little contemporary record of his rule survives, though Berosus later
stated that he was deposed and murdered in 560 BC by his successor
Neriglissar for conducting himself in an "improper manner".
Neriglissar (560–556 BC) also had a short reign. He was the son in
law of Nebuchadnezzar II, and it is unclear if he was a Chaldean or
native Babylonian who married into the dynasty. He campaigned in Aram
and Phoenicia, successfully maintaining Babylonian rule in these
Neriglissar died young however, and was succeeded by his son
Marduk (556 BC), who was still a boy. He was deposed and
killed during the same year in a palace conspiracy.
Of the reign of the last Babylonian king,
556–539 BC) who is the son of the Assyrian priestess Adda-Guppi and
who managed to kill the last Chaldean king, Labashi-Marduk, and took
the reign, there is a fair amount of information available. Nabonidus
(hence his son, the regent Belshazzar) was, at least from the mother's
side, neither Chaldean nor Babylonian, but ironically Assyrian,
hailing from its final capital of
Harran (Kharranu). His father's
origins remain unknown. Information regarding
Nabonidus is chiefly
derived from a chronological tablet containing the annals of
Nabonidus, supplemented by another inscription of
Nabonidus where he
recounts his restoration of the temple of the Moon-god
Sin at Harran;
as well as by a proclamation of Cyrus issued shortly after his formal
recognition as king of Babylonia.
A number of factors arose which would ultimately lead to the fall of
Babylon. The population of
Babylonia became restive and increasingly
disaffected under Nabonidus. He excited a strong feeling against
himself by attempting to centralize the polytheistic religion of
Babylonia in the temple of
Marduk at Babylon, and while he had thus
alienated the local priesthoods, the military party also despised him
on account of his antiquarian tastes. He seemed to have left the
defense of his kingdom to his son
Belshazzar (a capable soldier but
poor diplomat who alienated the political elite), occupying himself
with the more congenial work of excavating the foundation records of
the temples and determining the dates of their builders. He also
spent time outside Babylonia, rebuilding temples in the Assyrian city
of Harran, and also among his
Arab subjects in the deserts to the
south of Mesopotamia.
Nabonidus and Belshazzar's Assyrian heritage is
also likely to have added to this resentment. In addition,
Mesopotamian military might had usually been concentrated in the
martial state of Assyria.
Babylonia had always been more vulnerable to
conquest and invasion than its northern neighbour, and without the
Assyria to keep foreign powers in check and Mesopotamia
Babylonia was ultimately exposed.
It was in the sixth year of
Nabonidus (549 BC) that Cyrus the Great,
the Achaemenid Persian "king of Anshan" in Elam, revolted against his
suzerain Astyages, "king of the Manda" or Medes, at Ecbatana.
Astyages' army betrayed him to his enemy, and Cyrus established
himself at Ecbatana, thus putting an end to the empire of the Medes
and making the Persian faction dominant among the
Three years later Cyrus had become king of all Persia, and was engaged
in a campaign to put down a revolt among the Assyrians. Meanwhile,
Nabonidus had established a camp in the desert of his colony of
Arabia, near the southern frontier of his kingdom, leaving his son
Belshazzar (Belsharutsur) in command of the army.
In 539 BC Cyrus invaded Babylonia. A battle was fought at
Opis in the
month of June, where the Babylonians were defeated; and immediately
Sippar surrendered to the invader.
Nabonidus fled to
Babylon, where he was pursued by Gobryas, and on the 16th day of
Tammuz, two days after the capture of Sippar, "the soldiers of Cyrus
Babylon without fighting."
Nabonidus was dragged from his
hiding place, where the services continued without interruption. Cyrus
did not arrive until the 3rd of Marchesvan (October),
acted for him in his absence.
Gobryas was now made governor of the
province of Babylon, and a few days afterwards
Belshazzar the son of
Nabonidus died in battle. A public mourning followed, lasting six
days, and Cyrus' son
Cambyses accompanied the corpse to the tomb.
One of the first acts of Cyrus accordingly was to allow the Jewish
exiles to return to their own homes, carrying with them their sacred
temple vessels. The permission to do so was embodied in a
proclamation, whereby the conqueror endeavored to justify his claim to
the Babylonian throne.
Cyrus now claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancient
Babylonian kings and the avenger of Bel-Marduk, who was assumed to be
wrathful at the impiety of
Nabonidus in removing the images of the
local gods from their ancestral shrines to his capital Babylon.
The Chaldean tribe had lost control of
Babylonia decades before the
end of the era that sometimes bears their name, and they appear to
have blended into the general populace of
Babylonia even before this
(for example, Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II and their successors
always referred to themselves as Shar Akkad and never as Shar Kaldu on
inscriptions), and during the Persian
Achaemenid Empire the term
Chaldean ceased to refer to a race of people, and instead specifically
to a social class of priests educated in classical Babylonian
Astronomy and Astrology. By the mid Seleucid
Empire (312–150 BC) period this term too had fallen from use.
Further information: Achaemenid
Assyria and Fall of Babylon
Babylonia was absorbed into the
Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC.
A year before Cyrus' death, in 529 BC, he elevated his son
in the government, making him king of Babylon, while he reserved for
himself the fuller title of "king of the (other) provinces" of the
empire. It was only when
Darius I acquired the Persian throne and
ruled it as a representative of the Zoroastrian religion, that the old
tradition was broken and the claim of
Babylon to confer legitimacy on
the rulers of western Asia ceased to be acknowledged.
Immediately after Darius seized Persia,
Babylonia briefly recovered
its independence under a native ruler, Nidinta-Bel, who took the name
of Nebuchadnezzar III, and reigned from October 522 BC to August 520
BC, when Darius took the city by storm, during this period
the north also rebelled. A few years later, probably 514 BC, Babylon
again revolted under the Armenian king Nebuchadnezzar IV; on this
occasion, after its capture by the Persians, the walls were partly
destroyed. The Esagila, the great temple of Bel, however, still
continued to be kept in repair and to be a center of Babylonian
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great conquered
Babylon in 333 BC for the Greeks, and
died there in 323 BC.
Assyria then became part of the
Greek Seleucid Empire. It has long been maintained
that the foundation of
Seleucia diverted the population to the new
capital of southern Mesopotamia, and that the ruins of the old city
became a quarry for the builders of the new seat of government,
but the recent publication of the
Babylonian Chronicles has shown that
urban life was still very much the same well into the Parthian Empire
(150 BC to 226 AD). The Parthian king Mithridates conquered the region
Parthian Empire in 150 BC, and the region became something of
a battleground between Greeks and Parthians.
There was a brief interlude of Roman conquest (the provinces of
Assyria and Mesopotamia; 116–118 AD) under Trajan, after which the
Parthians reasserted control.
The satrapy of
Babylonia was absorbed into
Asōristān (meaning The
land of the Assyrians in Persian) in the Sasanian Empire, which began
in 226 AD, and by this time
East Syrian Rite
East Syrian Rite Syriac Christianity
(which emerged in
Assyria and Upper
Mesopotamia the first century AD)
had become the dominant religion among the native Assyrian-Babylonian
populace, who had never adopted the
Zoroastrianism or Hellenic
religions and languages of their rulers.
Apart from the small 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD independent
Neo-Assyrian states of Adiabene, Osroene, Assur, Beth Garmai, Beth
Hatra in the north,
Mesopotamia remained under largely
Persian control until the
Arab Muslim conquest of
Persia in the
seventh century AD.
Asōristān was dissolved as a geopolitical entity
in 637 AD, and the native Eastern Aramaic-speaking and largely
Christian populace of southern and central
Mesopotamia (with the
exception of the Mandeans) gradually underwent
Islamization in contrast to northern
Mesopotamia where an Assyrian
continuity endures to the present day.
Bronze Age to Early
Iron Age Mesopotamian culture is sometimes
summarized as "Assyro-Babylonian", because of the close ethnic,
linguistic and cultural interdependence of the two political centers.
The term "Babylonia", especially in writings from around the early
20th century, was formerly used to also include Southern Mesopotamia's
earliest pre-Babylonian history, and not only in reference to the
later city-state of
Babylon proper. This geographic usage of the name
"Babylonia' has generally been replaced by the more accurate term
Sumer or Sumero-
Akkadian in more recent writing, referring to the
pre-Assyro-Babylonian Mesopotamian civilization.
Old Babylonian Cylinder Seal, hematite, The king makes an animal
offering to Shamash. This seal was probably made in a workshop at
Art and architecture
Further information: Architecture of
Mesopotamia and Art of
In Babylonia, an abundance of clay, and lack of stone, led to greater
use of mudbrick; Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian temples were
massive structures of crude brick which were supported by buttresses,
the rain being carried off by drains. One such drain at Ur was made of
lead. The use of brick led to the early development of the pilaster
and column, and of frescoes and enameled tiles. The walls were
brilliantly coloured, and sometimes plated with zinc or gold, as well
as with tiles. Painted terracotta cones for torches were also embedded
in the plaster. In Babylonia, in place of the relief, there was
greater use of three-dimensional figures—the earliest examples being
the Statues of Gudea, that are realistic if somewhat clumsy. The
paucity of stone in
Babylonia made every pebble precious, and led to a
high perfection in the art of gem-cutting.
Main article: Babylonian astronomy
Tablets dating back to the Old Babylonian period document the
application of mathematics to the variation in the length of daylight
over a solar year. Centuries of Babylonian observations of celestial
phenomena are recorded in the series of cuneiform script tablets known
as the 'Enūma Anu Enlil'. The oldest significant astronomical text
that we possess is Tablet 63 of 'Enūma Anu Enlil', the Venus tablet
of Ammi-Saduqa, which lists the first and last visible risings of
Venus over a period of about 21 years and is the earliest evidence
that the phenomena of a planet were recognized as periodic. The oldest
rectangular astrolabe dates back to
Babylonia c. 1100 BC. The
MUL.APIN, contains catalogues of stars and constellations as well as
schemes for predicting heliacal risings and the settings of the
planets, lengths of daylight measured by a water clock, gnomon,
shadows, and intercalations. The Babylonian GU text arranges stars in
'strings' that lie along declination circles and thus measure
right-ascensions or time-intervals, and also employs the stars of the
zenith, which are also separated by given right-ascensional
Medical diagnosis and prognosis
We find [medical semiotics] in a whole constellation of disciplines.
... There was a real common ground among these [Babylonian] forms of
knowledge ... an approach involving analysis of particular cases,
constructed only through traces, symptoms, hints. ... In short, we can
speak about a symptomatic or divinatory [or conjectural] paradigm
which could be oriented toward past present or future, depending on
the form of knowledge called upon. Toward future ... that was the
medical science of symptoms, with its double character, diagnostic,
explaining past and present, and prognostic, suggesting likely future.
— Carlo Ginzburg
The oldest Babylonian (i.e., Akkadian) texts on medicine date back to
First Babylonian Dynasty
First Babylonian Dynasty in the first half of the 2nd millennium
BC although the earliest medical prescriptions appear in Sumerian
Third Dynasty of Ur
Third Dynasty of Ur period. The most extensive
Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written
by the ummânū, or chief scholar,
Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa,
during the reign of the Babylonian king
Along with contemporary ancient Egyptian medicine, the Babylonians
introduced the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination,
and prescriptions. In addition, the Diagnostic Handbook introduced the
methods of therapy and aetiology and the use of empiricism, logic and
rationality in diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. The text contains a
list of medical symptoms and often detailed empirical observations
along with logical rules used in combining observed symptoms on the
body of a patient with its diagnosis and prognosis.
The symptoms and diseases of a patient were treated through
therapeutic means such as bandages, creams and pills. If a patient
could not be cured physically, the Babylonian physicians often relied
on exorcism to cleanse the patient from any curses. Esagil-kin-apli's
Diagnostic Handbook was based on a logical set of axioms and
assumptions, including the modern view that through the examination
and inspection of the symptoms of a patient, it is possible to
determine the patient's disease, its aetiology and future development,
and the chances of the patient's recovery.
Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of illnesses and diseases and
described their symptoms in his Diagnostic Handbook. These include the
symptoms for many varieties of epilepsy and related ailments along
with their diagnosis and prognosis. Later Babylonian medicine
resembles early Greek medicine in many ways. In particular, the early
treatises of the
Hippocratic Corpus show the influence of late
Babylonian medicine in terms of both content and form.
There were libraries in most towns and temples; an old Sumerian
proverb averred that "he who would excel in the school of the scribes
must rise with the dawn". Women as well as men learned to read and
write, and in Semitic times, this involved knowledge of the
extinct Sumerian language, and a complicated and extensive
A considerable amount of Babylonian literature was translated from
Sumerian originals, and the language of religion and law long
continued to be written in the old agglutinative language of Sumer.
Vocabularies, grammars, and interlinear translations were compiled for
the use of students, as well as commentaries on the older texts and
explanations of obscure words and phrases. The characters of the
syllabary were all arranged and named, and elaborate lists of them
were drawn up.
There are many Babylonian literary works whose titles have come down
to us. One of the most famous of these was the Epic of Gilgamesh, in
twelve books, translated from the original Sumerian by a certain
Sin-liqi-unninni, and arranged upon an astronomical principle. Each
division contains the story of a single adventure in the career of
Gilgamesh. The whole story is a composite product, and it is probable
that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central
The brief resurgence of Babylonian culture in the 7th to 6th centuries
BC was accompanied by a number of important cultural developments.
Babylonian astronomy and Chronology of the ancient Near
Among the sciences, astronomy and astrology still occupied a
conspicuous place in Babylonian society.
Astronomy was of old standing
in Babylonia. The zodiac was a Babylonian invention of great
antiquity; and eclipses of the sun and moon could be foretold. There
are dozens of cuneiform records of original Mesopotamian eclipse
Babylonian astronomy was the basis for much of what was done in
ancient Greek astronomy, in classical Indian astronomy, in Sasanian,
Byzantine and Syrian astronomy, astronomy in the medieval Islamic
world, and in Central Asian and Western European astronomy.
Babylonian astronomy can thus be considered the direct predecessor
of much of ancient
Greek mathematics and astronomy, which in turn is
the historical predecessor of the European (Western) scientific
During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed
a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing
with the ideal nature of the early universe and began employing an
internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an
important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science and
some scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first
scientific revolution. This new approach to astronomy was adopted
and further developed in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy.
In Seleucid and Parthian times, the astronomical reports were of a
thoroughly scientific character; how much earlier their advanced
knowledge and methods were developed is uncertain. The Babylonian
development of methods for predicting the motions of the planets is
considered to be a major episode in the history of astronomy.
The only Babylonian astronomer known to have supported a heliocentric
model of planetary motion was Seleucus of
Seleucia (b. 190
BC). Seleucus is known from the writings of Plutarch. He
supported the heliocentric theory where the Earth rotated around its
own axis which in turn revolved around the Sun. According to Plutarch,
Seleucus even proved the heliocentric system, but it is not known what
arguments he used.
Main article: Babylonian mathematics
Babylonian mathematical texts are plentiful and well edited. In
respect of time they fall in two distinct groups: one from the First
Babylonian Dynasty period (1830–1531 BC), the other mainly Seleucid
from the last three or four centuries BC. In respect of content there
is scarcely any difference between the two groups of texts. Thus
Babylonian mathematics remained stale in character and content, with
very little progress or innovation, for nearly two millennia.[dubious
The Babylonian system of mathematics was sexagesimal, or a base 60
numeral system. From this we derive the modern day usage of 60 seconds
in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 (60 x 6) degrees in a
circle. The Babylonians were able to make great advances in
mathematics for two reasons. First, the number 60 has many divisors
(2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30), making calculations easier.
Additionally, unlike the Egyptians and Romans, the Babylonians had a
true place-value system, where digits written in the left column
represented larger values (much as in our base-ten system: 734 =
7×100 + 3×10 + 4×1). Among the Babylonians' mathematical
accomplishments were the determination of the square root of two
correctly to seven places (YBC 7289). They also demonstrated knowledge
Pythagorean theorem well before Pythagoras, as evidenced by
this tablet translated by Dennis Ramsey and dating to c. 1900 BC:
4 is the length and 5 is the diagonal. What is the breadth? Its size
is not known. 4 times 4 is 16. And 5 times 5 is 25. You take 16 from
25 and there remains 9. What times what shall I take in order to get
9? 3 times 3 is 9. 3 is the breadth.
The ner of 600 and the sar of 3600 were formed from the unit of 60,
corresponding with a degree of the equator. Tablets of squares and
cubes, calculated from 1 to 60, have been found at Senkera, and a
people acquainted with the sun-dial, the clepsydra, the lever and the
pulley, must have had no mean knowledge of mechanics. A crystal lens,
turned on the lathe, was discovered by
Austen Henry Layard
Austen Henry Layard at Nimrud
along with glass vases bearing the name of Sargon; this could explain
the excessive minuteness of some of the writing on the Assyrian
tablets, and a lens may also have been used in the observation of the
The Babylonians might have been familiar with the general rules for
measuring the areas. They measured the circumference of a circle as
three times the diameter and the area as one-twelfth the square of the
circumference, which would be correct if π were estimated as 3. The
volume of a cylinder was taken as the product of the base and the
height, however, the volume of the frustum of a cone or a square
pyramid was incorrectly taken as the product of the height and half
the sum of the bases. Also, there was a recent discovery in which a
tablet used π as 3 and 1/8. The Babylonians are also known for the
Babylonian mile, which was a measure of distance equal to about 11
kilometres (7 mi) today. This measurement for distances eventually was
converted to a time-mile used for measuring the travel of the Sun,
therefore, representing time. (Eves, Chapter 2) The Babylonians used
also space time graphs to calculate the velocity of Jupiter. This is
an idea that is considered highly modern, traced to the 14th century
England and France and anticipating integral calculus.
Further information: Babylonian literature § Philosophy
The origins of Babylonian philosophy can be traced back to early
Mesopotamian wisdom literature, which embodied certain philosophies of
life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic
poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. Babylonian
reasoning and rationality developed beyond empirical observation.
It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek
philosophy, particularly Hellenistic philosophy. The Babylonian text
Dialogue of Pessimism contains similarities to the agonistic thought
of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the
dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic
method of Socrates. The Milesian philosopher
Thales is also known
to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.
Babylonia, and particularly its capital city Babylon, has long held a
place in the
Abrahamic religions as a symbol of excess and dissolute
power. Many references are made to
Babylon in the Bible, both
literally (historical) and allegorically. The mentions in the Tanakh
tend to be historical or prophetic, while
New Testament apocalyptic
references to the Whore of
Babylon are more likely figurative, or
cryptic references possibly to pagan Rome, or some other archetype.
The legendary Hanging Gardens of
Babylon and the
Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel are
seen as symbols of luxurious and arrogant power respectively.
Early Christians sometimes referred to Rome as Babylon: The apostle
Peter ends his first letter (probably written from Rome as Bishop)
with this advice: "She who is in
Babylon [Rome], chosen together with
you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark." (1 Peter 5:13,
New International Version).
Revelation 14:8 says: "A second angel followed and said, 'Fallen!
Babylon the Great,' which made all the nations drink the
maddening wine of her adulteries". Other examples can be found in
16:19 and 18:2.
Babylon is referred to in Quran in verse (2:102) of chapter (2) Surah
Baqarah (The Cow): " And they followed [instead] what the devils had
recited during the reign of Solomon. It was not Solomon who
disbelieved, but the devils disbelieved, teaching people magic and
that which was revealed to the two angels at Babylon, Harut and Marut.
But the two angels do not teach anyone unless they say, "We are a
trial, so do not disbelieve [by practicing magic]". And [yet] they
learn from them that by which they cause separation between a man and
his wife. But they do not harm anyone through it except by permission
of Allah. And the people learn what harms them and does not benefit
them. But the Children of Israel certainly knew that whoever purchased
the magic would not have in the Hereafter any share. And wretched is
that for which they sold themselves, if they only knew."
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East portal
Timeline of the Assyrian Empire
^ Freedom = Akk. addurāru.
^ F. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia
^ Aliraqi - Babylonian Empire
^ Babylonian Empire - Livius
^ a b c Deutscher, Guy (2007). Syntactic Change in Akkadian: The
Evolution of Sentential Complementation.
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press US.
pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-19-953222-3.
^ Woods C. 2006 "Bilingualism, Scribal Learning, and the Death of
Sumerian". In S.L. Sanders (ed) Margins of Writing, Origins of
Culture: 91–120 Chicago 
^ A. K. Grayson (1972). Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Volume 1. Otto
Harrassowitz. pp. 7–8.
^ Robert William Rogers, A History of
Babylonia and Assyria, Volume I,
Eaton and Mains, 1900.
^ Oppenheim Ancient Mesopotamia
^ a b c d Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq
^ Eder, Christian., Assyrische Distanzangaben und die absolute
Chronologie Vorderasiens, AoF 31, 191–236, 2004.
^ Schneider, Thomas (2003). "Kassitisch und Hurro-Urartäisch. Ein
Diskussionsbeitrag zu möglichen lexikalischen Isoglossen".
Altorientalische Forschungen (in German) (30): 372–381.
^ "India: Early Vedic period".
Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
^ "Iranian art and architecture".
Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2012.
^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text
from a publication now in the public domain: Sayce, Archibald
Henry (1911). "
Babylonia and Assyria". In Chisholm, Hugh.
Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
^ H. W. F. Saggs (2000). Babylonians. British Museum Press.
^ a b c d Chisholm 1911, p. 105.
^ "World Wide Sechool". History of Phoenicia – Part IV.
Archived from the original on 2012-09-18. Retrieved 2007-01-09.
^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 105–106.
^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911, p. 106.
^ Al-Gailani Werr, L., 1988. Studies in the chronology and regional
style of Old Babylonian Cylinder Seals. Bibliotheca Mesopotamica,
^ Chisholm 1911, p. 108.
^ a b Pingree, David (1998), "Legacies in
Astronomy and Celestial
Omens", in Dalley, Stephanie, The Legacy of Mesopotamia, Oxford
University Press, pp. 125–137, ISBN 0-19-814946-8
^ Rochberg, Francesca (2004), The Heavenly Writing: Divination,
Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge University
^ Evans, James (1998). The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy.
Oxford University Press. pp. 296–297.
ISBN 978-0-19-509539-5. Retrieved 2008-02-04.
^ Ginzburg, Carlo (1984). "Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes: Clues
and Scientific Method". In Eco, Umberto; Sebeok, Thomas. The Sign of
Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce. Bloomington, IN: History Workshop,
Indiana University Press. pp. 81–118.
ISBN 978-0-253-35235-4. LCCN 82049207.
OCLC 9412985. Ginzburg stresses the significance of
Babylonian medicine in his discussion of the conjectural paradigm as
evidenced by the methods of Giovanni Morelli,
Sigmund Freud and
Sherlock Holmes in the light of Charles Sanders Peirce's logic of
making educated guesses or abductive reasoning
^ Leo Oppenheim (1977). Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead
Civilization. University of Chicago Press. p. 290.
^ R D. Biggs (2005). "Medicine, Surgery, and Public Health in Ancient
Mesopotamia". Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies. 19 (1):
^ a b H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Marten Stol, Cornelis Tilburg (2004),
Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman
Medicine, p. 99, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-13666-5.
^ Marten Stol (1993),
Epilepsy in Babylonia, p. 55, Brill Publishers,
^ H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Marten Stol, Cornelis Tilburg (2004), Magic
Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine, p.
97–98, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-13666-5.
^ Marten Stol (1993),
Epilepsy in Babylonia, p. 5, Brill Publishers,
^ M. J. Geller (2004). H. F. J. Horstmanshoff; Marten Stol; Cornelis
Tilburg, eds. West Meets East: Early Greek and Babylonian Diagnosis.
Magic and rationality in ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman
medicine. Brill Publishers. pp. 11–186.
^ a b c d e f g Chisholm 1911, p. 107.
^ Tatlow, Elisabeth Meier Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law
and Society: The
Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East Continuum International Publishing
Group Ltd. (31 March 2005) ISBN 978-0-8264-1628-5 p. 75 
^ a b c Aaboe, Asger. "The culture of Babylonia: Babylonian
mathematics, astrology, and astronomy". The Assyrian and Babylonian
Empires and other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the
Sixth Centuries B.C. Eds. John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, N. G. L.
Hammond, E. Sollberger and C. B. F. Walker. Cambridge University
^ D. Brown (2000), Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology, Styx
Publications, ISBN 90-5693-036-2.
Otto E. Neugebauer (1945). "The History of Ancient Astronomy
Problems and Methods", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 4 (1), pp.
George Sarton (1955). "Chaldaean
Astronomy of the Last Three
Centuries B.C.", Journal of the American Oriental Society 75 (3), pp.
^ William P. D. Wightman (1951, 1953), The Growth of Scientific Ideas,
Yale University Press p. 38.
^ Chisholm 1911, pp. 107–108.
^ Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of
Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), pp.
^ Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of
Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), pp.
Theophilus G. Pinches, The Religion of
deities' names are now read differently, but this detailed 1906 work
is a classic.)
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Babylonian and Assyrian Religion".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Sayce, Archibald Henry (1878). "Babylon–Babylonia". In Baynes,
T.S. Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (9th ed.). New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons. pp. 182–194.
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Babylonia". Catholic
Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
The History Files Ancient Mesopotamia
Egypt in Relation to Hebrew Tradition, by
Leonard W. King, 1918 (a searchable facsimile at the University of
DjVu & layered PDF format)
The Babylonian Legends of the Creation and the Fight between Bel and
the Dragon, as told by Assyrian Tablets from Nineveh, 1921 (a
searchable facsimile at the
University of Georgia
University of Georgia Libraries; DjVu
& layered PDF format)
The Civilization of
Babylonia and Assyria; its remains, language,
history, religion, commerce, law, art, and literature, by Morris
Jastrow, Jr. ... with map and 164 illustrations, 1915 (a searchable
facsimile at the
University of Georgia
University of Georgia Libraries;
DjVu & layered
PDF format or
Old Babylonian Period
From under the Dust of Ages by William St. Chad Boscawen
The Chaldean account of Genesis by George Smith
Bibliography of Babylonian Astronomy/Astrology
Recordings of modern scholars reading Babylonian poetry in the
original language (http://www.speechisfire.com).
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