) was an ancient Akkadian
nation state and cultural region
based in central-southernMesopotamia
). It emerged as an independent state c.
1894 BC, with the city of Babylon
as its capital. It was often involved in rivalry with its fellow Akkadian state of Assyria
in northern Mesopotamia. Babylonia became the major power in the region after Hammurabi
(fl. c. 1792 – 1752 BC middle chronology, or c. 1696 – 1654 BC, short chronology
) created an empire out of many of the territories of the former Akkadian Empire
The Babylonian state retained the written Semitic Akkadian language
for official use (the language of its native populace), despite its Amorite
founders and Kassite
successors not being native Akkadians. It retained the Sumerian language
for religious use, but 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 protracted periods of outside rule.
The earliest mention of the city of Babylon can be found in a tablet
from the reign of 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 not an independent state; 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 Gutians
for a few decades before the rise of the Sumerian third dynasty of Ur
, which encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, including Babylon.
Babylon remained a minor territory for a century after it was founded, until the reign of its sixth Amorite ruler, Hammurabi
(1792- 1750 BC, or fl.
c. 1728 – 1686 BC (short
). He conducted major building work in Babylon, expanding it from a minor town into a great city worthy of kingship. He was a very efficient ruler, establishing a bureaucracy, with taxation and centralized government. Hammurabi freed Babylon from 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
. The conquests of Hammurabi gave the region stability after turbulent times and coalesced the patchwork of 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 Babylonia.
The armies of Babylonia under Hammurabi were well-disciplined, he turned eastwards and invaded what was a thousand years later to become Persia
), conquering the pre Iranic Elamites
. To the west, the Semitic
states of the Levant
) including the powerful kingdom of Mari
Hammurabi then entered into a protracted war with the Old Assyrian Empire
for control of Mesopotamia
and the Near East
. Assyria had extended control over parts of Asia Minor
from the 21st century BC, and from the latter part of the 19th century BC had asserted itself over north east Syria
and central Mesopotamia also. After a protracted unresolved struggle over decades with the Assyrian king Ishme-Dagan
, Hammurabi forced his successor Mut-Ashkur
to pay tribute to Babylon c. 1751 BC, thus giving Babylonia control over Assyria’s centuries old Hattian
colonies in Asia Minor
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 Mesopotamian god Marduk
rose to supremacy in the pantheon of southern Mesopotamia (with the god Ashur
remaining the 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 major city, increasing its size and population dramatically, and conducting a number of impressive architectural works.
The Babylonians, like their predecessor Sumero-Akkadian
states, engaged in regular trade with the Amorite
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 Canaanite names: Abi-Eshuh
In 620 BC Nabopolassar seized control over much of Babylonia with the support of most of the inhabitants, with only the city ofNippur
and some northern regions showing any loyalty to the Assyrian king.
Nabopolassar was unable to yet utterly secure Babylonia, and for the next 4 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 revolt among his own people in Nineveh
, and was thus unable to eject Nabopolassar.
The stalemate ended in 616 BC, when Nabopolassar entered into alliance with Cyaxares
, king of the Medes
, (who had also taken advantage of the Assyrian destruction of Elam and the subsequent anarchy in Assyria to free the Iranic
peoples from three centuries of the Assyrian yoke and regional Elamite domination) and also the Arameans
who had also been subjugated by Assyria. After 4 years of fierce fighting Nineveh
was sacked in 612 BC after a bitter prolonged siege in which Sin-shar-ishkun was killed. House to house fighting continued in Nineveh, and the last Assyrian king, Ashur-uballit II
was offered the chance of accepting a position of vassalage 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 Harran
where he founded a new capital. Fighting continued, as he held out until 608 BC, when he was eventually ejected by the Babylonians and their allies and prevented in an attempt to regain the city the same year.
Pharaoh Necho II
, whose dynasty had been installed as vassals of Assyria decades before, belatedly tried to aid Egypt’s former Assyrian masters, possibly out of fear that Egypt would be next to succumb to the new powers. The Assyrians fought on with Egyptian aid until a final victory was achieved at Carchemish
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 BC – 562 BC), whose reign of 43 years made Babylon once more the mistress of much of the civilized world, taking over a fair portion of the former Assyrian Empire
once ruled by its Assyrian brethren, the eastern and north eastern portion being taken by the Medes and the far north by theScythians
The Scythians and Cimmerians, erstwhile allies of Babylonia under Nabopolassar, now became a threat, and Nebuchadnezzar II was forced to march into Asia Minor
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 achieving failed, mainly due to a series of rebellions among the Judeans
and the Levant
. The Babylonian king crushed these rebellions, deposed Jehoiakim
, the king of Judah
and deported a sizeable part of the population to Babylonia. The Phoenician states of Tyre
were also subjugated, as was the Aramean state of Aram-Damascus
. The Arabs
who dwelt in the deserts to the south of the borders of Mesopotamia were then also subjugated.
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
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
(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 regions. Neriglissar died young however, and was succeeded by his son Labashi-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, Nabonidus
, 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). 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 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 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 might of Assyria to keep foreign powers in check, 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 Iranic peoples. 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
) 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 afterwards 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 entered 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), Gobryas having 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, and during the Persian Achaemenid Empire
Chaldeans disappeared as a distinct people, and the term Chaldean ceased to refer to a race of men and instead to a social class only, regardless of ethnicity.