A history of ancient Babylon (Babylonia) including its cities, laws, kings and legacy to civilization
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Stele of Hammurabi
Babylonia, A history of ancient Babylon (Babylonia) including its cities, laws, kings and legacy to civilization.
Babylonia (Babylonian Bābili,"gate of God"; Old Persian Babirush),Was the ancient country of Mesopotamia, known originally as Sumer and later as Sumer and Akkad, lying between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, south of modern Baghdād, Iraq.
Below the house was often located a mausoleum in which the family dead were buried. The Babylonians believed that the souls of the dead traveled to the nether world, and that, at least to some extent, life continued there as on earth. For this reason, pots, tools, weapons, and jewels were buried with the dead.
Babylonian artisans were skilled in metallurgy, in the processes of fulling, bleaching, and dyeing, and in the preparation of paints, pigments, cosmetics, and perfumes. In the field of medicine, surgery was well known and often practiced, judging from the Hammurabi law code, which devotes several paragraphs to the surgeon. Pharmacology, too, doubtless had made considerable progress, although the only major direct evidence of this comes from a Sumerian tablet written several centuries before Hammurabi.
Legal System and Writing
Law and justice were key concepts in the Babylonian way of life. Justice was administered by the courts, each of which consisted of from one to four judges. Often the elders of a town constituted a tribunal. The judges could not reverse their decisions for any reason, but appeals from their verdicts could be made to the king. Evidence consisted either of statements from witnesses or of written documents. Oaths, which played a considerable role also in the administration of justice, could be either promissory, declaratory, or exculpatory. The courts inflicted penalties ranging from capital punishment and mutilation to flogging, reduction to slavery, and banishment. Awards for damages were from 3 to 30 times the value of the object to be restored.
To ensure that their legal, administrative, and economic institutions functioned effectively, the Babylonians used the cuneiform system of writing developed by their Sumerian predecessors. To train their scribes, secretaries, archivists, and other administrative personnel, they adopted the Sumerian system of formal education, under which secular schools served as the cultural centers of the land. The curriculum consisted primarily of copying and memorizing both textbooks and Sumero-Babylonian dictionaries containing long lists of words and phrases, including the names of trees, animals, birds, insects, countries, cities, villages, and minerals, as well as a large and diverse assortment of mathematical tables and problems. In the study of literature, the pupils copied and imitated various types of myths, epics, hymns, lamentations, proverbs, and essays in both the Sumerian and the Babylonian languages.
Long periods of the history of the Middle East in antiquity cannot be dated by an absolute chronology or according to a modern system of reckoning. The Sumerian King List gives a succession of rulers to the end of the dynasty of Isin, about 1790BC, but it is quite unreliable for dates prior to the dynasty of Akkad, about 2340BC. A relative chronology is well established for the era from the beginning of the dynasty of Akkad to the end of the 1st Dynasty of Babylon, about 1595BC. This period, however, is followed by an obscure period of more than 700 years, during which dates are only approximate. Scholars follow at least three chronological systems for the ancient Middle East: high, middle, or low, depending upon whether the date assigned to the first year of the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon is 1848, 1792, or 1728BC. The dates in this article and in that on Sumer follow the so-called middle chronology and date the first year of Hammurabi's reign to 1792BC.
Toward the end of the 3rd millennium BC, Sumer and Akkad was a kingdom of empire proportions ruled by a Sumerian dynasty known as the 3rd Dynasty of Ur. After a century or two, hordes of Semitic nomads, the Amurru, or biblical Amorites, who had migrated from the Arabian desert lands to the west, made themselves masters of some of the more important cities such as Isin, Larsa, Babylon, and Eshnunna (now Tell Asmar). About 2000BC the last ruler of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur was carried off into captivity by the Elamites. The kingdom of Sumer and Akkad disintegrated, and civil strife became rampant. At first the city of Isin attempted to control Sumer and Akkad, but in the course of time its authority was challenged by Larsa, considerably to the south, and the two cities were constantly at war. About 1790BC King Rim-Sin (reigned about 1823-1763BC) of Larsa conquered and occupied Isin, an event considered so important that it actually marked the beginning of a new, though limited, dating era in the scribal annals.
An unusually active and capable administrator, Hammurabi gave his personal attention to such details as the cleaning of irrigation canals and the insertion of an extra month into the calendar. He was an outstanding lawgiver; the Code of Hammurabi is one of the most significant legal documents ever uncovered. He was also an inspiring religious leader; during his reign the Babylonian city god Marduk became a recognized leader in the pantheon of deities.
The Kassites and the 2nd Dynasty of Isin
During the reigns of Hammurabi and his son Samsu-iluna (reigned about 1750-1712BC), who succeeded him, Babylonian civilization reached the zenith of its cultural development and political power. Some of the more important cities of Babylonia began to seek independence, however, and, in the reign of Samsu-iluna, the Kassites first invaded the country. Although Samsu-iluna succeeded in beating them off, the Kassites continued to infiltrate Babylonia in the centuries that followed. Samsu-iluna suffered another serious setback when a rebel leader, Iluma-ilum, founded a dynasty in the southern Babylonian district, bordering on the Persian Gulf, commonly known as the Sea-land.
Under Samsu-iluna's successors Babylonia suffered a serious decline in power and territory. When, about 1595BC, a Hittite army penetrated as far south as Babylon and carried off Babylonian prisoners and wealth to far-off Anatolia, the kingdom became badly disorganized. Babylonia later fell under the rule of the dynasty of the Sea-land, at least for a brief period. Finally, toward the middle of the 16th century BC, a Kassite ruler named Agum (reigned about 1570BC) became master of Babylonia and extended its territory from the Euphrates River to the Zagros Mountains.
Under Kassite rule, Babylonia once again became a power of considerable importance. At the beginning of the 15th century BC, for example, it was one of the four major powers of the Orient, the other three being the Egyptian, Mitanni, and Hittite empires.
After Assyria made itself independent of Mitanni domination early in the 14th century BC, its rulers began to interfere in the affairs of Babylonia and sought to control it politically. They were eventually successful, and Babylonia became so weak that it fell prey to the Elamites who invaded it from the east, deposed its Kassite king, and practically reduced it to a state of vassalage. A revolt then broke out in southern and central Babylonia, and a new dynasty, known usually as the 2nd Dynasty of Isin, was founded. Toward the end of the 12th century BC, Nebuchadnezzar I (reigned about 1125-1103BC), one of the Isin kings, defeated the Elamites and even attacked Assyria. Not long afterward Aramaean nomads began swarming into Babylonia. For about two centuries thereafter the country was in a state of political chaos.
The Chaldean Period
Among the surrounding tribes was one powerful group known as the Chaldeans. They settled in and dominated the district along the Persian Gulf. Beginning in the 9th century BC, the Chaldeans were destined to play an important political role in the history of the Orient; their rulers helped destroy the Assyrian Empire and, at least for a brief period, made Babylonia, or, as it gradually came to be known, Chaldea, the dominant power of Mesopotamia.
One of the outstanding Chaldean kings was Merodach-baladan II (r. 722-710BC), who fought bitterly and bravely, if unsuccessfully, against four mighty Assyrian monarchs: Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727BC), Shalmaneser V (r. 727-722BC), Sargon II (r. 722-705BC), and Sennacherib (r. 705-681BC), the destroyer of Babylon. Sennacherib's successors, Esarhaddon (r. 681-699BC) and Ashurbanipal, retained political control of Babylonia in spite of numerous rebellions and defections. In 626, however, when Assyria was in turmoil and menaced by the Medes, the Scythians, and the Cimmerians, a Chaldean named Nabopolassar proclaimed himself king of Babylonia. Acknowledged as king in 625, Nabopolassar allied himself with the Medes and helped to destroy Assyrian might.
With Assyria no longer to be feared, Egypt began to menace Palestine and Syria. Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadnezzar II marched against the Egyptians and defeated them at Carchemish. Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned for 43 years, extended Babylonian political control over practically all of Mesopotamia. To students of the Bible he is known as the destroyer of Jerusalem and as the king who took the captive Jews to Babylonia. To archaeologists and historians he is known as the great builder and restorer. He reconstructed Babylon, his capital, in elaborate style and restored many temples throughout Babylonia.
The Babylonian revival did not long endure. After Nebuchadnezzar's death (562BC), a struggle for power apparently went on among various parties and individuals for several years. In 556BC Nabonidus, one of Nebuchadnezzar's governors, became king of Babylonia (r. 556-539BC). A somewhat enigmatic figure, he in some way antagonized the influential priestly class of Babylon. Nabonidus left the city of Babylon under control of his son Belshazzar and lived for a while in the city of Harran and later in the oasis of Teima, in the Arabian Desert. In 539BC the Babylonians were defeated by the Persian king Cyrus the Great, who had defeated Media. Nabonidus was captured at Sippar (near modern Baghdād, Iraq), and the Persians entered Babylon without resistance. Babylonia was then annexed to Persia and lost its independence for all time.
The Babylonian Legacy
More than 1200 years had elapsed from the glorious reign of Hammurabi to the subjugation of Babylonia by the Persians. During this long span of time the Babylonian social structure, economic organization, arts and crafts, science and literature, judicial system, and religious beliefs underwent considerable modification, but generally only in details, not in essence. Grounded almost wholly on the culture of Sumer, Babylonian cultural achievements left a deep impression on the entire ancient world, and particularly on the Hebrews and the Greeks. Even present-day civilization is indebted culturally to Babylonian civilization to some extent. For instance, Babylonian influence is pervasive throughout the Bible and in the works of such Greek poets as Homer and Hesiod, in the geometry of the Greek mathematician Euclid, in astronomy, in astrology, and in heraldry.