A history of ancient Babylon (Babylonia) including its cities, laws, kings and legacy to civilization
Care to express an opinion on a current or past historical event?
Need to ask a question from our many visitors?
Just visit our Forum and leave your message.
Please Help Keep Us On the Web.
We are a Non-Profit Organization and the cost of continuing is becoming more than we can handle. Therefore, we are asking you to please donate anything you can to help keep us on the web.
Stele of Hammurabi
Babylonia, A history of ancient Babylon (Babylonia) including its cities, laws, kings and legacy to civilization.
The last kings of Babylonia
Awil-Marduk (called Evil-Merodach in
the Old Testament; 561-560), the son of Nebuchadrezzar, was unable to
win the support of the priests of Marduk. His reign did not last long,
and he was soon eliminated. His brother-in-law and successor,
Nergal-shar-usur (called Neriglissar in classical sources; 559-556), was
a general who undertook a campaign in 557 into the "rough" Cilician
land, which may have been under the control of the Medes. His land
forces were assisted by a fleet. His still-minor son Labashi-Marduk was
murdered not long after that, allegedly because he was not suitable for
The next king was the Aramaean
Nabonidus (Nabu-na'ihc 556-539) from Harran, one of the most interesting
and enigmatic figures of ancient times. His mother, Addagoppe, was a
priestess of the god Sin in Harran; she came to Babylon and managed to
secure responsible offices for her son at court. The god of the moon
rewarded her piety with a long life--she lived to be 103--and she was
buried in Harran with all the honors of a queen in 547. It is not clear
which powerful faction in Babylon supported the kingship of Nabonidus;
it may have been one opposing the priests of Marduk, who had become
extremely powerful. Nabonidus raided Cilicia in 555 and secured the
surrender of Harran, which had been ruled by the Medes. He concluded a
treaty of defense with Astyages of Media against the Persians, who had
become a growing threat since 559 under their king Cyrus II. He also
devoted himself to the renovation of many temples, taking an especially
keen interest in old inscriptions. He gave preference to his god Sin and
had powerful enemies in the priesthood of the Marduk temple. Modern
excavators have found fragments of propaganda poems written against
Nabonidus and also in support of him. Both traditions continued in
Internal difficulties and the
recognition that the narrow strip of land from the Persian Gulf to Syria
could not be defended against a major attack from the east induced
Nabonidus to leave Babylonia around 552 and to reside in Taima (Tayma')
in northern Arabia. There he organized an Arabian province with the
assistance of Jewish mercenaries. His viceroy in Babylonia was his son
Bel-shar-usur, the Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Cyrus
turned this to his own advantage by annexing Media in 550. Nabonidus, in
turn, allied himself with Croesus of Lydia in order to fight Cyrus. Yet,
when Cyrus attacked Lydia and annexed it in 546, Nabonidus was not able
to help Croesus. Cyrus bode his time. In 542 Nabonidus returned to
Babylonia, where his son had been able to maintain good order in
external matters but had not overcome a growing internal opposition to
his father. Consequently, Nabonidus' career after his return was
short-lived, though he tried hard to regain the support of the
Babylonians. He appointed his daughter to be high priestess of the god
Sin in Ur, thus returning to the Sumerian-Old Babylonian religious
tradition. The priests of Marduk looked to Cyrus, hoping to have better
relations with him than with Nabonidus; they promised Cyrus the
surrender of Babylon without a fight if he would grant them their
privileges in return. In 539 Cyrus attacked northern Babylonia with a
large army, defeating Nabonidus, and entered the city of Babylon without
a battle. The other cities did not offer any resistance either.
Nabonidus surrendered, receiving a small territory in eastern Iran.
Tradition has confused him with his great predecessor Nebuchadrezzar II.
The Bible refers to him as Nebuchadrezzar in the Book of Daniel.
Babylonia's peaceful submission to
Cyrus saved it from the fate of Assyria. It became a territory under the
Persian crown but kept its cultural autonomy. Even the racially mixed
western part of the Babylonian empire submitted without resistance.
By 620 the Babylonians had grown
tired of Assyrian rule. They were also weary of internal struggle. They
were easily persuaded to submit to the order of the Chaldean kings. The
result was a surprisingly rapid social and economic consolidation,
helped along by the fact that after the fall of Assyria no external
enemy threatened Babylonia for more than 60 years. In the cities the
temples were an important part of the economy, having vast benefices at
their disposal. The business class regained its strength, not only in
the trades and commerce but also in the management of agriculture in the
metropolitan areas. Livestock breeding--sheep, goats, beef cattle, and
horses--flourished, as did poultry farming. The cultivation of corn,
dates, and vegetables grew in importance. Much was done to improve
communications, both by water and land, with the western provinces of
the empire. The collapse of the Assyrian empire had the consequence that
many trade arteries were rerouted through Babylonia. Another result of
the collapse was that the city of Babylon became a world center.
The immense amount of documentary material and correspondence that has survived has not yet been fully analyzed. No new system of law or administration seems to have developed during that time. The Babylonian dialect gradually became Aramaicized; it was still written primarily on clay tablets that often bore added material in Aramaic lettering. Parchment and papyrus documents have not survived. In contrast to advances in other fields, there is no evidence of much artistic creativity. Aside from some of the inscriptions of the kings, especially Nabonidus, which were not comparable from a literary standpoint with those of the Assyrians, the main efforts were devoted to the rewriting of old texts. In the fine arts, only a few monuments have any suggestion of new tendencies.