Learn more about Babylon
|Euphrates – Tigris|
|Cities / Empires|
|Sumer: Uruk – Ur – Eridu|
|Kish – Lagash – Nippur|
|Akkadian Empire: Akkad|
|Babylon – Isin – Susa|
|Assyria: Assur – Nineveh|
|Dur-Sharrukin – Nimrud|
|Babylonia – Chaldea|
|Elam – Amorites|
|Hurrians – Mitanni|
|Kassites – Urartu|
|Kings of Sumer|
|Kings of Assyria|
|Kings of Babylon|
|Sumerian – Akkadian|
|Elamite – Hurrian|
|Gilgamesh – Marduk|
Babylon is the Greek variant of Akkadian Babilu (bāb-ilû, meaning "Gateway of the god", translating Sumerian Kadingirra), an ancient city in Mesopotamia (modern Al Hillah, Iraq). It was the "holy city" of Babylonia from around 2300 BC, and the seat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 612 BC. In the Old Testament, the name appears as בבל (Babel), interpreted by Genesis 11:9 to mean "confusion", from the verb balal, "to confuse".
The earliest mention of Babylon is in a dated tablet of the reign of Sargon of Akkad (24th century BC short chr.). Over the years, its power and population waned. From around the 20th century BC, it was occupied by Amorites (nomadic Semitic tribes), flooding southern Mesopotamia from the west. The First Babylonian Dynasty was established by Sumu-abum, but the city-state controlled little surrounding territory until it became the capital of Hammurabi's empire. Hammurabi is known for codifying the laws of Babylonia, that were to have a profound influence on the region. (ca. 18th century BC). From that time onward, it continued to be the capital of Babylonia, although during the 440 years of domination by the Kassites (1595–1185 BC), the city was renamed "Karanduniash".
The city itself was built upon the Euphrates, and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon grew in extent and grandeur over time, but gradually became subject to the rule of Assyria.
It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from c. 1770 to 1670 BC, and again between c. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000. 
 Assyrian period
During the reign of Sennacherib of Assyria, Babylonia was in a constant state of revolt, led by Mushezib-Marduk, and suppressed only by the complete destruction of the city of Babylon. In 689 BC, its walls, temples and palaces were razed to the ground, and the rubble was thrown into the Arakhtu, the canal bordering the earlier Babylon on the south. This act shocked the religious conscience of Mesopotamia; the subsequent murder of Sennacherib was held to be in expiation of it, and his successor Esarhaddon hastened to rebuild the old city, to receive there his crown, and make it his residence during part of the year. On his death, Babylonia was left to be governed by his elder son Shamash-shum-ukin, who eventually headed a revolt in 652 BC against his brother in Nineveh, Assurbanipal.
The city of Babylon was surrounded by a wall 300 feet high, 80 feet wide, and 60 miles in circumfrence. The wall was also buried 35 feet into the soil in order to prevent enemies from burrowing into the city limits.
Once again, Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians and starved into surrender. Assurbanipal purified the city and celebrated a "service of reconciliation", but did not venture to "take the hands" of Bel. In the subsequent overthrow of the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonians saw another example of divine vengeance.
 Neo-Babylonian Empire
With the recovery of Babylonian independence, a new era of architectural activity ensued, and his son Nebuchadnezzar II (605 BC–562 BC) made Babylon into one of the wonders of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar ordered the complete reconstruction of the imperial grounds, including rebuilding the Etemenanki ziggurat and the construction of the Ishtar Gate — the most spectacular of eight gates that ringed the perimeter of Babylon. The Ishtar Gate survives today in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Nebuchadnezzar is also credited with the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), said to have been built for his homesick wife Amyitis. Whether the gardens did exist is a matter of dispute. Although excavations by German archaeologist Robert Koldewey are thought to reveal its foundations, many historians disagree about the location, and some believe it may have been confused with gardens in Nineveh.
 Babylon under Persia
In 539 BC the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia. It is said that Cyrus walked through the gates of Babylon without encountering any resistance. He later issued a decree permitting the exiled Jews to return to their own land, and allowed their temple to be rebuilt.
Under Cyrus and his heir Darius I, Babylon became the capital city of the 9th Satrapy (Babylonia in the south and Athura in the north), as well a centre of learning and scientific advancement. In Achaemenid Persia, the ancient Babylonian arts of astronomy and mathematics were revitalised and flourished, and Babylonian scholars completed maps of constellations. Overall, the city being the administrative capital of the Persian Empire (the preeminent power of the then known world) and it played a vital part in the history of that region for over two centuries. Many important archaeological discoveries have been made that can provide a better understanding of that era.
The early Persian kings had attempted to maintain the religious ceremonies of Marduk, but by the reign of Darius III, over-taxation and the strains of numerous wars led to a deterioration of Babylon's main shrines and canals, and the disintegration of the surrounding region. Despite three attempts at rebellion in 522 BC, 521 BC, and 482 BC, the land and city of Babylon remained solidly under Persian rule for two centuries, until Alexander the Great's entrance in 331 BC.
 Hellenistic Period
In 331 BC, Darius III was defeated by the forces of the Macedonian ruler Alexandeloz smellz li9ke poooooooo r the Great at the Battle of Gaugamela, and in October, Babylon fell to the young conqueror. A native account of this invasion notes a ruling by Alexander not to enter the homes of its inhabitants.
Under Alexander, Babylon again flourished as a centre of learning and commerce. But following Alexander's mysterious death in 323 BC in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, his empire was divided amongst his generals, and decades of fighting soon began, with Babylon once again caught in the middle.
The constant turmoil virtually emptied the city of Babylon. A tablet dated 275 BC states that the inhabitants of Babylon were transported to Seleucia, where a palace was built, as well as a temple given the ancient name of E-Saggila. With this deportation, the history of Babylon comes practically to an end, though more than a century later, it was found that sacrifices were still performed in its old sanctuary. By 141 BC, when the Parthian Empire took over the region, Babylon was in complete desolation and obscurity.
 Archaeology of Babylon
Historical knowledge of Babylon's topography is derived from classical writers, the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar, and several excavations, including those of the Deutsche Orientgesellschaft begun in 1899. The layout is that of the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar; the older Babylon destroyed by Sennacherib having left few, if any, traces behind.
Most of the existing remains lie on the east bank of the Euphrates, the principal ones being three vast mounds: the Babil to the north, the Qasr or "Palace" (also known as the Mujelliba) in the centre, and the Ishgn "Amran ibn" All, with the outlying spur of the Jumjuma, to the south. East of these come the Ishgn el-Aswad or "Black Mound" and three lines of rampart, one of which encloses the Babil mound on the N. and E. sides, while a third forms a triangle with the S.E. angle of the other two. West of the Euphrates are other ramparts, and the remains of the ancient Borsippa.
We learn from Herodotus and Ctesias that the city was built on both sides of the river in the form of a square, and was enclosed within a double row of lofty walls, or a triple row according to Ctesias. Ctesias describes the outermost wall as 360 stades (42 miles/68 km) in circumference, while according to Herodotus it measured 480 stades (56 miles/90 km), which would include an area of about 520 km² (approx. 200 square miles).
The estimate of Ctesias is essentially the same as that of Q. Curtius (v. I. 26) -- 368 stades -- and Cleitarchus (ap. Diod. Sic. ii. 7) -- 365 stades; Strabo (xvi. 1. 5) makes it 385 stades. But even the estimate of Ctesias, assuming the stade to be its usual length, would imply an area of about 260 km² (100 square miles). According to Herodotus, the width of the walls was 24 m (80 ft).
In 1985, Saddam Hussein started rebuilding the city on top of the old ruins, using millions on part restoration, part new construction, to the dismay of archaeologists, with his name inscribed on many of the bricks, in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. One frequent inscription reads: "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq". This recalls the ziggurat at Ur, where each individual brick was stamped with "Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, who built the temple of Nanna". These bricks became sought after as collectors' items after the downfall of Saddam, and the ruins are no longer being restored to their original state. He also installed a huge portrait of himself and Nebuchadnezzar at the entrance to the ruins. He also shored up Processional Way, a big boulevard of ancient stones, and the Lion of Babylon, a black rock sculpture about 2,500 years old.
When the Gulf War I ended, he wanted to build a modern palace, also over some old ruins, it was made in the pyramidal style of a Sumerian ziggurat. He named it Saddam Hill. In 2003, he was ready to begin the construction of a cable car line over Babylon when the invasion began and halted the project.
Interestingly enough, an article published in the New York Times in July 2006 states that UN officials and the Iraqi administration have plans for restoring Babylon, making it a gem of a new Iraq as a cultural center complete with shopping malls, hotels, and maybe even a theme park.
 Effects of the U.S military
US forces were criticised for building a helipad on ancient Babylonian ruins following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, under the command of General James T. Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The vibrations from helicopter landings led a nearby Babylonian structure to collapse.
US forces have occupied the site for some time and have caused damage to the archaeological record. In a report of the British Museum's Near East department, Dr. John Curtis describes how parts of the archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for helicopters, and parking lots for heavy vehicles. Curtis wrote that the occupation forces
- "caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity [...] US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, more than 12 trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists [...] Add to all that the damage caused to nine of the moulded brick figures of dragons in the Ishtar Gate by people trying to remove the bricks from the wall."
The head of the Iraqi State Board for Heritage and Antiquities, Donny George, said that the "mess will take decades to sort out". Colonel Coleman issued an apology for the damage done by military personnel under his command in April 2006, and claimed that they were trying to protect the site from looters. 
 Further reading
- Joan Oates, Babylon, [Ancient Peoples and Places], Thames and Hudson, 1986. ISBN 0-500-02095-7 (hardback) ISBN 0-500-27384-7 (paperback)
 See also
-  This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
-  What I heard about Iraq in 2005] by Eliot Weinberger, London Review of Books
- The Ancient Middle Eastern Capital City — Reflection and Navel of the World by Stefan Maul ("Die altorientalische Hauptstadt — Abbild und Nabel der Welt," in Die Orientalische Stadt: Kontinuität. Wandel. Bruch. 1 Internationales Kolloquium der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft. 9.-1 0. Mai 1996 in Halle/Saale, Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag (1997), p.109-124.
 External links
- Babylon wrecked by war, The Guardian, January 15, 2005
- Babylonian gardens
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, Babylon
- History lost in dust of war-torn Iraq, BBC, April 25, 2005, mentions damage to Babylon.
- US marines offer Babylon damage apology, by Jonathan Charles BBC World Affairs correspondent, 14 April 2006
- reggae babylon, Babylon's usage in Reggae music
- Ezekiel 4 and the Coming Rapture. Includes consideration of Babylon in future fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
- About Babylon City in North Iraq ( مدينة بابل ) ar:بابل (مدينة)
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