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Ancient Mesopotamia
Cities / Empires
Sumer: UrukUrEridu
Akkadian Empire: Akkad
Assyria: AssurNineveh
Kings of Sumer
Kings of Assyria
Kings of Babylon
Cuneiform script
Enûma Elish

Babylonia, named for its capital city, Babylon, was an ancient state in the south part of Mesopotamia (in modern Iraq), combining the territories of Sumer and Akkad. The earliest mention of Babylon can be found in a tablet of the reign of Sargon of Akkad, dating back to the 23rd century BC.


[edit] History

Historically, two ethnic groups, the Sumerians and Akkadians, had dominated the region. An area rich in natural resources, and strategically located for trade routes and commerce, it was often under threat from outsiders throughout the region's history.

[edit] Old Babylonian period

At around 1900 BC, following the Sumerian revival under Ur-III, Semitic Amorites from west of the Euphrates gained control over most of Mesopotamia. During the first centuries of their rule, Mesopotamia was not unified, and the most powerful city state was Isin. Some Amorites eventually formed a monarchical government in the city-state of Babylon, which would ultimately take over the Amorite kingdoms and form the first Babylonian empire. The three centuries of their rule is known as the Old Babylonian Period.

The Babylonians engaged in regular trade and influence with Western city-states; with Babylonian officials and troops passing to Syria and Canaan. Further, "Amorite" colonists were established in Babylonia for the purposes of trade.

The city of Babylon was given hegemony over Mesopotamia by their sixth ruler, Hammurabi (17801750 BC; dates highly uncertain). He was a very efficient ruler, writing an influential law code and giving the region stability after turbulent times, thereby transforming it into the central power of Mesopotamia.

Babylonian beliefs held the king as an agent of Marduk, and the city of Babylon as a "holy city" where any legitimate ruler of Mesopotamia had to be crowned. A natural development was the establishment of a bureaucracy, with taxation and centralized government, to allow the king to exert his control.

A great literary revival followed the recovery of Babylonian independence. One of the most important works of this "First Dynasty of Babylon", as it was called by the native historians, was the compilation of a code of laws. 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 by J. De Morgan and V. Scheil at Susa, where it had been taken as plunder. That copy is now in the Louvre.

Ammiditana, the great-grandson of Hammurabi, still titled himself "king of the land of the Amorites", and his father and son bore the Canaanite names of Abieshuh and Ammisaduqa. One of these Amorites, Abi-ramu or Abram by name, is the father of a witness to a deed dated in the reign of Hammurabi's grandfather.

The armies of Babylonia were well-disciplined, and they conquered the city-states of Isin, Elam, and Uruk, and the strong Kingdom of Mari. The rule of Babylon was even obeyed as far as the shores of the Mediterranean. But Mesopotamia had no clear boundaries, making it vulnerable to attack. Trade and culture thrived for 150 years, until the fall of Babylon in 1595 BC.

[edit] Kassite period

The 14th king of the dynasty was Samsu-Ditana, son of Ammisaduqa. He was overthrown following the sack of Babylon in 1595 BC by the Hittite king Mursili I, and Babylonia was turned over to the Kassites (Kossaeans) from the mountains of Iran, with whom Samsu-Iluna had already come into conflict in his 6th year. The Kassite dynasty was founded by Kandis or Gandash of Mari. The Kassites renamed Babylon "Kar-Duniash", and their rule lasted for 576 years. With this foreign dominion — that offers a striking analogy to the contemporary rule of the Hyksos in ancient Egypt — Babylonia lost its empire over western Asia. The high-priests of Ashur made themselves kings of Assyria. Most divine attributes ascribed to the Semitic kings of Babylonia disappeared at this time; the title of "god" was never given to a Kassite sovereign. However, Babylon continued to be the capital of the kingdom and the 'holy' city of western Asia, where the priests were all-powerful, and the only place where the right to inheritance of the old Babylonian empire could be conferred.

[edit] Neo-Babylonian Empire (Chaldean Era)

Main article: Neo-Babylonian Empire

Through the centuries of Assyrian domination, Babylonia enjoyed a prominent status, or revolting at the slightest indication that it did not. However, the Assyrians always managed to restore Babylonian loyalty, whether through granting of increased privileges, or militarily. That finally changed in 627 BC with the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, and Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean the following year. With help from the Medes, Nineveh was sacked in 612, and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia.

Nabopolassar was followed by his son Nebuchadnezzar II, whose reign of 43 years made Babylon once more the mistress of the civilized world. Only a small fragment of his annals has been discovered, relating to his invasion of Egypt in 567 BC, and referring to "Phut of the Ionians".

Of the reign of the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus (Nabu-na'id), and the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, there is a fair amount of information available. This 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 at Harran; as well as by a proclamation of Cyrus issued shortly after his formal recognition as king of Babylonia. It was in the sixth year of Nabonidus (549 BC) that Cyrus, 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. Three years later Cyrus had become king of all Persia, and was engaged in a campaign in the north of Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, Nabonidus had established a camp in the desert, 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 afterwards Sippara surrendered to the invader. Nabonidus fled to Babylon, where he was pursued by Gobryas, and on the 16th of Tammuz, two days after the capture of Sippara, "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 the son of Nabonidus died. A public mourning followed, lasting six days, and Cambyses accompanied the corpse to the tomb.

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. Nabonidus, in fact, had excited a strong feeling against himself by attempting to centralize the religion of Babylonia in the temple of Merodach (Marduk) at Babylon, and while he had thus alienated the local priesthoods, the military party despised him on account of his antiquarian tastes. He seems to have left the defense of his kingdom to others, occupying himself with the more congenial work of excavating the foundation records of the temples and determining the dates of their builders.

The invasion of Babylonia by Cyrus was doubtless facilitated by the existence of a disaffected party in the state, as well as by the presence of foreign exiles like the Jews, who had been planted in the midst of the country. One of the first acts of Cyrus accordingly was to allow these exiles to return to their own homes, carrying with them the images of their gods and their sacred vessels. The permission to do so was embodied in a proclamation, whereby the conqueror endeavored to justify his claim to the Babylonian throne. The feeling was still strong that none had a right to rule over western Asia until he had been consecrated to the office by Bel and his priests; and accordingly, Cyrus henceforth assumed the imperial title of "King of Babylon."

A year before Cyrus' death, in 529 BC, he elevated his son Cambyses II 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 Hystaspis 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. Darius, in fact, entered Babylon as a conqueror.

After the murder of Darius, it briefly recovered its independence under Nidinta-Bel, who took the name of Nebuchadnezzar III, and reigned from October 521 BC to August 520 BC, when the Persians took it by storm. A few years later, probably 514 BC, Babylon again revolted under Arakha; on this occasion, after its capture by the Persians, the walls were partly destroyed. E-Saggila, the great temple of Bel, however, still continued to be kept in repair and to be a center of Babylonian patriotism, until at last the foundation of Seleucia diverted the population to the new capital of Babylonia and the ruins of the old city became a quarry for the builders of the new seat of government.

[edit] Astronomy

Among the sciences, astronomy and astrology occupied a conspicuous place in Babylonian society. Astronomy was of old standing in Babylonia, and the standard work on the subject, written from an astrological point of view, later translated into Greek by Berossus, was believed to date from the age of Sargon of Akkad. The zodiac was a Babylonian invention of great antiquity; and eclipses of the sun and moon could be foretold. Observatories were attached to the temples, and reports were regularly sent by astronomers to the king. The stars had been numbered and named at an early date, and we possess tables of lunar longitudes and observations of the phases of Venus. Great attention was naturally paid to the calendar, and we find a week of seven days and another of five days in use.

Babylonian astrology was based on the belief that the entire universe was created in relation to the earth. Thus the ancients saw it as no accident that the stars and planets were set in a certain divine order at the time of creation.

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.

[edit] Mathematics

The Babylonian system of mathematics was sexagesimal, or a base 60 numeral system (see: Babylonian numerals). 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 clay tablet). They also demonstrated knowledge of the 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. 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 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 heavens.

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 seven miles 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)

[edit] Literature

Main article: Babylonian literature

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 syllabary.

A considerable amount of Babylonian literature was translated from Sumerian originals, and the language of religion and law long continued to be 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 figure.

[edit] See also

Many of these articles were originally based on content from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. Update as needed.

[edit] Further reading and sources

  • The Antiquity of Iraq Svend Aage Pallis
  • Ancient Iraq Georges Roux
  • Ancient Mesopotamia : Portrait of a Dead Civilization A. Leo Oppenheim
  • Ancient Mesopotamia: The Sumerians, Babylonians, And Assyrians Virginia Schomp
  • The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest Seton Lloyd
  • Babylon Joan Oates
  • Babylonian Religion and Mythology Leonard William King
  • Babylonians HWF Saggs
  • The Babylonians: An Introduction Gwendolyn Leick
  • Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia Karen Rhea Nemet-Nejat
  • King Hammurabi Of Babylon: A Biography Marc Van De Mieroop
  • The Life and Times of Hammurabi Tamera Bryant
  • Mesopotamia Gwendolyn Leick
  • Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria Lewis Spence
  • An Introduction to the History of Mathematics Howard Eves

[edit] External links

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