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Chaldea or Babylonia (/ˌbæbəˈlniə/) is an ancient Akkadian-speaking Semitic state and cultural region based in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The Chaldean Amorite-ruled state emerged in 1894 BC, which contained at this time the city of Babylon. Babylon greatly expanded during the reign of great Chaldean king Hammurabi in the first half of the 18th century BC, becoming a major capital city. During the reign of Hammurabi and afterwards, Babylonia was called Mât Akkadî "the country of Akkad" in Akkadian.[1] It was often involved in rivalry with its older fellow Akkadian state of Nenavah 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 a short-lived empire, succeeding the earlier Akkadian Empire, Neo-Sumerian Empire, and Old Assyrian Empire; however, the Babylonian empire rapidly fell apart after the death of Chaldean king Hammurabi.

The Babylonian state retained the written Semitic Akkadian language for official use (the language of its native Chaldean populace), despite its Chaldean Amorite founders and Kassite successors not being native Akkadians, and speaking a Northwest Semitic Canaanite language and a Language Isolate respectively. It retained the Sumerian language for religious use (as did Assyria), but by the time Babylon was founded this was no longer a spoken language, having been wholly subsumed by Chaldean Akkadian. The earlier Chaldeans 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 Chaldean king Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 BC), dating back to the 23rd century BC. Babylon was a religious and cultural center; like the rest of Mesopotamia, it was subject to the Akkadian Empire which united all the Chaldean 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 Neo-Sumerian Empire (third dynasty of Ur), which encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, including the Chaldean city of Babylon.


Pre-Babylonian Sumero-Akkadian period in Mesopotamia

The extent of the Babylonian Empire at the start and end of Hammurabi's reign

Mesopotamia had already enjoyed a long history prior to the emergence of Babylon. During the third millennium BC, there had developed an intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism.[2] The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence.[2] This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium as a sprachbund.[2]

Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the third and the second millennium BC (the precise timeframe being a matter of debate),[3] but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia as late as the 1st century AD.[citation needed]

From c. 3500 BC until the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 24th century BC, Mesopotamia had been dominated by largely Sumerian city states, such as Ur, Lagash, Uruk, Kish, Isin, Larsa, Adab, Eridu, Nuzi, Awan, Hamazi, Akshak and Umma, although Semitic Akkadian names began to appear on the king lists of some of these states (such as Eshnunna and Assyria) between the 29th and 25th centuries BC. Traditionally, the major religious center of all Mesopotamia was the city of Nippur, and it would remain so until replaced by Babylon during the reign of Hammurabi in the mid 18th century BC.

The Akkadian Empire (2334–2154 BC) saw the Akkadian Semites and Sumerians of Mesopotamia unite under one rule, and the Akkadians fully attain ascendancy over the Sumerians and indeed come to dominate much of the ancient Near East.

The empire eventually disintegrated due to economic decline, climate change and civil war, followed by attacks by the Gutians from the Zagros Mountains. The Sumerians rose up with the Neo-Sumerian Empire (Third Dynasty of Ur) in the late 22nd century BC, and ejected the Gutians from southern Mesopotamia. They also seem to have gained ascendancy over most of the territory of the Akkadian kings of Assyria in northern Mesopotamia for a time.

Following the collapse of the Sumerian "Ur-III" dynasty at the hands of the Elamites in 2002 BC, the Amorites, a foreign Northwest Semitic people who spoke a Canaanite language, began to migrate into southern Mesopotamia from the northern Levant, gradually gained control over most of southern Mesopotamia, where they formed a series of small kingdoms, while the native Assyrians reasserted their independence in the north. The Sumero-Akkadian states of the south were unable to stem the Amorite advance.

King Ilushuma (ca. 2008–1975 BC) of Assyria in a known inscription describes his exploits to the south as follows: "The freedom[nb 1] of the Akkadians and their children I established. I purified their copper. I established their freedom from the border of the marshes and Ur and Nippur, Awal, and Kish, Der of the goddess Ishtar, as far as the City of (Ashur)."[4] Past scholars originally extrapolated from this text that it means he defeated the invading Amorites to the south, but there is no explicit record of that. More recently, the text has been taken to mean that Asshur supplied the south with copper from Anatolia and "established freedom" from tax duties.

These policies were continued by his successors Erishum I and Ikunum.

However, when Sargon I (1920–1881 BC) succeeded as king in Assyria in 1920 BC he eventually withdrew Assyria from the region, preferring to concentrate on continuing to vigorously expand Assyrian colonies in Asia Minor, and eventually southern Mesopotamia fell to the Amorites. During the first centuries of what is called the "Amorite period", the most powerful city states in the south were Isin, Eshnunna and Larsa, together with Assyria in the north.

First Babylonian Dynasty — Amorite Dynasty 1894–1595 BC

One of these Canaanite speaking Amorite dynasties founded a small kingdom which included the then still minor town of Babylon circa 1894 BC, which would ultimately take over the others and form the short-lived first Babylonian empire, also called the Old Babylonian Period.

An Amorite chieftain named Sumuabum appropriated a tract of land which included the then relatively small city of Babylon from the neighbouring Amorite ruled Mesopotamian city state of Kazallu, of which it had initially been a territory, turning it into a state in its own right. His reign was concerned with establishing statehood amongst a sea of other minor city states and kingdoms in the region. However Sumuabum appears never to have bothered to give himself the title of King of Babylon, suggesting that Babylon itself was still only a minor town or city, and not worthy of kingship.[5]

He was followed by Sumu-la-El, Sabium, Apil-Sin, who each ruled in the same vague manner as Sumuabum, with no reference to kingship of Babylon being made in any written records of the time. Sin-muballit was the first of these Amorite rulers to be regarded officially as a king of Babylon, and then only on one single clay tablet. Under these kings, the nation in which Babylon lay remained a small nation which controlled very little territory, and was overshadowed by neighbouring kingdoms that were both older, larger, and more powerful, such as; Isin, Larsa, Assyria and Elam. The Elamites in particular, occupied huge swathes of southern Mesopotamia, and the early Amorite rulers were largely held in vassalage to Elam.

The Empire of Hammurabi

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, Larsa, Eshnunna, Kish, Lagash, Nippur, Borsippa, Ur, Uruk, Umma, Adab and Eridu. 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 (Iran), conquering the pre Iranic Elamites, Gutians and Kassites. To the west, the Semitic states of the Levant (modern Syria) including the powerful kingdom of Mari were conquered.

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 and Hurrian colonies in Asia Minor.[6]

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 which were both influenced by and improved upon the much earlier written laws of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria. 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 on a stele by J. De Morgan and V. Scheil at Susa, where it had later been taken as plunder. That copy is now in the Louvre.

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 and Canaanite 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;[citation needed] 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 and Ammisaduqa.

Babylonian Decline

However, southern Mesopotamia had no natural, defensible boundaries, making it vulnerable to attack. After the death of Hammurabi, his empire began to disintegrate rapidly. Under his successor Samsu-iluna (1749–1712 BC) the far south of Mesopotamia was lost to a native Akkadian king called Ilum-ma-ili and became the Sealand Dynasty, remaining free of Babylon for the next 272 years.[7]

Both the Babylonians and their Amorite rulers were driven from Assyria to the north by an Assyrian-Akkadian governor named Puzur-Sin c. 1740 BC, who regarded Mut-Ashkur as a foreign Amorite and a former lackey of Babylon. After six years of civil war in Assyria, a native king named Adasi seized power c. 1735 BC, and went on to appropriate former Babylonian and Amorite territory in central Mesopotamia, as did his successor Bel-bani.

Amorite rule survived in a much reduced Babylon, Samshu-iluna's successor Abi-Eshuh made a vain attempt to recapture the Sealand Dynasty for Babylon, but met defeat at the hands of king Damqi-ilishu II. By the end of his reign Babylonia had shrunk to the small and relatively weak nation it had been upon its foundation, although the city itself was far larger than it had been prior to the rise of Hammurabi..

He was followed by Ammi-Ditana and then Ammisaduqa, both of whom were in too weak a position to make any attempt to regain the many territories lost after the death of Hammurabi, contenting themselves with peaceful building projects in Babylon itself.

Samsu-Ditana was to be the last Amorite ruler of Babylon. Early in his reign he came under pressure from the Kassites, a people originating in the mountains of north west Iran. Babylon was then attacked by the Indo-European speaking and Asia Minor based Hittite Empire in 1595 BC. Shamshu-Ditana was overthrown following the "sack of Babylon" by the Hittite king Mursili I. The Hittites did not remain for long, but the destruction wrought by them finally enabled the Kassites to gain control.

The sack of Babylon and ancient Near East chronology

The date of the sack of Babylon by the Hittite king Mursili I is considered crucial to the various calculations of the early chronology of the ancient Near East, since both a solar and a lunar eclipse are said to have occurred in the month of Sivan that year, according to ancient records.

The fall of Babylon is taken as a fixed point in the discussion of the chronology of the ancient Near East. Suggestions for its precise date vary by as much as 230 years, corresponding to the uncertainty regarding the length of the "Dark Age" of the ensuing Bronze Age collapse, resulting in the shift of the entire Bronze Age chronology of Mesopotamia with regard to the chronology of Ancient Egypt. Possible dates for the sack of Babylon are:

  • ultra-short chronology: 1499 BC
  • short chronology: 1531 BC
  • middle chronology: 1595 BC
  • long chronology: 1651 BC
  • ultra-long chronology: 1736 BC[8]

Kassite Dynasty 1595–1155 BC

The extent of the Babylonian Empire during the Kassite dynasty

The Kassite dynasty was founded by Gandash of Mari. The Kassites, like the Amorite rulers who had preceded them, were not originally native to Mesopotamia. Rather, they had first appeared in the Zagros Mountains of what is today northwestern Iran.

The ethnic affiliation of the Kassites is unclear, though like the Sumerian and Akkadian Mesopotamian peoples and the Amorites, the Kassites were Caucasoid in appearance. However their Kassite language was not Semitic, and is thought to have been either a language isolate or possibly related to the Hurro-Urartian family of Asia Minor,[9] although the evidence for its genetic affiliation is meager due to the scarcity of extant texts. However, several Kassite leaders bore Indo-European names, and they may have had an Indo-European elite similar to the Mitanni elite that ruled over the Hurrians of central and eastern Asia Minor.[10][11]

The Kassites renamed Babylon "Kar-Duniash", and their rule lasted for 576 years, the longest dynasty in Babylonian history.

This new foreign dominion offers a striking analogy to the roughly contemporary rule of the Semitic Hyksos in ancient Egypt. Most divine attributes ascribed to the Semitic Amorite 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 one of the 'holy' cities of western Asia, where the priests of Mesopotamian Religion were all-powerful, and the only place where the right to inheritance of the short lived old Babylonian empire could be conferred.

Babylonia experienced short periods of power, but in general proved to be relatively weak under the long rule of the Kassites, and spent long periods under Assyrian and Elamite domination and interference.

It is not clear precisely when Kassite rule of Babylon began, but the Indo-European Hittites from Asia Minor did not remain in Babylonia for long after the sacking of the city, and it is likely the Kassites moved in soon afterwards. Agum II took the throne for the Kassites in 1595 BC, and ruled a state that extended from Iran to the middle Euphrates; The new king retained peaceful relations with Assyria, but successfully went to war with the Hittite Empire of Asia Minor, and twenty four years after the Hittites took the sacred statue of Marduk, he recovered it and declared the god equal to the Kassite deity Shuqamuna.

Burnaburiash I succeeded him and drew up a peace treaty with the Assyrian king Puzur-Ashur III, and had a largely uneventful reign, as did his successor Kashtiliash III.

Southern Mesopotamia (The Sealand Dynasty) remained independent of Babylonia and in native Akkadian hands. However Ulamburiash managed to attack it conquered parts of the land from Ea-gamil, a king with a distinctly Sumerian name, around 1450 BC, whereupon Ea-Gamil fled to Elam. The Sealand Dynasty region remained independent however, and the Kassite king seems to have been unable to finally conquer it. Ulamburiash began making treaties with the Egyptians then ruling in the southern Levant, and Assyria to the north. Karaindash built a bas-relief temple in Uruk and Kurigalzu I (1415–1390 BC) built a new capital named after himself. Both of these kings continued to struggle unsuccessfully against The Sealand Dynasty.

Agum II also campaigned against the Sealand Dynasty, finally wholly conquering the far south of Mesopotamia for Babylon, destroying its capital Dur-Enlil in the process. From there Agum III extended further south still, conquering the pre-Arab state of Dilmun (in modern Bahrain).

Karaindash strengthened diplomatic ties with the Assyrian king Ashur-bel-nisheshu and the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmosis III and protected Babylonian borders with Elam.

Kadašman-Ḫarbe I succeeded Karaindash, and briefly invaded Elam before being eventually ejected by its king Tepti Ahar. He then had to contend with the Suteans, a Semitic people from the western Levant who invaded Babylonia and sacked Uruk. He describes having “annihilated their extensive forces", then constructed fortresses in a mountain region called Ḫiḫi, in the desert to the west (modern Syria) as security outposts, and “he dug wells and settled people on fertile lands, to strengthen the guard”.[12]

Kurigalzu III succeeded the throne, and soon came into conflict with Elam, to the east. When Ḫur-batila, the successor of Tepti Ahar took the throne of Elam, he began raiding the Babylonia, taunting Kurigalzu to do battle with him at Dūr-Šulgi. Kurigalzu launched a campaign which resulted in the abject defeat and capture of Ḫur-batila, who appears in no other inscriptions. He went on to conquer the eastern lands of Susiana and Elam. This took his army to the Elamite capital, the city of Susa, which was sacked. After this a puppet ruler was placed on the Elamite throne. Kurigalzu III maintained friendly relations with Assyria, Egypt and the Hittites throughout his reign. Kadashman-Enlil I (1374-1360 BC) succeeded him, and continued his diplomatic policies.

Burnaburiash II ascended to the throne in 1359 BC, he retained friendly relations with Egypt, but the resurgent Middle Assyrian Empire to the north was now encroaching into northern Babylonia, and as a symbol of peace, the Babylonian king took the daughter of the powerful Assyrian king Ashur-uballit I in marriage. He also maintained friendly relations with Suppiluliuma I, ruler of the Hittite Empire.

He was succeeded by Kara-hardash (who was half Assyrian, and the grandson of the Assyrian king) in 1333 BC, however a usurper named Nazi-Bugash deposed him, enraging Ashur-uballit I, who invaded and sacked Babylon, slew Nazi-Bugash, annexed Babylonian territory for the Middle Assyrian Empire, and installed Kurigalzu II (1345–1324 BC) as his vassal ruler.

Soon after Arik-den-ili succeeded the throne of Assyria in 1327 BC, Kurigalzu III attacked Assyria in an attempt to reassert Babylonian power. After some impressive initial successes he was ultimately defeated, and lost yet more territory to Assyria. Between 1307 BC and 1232 BC his successors, such as Nazi-Maruttash, Kadashman-Turgu, Kadashman-Enlil II, Kudur-Enlil and Shagarakti-Shuriash, allied with the empires of the Hittites and the Mitanni, (who were both also losing swathes of territory to the Assyrians). in a failed attempt to stop Assyrian expansion, which continued unchecked.

Kashtiliash IV's (1242–1235 BC) reign ended catastrophically as the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I routed his armies, sacked and burned Babylon and set himself up as king, ironically becoming the first native Mesopotamian to rule the state, its previous rulers having all been non Mesopotamian Amorites and Kassites.[7] Kashtiliash himself was taken to Ashur as a prisoner of war.

An Assyrian governor/king named Enlil-nadin-shumi was placed on the throne to rule as viceroy to Tukulti-Ninurta I, and Kadashman-Harbe II and Adad-shuma-iddina succeeded as Assyrian governor/kings, subject to Tukulti-Ninurta I until 1216 BC.

Babylon did not begin to recover until late in the reign of Adad-shuma-usur (1216–1189 BC), as he remained a vassal of Assyria until 1193 BC. However, he was able to prevent the Assyrian king Enlil-kudurri-usur from retaking Babylonia, which, apart from its northern reaches, had mostly shrugged off Assyrian domination during a period of civil war in Assyria, in the years after the death of Tukulti-Ninurta.

Meli-Shipak II (1188–1172 BC) seems to have had a peaceful reign. Despite not being able to regain northern Babylonia from Assyria, no further territory was lost, Elam did not threaten, and the Bronze Age Collapse now affecting the Levant, Canaan, Egypt, The Caucasus, Asia Minor, Mediterranean and Balkans seemed to have little impact on Babylonia (or indeed Assyria).

War resumed under subsequent kings such as Marduk-apla-iddina I (1171–1159 BC) and Zababa-shuma-iddin (1158 BC). The Assyrian king Ashur-Dan I conquered further parts of northern Babylonia from both kings, and the Elamite ruler Shutruk-Nahhunte eventually conquered most of eastern Babylonia. Enlil-nadin-ahhe (1157–1155 BC) was finally overthrown and the Kassite Dynasty ended after Ashur-Dan I conquered yet more of northern and central Babylonia, and the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte pushed deep into the heart of Babylonia itself, sacking the city and slaying the king. Poetical works have been found lamenting this disaster.

Despite the loss of territory, military weakness, and evident reduction in literacy and culture, the Kassite dynasty was the longest-lived dynasty of Babylon, lasting until 1157 BC, when Babylon was conquered by Shutruk-Nahhunte of Elam, and reconquered a few years later by the native Akkadian-Babylonian Nebuchadrezzar I, part of the larger Bronze Age collapse.

Early Iron Age — Native Rule, Second Dynasty of Isin 1155–1026 BC

The Elamites did not remain in control of Babylonia long, and Marduk-kabit-ahheshu (1155–1139 BC) established the Second Dynasty of Isin. This was the very first native Akkadian speaking south Mesopotamian dynasty to rule Babylon, and was to remain in power for some 125 years. The new king successfully drove out the Elamites and prevented any possible Kassite revival. Later in his reign he went to war with Assyria, and had some initial success, briefly capturing the city of Ekallatum before suffering defeat at the hands of the Assyrian king Ashur-Dan I.

Itti-Marduk-balatu succeeded his father in 1138 BC, and successfully repelled Elamite attacks on Babylonia during his 8 year reign. He too made attempts to attack Assyria, but also met with failure.

Ninurta-nadin-shumi took the throne in 1137 BC, and also attempted an invasion of Assyria, his armies seem to have skirted through eastern Syria and then made an attempt to attack the Assyrian city of Arbela (modern Erbil) from the west. However this bold move met with defeat at the hands of Ashur-resh-ishi I who then forced a treaty in his favour upon Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar I (1124–1103 BC) was the most famous ruler of this dynasty. He fought and defeated the Elamites and drove them from Babylonian territory, invading Elam itself, sacking the Elamite capital Susa, and recovering the sacred statue of Marduk that had been carried off from Babylon. Shortly afterwards, the king of Elam was assassinated and his kingdom disintegrated into civil war. However, Nebuchadnezzar failed to extend Babylonian territory further, being defeated a number of times by Ashur-resh-ishi I, king of the Assyrians for control of formerly Hittite controlled territories in Aramea (Syria). The Hittite Empire had been largely annexed by Assyria, and its heartland finally overrun by invading Phrygians. In the later years of his reign, he devoted himself to peaceful building projects and securing Babylonia's borders.

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his two sons, firstly Enlil-nadin-apli (1103–1100), who lost territory to Assyria. The second of them, Marduk-nadin-ahhe (1098–1081 BC) also went to war with Assyria. Some initial success in these conflicts gave way to catastrophic defeat at the hands of Tiglath-pileser I who annexed huge swathes of Babylonian territory, thus further expanding the Assyrian Empire. Following this a terrible famine gripped Babylon, inviting attacks from Semitic Aramean tribes from the west.

In 1072 BC Marduk-shapik-zeri signed a peace treaty with Ashur-bel-kala of Assyria, however his successor Kadašman-Buriaš was not so friendly to Assyria, prompting the Assyrian king to invade Babylonia and depose him, placing Adad-apla-iddina on the throne as his vassal. Assyrian domination continued until c. 1050 BC, with Marduk-ahhe-eriba and Marduk-zer-X regarded as vassals of Assyria. After 1050 BC Assyria descended into a period of civil war, followed by constant warfare with the Arameans and Phrygians, allowing Babylonia to once more largely free itself from the Assyrian yoke for a few decades.

However East Semitic Babylonia soon began to suffer repeated incursions from West Semitic nomadic peoples migrating from The Levant, and during the 11th century BC large swathes of Babylonia were appropriated and occupied by these newly arrived Arameans and Suteans, followed in the late 10th or early 9th century BC by the Chaldeans . The Chaldeans (not to be confused with modern Chaldean Catholics who are in fact ethnic Assyrians) settled in the far south east of Babylonia, the Arameans much of the countryside in eastern and central Babylonia and the Suteans in the western deserts.

Period of Chaos 1026–911 BC

The native dynasty, then ruled by Nabu-shum-libur was deposed by marauding Arameans in 1026 BC, and the heart of Babylonia, including the capital city itself descended into anarchic state, and no king was to rule Babylon for over 20 years.

However, in southern Mesopotamia (a region corresponding with the old Dynasty of the Sealand), Dynasty V (1025–1004 BC) arose, this was ruled by Simbar-shipak, leader of a Kassite clan, and was in effect a separate state from Babylon. The state of anarchy allowed the Assyrian ruler Ashur-nirari IV the opportunity to attack Babylonia in 1018 BC, and he invaded and captured the Babylonian city of Atlila and some northern regions for Assyria.

This dynasty was replaced by another Kassite Dynasty (Dynasty VI; 1003–984 BC) which also seems to have regained control over Babylon. The Elamites deposed this brief Kassite revival, with king Mar-biti-apla-usur founding Dynasty VII (984–977 BC). However, this dynasty too fell, when the Arameans once more ravaged Babylon.

Native rule was restored by Nabu-mukin-apli in 977 BC, ushering in Dynasty VIII. Dynasty IX begins with Ninurta-kudurri-usur II, who ruled from 941 BC. Babylonia remained weak during this period, with whole areas of Babylonia now under firm Aramean and Sutean control, and by 850 BC the migrant Chaldeans had established their own land in the extreme south east. Babylonian rulers were often forced to bow to pressure from Assyria and Elam, both of which had appropriated Babylonian territory.

Assyrian Rule 911–619 BC

From 911 BC with the founding of the Neo-Assyrian Empire by Adad-nirari II, Babylon found itself under the domination and rule of its fellow Mesopotamian state for the next three centuries. Adad-nirari II twice attacked and defeated Shamash-mudammiq of Babylonia, annexing a large area of land north of the Diyala River and the towns of Hīt and Zanqu in mid Mesopotamia. He made further gains over Babylonia under Nabu-shuma-ukin I later in his reign. Tukulti-Ninurta II and Ashurnasirpal II also forced Babylonia into vassalage, and Shalmaneser III sacked Babylon itself, slew king Nabu-apla-iddina, subjugated the Aramean, Sutean and Chaldean tribes settled within Babylonia, and installed Marduk-zakir-shumi I (855–819 BC) followed by Marduk-balassu-iqbi (819–813 BC) as his vassals. It was during the late 850's BC, in the annals of Shalmaneser III, that the Chaldeans and Arabs are first mentioned in the pages of written recorded history.

Upon the death of Shalmaneser II, Baba-aha-iddina was reduced to vassalage by the Assyrian queen Shammuramat ( known as Semiramis to the Persians and Greeks), acting as regent to his successor Adad-nirari III who was merely a boy. Adad-nirari III eventually killed him and ruled there directly until 800 BC until Ninurta-apla-X was crowned. However he too was subjugated by Adad-Nirari II. The next Assyrian king, Shamshi-Adad V then made a vassal of Marduk-bel-zeri.

Babylonia briefly fell to another foreign ruler when Marduk-apla-usur ascended the throne in 780 BC, taking advantage of a period of civil war in Assyria. He was a member of the Chaldean tribe who had a century or so earlier settled in a small region in the far south eastern corner of Mesopotamia, bordering the Persian Gulf and south western Iran. Shamshi-Adad V attacked him and retook northern Babylonia, forcing a border treaty in Assyria's favour upon him. However he was allowed to remain on the throne, and successfully stabilised Babylonia. Eriba-Marduk, another Chaldean, succeeded him in 769 BC and his son, Nabu-shuma-ishkun in 761 BC. Babylonia appears to have been in a state of chaos during this time, with the north occupied by Assyria, its throne occupied by foreign Chaldeans, and civil unrest prominent throughout the land.

A native Babylonian king named Nabonassar overthrew the Chaldean usurpers in 748 BC, and successfully stabilised Babylonia, remaining untroubled by Ashur-nirari V of Assyria. However with the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC) Babylonia came under renewed attack. Babylon was invaded and sacked and Nabonassar reduced to vassalage. His successors Nabu-nadin-zeri, Nabu-suma-ukin II and Nabu-mukin-zeri were also in servitude to Tiglath-Pileser III, until in 729 BC the Assyrian king decided to rule Babylon directly as its king instead of allowing Babylonian kings to remain as vassals of Assyria as his predecessors had done for two hundred years.

It was during this period that an Akkadian influenced form of Eastern Aramaic was introduced by the Assyrians as the lingua franca of their vast empire, and Mesopotamian Aramaic began to supplant Akkadian as the spoken language of the general populace of both Assyria and Babylonia.

The Assyrian king Shalmaneser V was declared king of Babylon in 727 BC, but died whilst besieging Samaria in 722 BC.

Revolt was then fomented against Assyrian domination by Merodach-Baladan, a Chaldean malka (chieftain) of the far south east of Mesopotamia, with strong Elamite support. Merodach-Baladan managed to take the throne of Babylon itself between 721- 710 BC whilst the Assyrian king Sargon II were otherwise occupied in defeating the Scythians and Cimmerians who had attacked Assyria's Persian and Median vassal colonies in Ancient Iran. Merodach-Baladan was eventually defeated and ejected by Sargon II of Assyria, and fled to his protectors in Elam. Sargon II was then declared king in Babylon.

Sennacherib succeeded Sargon II, and after ruling directly for a while, he placed his son Ashur-nadin-shumi on the throne. However Merodach-Baladan and the Elamites continued to unsuccessfully agitate against Assyrian rule. Nergal-ushezib, an Elamite, murdered the Assyrian prince and briefly took the throne. This led to the infuriated Assyrian king Sennacherib invading and subjugating Elam and sacking Babylon, laying waste to and largely destroying the city. Babylon was regarded as a sacred city by all Mesopotamians, including Assyrians, and this act eventually led Sennacherib to be murdered by his own sons while praying to the god Nisroch in Nineveh. A puppet king Marduk-zakir-shumi II was placed on the throne by the new Assyrian king Esarhaddon. However, Merodach-Baladan returned from exile in Elam, and briefly deposed him, forcing Esarhaddon to attack and defeat him, whereupon he once more fled to his masters in Elam, where he died in exile.

Esarhaddon (681–669 BC) ruled Babylon personally, he completely rebuilt the city, bringing rejuvenation and peace to the region. Upon his death, and in an effort to maintain harmony within his vast empire (which stretched from the Caucasus to Nubia and from Cyprus to Persia), he installed his eldest son Shamash-shum-ukin as a subject king in Babylon, and his youngest, Ashurbanipal in the more senior position as king of Assyria and overlord of Shamash-shum-ukin.

Shamash-shum-ukin, after decades peacefully subject to his brother Ashurbanipal, eventually became infused with Babylonian nationalism despite being an Assyrian himself, declaring that the city of Babylon (and not the Assyrian city of Nineveh) should be the seat of the immense empire. He raised a major revolt against his brother, Ashurbanipal. He led a powerful coalition of peoples also resentful of Assyrian subjugation and rule, including; Elam, the Persians, Medes, the Babylonians, Chaldeans and Suteans of southern Mesopotamia, the Arameans of the Levant and southwest Mesopotamia, the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula and the Canaanites-Phoenicians. After a bitter struggle Babylon was sacked and its allies vanquished, Shamash-shum-ukim being killed in the process. Elam was destroyed once and for all, and the Babylonians, Persians, Chaldeans, Arabs, Medes, Elamites, Arameans, Suteans and Canaanites were violently subjugated, with Assyrian troops exacting savage revenge on the rebelling peoples. An Assyrian governor named Kandalanu was placed on the throne to rule on behalf of the Assyrian king.[7] Upon Ashurbanipal's death in 627 BC, his son Ashur-etil-ilani became ruler of Babylon and Assyria.

However, Assyria soon descended into a series of brutal internal civil wars which were to cause its downfall. Ashur-etil-ilani was deposed by one of his own generals, named Sin-shumu-lishir in 623 BC, who also set himself up as king in Babylon. After only one year on the throne amidst continual civil, Sin-shar-ishkun ousted him as ruler of Assyria and Babylonia in 622 BC. However, he too was beset by constant unremitting civil war in the Assyrian heartland. Babylonia took advantage of this and rebelled under Nabopolassar, a previously unknown malka (chieftain) of the Chaldeans, who had settled in south eastern Mesopotamia c. 950 BC.

It was during the reign of Sin-shar-ishkun that Assyria's vast empire began to unravel, and many of its former subject peoples ceased to pay tribute, most significantly for the Assyrians; the Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Arameans and Cimmerians.

Neo-Babylonian Empire (Chaldean Era)

In 620 BC Nabopolassar seized control over much of Babylonia with the support of most of the inhabitants, with only the city of Nippur and some northern regions showing any loyalty to the Assyrian king.[7] Nabopolassar was unable to yet utterly secure Babylonia, and for the next four 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 revolts among his own people in Nineveh, and was thus prevented from ejecting Nabopolassar.

The stalemate ended in 615 BC, when Nabopolassar entered the Babylonians and Chaldeans into alliance with Cyaxares, an erstwhile vassal of Assyria, and king of the Medes, Persians and Parthians. Cyaxares had also taken advantage of the Assyrian destruction of the formerly regionally dominant Elam and the subsequent anarchy in Assyria to free the Iranic peoples from three centuries of the Assyrian yoke and regional Elamite domination. The Scythians from north of the Caucasus, and the Cimmerians from the Black Sea who had both also been subjugated by Assyria, joined the alliance, as did regional Aramean tribes.

In 615 BC, while the Assyrian king was fully occupied fighting rebels in both Babylonia and Assyria itself, Cyaxares launched a surprise attack on the Assyrian heartlands, sacking the cities of Kalhu (the Biblical Calah, Nimrud) and Arrapkha (modern Kirkuk).

From this point on the coalition of Babylonians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians, Cimmerians and Arameans fought in unison against a civil war ravaged Assyria. Major Assyrian cities such as Ashur, Arbela (modern Irbil), Guzana, Dur Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad), Imgur-Enlil, Nibarti-Ashur, Kar Ashurnasipal and Tushhan fell to the alliance during 614 BC. Sin-shar-ishkun somehow managed to rally against the odds during 613 BC, and drove back the combined forces ranged against him.

However, the alliance launched a renewed combined attack the following year, and after five years of fierce fighting Nineveh was sacked in late 612 BC after a bitter prolonged siege, followed by street by street fighting, in which Sin-shar-ishkun was killed defending his capital.

House to house fighting continued in Nineveh, and an Assyrian general and member of the royal household, took the throne as Ashur-uballit II. He was offered the chance of accepting a position of vassalage by the leaders of the alliance according to the Babylonian Chronicle. However he refused and managed to somehow successfully fight his way out of Nineveh and to the northern Assyrian city of Harran in Upper Mesopotamia where he founded a new capital. The fighting continued, as the Assyrian king held out against the alliance until 608 BC, when he was eventually ejected by the Medes, Babylonians, Scythians and their allies, and prevented in an attempt to regain the city the same year.

The Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II, whose dynasty had been installed as vassals of Assyria in 671 BC, belatedly tried to aid Egypt's former Assyrian masters, possibly out of fear that Egypt would be next to succumb to the new powers without Assyria to protect them. The Assyrians fought on with Egyptian aid until a final victory was achieved against them at Carchemish in north western Assyria 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 (605–562 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 the Scythians.

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, Phoenicians of Caanan 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. Cities like Tyre, Sidon and Damascus were also subjugated. 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.[13]

Amel-Marduk 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.

Neriglissar (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 (Nabu-na'id, 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 (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 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.

Persian Babylonia

Babylonia was absorbed into the Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC.

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.

Immediately after Darius seized Persia, Babylonia briefly recovered its independence under a native ruler, Nidinta-Bel, who took the name of Nebuchadnezzar III, and reigned from October 522 BC to August 520 BC, when Darius took the city by storm, during this period Assyria to the north also rebelled. A few years later, probably 514 BC, Babylon again revolted under the Armenian King 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 religious feelings.

Alexander the Great conquered Babylon in 333 BC for the Greeks, and died there in 323 BC. Babylonia and Assyria then became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. It has long been maintained that the foundation of Seleucia diverted the population to the new capital of Babylonia, and that the ruins of the old city became a quarry for the builders of the new seat of government, but the recent publication of the Babylonian Chronicles of the Hellenistic Period has shown that urban life was still very much the same well into the Parthian age (150 BC to 226 AD). The Parthian king Mithridates conquered the region into the Arsacid Empire in 150 BC, and the region became something of a battleground between Greeks and Parthians.

There was a brief interlude of Roman conquest (Roman Assyria, Roman Mesopotamia; AD 116 to 118) under Trajan, after which the Parthians reasserted control.

The satrapy of Babylonia was absorbed into Asuristan (Assyria) in the Sassanid period, which began in 226 AD, and by this time Eastern Rite Syriac Christianity (which emerged in Assyria and Upper Mesopotamia the 1st century AD) had become the dominant religion among the native populace, who had never adopted the Zoroastrian or Hellenic religions of their rulers. Apart from the small 1st century BC to 3rd century AD independent Assyrian states of Adiabene, Osroene and Assur in the north, Mesopotamia remained under largely Persian control until the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century AD. After this Asuristan-Assyria was also dissolved as a geopolitical entity, and the native Aramaic speaking and largely Christian populace of southern and central Mesopotamia gradually underwent an (often forced) process of Arabisation and Islamification, with only the Assyrians of the north (known as Ashuriyun by the Arabs) and Mandeans of the south retaining their religions and a distinct Mesopotamian identity, culture, history and language, which they still do to this day.

Babylonian culture

Bronze Age to Early Iron Age Mesopotamian culture is sometimes summarized as "Assyro-Babylonian", because of the close cultural interdependence of the two political centers. The term "Babylonia", especially in writings from around AD 1900, was formerly used to include Southern Mesopotamia's earliest history, and not only in reference to the later city-state of Babylon proper. This geographic usage of the name "Babylonia' has generally been replaced by the more accurate term Sumer in more recent writing.

Babylonian culture

Old Babylonian Cylinder Seal, hematite, The king makes an animal offering to Shamash. This seal was probably made in a workshop at Sippar.[14]

Art and architecture

In Babylonia, an abundance of clay, and lack of stone, led to greater use of mudbrick; Babylonian temples were massive structures of crude brick, supported by buttresses, the rain being carried off by drains. One such drain at Ur was made of lead. The use of brick led to the early development of the pilaster and column, and of frescoes and enameled tiles. The walls were brilliantly coloured, and sometimes plated with zinc or gold, as well as with tiles. Painted terra-cotta cones for torches were also embedded in the plaster. In Babylonia, in place of the bas-relief, there was greater use of three-dimensional figures—the earliest examples being the Statues of Gudea, that are realistic if somewhat clumsy. The paucity of stone in Babylonia made every pebble precious, and led to a high perfection in the art of gem-cutting.


Tablets dating back to the Old Babylonian period document the application of mathematics to the variation in the length of daylight over a solar year. Centuries of Babylonian observations of celestial phenomena are recorded in the series of cuneiform tablets known as the 'Enūma Anu Enlil'. The oldest significant astronomical text that we possess is Tablet 63 of 'Enūma Anu Enlil', the Venus tablet of Ammi-saduqa, which lists the first and last visible risings of Venus over a period of about 21 years and is the earliest evidence that the phenomena of a planet were recognized as periodic. The oldest rectangular astrolabe dates back to Babylonia c. 1100 BC. The MUL.APIN, contains catalogues of stars and constellations as well as schemes for predicting heliacal risings and the settings of the planets, lengths of daylight measured by a water-clock, gnomon, shadows, and intercalations. The Babylonian GU text arranges stars in 'strings' that lie along declination circles and thus measure right-ascensions or time-intervals, and also employs the stars of the zenith, which are also separated by given right-ascensional differences.[15][16][17]


Medical diagnosis and prognosis

We find [medical semiotics] in a whole constellation of disciplines.... There was a real common ground among these [Babylonian] forms of knowledge... an approach involving analysis of particular cases, constructed only through traces, symptoms, hints.... In short, we can speak about a symptomatic or divinatory [or conjectural] paradigm which could be oriented toward past present or future, depending on the form of knowledge called upon. Toward future... that was the medical science of symptoms, with its double character, diagnostic, explaining past and present, and prognostic, suggesting likely future....
—Carlo Ginzburg[18]

The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the First Babylonian Dynasty in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. The most extensive Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the ummânū, or chief scholar, Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa,[19] during the reign of the Babylonian king Adad-apla-iddina (1069-1046 BC).[20]

Along with contemporary ancient Egyptian medicine, the Babylonians introduced the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, and prescriptions. In addition, the Diagnostic Handbook introduced the methods of therapy and aetiology and the use of empiricism, logic and rationality in diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. The text contains a list of medical symptoms and often detailed empirical observations along with logical rules used in combining observed symptoms on the body of a patient with its diagnosis and prognosis.[21]

The symptoms and diseases of a patient were treated through therapeutic means such as bandages, creams and pills. If a patient could not be cured physically, the Babylonian physicians often relied on exorcism to cleanse the patient from any curses. Esagil-kin-apli's Diagnostic Handbook was based on a logical set of axioms and assumptions, including the modern view that through the examination and inspection of the symptoms of a patient, it is possible to determine the patient's disease, its aetiology and future development, and the chances of the patient's recovery.[19]

Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of illnesses and diseases and described their symptoms in his Diagnostic Handbook. These include the symptoms for many varieties of epilepsy and related ailments along with their diagnosis and prognosis.[22] Later Babylonian medicine resembles early Greek medicine in many ways. In particular, the early treatises of the Hippocratic Corpus show the influence of late Babylonian medicine in terms of both content and form.[23]


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,[24] 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 written in 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.

Neo-Babylonian culture

The brief resurgence of a "Babylonian" identity in the 7th to 6th centuries BC was accompanied by a number of important cultural developments.


Among the sciences, astronomy and astrology still occupied a conspicuous place in Babylonian society. Astronomy was of old standing in Babylonia. The zodiac was a Babylonian invention of great antiquity; and eclipses of the sun and moon could be foretold. There are dozens of cuneiform records of original Mesopotamian eclipse observations.[25]

Babylonian astronomy was the basis for much of what was done in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy, in classical Indian astronomy, in Sassanian, Byzantine and Syrian astronomy, in medieval Islamic astronomy, and in Central Asian and Western European astronomy.[15] Neo-Babylonian astronomy can thus be considered the direct predecessor of much of ancient Greek mathematics and astronomy, which in turn is the historical predecessor of the European (Western) scientific revolution.[26]

During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the early universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science and some scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution.[27] This new approach to astronomy was adopted and further developed in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy.

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.

The only Babylonian astronomer known to have supported a heliocentric model of planetary motion was Seleucus of Seleucia (b. 190 BC).[28][29][30] Seleucus is known from the writings of Plutarch. He supported the heliocentric theory where the Earth rotated around its own axis which in turn revolved around the Sun. According to Plutarch, Seleucus even proved the heliocentric system, but it is not known what arguments he used.


Babylonian mathematical texts are plentiful and well edited.[26] In respect of time they fall in two distinct groups: one from the First Babylonian Dynasty period (1830–1531 BC), the other mainly Seleucid from the last three or four centuries BC. In respect of content there is scarcely any difference between the two groups of texts. Thus Babylonian mathematics remained stale in character and content, with very little progress or innovation, for nearly two millennia.[dubious ][26]

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. And 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)


The origins of Babylonian philosophy can be traced back to early Mesopotamian wisdom literature, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. Babylonian reasoning and rationality developed beyond empirical observation.[31]

It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek philosophy, particularly Hellenistic philosophy. The Babylonian text Dialogue of Pessimism contains similarities to the agonistic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates.[32] The Milesian philosopher Thales is also known to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.


Babylonia, and particularly its capital city Babylon, has long held a place in Abrahamic religions as a symbol of excess and dissolute power. Many references are made to Babylon in the Bible, both literally and allegorically. The mentions in the Tanakh tend to be historical or prophetic, while New Testament references are more likely figurative, or cryptic references possibly to pagan Rome, or some other archetype. The legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Tower of Babel are seen as symbols of luxurious and arrogant power respectively.

See also

Many of these articles were originally based on information from the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.


  1. Freedom = Akk. addurāru.


  1. Aliraqi - Babylonian Empire
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Deutscher, Guy (2007). Syntactic Change in Akkadian: The Evolution of Sentential Complementation. Oxford University Press US. pp. 20–21. ISBN 978-0-19-953222-3. 
  3. Woods C. 2006 “Bilingualism, Scribal Learning, and the Death of Sumerian”. In S.L. Sanders (ed) Margins of Writing, Origins of Culture: 91-120 Chicago [1]
  4. A. K. Grayson (1972). Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Volume 1. Otto Harrassowitz. pp. 7–8. 
  5. Robert William Rogers, A History of Babylonia and Assyria, Volume I, Eaton and Mains, 1900.
  6. Oppenheim Ancient Mesopotamia
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Georges Roux - Ancient Iraq
  8. Eder, Christian., Assyrische Distanzangaben und die absolute Chronologie Vorderasiens, AoF 31, 191–236, 2004.
  9. Schneider, Thomas (2003). "Kassitisch und Hurro-Urartäisch. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag zu möglichen lexikalischen Isoglossen". Altorientalische Forschungen (in German) (30): 372–381. 
  10. "India: Early Vedic period". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  11. "Iranian art and architecture". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  12. H. W. F. Saggs (2000). Babylonians. British Museum Press. p. 117. 
  13. "World Wide Sechool". History of Phoenicia — Part IV. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  14. Al-Gailani Werr, L., 1988. Studies in the chronology and regional style of Old Babylonian Cylinder Seals. Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, Volume 23.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pingree, David (1998), "Legacies in Astronomy and Celestial Omens", in Dalley, Stephanie, The Legacy of Mesopotamia, Oxford University Press, pp. 125–137, ISBN 0-19-814946-8 
  16. Rochberg, Francesca (2004), The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture, Cambridge University Press 
  17. Evans, James (1998). The History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy. Oxford University Press. pp. 296–7. ISBN 978-0-19-509539-5. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  18. Ginzburg, Carlo (1984). "Morelli, Freud, and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method". In Eco, Umberto; Sebeok, Thomas. The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce. Bloomington, IN: History Workshop, Indiana University Press. pp. 81–118. ISBN 978-0-253-35235-4. LCCN 82049207. OCLC 9412985.  Ginzburg stresses the significance of Babylonian medicine in his discussion of the conjectural paradigm as evidenced by the methods of Giovanni Morelli, Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes in the light of Charles Sanders Peirce's logic of making good guesses or abductive reasoning
  19. 19.0 19.1 H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Marten Stol, Cornelis Tilburg (2004), Magic and Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine, p. 99, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-13666-5.
  20. Marten Stol (1993), Epilepsy in Babylonia, p. 55, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-72371-63-1.
  21. H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Marten Stol, Cornelis Tilburg (2004), Magic and Rationality in Ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman Medicine, p. 97-98, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-13666-5.
  22. Marten Stol (1993), Epilepsy in Babylonia, p. 5, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-72371-63-1.
  23. M. J. Geller (2004). H. F. J. Horstmanshoff, Marten Stol, Cornelis Tilburg, ed. West Meets East: Early Greek and Babylonian Diagnosis. Magic and rationality in ancient Near Eastern and Graeco-Roman medicine. Brill Publishers. pp. 11–186. ISBN 90-04-13666-5. 
  24. Tatlow, Elisabeth Meier Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society: The ancient Near East Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. (31 March 2005) ISBN 978-0-8264-1628-5 p.75 [2]
  25. See Chronology of Babylonia and Assyria.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Aaboe, Asger. "The culture of Babylonia: Babylonian mathematics, astrology, and astronomy." The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.C. Eds. John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, N. G. L. Hammond, E. Sollberger and C. B. F. Walker. Cambridge University Press, (1991)
  27. D. Brown (2000), Mesopotamian Planetary Astronomy-Astrology , Styx Publications, ISBN 90-5693-036-2.
  28. Otto E. Neugebauer (1945). "The History of Ancient Astronomy Problems and Methods", Journal of Near Eastern Studies 4 (1), pp. 1–38.
  29. George Sarton (1955). "Chaldaean Astronomy of the Last Three Centuries B. C.", Journal of the American Oriental Society 75 (3), pp. 166–173 [169].
  30. William P. D. Wightman (1951, 1953), The Growth of Scientific Ideas, Yale University Press p.38.
  31. Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), pp. 35–47.
  32. Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), pp. 35–47 [43].

Further reading

  • Ascalone, Enrico (2007). Mesopotamia: Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-25266-0. 
  • Bryant, Tamera (2005). The Life and Times of Hammurabi. Mitchell Lane. ISBN 978-1-58415-338-2. 
  • Eves, Howard (1990). An Introduction to the History of Mathematics (6th ed.). Brooks Cole. ISBN 978-0-03-029558-4. 
  • Leonard William (2003). Babylonian Religion and Mythology. Fredonia Books. ISBN 978-1-4102-0459-2. 
  • Leick, Gwendolyn (2003). The Babylonians: An Introduction. Routledge. 
  • Leick, Gwendolyn (2003). Mesopotamia. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-026574-3. 
  • Lloyd, Seton (1978). The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-78007-7. 
  • Mieroop, Marc Van de (2004). King Hammurabi Of Babylon: A Biography. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-2659-5. 
  • Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea (2002). Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Hendrickson. ISBN 978-1-56563-712-2. 
  • Oates, Joan (1986). Babylon. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-27384-5. 
  • Oppenheim, A. Leo (1977). Ancient Mesopotamia : Portrait of a Dead Civilization. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-63187-5. 
  • Pallis, Svend Aage (1956). The antiquity of Iraq: A handbook of Assyriology. Ejnar Munksgaard. 
  • Roux, Georges (1993). Ancient Iraq (3rd ed.). Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-012523-8. 
  • Saggs, Henry W.F. (1995). Babylonians. University of Oklahoma. ISBN 978-0-8061-2765-1. 
  • Saggs, Henry W.F. (1988). The Greatness That Was Babylon: A Survey of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 978-0-283-99623-8. 
  • Schomp, Virginia (2005). Ancient Mesopotamia: The Sumerians, Babylonians, And Assyrians. Franklin Watts. ISBN 978-0-531-16741-0. 
  • Spence, Lewis (1995). Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1-56459-500-3. 
  • Le Journal des Médecines Cunéiformes (published twice-yearly from 2003 onwards)

External links