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"And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." Revelation 18:2

Babylonia at the time of Hammurabi showing the Babylonian territory upon his ascension in 1792 BC and upon his death in 1750 BC.

Babylon (Hebrew: בבל, Bāḇẹl; Greek: Βαβυλών, Babulōn) was a powerful city in ancient Mesopotamia. Located between the Euphrates River and the Tigris River, about fifty miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq. During it's greatest dynasty, Babylonia was one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world, covering most of Mesopotamia. The Babylonians also had complex mathematics and had thoroughly studied astronomy.[1]

Ancient History

Ruins of Babylon, Iraq. 1975.

The large area surrounding Babylon, called Mesopotamia, was settled very early on in history. It is estimated that many of the original city states were first established in about 2200-2100 B.C.. They established many small city states in Mesopotamia, and in Genesis, it is said that Babylon was established by the warrior-king Nimrod.[2]

"Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, 'Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.' The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar."Genesis 10:8-10

In about 2000 B.C., a group of travelling nomads called the Amorites came down from the deserts and settled there. They soon conquered most of the cities within the region, including Isin, Larsa, and Babylon. They soon dominated the rest of the region, and began the First Dynasty of Babylon.[3]

Tower of Babel

Main Article: Tower of Babel

According to the biblical record in Genesis, sometime after the building of Babylon, the people across the entire region came together to build an enormous tower that they hoped would reach heaven. They also hoped that the tower would help make sure that the people would never spread out over the earth. God then confused their languages and spread the people out over the earth so that they would fulfill his command and fill the earth. The tower was then called the Tower of Babel, Babel meaning "confused".[4]

First Dynasty of Babylon

The First Dynasty of Babylon lasted from about 1900 to 1595 B.C. The most significant king during this period was king Hammurabi. He conquered or became allies with nearly the entire plain surrounding Babylon. The extensive reach of his influence, along with the very fertile area within Babylon, made Hammurabi's kingdom one of the most powerful kingdoms in the ancient world. It is said that Hammurabi is responsible for creating the Code of Hammurabi. Back in those days, most laws were not written down and established, they were just known by the people. Hammurabi realized that a written law was necessary for his kingdom to thrive, so he wrote the Code of Hammurabi to set up a law system for his empire. This great period in Babylon's history would not last long, however. The successors of Hammurabi had to deal with the growing threat arising from the nearby Hittite and Kassite empires. Eventually, Babylon could not hold back the Hittites anymore, and in about 1595 B.C., the Hittites attacked Babylon. They ransacked the city and stole a statue of Marduk, the supreme god of Babylon. With Babylon weak from the Hittite raid, the Kassites came in and took over the city, ending the First Dynasty of Babylon.[5][3]

The Kassite Dynasty

Even though a different people group had come in and taken over, the new Kassite rulers seemed to try and be good kings to the Babylonians. This is shown by the story that the first king of the Kassite Dynasty, Agum-kakrine, immediately attacked the Hittites and reclaimed the stolen statue of Marduk. This story is not necessarily true, but it does show that the Kassite rulers tried to be popular with the people.[3] However, due to the raids, Babylon was no longer one of the larger forces in Mesopotamia. Two other people groups, the Assyrians and the Elamites, were now fighting for control over the region. In about 1200 B.C., a powerful Assyrian king named Tukulti-Ninurta marched into Babylon and took over, once again taking away the statue of Marduk. This Assyrian occupation did not last long, however. About one hundred years later, the Elamites marched into Babylon and looted the city, taking the statue of Marduk for themselves. Here, in 1155 B.C., the Kassite Dynasty ended.[3][6]

Middle Babylonian Period

After the raids by the Assyrians and Elamites, the Kassites fell out of power in Babylon. Instead, the second dynasty of Isin rose up to gain the throne. This new reign placed Babylon in a powerful position over the cities in Mesopotamia, and Babylon became very prosperous. The ruler who is deemed responsible for making Babylon stronger during this time period is Nebuchadnezzar I. Under his rule, the Babylonians gathered together and marched to Elam where they recovered the statue of Marduk.[3] Nebuchadnezzar I then placed the statue in his temple and publicly proclaimed Marduk to be the Babylonian "King of all gods". Nebuchadnezzar I also built many buildings and structures within Babylon and other cities under Babylon control. This period of prosperity did not last for very long. In the eleventh century, an army of the Aramaeans invaded Babylon, and it appears that the central government of Babylon disappeared for a period of time. It has been speculated by some scholars that during this period in time, the rulers were not able to hire scribes to record the events, but for whatever reason, almost nothing has been recorded from about 1100 to 800 B.C.[7].

The Assyrian Period

During the period from 1100 to 800 B.C., many empires declined in both wealth and influence, leaving them not as powerful. A little after 800 B.C., Assyria began to grow in power, and they became the leading political power in Mesopotamia. Assyria tried to form a partnership with Babylon rather than trying to conquer them, so the king of Babylon and the king of Assyria formed a co-monarchy. The people of Babylon were not pleased with the Assyrian rule, however, and they revolted against Assyria twice in the eighth century B.C..[3] The Assyrian king Sennacherib, angered by deeds done by the Babylonians during their revolt, sacked Babylon and sent many of its occupants to the Assyrian capital Ninevah in about 689 B.C..[8] Sennacherib's successor sent the Babylonians back to Babylon, and tried to establish order, but the outraged Babylonians once again revolted and it took many years for order to be restored.[3]

Neo-Babylonian Period

The Assyrian king tried to send representatives to Babylon in order to establish some order, but a man named Nabopolassar expelled these Assyrians and was crowned the new king of Babylon by the people in 626 B.C.. This is where the Neo-Babylonian period began. Nabopolassar was a great leader of Babylon, and his dynasty is considered the most powerful out of all of Babylon's dynasties. He set out to destroy the Assyrian empire for all they had done to Babylon, but Egypt, not wanting Babylon to become the leading force in Mesopotamia, backed Assyria in their campaign to survive. In 616 B.C., Nebopolassar defeated an Assyrian force on the banks of the Euphrates river, but he had to retreat because an Egyptian army came to aid the Assyrians. Nabopolassar continued to attack the Assyrians, until finally, after a three month siege in 612 B.C., the Babylonians conquered Nineveh. The Assyrians tried to team up with Necho II, the pharaoh of Egypt, and take back their empire, but Necho was defeated by Nabopolassar's son, Nebuchadnezzar II in 605 B.C.. In the same year, Nabopolassar died, leaving his kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar started a violent campaign to take over Mesopotamia, and he took over Jerusalem in 597 B.C..[3] In 586 B.C., the city revolted, and Nebuchadnezzar once again attacked Jerusalem and exported all of the people to Babylon. This is when the period of Jerusalem's captivity in Babylon began.[9] The rest of Babylonian history is filled with kings ruling for short periods of time and conquering more land for the empire. In 539 B.C., however, Cyrus the Great of Persia came in and conquered Babylon. From then on, Babylon was ruled by Persia, and although there were many revolts, most were snuffed out in a very short time.[3]

Recent History

A hilltop view of a restored portion of the ancient city of Babylon.

Up until the 1980's, Babylon was a bunch of mounds of dirt, with buried structures underneath. Archaeologists constantly surveyed the area, but were fearful of destroying the ancient artifacts contained within the ruins. In 1982, after Saddam Hussein rose to power, he decided to rebuild Babylon and make it a palace for himself. He planned to restore the ancient buildings and the beautiful hanging gardens to their former glory. Instead of trying to actually restore the ancient ruins, he just built new structures on top of the ruins resembling the ancient structures, extensively damaging the old ruins. He used stones with the appearance of being made of sand to rebuild Nebuchadnezzar's palace, inscribing on each one the words, "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon". This inscription was meant to mimic the inscription on the ancient stones, which praised Nebuchadnezzar.[10]

Next to Nebuchadnezzar's old palace, Saddam started building his own palace. It was four stories tall, shaped like a pyramid, and covered an area equal to five football fields. It was very luxurious inside, with beautiful architecture and many expensive objects. American troops entered Babylon in 2003, and surprisingly found very little evidence that the place had been lived in. The palace was then ransacked in years after, and now it is in shambles.[10]


Code of Hammurabi

A portion of the Code of Hammurabi

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest forms of written law in the world. Believed to have been first written by King Hammurabi in around 1700 B.C., he wrote the Code and gave a copy to all of his judges so they could decide court cases. This code helped to establish order across all of Hammurabi's kingdom. The law was based upon the saying "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", and nearly all of the 282 laws follow this. Most of them state what to do in a certain legal situation, the punishment for crimes, and the prices of items. The Code does not cover all possible legal scenarios, but it is extensive enough to keep a kingdom running. Many copies of the Code exist, one of them being on a seven foot tall pillar.[11] It is currently the oldest known text from the Babylon empire. A complete copy of the Code of Hammurabi can be found here.[12]Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many


The Babylonians believed in many gods, and each god reigned over a specific area of existence. For example, the goddess Ishtar ruled over love and war.[13] However, as more and more gods were taken from cities conquered by the Babylonians, the list of their gods began to grow, until it was a long, complicated list of deities that had to be maintained through the generations. Their high god was Marduk, the god of the rising sun.[14] The Babylonians created an enormous statue of Marduk and placed it in their temple, but this statue was taken from them many times throughout history.
The Babylonians believed in daily worship of their gods. Every day, people would flock to the temples to provide offerings, maintain the condition of the temple and its sacred objects, and pray. Special ceremonies and festivals were often held for the gods. they usually involved many feasts and parades. If these ceremonies were skipped for any reason, the people were distraught, and so any year where these festivals were not held was usually recorded in great detail by a scribe.[15] The Babylonians believed that they could interpret what the gods were telling them by paying special attention to natural phenomena. Abnormal births from creatures, an odd appearance of an animal, or or an unusual celestial event was usually taken to mean a message from the gods.[16] This is the reason why the Babylonians took a special interest in astronomy and astrology. The Babylonians thought that the stars recorded the actions of the gods, and that by studying star patterns and movements, the gods could be better understood by man.[17]


A picture of excavated Babylon in 1932

Beginning in the 1800's, a few excavations of Babylon began, but these made little progress in uncovering the city. Major excavation did not begin until 1899 when Robert Koldewey of the German Oriental Society performed a major archaeological dig around Babylon. He worked from 1899 until 1917, when World War 1 forced him to stop. During his period of work, he uncovered hundreds of tablets and pottery. He also uncovered the beautiful Ishtar Gate, and sent it back to Germany. Later excavations in the 1900's by the Iraqi government uncovered many significant structures. They also began reconstruction of some major landmarks, such as the Emakh Temple, the Processional Way, and the palace complex.[18]

The Ishtar Gate

The reconstructed version of the Ishtar Gate
The Ishtar Gate was originally built in 575 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar II. Babylon had eight inner gates, The Ishtar Gate being one of the most impressive ones uncovered by archaeologists. The gate is named after the goddess Ishtar, and it is the main entrance into Babylon. The gate is beautifully adorned with figures of bulls and dragons, all stacked into tiers. These animals were meant to symbolize the gods Marduk and Adad. The entire gate is covered with glazed bricks of a dazzling blue color. A long rode ran through this gate; it is called Processional Way. This road has been found to run for more than half a mile. The entire gate was forty-seven feet high and thirty-two feet wide. Etched onto the gate was an inscription written during its dedication by Nebuchadnezzar. The inscription reads as follows:

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nabu, of prudent counsel, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor, who always takes to heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the firstborn son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon.
Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower. Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder.
I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Markduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.

A reconstructed version of the Ishtar gate is currently in a museum in Berlin, Germany.[19]

Processional Way

A long road ran through the Ishtar Gate. This road is referred to as Processional Way. Every year, during the New Year festival, the Babylonians would take idols of their gods and carry them along this road. The road was lined with walls, and on these walls were painted many pictures of animals such as lions and dragons. These animals represented certain gods, and was meant to help bring pleasure to the gods. This road is believed to have run for a full half-mile in length.[20]

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

An Artist's rendition on the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar II is credited with building the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. These elaborate gardens, mentioned by a Greek historian named Siculus, were a marvel of engineering and architecture, making them one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Supposedly, Nebuchadnezzar's wife Amyitis was tired of the barren land surrounding Babylon, and wished to return to her homeland with all of its lush vegetation. Nebuchadnezzar, eager to please his wife, had his engineers design the Hanging Gardens. These gardens consisted of multiple varieties of exotic plants growing from the roof and walls of Nebuchadnezzar's palace. The real mystery about these gardens was how they were kept alive. Babylon had a very low annual rainfall, so water had to be pumped up from the Euphrates River and all the way up to the roof of the palace where it could drip down and water all the levels of the gardens. Archaeologists are still not sure how this was accomplished with their limited technology, but some theories exist, such as a rope system with buckets that would carry the water upwards. Oddly enough, the ruins of these gardens have not been found, and along with the lack of records talking about the fables gardens, it is possible that they never existed. Robert Koldewey, while excavating, claimed to have found a large chamber where the system used to water the gardens could have been kept. Some archaeologists question his find, and so another solution is still being searched for. Another theory is that the Hanging Gardens were not actually in Babylon, but through mistranslation was confused with another set of impressive gardens in Nineveh.[21]

Biblical Significance

Babylon played a major role in the Old Testament. Babylon is believed to be the location of the Tower of Babel. Here, when God confused the languages of the people, he also spread them out over the entire earth. Some believe that at this point, man also began to separate into the different races, making this event extremely significant to the history of mankind. God also used Babylon to help punish the Israelites when they refused to obey God's commands and needed to be punished. Usually, Babylon and their allies would take over Jerusalem and exile the people. One example of this is found in 2 Kings:

"The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites."2Kings 17:24

Babylon was also mentioned in many Bible stories. The story where God wrote a warning on the wall that only Daniel could interpret was written to Nebuchadnezzar II. Also, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in captivity in Babylon when they were thrown into the fiery furnace. [22]

See Also

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  2. Ancient Babylonia, The, Accessed May 28, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Babylonian Empire Jona Lendering,, Accessed May 28, 2011
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  6. Elam and, Accessed May 29, 2011
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