The ruins of the medieval City of Babylon lie in Hillah, Babil Governorate in Iraq. At its height, the city was one of the most prominent cities of the ancient era. It was home to the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Between 1770 to 1670 BC and 612 to 320 BC, Babylon was the world’s largest city and it is estimated that it could have been the first to acquire a population of more than 200,000 inhabitants.
The English term Babylon was derived from the Greek word Babylṓn which is a transliteration of the Akkadian word Babili. In the early 2nd millennium BC, the city was referred to by the Babylonian name Babilla or Babilli. The name evolved to Babili in the 1st millennium BC and was inspired by the folk etymology which linked it to bāb-ili (“Gateway of the God” or “Gate of God”). The city is called Babel in the Bible which means confusion in Hebrew translation.
Location and Geography
The site where the city was lies at about 53 miles south of Baghdad in Babil Governorate. The ruins feature a large tells of broken mud-brick structures in addition to debris. Initially, the River Euphrates roughly bisected Babylon, but the river has since changed its course. The city’s ruins comprise of mounds occupying an area of an estimated 1.24 x 0.62 miles oriented north to south and bordering the Euphrates to the west. Some parts of Babylon’s walls to the west of the Euphrates also remain.
Babylon began as a small Semitic Akkadian city during the reign of the Akkadian Empire in 2300 BC. The Amorites settled in southern Mesopotamia by around the 19th century BC where prosperous grain merchants created independent dynasties in various city states of the region such as Lagash, Isin, and Eshnunna. Babylon was subsequently established as a city-state. For a while, Babylon was a minor city overshadowed by more powerful and older states. It gained prominence as the capital of the short lived Babylonian Empire established by Hammurabi. Hammurabi successfully conquered all of the city-states and the cities in the region such as Akkad, Kish, Nippur, Isin, Girsu, Lagash, Ur, and Uruk and integrated them into one kingdom governed from Babylon. After Hammurabi’s death, the city was occupied by powers such as Assyrians, Kassites, and Elamites until it gained status as the capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire between 609 and 539 BC. Babylon was again occupied by other powers ranging from Achaemenid, Parthian, Seleucid, Roman, and Sassanid Empires. Mesopotamia was conquered by Muslims in the 7th century, after which Islamization followed.
From 1983, efforts backed by Saddam Hussein were implemented to rebuild the city. Hussein directed funds to reconstruct and rebuild Babylon along with Nimrud, Hatra, Nineveh, and Assur to portray the brilliance of Arab achievement. After the Gulf War, Hussein intended to construct a modern palace as well as a cable line, but the implementation was curtailed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Invading US forces were widely criticized for causing large scale damage to the site. The Iraqi Ministry of Culture assumed management of the site in 2005.
Historical and Cultural Importance
Babylon’s second ruler is credited with drafting the Hammurabi code of laws. The city’s most ambitious ruler was perhaps Nebuchadnezzar, who littered the city with splendid temples, palaces, and shrines. The city was further enclosed by massive walls and prominent gates such as Ishtar Gate. It is further claimed that a beautiful park was also constructed dubbed the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon" which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar II had great ambition that he commissioned the building of a 300-foot tower referred to as the Tower of Babel in the Bible. The ruins of the city include palaces and temples. Ancient Babylonians worshiped multiple gods such as Ashur (sky god), Ea (god of Wisdom), and Anu (god of Heaven). Babylon is continuously remembered for its architectural glory and wealth.