Restored ruins of the South palace of Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon, Iraq.

Where Was Babylon And What Happened To It?

Babylon is one of the most famous cities of antiquity. Babylon was the capital of the southern Mesopotamia (Babylonia) from the early second millennium to the early first millennium BCE, and it was the capital of the Neo Babylonian (Chaldean) empire in the 7th and 6th centuries when it was at the peak of its glory. Its extensive ruins lie near the modern town of Al-Hillah in Iraq on the Euphrates River about 88 km south of Baghdad.

History Of Babylon

Babylon's development as a significant city was late by the Mesopotamian standards as there is no mention of it existing before the 23rd century BCE. The city became the nucleus of a small kingdom established in 1894 BCE by the Amorite king Sumuabum. It happened after the fall of the 3rd dynasty of Ur, under which Babylon was a provincial center. King Sumuabum's successors consolidated Babylon's status. The sixth and most famous of the Amorite dynasty, Hammurabi (1792 – 50 BCE), conquered the surrounding city-states and turned Babylon into the capital of a kingdom comprising all the southern Mesopotamia and part of Assyria. The city's favorable location and its political importance made it the main commercial and the administrative center of Babylonia. 

Ishtar Blue Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon.

The city's wealth and prestige made it a target for foreign conquerors. After a Hittite raid in 1595 BCE, the Kassites controlled the city, establishing a dynasty lasting more than four centuries. Babylon became a religious and literary center, which resulted in the elevation of the Marduk, its chief god, to supremacy in Mesopotamia. Just before 1000, pressure from the Aramaean immigrants from northern Syria brought administrative dislocation inside Babylon. Up until the

fall of Assyria in the late 7th century BCE, there was a continual struggle between the Assyrians and the Aramaean or associated Chaldean tribesmen for political control of the city. 

The citizens of Babylon claimed privileges, such as exemption from forced labor, imprisonment, and certain taxes, which the Assyrians with a similar background were readier to recognize than were immigrant tribesmen. Moreover, the citizens who became wealthy through commerce benefitted from imperial power able to protect the international trade but suffered economically because of the disruptive tribesmen. This made Babylon prefer Assyrian to Chaldean or Aramaean rule. 

Between the 9th and 7th centuries, Babylon was almost continuously under the Assyrian suzerainty. Close Assyrian involvement in Babylon began with Tiglath-Pileser III due to Chaldean tribesmen pressing the city into city territories. Disorders accompanying the increasing tribal occupation finally convinced Sennacherib, the Assyrian monarch, that peaceful control of Babylon was impossible, and he ordered the destruction of the city in 689. 

Esarhaddon, Sennacherib's son, rescinded that policy, and after the tribesmen were expelled and the property of the Babylonians returned to them, Esarhaddon undertook the rebuilding of the city. A civil war broke out between the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal and his brother, who ruled Babylonia as sub-king in the mid-7th century. Ashurbanipal laid siege to the city, resulting in a famine that drove defenders to cannibalism, and the city fell to him in 648.

Statue of Babylonian lion in Babylon ruins, Iraq.

A Chaldean leader, Nabopolassar, made Babylon the capital of a kingdom after Ashurbanipal's death in 626. The realm under his son Nebuchadrezzar II became a significant imperial power. Nebuchadrezzar organized a massive program of rebuilding and fortification in Babylon. His most important successor, Nabonidus, campaigned in Arabia for a decade. 

The capital fell almost without resistance when the Persian Achaemenian dynasty attacked under Cyrus II in 539 BCE. Under the Persians, Babylon became the capital of the wealthiest satrapy in the empire. 

Babylon was passed to the Macedonian King Alexander the Great in 331. Alexander allowed the city's satrap to coin money and began building a harbor to foster trade. Alexander died in 323 in the palace of Nebuchadrezzar. His generals had a conflict for power, and Babylon passed to the Seleucid dynasty in 312. Babylon's importance was reduced after building the new capital, Seleucia, on the Tigris, where some of Babylon's population was transferred in 275.

Babylon As A City

Sculpture of Nebuchadrezzar recovered from the ruins of Babylon and exhibited at the The Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Editorial credit: EQRoy /

Nebuchadrezzar's Babylon was the largest city globally and covered about 10 square km. The Euphrates used to flow through the city. The older part of the city is on the east side of the east bank. The central feature there was the great temple of Marduk with its associated tower, which was built on several stages and popularly known as the Tower of Babel. It had a base spread around 91 meters on a side and its seven stages, the uppermost a temple in blue glaze reached a total height equal to its base.  

The term Babylonia refers to the entire culture that developed in the area since Babylon was the area's city. During the 8th and 7th centuries, astronomers in Babylon developed a new empirical approach to astronomy. The Babylonian astronomers began to study philosophy dealing with the nature of the universe and employed internal logic with their predictive planetary systems.

Medicine was a vital field Babylonians had an interest in. The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the First Babylonian Dynasty. The Babylonians introduced the concepts of physical examination, prescriptions, diagnosis, and prognosis.

Women learned to read and write and learned the extinct Sumerian language. A considerable amount of literature was translated from Sumerian originals, and the law was written in the old language of Sumer. 

Babylon Now

Babylon ruins
Ruins of Babylon in Iraq.

The eighteenth-century witnessed an increasing flow of travelers to Babylon. The archeological site is famous as a unique testimony and remains of one of the most influential empires of the ancient world. Babylon nowadays is an archeological site that possesses cultural and symbolic associations of universal value. The property represents the remains of a multifaced myth that functioned as a model, tale, and symbol for over two thousand years.

The 2003 warfare in Iraq had a devastating effect on several archeological sites and antiquities, many of which were damaged or even looted. In January 2009, the World Monuments Fund, with funding from the U.S Department of State and in collaboration with Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, announced a new conservation plan for the site of the old city of Babylon.


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