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History of Babylonia Essay

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Babylon is Akkadian “babilani” which means “the Gate of God(s)” and it became the capital of the land of Babylonia. The etymology of the name Babel in the Bible means “confused” (Gen 11:9) and throughout the Bible, Babylon was a symbol of the confusion caused by godlessness. The name Babylon is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Babel.

The Early Growth of Babylon

There is evidence that man has lived in this area of Mesopotamia since the beginning of civilization.

The first records indicate that Babylon was established as a city around the 23rd century BC. Before this it was a provincial capital ruled by the kings of the city of Ur. Then came the migration of the Amorites.

Quick Overview of Babylonian History

Babylonia (pronounced babilahnia) was an ancient empire that existed in the Near East in southern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. Throughout much of their history their main rival for supremacy were their neighbors, the Assyrians.

It was the Babylonians, under King Nebuchadnezzar II, who destroyed Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, and carried God’s covenant people into captivity in 587 BC.

The Bible reveals much about the Babylonians all the way back from the time of Hammurapi (2000 BC) to the fall of Babylon (about 500 BC). Throughout the Old Testament there are references to the Babylonians, their people, culture, religion, military power, etc.

Babylonia was a long, narrow country about 40 miles wide at its widest point and having an area of about 8,000 square miles. It was bordered on the north by Assyria, on the east by Elam, on the south and west by the Arabian desert, and on the southeast by the Persian Gulf.

The earliest known inhabitants of Mesopotamia were the Sumerians, whom the Bible refers to as the people of the “land of Shinar” (Gen 10:10). Sargon, from one of the Sumerian cities, united the people of Babylonia under his rule about 2300 B.C. Many scholars believe that Sargon might have been the same person as Nimrod (Gen 10:8).

Artists Depiction of the Ziggurat at Ur

Around 2000 BC Hammurapi emerged as the ruler of Babylonia. He expanded the borders of the Empire and organized its laws into a written system, also known as the Code of Hammurapi. About this time Abraham left Ur, an ancient city located in lower Babylon, and moved to Haran, a city in the north. Later, Abraham left Haran and migrated into the land of Canaan under God’s promise that he would become the father of a great nation (Gen 12).

Alongside of Babylonia there must also be a mention of Assyria, which bordered Babylonia on the north. Assyria’s development was often intertwined with the course of Babylonian history. About 1270 BC, the Assyrians overpowered Babylonia. For the next 700 years, Babylonia was a lesser power as the Assyrians dominated the ancient world.

Around 626 BC, Babylonian independence was finally won from Assyria by a leader named Nabopolassar. Under his leadership, Babylonia again became the dominant imperial power in the Near East and thus entered into her “golden age.” In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II, the son of Nabopolassar, became ruler and reigned for 44 years. Under him the Babylonian Empire reached its greatest strength. Using the treasures which he took from other nations, Nebuchadnezzar built Babylon, the capital city of Babylonia, into one of the leading cities of the world. The famous hanging gardens of Babylon were known to the Greeks as one of the seven wonders of the world.

As previously mentioned, in 587 BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried the leading citizens of the Kingdom of Judah as prisoners to Babylon. The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah had foretold that the Jews would be free to return home to Jerusalem after 70 years. The Lord had encouraged His people through Ezekiel and Daniel who were also captives in Babylon. During this 70 year period of captivity, the Persians conquered Babylonia, and the Babylonians passed from the scene as a world power.

Throughout the long period of Babylonia history, the Babylonians achieved a high level of civilization that made an impact on the whole known world. Sumerian culture was its basis, which later Babylonians regarded as traditional. In the area of religion, the Sumerians already had a system of gods, each with a main temple in each city. The chief gods were Anu, god of heaven; Enlil, god of the air; and Enki or Ea, god of the sea. Others were Shamash, the sungod; Sin, the moon-god; Ishtar, goddess of love and war; and Adad, the storm-god. The Amorites promoted the god Marduk at the city of Babylon, so that he became the chief god of the Babylonian religion, starting around 1100 BC.

Babylonian religion was temple-centered, with elaborate festivals and many different types of priests, especially the exorcist and the diviner, who mainly were trained to drive away evil spirits.

Babylonian literature was mainly dominated by mythology and legends. Among these was a creation myth written to glorify their god Marduk. According to this myth, Marduk created heaven and earth from the corpse of the goddess Tiamat. Another work was the Gilgamesh Epic, a flood story written about 2000 BC. Scientific literature of the Babylonians included treatises on astronomy, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, botany, and nature. One of the main aspects of Babylonian culture was a codified system of law.

Hammurapi’s famous code was the successor of earlier collections of laws going back to about 2050 BC. The Babylonians used art for the national celebration of great events and glorification of the gods. It was marked by stylized and symbolic representations, but it expressed realism and spontaneity in the depiction of animals. The Old Testament contains many references to Babylonia. Gen 10:10 mentions four Babylonian cities, Babel (Babylon), Erech (Uruk), Accad (Agade) and Calneh. These, along with Assyria, were ruled by Nimrod.

Ancient Babylonia – Monarchy

The Babylonian political structure was a monarchy. The king ruled through a number of officials who were directly under and responsible to him but he could intervene personally at any level of government and administration. Thus Hammurapi (1792-1750 BC) took a direct hand in dealing with property claims in Larsa after he had captured that city-state. The monarchy was hereditary and maleprimogeniture seems to have been the guiding principle. Babylonian historians designated a continuous line of kings a “dynasty”.

The king was an absolute monarch and in the very early period there were a few checks to his authority in that he had to respect custom and tradition, private property, the sensibilities of the nobles, religion and divination. The king was the ultimate authority in all areas except religion where he was subject to the dictates of the chief god as represented by his chief priest. Thus in the New Year’s festival the king’s role included being slapped in the face by the chief priest and pulled by the ears as a sign of his subservience to the god.

Ancient Babylonia – Communication, Roads and Scribes

Efficient administration of the country depended upon good communications through a system of roads and relay stations for messengers. Written communications passed back and forth in great number and required a large body of trained scribes. Most people, including the king and his officials, were illiterate so that they were heavily dependent upon the scribes both to write and interpret their commands and reports in an appropriate manner. Many of these letters have been discovered in modern times and they provide a fascinating glimpse of the real events and human relationships of the day, in contrast to the official versions found in royal inscriptions.

Ancient Babylonia – Nebuchadnezzar II

Nebuchadnezzar II marched back to Babylon and was crowned king, which inaugurated one of the most powerful periods in Babylonian history. Nebuchadnezzar continued his brilliant campaigns focusing his military maneuvers on the west, which he effectively brought under his control. It was the kingdom of Judah who had called upon Egypt to assist them against the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar continued his attacks and on his second conquest the conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC taking the survivors as prisoners back to Babylon.

This was known in Jewish history has “the Babylonian captivity”and “the exile”. After he destroyed Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar focused his attacks upon Egypt and he conquered it in 568 BC though there has been no detailed account of this invasion ever discovered, it remains a tremendous success for the king of Babylon and the first time any Chaldean king had ever conquered Egypt.

After Nebuchadnezzar’s death his successors remained obscure untilNabonidus (555-539 BC), the last of the dynasty, ascended the throne. According to history Nabonidus, for some reason, lived throughout 10 of the 17 years that he ruled, at an Arab desert oasis called Tema, which was a vast distance from Babylon. In Babylon he left his son Belshazzar, to rule on his behalf. Nabonidus and his mother were from Harran and claimed to have been a loyal subject to the last of the Assyrian kings. Both he and his mother were zealous worshipers of the moon-god Sin, the tutelary deity of Harran, but when Nabonidus tried to promote this cult in Babylonia, the native priests, especially those who followed Marduk, became enraged. This religious controversy split Babylonia in two. Some of this literary propaganda of the time has been recovered.

Babylonian culture flourished during the pax Assyriaca of the 7th century BC and again under the Chaldean dynasty of the sixth century BC. Their god Nabu, son of Marduk and god of writing and learning became very popular throughout that period. The practice of astrology permeated the Babylonian society to the point that there were nightly watches by the astrologers throughout the kingdom. Archeologists have recently recovered massive detailed records of the movements of heavenly bodies.

Literature was copied and studied and many new compositions were created. In art and architecture the most impressive remains that have been unearthed by archeologists are in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. The city apparently had not changed much when the Greek historianHerodotus wrote about it less than a century later and called its Hanging Gardens one of the 7 wonders of the world. In 539 BC Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon.

Ancient Babylonia – Houses and Farms

Around the temple were clusters of houses made of sun-dried brickand inhabited by farmers and artisans. The populations of the Babylonian cities cannot be estimated with any reasonable degree of accuracy, because the authorities, so far as extant documents reveal, took no census. The number of inhabitants of a city probably ranged from 10,000 to 50,000. The city streets were narrow, winding, and quite irregular, with high, windowless walls of houses on both sides.

The streets were unpaved and undrained. The average house was a small, one-story, mud-brick structure, consisting of several rooms grouped around a court. The house of a well-to-do Babylonian, on the other hand, was probably a two-story brick dwelling of about a dozen rooms and was plastered and whitewashed both inside and out.

The ground floor consisted of a reception room, kitchen, lavatory, servants’ quarters, and, sometimes, even a private chapel. Furnitureconsisted of low tables, high-backed chairs, and beds with wooden frames. Household vessels were made of clay, stone, copper, and bronze, and baskets and chests of reed and wood. Floors and walls were adorned with reed mats, skin rugs, and woolen hangings.

Below the house was often located a mausoleum in which the family dead were buried. The Babylonians believed that the souls of the dead traveled to the nether world, and that, at least to some extent, life continued there as on earth. For this reason, pots, tools, weapons, and jewels were buried with the dead.

Agriculture formed the economic base of Babylonian civilization with production of barley, wheat, fruits, vegetables, with cattle and sheep predominating.

The main crop in the time of the ancient Babylonians was barley. The farmer would sow his seed with a tool known as a “seeder plough” The plough would create a furrow into which a seed would be dropped using a funnel. A man would have to walk beside the seeder plough and drop the seeds in at regular intervals. This would mean that all the seeds would be at exactly the correct depth.

It would have taken considerable skill to achieve tasks such as irrigationand the winnowing. If the farmer got the irrigation wrong he could flood the field or let it get too dry to allow the plants to grow. Similarly if the farmer did the winnowing in too strong a wind the grain would also blow away but if he did in too weak a wind there would be chaff and dirt still mixed in. The farmer would have probably followed his father in his trade and would have been taught by him. The farmer would almost certainly have been “apprenticed” by his father.

Ancient Babylonia – Social Hierarchy

There were several levels in the social hierarchy with the king at the top and the slaves at the bottom. In between, in descending order, were the nobles, the free citizens and those in military and civil service. The class structure was generally rigid although some mobility from one level to another was possible. The debt slave had the possibility of paying his debts and regaining his freedom but the only hope for the foreign captive was escape or death.

Thus in Babylonian society there were mainly three classes in society, theawilu, a free person of the upper class; the wardu, or slave; and themushkenu, a free person of low estate, who ranked legally between the awilu and the wardu. Most slaves were prisoners of war, but some were recruited from the Babylonian citizenry as well. For example, free persons might be reduced to slavery as punishment for certain offenses; parents could sell their children as slaves in time of need; or a man might even turn over his entire family to creditors in payment of a debt, but for no longer than three years.

Ancient Babylonia – Schools

For the most part the only education that a young Babylonian might have received would have been of a scribal type. Those who were sent to school to train as a scribe had to be children of wealthy or influential parents. Boys were admitted and possibly girls as well. There is no doubt that rich women often had a lot of freedom and influence.

By the time of Hammurapi (1792-60) the language of Sumerian had been replaced by Akkadian as the commonly spoken language in Babylonia but Sumerian was still used for nearly all religious texts. It was therefore necessary to train students, not only in the script, cuneiform, but in the language as well.

The students’ education would begin when he was eight or nine years old. Each day he would get up at sunrise and go to school, which was commonly known as the tablet house. At the tablet house there would be a man like a schoolmaster. His title literally meant “the Expert.” There would be a number of other teachers who would each specialize in a different aspects of Sumerian and its writing. To keep order some of the senior students would be appointed as a helper. A student’s work would consist of copying tablets using a slab of wet clay. Also he would learn various texts by heart. If he successfully passed an examination the student became a scribe.

Ancient Babylonia – Astronomy and the Calendar

The observations of the astrologers, which were meticulously recorded on a nightly basis over many centuries, led to accurate predictions of various astronomical phenomena and the correct calculation of the solar and lunar year. The Babylonian calendar was based upon the lunar year but, thanks to the astrologer’s knowledge, could be reconciled with the solar year by means of intercalary months.

We owe much of our calendar system to the Babylonians. They were probably the first people after the Sumerians to have a calendar. This calendar was very important because without it agriculture could not be planned properly.

There were twelve lunar months in the year but as the months were shorter than our months often an extra month would have to be added. This was called the second Elul. Each week was divided into seven days. The day was divided into six parts each of two hours duration and containing thirty parts. The Babylonians measured time with a water or sun clock.

One can see from this that the Babylonian calendar has markedsimilarities with our own: for instance the twelve months in the year and seven days in a week.

Ancient Babylonia – Medicine

Medicine was practiced by two kinds of experts: the physician(asu), and the exorcist (dsipu), and the talents of either or both might be demanded at the sick bed. There was a whole set of diagnostic texts in which a multitude of possible symptoms was listed and the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment given. Surgery was known and even delicate operations on the eye were performed. The Babylonians had a superb knowledge of human and animal anatomy and physiology and were aware, for example, of the circulation of the blood and the pulse.

Ancient Babylonia – Cuneiform

The script of the Sumerians and all the other inhabitants of Mesopotamia employed to write their language, up to the first century BC was cuneiform. The name cuneiform comes from theLatin word “cuneus”, meaning wedge.

According to Babylonian beliefs Nabu, the god of scribal arts, who was also the city god of Borsippa, gave cuneiform to them.

When the Akkadians, Semite invaders from the desert, adopted the Sumerian civilization and part of the Sumerian Territory they also adopted cuneiform. They adapted the script to fit their own. The next wave of Semite invaders, the Amorites, did likewise, but they continued to speak the Akkadian tongue. Thus we find Hammurapi (1792-1760 BC) who was an Amorite, speaking Akkadian and writing cuneiform. Since the time of Hammurapi, successive Mesopotamian empires controlled huge empires in the Near East. Because of this cuneiform, Akkadian became the lingua franca of the Near East, as Latin was of Medieval Europe. This of course ended when Mesopotamian civilization declined so that cuneiform was no longer being used by about the first century BC.

When the Sumerians first brought cuneiform into being it was nothing like the script that it was to become. It was an ideogramatical script (a symbol represented by a word). For example a picture of sheep would mean sheep. When the Sumerians came into contact with the Akkadians they needed to adapt their script to fit. This was necessary even to write Akkadian names. Obviously it was far more important for the Akkadians because they needed to write their language in it. Cuneiform then underwent a transformation. It became a syllogramatical script where each symbol represented a sound. Therefore the symbol for a word such as ‘dig’, if we took an English equivalent would be correctly used in the second syllable of ‘indignant’. This transformation enabled cuneiform to be used with other languages.

As cuneiform changed from an ideogramatical to a syllogramatical scriptits symbols were simplified. The original pictograms were complicated and hard to write on clay tablets. The symbols developed, losing many of their lines and the remaining lines were wedge shaped and straight.

Cuneiform was originally written with a reed or stick stylus but this was quickly developed into a precision tool. We have derived virtually all our knowledge of the Babylonians from texts written in cuneiform on clay tablets. From these tablets we have been able to learn their law, business, administration, religion and all other aspects of Babylonian civilization. Without these texts we would know little about the Babylonians.


The first Indo-European empire: 17th century BC

A group of tribes, speaking Indo-European languages and collectively known as the Hittites, establish themselves as the dominant power in Anatolia. Their capital is at Bogazkoy, a dramatically fortified city on a steep slope among ravines; its walls and towers enclose no fewer than five great temples.

The priest-king who makes this place his capital in the 17th century BC is Hattusilis I. He has ambitions for his people. Moving south and east with his army, he reaches the Mediterranean and continues into northern Syria.

Eager to give his empire full credentials, Hattusilis brings back from Syria a team of scribes, expert in cuneiform. They adapt the cuneiform script to a new purpose, the recording of an Indo-European language, and they lay the foundation for an important state archive at Bogazkoy.

When the clay tablets of this archive are discovered, in the 20th century, they provide the basis for our knowledge of the Hittites.
The magic of iron: from 1500 BC

The Hittites are the first people to work iron, in Anatolia from about 1500 BC. In its simple form iron is less hard than bronze, and therefore of less use as a weapon, but it seems to have had an immediate appeal – perhaps as the latest achievement of technology (with the mysterious quality of being changeable, through heating and hammering), or from a certain intrinsic magic (it is the metal in meteorites, which fall from the sky).

Quite how much value is attached to iron can be judged from a famous letter of about 1250 BC, written by a Hittite king to accompany an iron dagger-blade which he is sending to a fellow monarch

The furthest extent of the empire: 16th – 12th century BC

In about 1600 the Hittites reach and destroy Babylon, before retreating again to their Anatolian heartland. In the 14th century they march again to establish an empire which reaches into northern Syria, east of the Euphrates, and extends down the Mediterranean coast to confront the Egyptians. A hard-fought but inconclusive engagement at Kadesh in 1275 stablizes the frontier between the two power blocs.

It is followed some years later by a treaty and the marriage of the daughter of the Hittite king (Hattusilis III) to the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.  In the 12th century the Hittite empire suddenly collapses – overwhelmed, it is thought, by the onrush of the Sea Peoples. These terrifying intruders are described in Egyptian chronicles as raging down the coast to threaten the frontiers of Egypt in about 1218 and again in 1182 BC http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ab66#ixzz2HIAKxOZL The Hittites were an Ancient Anatolian people who spoke a language of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family and established a kingdom centered at Hattusa in on the central Anatolian plateau in the 18th century BC. The HittiteEmpire reached its height around 1285 BC, encompassing a large part of Anatolia, north-westernSyria about as far south as the mouth of the Litani River, and eastward into upper Mesopotamia. After ca. 1180 BC, the empire disintegrated into several independent “Neo-Hittite” city-states, some surviving until as late as the 8th century BC.

The term “Hittites” was taken from the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible, translating חתי HTY, or בני-חת BNY-HT “Children of Heth” (Heth is a son of Canaan). The archaeologists who discovered the Anatolian Hittites in the 19th century initially identified them with these Biblical Hittites. Today the identification of the Biblical peoples with either the Hattusa-based empire or the Neo-Hittite kingdoms is a matter of dispute.

The Hittite kingdom was commonly called the Land of Hatti by the Hittites themselves. The fullest expression is “The Land of the City of Hattusa.” This description could be applied to either the entire empire, or more narrowly just to the core territory, depending on context. The word “Hatti” is actually an Akkadogram, rather than Hittite; it is never declined according to Hittite grammatical rules. Despite the use of “Hatti”, the Hittites should be distinguished from the Hattians, an earlier people who inhabited the same region until the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, and spoke a non-Indo-European language called Hattic.

The Hittites themselves referred to their language as Nesili (or in one case, Kanesili), an adverbial form meaning “in the manner of (Ka)nesa”, presumably reflecting a high concentration of Hittite speakers in the ancient city of Kanesh (modern Kültepe, Turkey). Many modern city names in Turkey are first recorded under their Hittite names, such as Sinop and Adana, reflecting the contiguity of modernAnatolia with its ancient past.

Although belonging to the Bronze Age, the Hittites were forerunners of the Iron Age, developing the manufacture of Iron artifacts from as early as the 14th century BC, when letters to foreign rulers reveal the demand for their iron goods. Recent excavations, however, have discovered evidence of iron tool production dating back at least as far as the 20th century BC. Hittite weapons were made from Bronzethough; iron was so rare and precious

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