(ancient city) (Babylonian Bab-ilim or Babil, "gate
of God"), one of the most important cities of the
ancient world, whose location today is marked by
a broad area of ruins just east of the Euphrates
River, 90 km (56 mi) south of Baghdad, Iraq. Babylon
was the capital of Babylonia in the 2nd and 1st
millennia BC. In antiquity the city profited from
its location extending across the main overland
trade route connecting the Persian Gulf and the
Although the site was settled in
prehistoric times, Babylon is first mentioned in
documents only in the late 3rd millennium BC. About
2200 BC it was known as the site of a temple, and
during the 21st century BC it was subject to the
nearby city of Ur. Babylon became an independent
city-state by 1894 BC, when the Amorite Sumu-abum
founded a dynasty there. This dynasty reached its
high point under Hammurabi. In 1595 BC the city
was captured by Hittites, and shortly thereafter
it came under the control of the Kassite dynasty
(circa 1590-1155 BC). The Kassites transformed Babylon
the city-state into the country of Babylonia by
bringing all of southern Mesopotamia into permanent
subjection and making Babylon its capital. The city
thus became the administrative center of a large
kingdom. Later, probably in the 12th century BC,
it became the religious center as well, when its
principal god, Marduk, was elevated to the head
of the Mesopotamian pantheon.
the Kassite dynasty collapsed under pressure from
the Elamites to the east, Babylon was governed by
several short-lived dynasties. From the late 8th
century BC until the Assyrians were expelled by
Nabopolassar, between 626 and 615 BC, the city was
part of the Assyrian Empire.
The Neo-Babylonian City and Its Decline
founded the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, and his son
Nebuchadnezzar II expanded the kingdom until it
became an empire embracing much of southwest Asia.
The imperial capital at Babylon was refurbished
with new temple and palace buildings, extensive
fortification walls and gates, and paved processional
ways; it was at that time the largest city of the
known world, covering more than 1,000 hectares (some
Gardens of Babylon
hand-colored engraving by 16th century Dutch
artist Maarten van Heemskerck depicts the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven
Wonders of the World. Technically, the gardens
did not hang, but grew on the roofs and
terraces of the royal palace in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar II, the Chaldean king, probably
built the gardens in about 600 BC as a consolation
to his Median wife who missed the natural
surroundings of her homeland.
Neo-Babylonian Empire was of short duration. In
539 BC, Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and incorporated
Babylonia into the newly founded Persian Empire.
Under the Persians, Babylon for a time served as
the official residence of the crown prince, until
a local revolt in 482 led Xerxes I to raze the temples
and ziggurat (temple tower) and to melt down the
statue of the patron god Marduk.
the Great captured the city in 330 BC and planned
to rebuild it and make it the capital of his vast
empire, but he died before he could carry out his
plans. After 312 BC, Babylon was for a while used
as a capital by the Seleucid dynasty set up by Alexander's
successors. When the new capital of Seleucia on
the Tigris was founded in the early 3rd century
BC, however, most of Babylon's population was moved
there. The temples continued in use for a time,
but the city became insignificant and almost disappeared
before the coming of Islam in the 7th century AD.
topography of Babylon is best known from the occupation
levels of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, as excavated
by Robert Koldewey and other German archaeologists
just before World War I. At that time the Euphrates
divided the city into two unequal parts-the old
quarter, with most of the palaces and temples, on
the east bank, and the New City on the west bank.
A prominent place near the center of the city was
occupied by Esagila, the temple of Marduk; just
to the north of that was Etemenanki (the ziggurat),
a seven-storied edifice sometimes linked in popular
legend with the Tower of Babel.
cluster of palaces and fortifications was found at the northwest
corner of the old city; the German excavators identified one
ruin in this area with the foundations of the Hanging Gardens,
one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which, according to
tradition, Nebuchadnezzar II built for his Median wife. Nearby
was located the Ishtar Gate, with its lions and dragons
in brightly colored glazed brick. Through it passed the main
Processional Way, the route followed by cultic and political
leaders for the New Year's festival ceremonies. Through nine
major gates of the massive inner fortification walls passed
roads to the principal settlements of Babylonia.
By: John A. Brinkman, M.A., Ph.D. Charles H. Swift
Distinguished Service Professor of Mesopotamian
History, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.
Member, Editorial Board, Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.
Author of Materials and Studies for Kassite History.
(ancient city)," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia
© 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.