Ancient Babylonia - History of Babylonia
The once great city of Babylon, where the Jews were held captive
for 70 years, became a symbol of power, materialism, and cruelty.
The city of Babylon was the capital of the ancient land of Babylonia in
southern Mesopotamia. It was situated on the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of
modern Baghdad, just north of what is now the modern Iraqi town of al-Hillah.
The tremendous wealth and power of this city, along with its monumental size
and appearance, were certainly considered a Biblical myth, that is, until its
foundations were unearthed and its riches substantiated during the 19th century.
Archaeologists stood in awe as their discoveries revealed that certain stories
in the Bible were an actual situation that had happened in time.
A quick overview of the writings of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible,
especially chapter 13, reveals some predictions
concerning Babylon that stagger the imagination.
The Word "Babylon"
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 Location of Babylon
Babylon lies in the land of Shinar as revealed in the Bible (Gen 10:10) and
its general location has never been disputed. See Geography
The Tower of Babel
The Bible reveals that all false systems of religion began in the land of
Babylon and will have their consummation from the spirit of Babylon in the last
days. It is interesting to note that every organized system of religion in the
world today has traces of ancient Babylon. The Bible records in Genesis 10:10,
that, after the great flood, all men spoke one common language and a man named
Nimrod built a city and established a common religion. Nimrod was a descendant of
Noahís son, Ham. Genesis 11:1-9 describes the building of the city and its famous
tower "whose top may reach unto heaven."
It also records how God came down and punished the peopleís arrogance by creating a confusion of different languages and possibly their
racial distinctions. This way man would be forced to obey Godís original command to "be fruitful and fill the whole earth." It is
interesting that the materials used to build the Tower of Babel were the same as those
employed for the construction of the great ziggurat of Babylon and similar
ziggurats, according to ancient building inscriptions.
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 Godís 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.
Hammurapiís 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
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.
The History of Babylonia
Traditionally the history of Babylonia has been broken down into three major
The Old Babylonian Period (2000-1595 BC)
The Middle Babylonian Period (1595-1000 BC)
The Neo-Babylonian Period (1000-539 BC)