- The most famous city of ancient Mesopotamia and possibly the entire Near East, and the capital or main stronghold of a number of succeeding political states and empires. The term Babylon is the Greek version of Babili or Bab-ilim, meaning "Gate of the Gods." The city was located on the Euphrates River about 60 miles (96 km) south of modern Baghdad, Iraq. Indeed, the river originally flowed right through Babylon, dividing it into two sections, the "old city" and "new city." In late antiquity, however, the river shifted, leaving the city dry and contributing to its decline. Babylon's founding date is lost in the mists of time, but evidence indicates it existed at least as early as the mid-third millennium b.c. The early empires of Sar-gon of Akkad and the Third Dynasty of Ur seized and occupied it. But it was the Babylonian ruler Hammurabi (reigned 1792-1750 b.c.) who expanded the city into a sprawling metropolis and heavily fortified it.Fortification of Babylon continued under later rulers, and eventually an outer defensive wall more than 12 miles (20 km) long surrounded it. This barrier was some 85 feet (25m) thick and featured guard towers at intervals of 65 feet (20m). The Greek historian Herodotus, who visited Babylon in the mid-fifth century b.c., recalls, "On the top of the wall they constructed, along each edge, a row of one-room buildings facing inwards with enough space between for a four-horse chariot to pass." (Histories 1.181)Inside the fortified walls were thousands of buildings, ranging from ordinary houses and shops to enormous temples and palaces. At least by Herodotus's day, they were aligned along a well-organized grid. "There are a great many houses of three and four stories," he writes. "The main streets and the side streets which lead to the river are all dead straight." (Histories 1.181) The larger structures in the city included the great temple of the god Mar-duk and, situated slightly north of it, an immense ziggurat standing some 300 feet (90m) high, perhaps the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible. This tower, which supposedly took seventeen years to erect, was called the Etemenanki, or "House of Heaven's and Earth's Foundation." Babylon was also home to the famous Hanging Gardens, constructed by King Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 b.c.), who, it was said, also built the Etemananki. A theater and a large open-air marketplace were added later by the early Seleucid rulers.As a much-coveted center of power, wealth, and culture, ancient Babylon endured a tumultuous existence. Soon after it had achieved greatness under Hammurabi and his immediate successors, the Hittites swept into Mesopotamia and sacked the city circa 1595 b.c. The Kassites then moved in, rebuilt Babylon, and ruled it until circa 1174 b.c., when the Elamites invaded and wrecked it. Slowly, the city recovered once more, and eventually, under Nebuchadnezzar, it achieved greatness once more. Subsequently, the Persians made it one of their three capitals, along with Susa and Persepolis, and it was in Babylon that Alexander the Great died in 323 b.c., after making it the capital of his own empire. Under the Seleucids, however, a new city, Seleucia-on-the-Tigris, steadily drew commerce and residents away from Babylon, which went into decline. That decline continued under Parthian rule, and by the first century a.d. the site of Babylon was largely deserted. Principal modern excavations there were conducted between 1899 and 1914 by the German Oriental Society under the direction of the great Robert Koldewey. At that time, the city's famous Ishtar Gate was removed to a museum in Berlin.
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.
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