The city of Babylon (6th century B.C.)

The city of Babylon (6th century B.C.)

The ancient city of Babylon was built on the banks of the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia.

History

Keywords

Babylon, Babel, Mesopotamia, Marduk, Koldewey, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Ishtar gate, Euphrates, Wonders of the World, Iraq, church, temple district, Assyrians, fortification, Persian rule, Alexander the Great, city-state, building, edifice, gate, empire, defensive wall, clay brick, palace, royal, residence, _javasolt

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Questions

  • What does the Akkadian word "Bab-ili" mean?
  • What was the color of the glazed bricks that covered the walls of Babylon?

Scenes

The ancient city of Babylon was built on the banks of the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia. A settlement may have existed there already in the 4th millennium B.C. The city was first mentioned in a 24th century B.C. historical source as a place of worship of the god Marduk. The name of the city had been changed from the earlier Bāb-ili, meaning "Gate of God." The biblical name Babel originates from Babylon's Hebrew name.

The remains of the city are located in present-day Iraq, near the city of Hillah, south of Baghdad.

Extensive archeological excavations began in the early 20th century, led by the German archeologist Robert Koldewey. By today, most of the ruins have been excavated and some of the buildings have been reconstructed.

Babylon was surrounded by double walls. The outer wall had several gates, the largest and most magnificent of which was the Ishtar Gate. The Processional Way, leading to the Temple District in the center of city, went through this gate.

The gate was dedicated to Ishtar, the Akkadian-Babylonian goddess of animals and plants, love, fertility and motherhood, but also of feud and war.

The legendary gate was completed during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The approx. 14 m (45.9 ft) tall structure was covered with characteristic, blue-glazed tiles and decorated with bas-relief bulls and dragons (Mušḫuššu) of the Akkadian mythology. The door was made of cedarwood.

Although the original gate has not survived, a reconstruction is shown in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin.

The structure known as the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although Greek scholars called the gardens the "Gardens of Semiramis," attributing them to the legendary Assyrian queen, they might have been commissioned by king Nebuchadnezzar II, around 600 B.C.

According to legend, the king had the Hanging Gardens built for his wife, Queen Amytis, because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. So, to please his wife, the king had a grand palace built that resembled a mountain covered with plants.

According to ancient historians, the "Hanging Gardens" of Babylon were actually a stepped structure, similar to a ziggurat. The terraces were filled with soil and the plants were irrigated by an ingenious system.

The structure was probably called "hanging" gardens because, when viewed from a distance, it may have looked as if the plants were floating in the air. The exact location of the gardens, however, is still unknown.

The Processional Way led through the Ishtar Gate to the Temple District. One of the most famous ancient ziggurats, the one dedicated to Marduk, was located in this district. Marduk was the chief god of Babylon; the shrine built atop the ziggurat of the city was the most important place of his worship. The structure was called Etemenanki, "temple of the foundation of Heaven and Earth."

Originally, a ziggurat may have been constructed here in the 2nd millennium B.C. After Babylon was destroyed in the 7th century by the Assyrians, the temple, along with other buildings in the city, was rebuilt in the 7th-6th centuries B.C. According to historical sources, it consisted of seven stories and measured 91 meters (298.6 ft) in height. The biblical "Tower of Babel" is identified with the Temple of Marduk by many.

Centuries later, when the city was deserted by its inhabitants, the ziggurat fell into decay, its clay bricks were carried off by the locals. Excavations in the 20th century could only find its foundations.

During the heyday of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city may have had a population of several hundred thousand.

The city’s layout was simple, the long roads divided it into long rectangular districts. The residential districts were located further away from the center.

The city of Babylon was surrounded by high and strong walls. The outer wall, constructed of clay bricks, was probably about 18 km (11.2 mi) in length and 18 m (59.1 ft) in height.

According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the walls were thick enough for a four-horse chariot to turn around on the top. Archeological finds, however, indicate that the wall’s thickness at the Ishtar Gate may have been about 4 m (13.1 ft).

Herodotus also wrote that hundreds of towers were built on top of the walls, making Babylon’s skyline an impressive sight. These mighty walls and the legendary Ishtar Gate inspired ancient historians to mention the structure among the wonders of the ancient world.

Narration

Babylon, built on the banks of the Euphrates River, played an extremely important role in the history of Mesopotamia. The exact date of Babylon's foundation is unknown. It was originally a small Akkadian-Ammorite city but its importance grew continuously.

By the 18th century B.C., under Hammurabi’s reign, the city had become the center of the Babylonian Empire. Later, in the Assyrian period, its importance decreased. During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon was rebuilt. The flourishing city became the center of the neo-Babylonian Empire in the 6th century B.C.

At that time, Babylon was surrounded by fortified walls, about 18 km (11.2 mi) in length. The walls were constructed of clay bricks and were about 18 m (59.1 ft) in height. These mighty walls and the legendary Ishtar Gate inspired ancient historians to list the structure among the wonders of the ancient world.

The Processional Way led through the Ishtar Gate, then passed by the fortress and the palace. The legendary Hanging Gardens might also have stood next to the Processional Way, but the exact location is still unknown. The Processional Way also passed by the walled Temple District, the religious center of the city. The ziggurat dedicated to Marduk, chief deity of Babylon stood in this district.

The city layout was simple, with narrow but long, straight streets dividing the city into districts. The newer parts of the city were mostly residential districts, where the population of several hundred thousand lived.

In the 2nd half of the 6th century B.C. Babylon was ruled by the Persians, but remained one of the royal centers. Its importance did not decrease even during the reign of Macedonian king Alexander the Great, after he conquered the Persian Empire. Following his early death, however, Babylon fell into decay and was later abandoned by its inhabitants.

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