Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Babylon (1900-540 BC)

The geography of Mesopotamia encouraged warfare between rival rulers. Rich cities and fertile land made tempting targets. Flat terrain made them easy targets. Taking control of them meant enjoying impressive wealth but facing constant threats.

Around 1900 BC, a group of people known as Amorites migrated into central Mesopotamia. They built their own city on the Euphrates and called it Babylon. Hammurabi, an early ruler of Babylon, led his army against those of Akkad and Sumer and defeated them. He became ruler of the first Babylonian empire by 1790 BC.

But that empire gave way to others. In 1595 BC, a Hittite army took control of Babylon, stripped it of its wealth, then simply returned with their loot to central Anatolia.

In 900 BC, the Assyrians asserted their control of Mesopotamia. In 700, they too sacked Babylon to punish its rebellious leaders.

Such punishment only strengthened Babylonian opposition. In the late 600s BC, the Babylonian ruler Nabopolassar led a coalition of nations against Assyria. In 612, this coalition captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Shortly thereafter, that empire also collapsed.

Not surprisingly, Nabopolassar swiftly took control of the cities, peoples, and lands of that empire (with the exception of Egypt). Jerusalem was one of many small unimportant cities which came under Babylonian control. Sadly, in 588 BC, the Babylonian army chose to destroy the city, burn down the temple built by Solomon, and drag its inhabitants back to Babylon.

The Babylonians demonstrated their power by destroying small cities like Jerusalem. They also glorified both Vulcan (god of technology) and themselves by enlarging and beautifying Babylon on a magnificent scale.

The Babylonians called Venus by the name of Ishtar. They built an imposing gate and dedicated it to her around 575 BC. Robert Koldewey (1855-1925) discovered the ruins of ancient Babylon and excavated the Ishtar Gate between 1902 and 1914. The material from that excavation was used to reconstruct the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamum Museum of Berlin in the 1930s.

A ziggurat dedicated to Jupiter, called Marduk by the Babylonians, stood at the center of Babylon. Rising over 300 feet (90 m) in height, it scraped the sky. Its gold roof brilliantly reflected the sunlight to remind everyone of Jupiter’s greatness.

Babylon’s ruler Nebuchadnezzar 2nd lived, as rulers do, in an impressive palace. The palace boasted large terraced gardens watered by cascading streams. These grounds became known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Tradition calls them one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Babylon also served as a center for the study of astrology. Astrologers believed that movements of stars, sun, planets, and moon revealed the wills of the Olympian gods. They studied and mapped these movements to better predict the future. One unintended consequence: they developed a seven-day week.

Eventually the Babylonian empire, in its turn, fell to rivals. Persians from the east conquered Babylon in 539 BC.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.