Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Babylonia. Geography. - The ancient kingdom of Babylonia was bounded on the E. by Elam or Susiana; on the S. by the Persian Gulf; on the W. by the deserts of Arabia; and on the N. by Assyria. It was watered by two streams, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and it was intersected by a number of canals, branching out from these great rivers, and dug in order to save the country from the effects of the annual inundations. The last work of the life of Alexander the Great was to superintend the clearing out of some of these canals in the neighbourhood of Babylon, and to form new ones, thus continuing the labours of the ancient native sovereigns. The fertility of Babylonia was so astonishing that Herodotus could scarcely venture to describe it for fear of exciting incredulity. After the conquest of Cyrus, this province was considered the richest of the Persian satrapies. Every kind of cereal yielded abundant crops, and the date-palm of the country, which furnished food, wine, building material and fuel, was celebrated in ancient as in modern times. The more southern districts, however, towards the sea, were marshy, and covered with extensive beds of reeds, which were only partly reclaimed and utilised. There was a large manufacture of baskets, mats, and other articles from these reeds. The greater part of Babylonia is an alluvial plain, and the absence of stone and timber, added to the abundance of fine clay, forced the inhabitants to build of brick, while the presence of springs of bitumen at Hit, the Is of Herodotus, and other places, induced them to use this substance for mortar (Genesis xi. 3); the palm indeed was employed for roofing with a plaster of mud, and for pillars to support small houses, but for other purposes timber had to be procured with vast labour and expense from the mountain ranges of Armenia, and even from the Syrian Lebanon. Besides bitumen, gypsum is found, and was sometimes used as cement. The domestic animals of Babylonia are camels, horses, sheep, buffaloes, oxen, all of superior breed. Among wild animals the lion was not uncommon, and is still sometimes to be seen roaming near the ruins of Babylon. The country is subject to sudden and terrific hurricanes, dangerous to life; the hot winds are also destructive. The climate is exceedingly sultry from April to October, so that the inhabitants of modern Bagdad often live during those months in partly underground rooms called sirdabs, protected from the heat by exceedingly thick walls. Ancient Babylonia contained a great number of large cities, and the capital itself, Babylon, on the Euphrates, was, if we are to believe the accounts of Greek writers, the greatest city of antiquity. According to Ctesias, who is here more moderate than others, the city was 360 stades, or 40 miles in circumference, a wall of immense height and thickness surrounding it.

Recent Discoveries. - The name of Babylon has never been lost. Classical writers spoke of Babylon when they meant Seleucia or Ctesiphon, and mediaeval travellers generally give this name to the city of Bagdad, but the Arabian geographers mention Ard Babil, or the district of Babylon, as adjacent to the Euphrates in the neighbourhood of Hillah; and the most northern of the artificial mounds opposite the last-mentioned town has always been called the Mound of Babil. Nevertheless the exact site of the great city was a matter of dispute until Rich, who was also the first traveller carefully to examine the remains of Nineveh, published his celebrated Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon in 1812. Among the travellers who had visited the mounds near Hillah before Rich, and recognised them as marking the site of Babylon, were Pietro della Valle (1616), Padre Vincenzo Maria di Sa. Caterina da Siena (1657), Otter (1734), Pere Emmanuel de St. Albert (1750), Niebuhr (1765), and the Abbe Beauchamp (1782). Many other intelligent travellers had visited Bagdad and its neighbourhood, but owing to the dangers and difficulties attending the enterprise few actually saw these ancient mounds; hence the long continued errors which placed Babylon on the site of Bagdad itself, or at Akkerkuf. Since Rich's inspection the mounds of Babylon, which consist of three great piles of brickwork covered by a layer of mould, and known respectively as Tell Babil (or Mujelibeh), El-Kasr (also called Mujelibeh), and Tell Amran, besides several long ridges of similar formation, and the Birs Nimroud, the remains of a colossal tower in stages on the western bank of the Euphrates, have been examined by Sir Robert Ker Porter (1820), Buckingham (1821), Sir Henry Layard (1848), Sir Henry Rawlinson (1854), M. Oppert (1851). It appears probable that Babil represents the great temple of Bel described by Herodotus, that the Kasr was, as its name implies, the royal palace, and that the Birs Nimroud, which is six miles S.W. of Hillah, was not a part of Babylon proper, but was the famous Temple of E-zida, standing in the neighbouring town or suburb of Borsippa. No extensive excavations have been made at Babylon, though various antiquities have been brought thence to England, but other sites in Babylonia have been more or less completely excavated, such as Mukeyyer, where Ur of the Chaldees formerly stood; Abu Shahrein, the ancient Eridu; Warka, or Erech; Senkereh, or Larsa; Abu Habbah, or Sepharvaim; Tell-Ibrahim, the ancient Cutha; and, above all, Tello, the capital of Gudea in remote ages. From the last-named site M. de Sarzec brought a collection of antiquities that illustrate the earliest art and culture of Chaldaea, and are unrivalled in point of antiquity. At Abu Habbah Mr. G. Smith and others obtained an immense collection of Babylonian clay tablets, inscribed with commercial and legal texts. Most of these sites have yielded bricks stamped with inscriptions of ancient kings, but no name has been found so frequently as that of Nebuchadnezzar, whose bricks have been drawn by thousands from the ruins of Babylon, and employed in building modern houses; while many of them have found their way to the museums of Europe, the first that reached England being procured by order of the East India Company in 1800. Historical cylinders containing the annals of Nebuchadnezzar, Neriglissar, Nabonidus, Cyrus, and even Antiochus, have been found in Babylonia. A number of Babylonian boundary-stones have also been discovered, the first of which was procured by Michaux in 1790, a day's journey below Bagdad, and is now at the Louvre.

History. - The earliest inhabitants of Babylonia are generally thought to have been a non-Semitic people, speaking an agglutinative language, known as the Accadian or Sumerian; accordingly the most ancient inscriptions known to us are in the Accadian language alone, such as those of Ur-Nina, Entena, Gudea, and other rulers of Lagash, the modern Tello. Very early, however, a Semitic invasion must have taken place, for the date of two Semitic kings, namely, Sargon and Naram-Sin, is placed, according to the testimony of the later Babylonians themselves, at about B.C. 3800 and 3750 respectively. Whether Gudea lived before this date or not must remain an open question; some would place him as late as B.C. 2500. According to Berosus, a Babylonian priest of Bel, who wrote a history of his own country in Greek for King Antiochus Soter (B.C. 280), a long series of half-mythical kings of Babylonia, including Xisuthrus, in whose time the Flood came, was followed by a dynasty of eight Median kings; among these we must perhaps reckon Kudur-nank-hundi, Kudur-mapuk and Arad-Sin (or Eri-aku) of whom we possess monuments, the last king being identified by some with Arioch of Ellasar (Genesis xiv.), and his date fixed about B.C. 2300. About B.C. 2200 Hammurabi sat upon the throne of Babylon, the name of which now first appears in cuneiform records, although it may have been founded centuries before (Genesis xi.). But after him we know little of the history until Burnaburyas, 700 years later, whose letters to Amenophis IV. of Egypt we possess. About 1200 B.C. Babylonia was conquered by Assyria, and, though she soon regained her independence and was again ruled by native kings, she remained a politically subordinate power, and was repeatedly conquered by her more powerful neighbour, until the fall of Nineveh. In B.C. 747 Nabonassar, whose accession formed the era by which all subsequent astronomers dated their observations, came to the throne. His successor, Marduk-apal-iddina is well known to us as the Merodach-Baladan who sent an embassy to Hezekiah, king of Judah; he was subdued by his mighty contemporary Sennacherib, who added Babylonia to his possessions. In 700, however, it again became independent, to be conquered again by Esarhaddon in 680. Esarhaddon bequeathed Assyria to his son Ashur-bani-pal, and Babylonia to his son Shamash-shum-ukin, who, however, was conquered by his brother in 648. when the Babylonians became once more subject to their northern neighbours. About B.C. 609 a change came; the Medes and Babylonians united their forces, besieged Nineveh, and after a long siege took and utterly destroyed it. Nabo-polassar, king of Babylon, thus acquired a large portion of the Assyrian possessions, and founded what is called the New Babylonian Empire. He and his son Nebuchadnezzar (B.C. 604-562) did much to enlarge and beautify the city of Babylon; the latter king is, of course, well-known to us as the conqueror of the Jews, and seems to have carried on wars against the Arabs and Egyptians. Nebuchadnezzar is also said to have raised the walls of the capital to a height of at least 75 feet, to have constructed the famous Hanging Gardens for his Median wife, and to have built a great embankment along the river Euphrates. This great monarch was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach, who was overthrown after a lawless reign of two years by his sister's husband Neriglissar. In B.C. 555 Neriglissar died and left the kingdom to his son Labashi-Marduk (in Greek Laborosoarchodos or Labasardochos), who, though a mere child, showed signs of a bad disposition, and was assassinated after a few months by a band of conspirators, one of whom, Nabonidus, was made king. He reigned for seventeen years, and was active in restoring temples, and in repairing the walls of his city; towards the end of his reign, however, he seems to have left the government in the hands of his son Bel-shar-usur (Belshazzar). In B.C. 538 Babylon was taken by Cyrus, king of Persia, and remained under the power of Persia, although in the time of Darius Hystaspis an attempt was made to throw off the yoke, which resulted in the second Persian capture of Babylon and in the partial destruction of its walls. Further injury was done to the city by Xerxes, who violated and destroyed the temples, not excepting the great temple of Bel. The Persian kings, however, continued to look upon the vast and wealthy city of Babylon as one of the capitals of their empire, and generally passed the winter there. In B.C. 331 the last Persian king of the Achaemenid race, Darius Codomannus, was defeated by Alexander the Great, who entered Babylon in triumph; but after his return from his Indian campaign he died in this city B.C. 325. The general Seleucus obtained Babylonia as his share in the division of Alexander's empire, and removed the seat of government to his newly-founded city of Seleucia, but in B.C. 249 the Parthians, under Arsaces, seized this region from the Macedonians. The decay of the city of Babylon was now rapid; the Parthian capital Ctesiphon, built close to Seleucia, drained away the inhabitants from the ancient metropolis, which it was their policy to extinguish. It soon became a mere wilderness, surrounded by a low wall, and was used as a hunting ground by the later Parthian and Sassanian kings. When the Arabs conquered the last of the Sassanian monarchs in A.D. 632 hardly a trace of the city of Babylon was left; the name henceforth simply marked a district or a mound.

Language and Literature. - The language and the writing of Babylonia were nearly identical with those of Assyria, and much that has been said of the latter applies to the former. The written character, however, varies somewhat in form. The most important cuneiform tablets that we possess were found in Assyria, not in Babylonia; from the latter country at present little has been brought except a large collection of commercial tablets (or "contract-tablets") and some astronomical records; a certain number of bricks, stamped with the names and titles of the kings in whose reigns they were made, and of stone objects engraved with votive or dedicatory inscriptions; a considerable number of engraved cylindrical seals, and a few historical cylinders and tablets of the later monarchs. It would appear, however, that much of the religious and legendary lore of Assyria was of Babylonian origin; for the Accadian language, from which many of the Assyrian tablets are translated, was the original speech of the inhabitants of the southern kingdom. The historical cylinders of Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus are written in the same style as those of the Assyrian kings, and describe their building operations. The oldest documents of Babylonia are in the Accadian language alone, without any translation by the side, such as those of Gudea from Tello; these contain little besides formulae of dedication. In the time of Hammurabi we find bilingual inscriptions, in which the Accadian is accompanied by a Semitic translation. Among the latest Babylonian documents are the astronomical records; some of which, dating from the period of the Parthian kings, contain most exact observations of the movements of the moon and planets.

Religion. - As the god Ashur was the chief divinity of Assyria, so Bel-Merodach was the head of the Babylonian Pantheon. His vast temple, which, with the other great temple of E-zida, now Birs Nimroud,it was the pride of the Babylonian kings to maintain, was still standing in the time of Herodotus; and, though it was in a ruined state, Alexander the Great proposed to restore it; hence we have full descriptions of it in the classical writers. The priests attached to this temple were richly endowed, and the maintenance of the worship involved a great outlay. The impression made by this temple and its worship on the Jews during their captivity is reflected in the history of Bel and the Dragon; the apocryphal Epistle of Baruch also contains interesting allusions to the Babylonian rites. The other gods of Babylonia would seem to have been the same as those of Assyria, which country borrowed its religion, as well as the rest of its culture, from the southern kingdom. Bel and Nebo are mentioned together as the principal divinities of Babylon by Isaiah (xlvi. 1). The great importance of the religious processions of Babylonia is shown in the history of Nabonidus, to whom the neglect of certain customary processions, in which images of the gods were carried, is attributed as a great crime. Closely connected with Babylonian religion was the astrology for which the Chaldaean priests were so famous, and which they had studied for countless ages. There were several schools of astrologers, also specially called the "Chaldaeans," such as those of Sippara and Erech, which held different doctrines. Their business was to foretell the future by the stars, and to interpret omens and dreams.

The Arts. - Owing to the less extensive excavations undertaken in Babylonia we are unable to say as much of Babylonian as of Assyrian art. The only buildings that have been fully excavated in the southern kingdom belong to the earliest period of Chaldaean history. The palace of Gudea, at Tello, resembles in many respects the palaces of Sennacherib and Ashur-bani-pal; it was entirely built of brick, the only material available in Babylonia, where there is a complete lack of stone, and of all timber except the fibrous palm tree; it stood on a great platform, designed to raise it above the inundations; its walls were sometimes as much as 8-1/2 ft. thick, and the chambers were probably vaulted in many instances. For decoration, however, it probably had to depend on colouring, and hanging draperies. In a small temple near this palace M. de Sarzec found curious circular columns, arranged in groups of four, and formed entirely of brickwork - this must have been a rare experiment in architecture. That the king, Gudea, was himself an architect, appears from some statues of diorite, a material which had to be procured from the peninsula of Sinai, in which the monarch appears seated, with architectural plans, drawing materials, and graduated rule upon his knees; these statues are now at the Louvre, and show some skill in sculpture, although the want of modelling of the limbs, the stiff posture, and the treatment of the drapery belong to an early stage of art. Several very early bas-reliefs have also been brought from Tello, such as the lion and eagle, or the famous Vulture Stela, both now in Paris. Of early bronze work we have examples in small statuettes of Gudea, buried as talismans in the foundations or walls of the palaces, and in figures representing priests or priestesses bearing sacrificial offerings in baskets upon their heads, like the Greek Canephorae; some of these latter works are of the time of Gudea, some of Kudurmapuk and Arad-Sin. Of later Babylonian sculpture we have examples in the numerous boundary-stones, with the signs of the zodiac, and sometimes human figures in low relief upon their surfaces; the most remarkable of these exhibits the figure of Marduk-nadin-akhi, B.C. 1120, in his tiara and richly-embroidered robes. Clay statuettes have also been found in Chaldaea, some of remarkably skilful workmanship; the most numerous of this class are figures of the goddess Ishtar, of a late period, not modelled by the hand, but cast in a mould. Of all the arts, perhaps, the work of the embroiderer's needle has been that chiefly connected with the name of Babylon. "Babylonish garments" were already highly prized in the time of Joshua (Josh. vii. 21); the prophet Ezekiel speaks of the splendid robes of the Chaldaean princes; and down to the time of Alexander, and later still under the Roman Empire, Babylonian robes and hangings were everywhere in the greatest request, and valued at very high prices. The designs chosen by the embroiderers were originally religious emblems of deep mystical significance, and probably thought of great importance as charms and talismans for the welfare of the wearer. On the robe of Marduk-nadin-akhi, mentioned above, we see the Tree of Life repeated many times, and bands of rosettes, perhaps representing the open lotus. Symbolical figures of genii and animals, and the king himself engaged in prayer or sacrifice, also frequently occur; and all these designs were borrowed by the Assyrians, with the rest of the arts, from the more ancient civilisation of Babylonia.

Present Condition. - The greater part of Babylonia is now included in the modern Turkish pashalik of Bagdad, a city on the Tigris of about 60,000 inhabitants, which, founded by the Caliph El-Mansur in A.D. 763, is to some extent the successor of the ancient Babylon, and by this name it was often called by travellers in former days. Forty-eight miles S. of Bagdad are the ruins of Babylon, opposite the modern town of Hillah, from which they are separated by the Euphrates; and the whole country, which is now for the most part a dreary desert, or a succession of reedy marshes, is dotted with artificial mounds covering the remains of ancient cities. Eighteen miles S.E. of Bagdad, on the Tigris, stands the ruin called Tak-Kesra, all that is left of the magnificent vaulted palace of the Parthian kings at Ctesiphon. Many of the beds of the ancient canals are still visible, and some of them still in a serviceable condition. The port of Bagdad is Basra or Bassorah, on the Shatt-el-Arab or confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, about 50 miles from the Persian Gulf. It is still famous for its dates, and has a considerable trade, especially with India. The population consists of Turks, Arabs, Nestorian Christians of Syrian descent, and in the south are the remnants of the Mendaites, Sabaeans or Christians of Saint John, who preserve a peculiar dialect of Syriac, in which the sacred books are written. The language in general use is Arabic, but Persian is widely understood. Many of the ancient customs are still preserved; for navigating the rivers, rafts, called kelleks, supported on inflated skins, and circular wicker-work boats, called kufahs, are still employed, as we see them in the ancient sculptures and read of them in old writers.