Babylon was perhaps the first big city in the world, dating to the third millennium BC. It stood by the Euphrates River on an important trade route. Various dynasties ruled the city-state as it grew to govern much of ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest ancient name for Babylon, given in the table of nations, was Babel. Babylon was ruled by Hammurabi, best known for his law code, in the 18th century B.C.
The city reached its peak during the Neo-Babylonian empire . The Bible refers to Babylon as “the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride”.
The greatest king of the Neo-Babylonian empire was Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.). There is abundant evidence of the activities of his reign. The best collections of artifacts are to be found in the British Museum in London and the Museum of the Near East (part of the Pergamon Museum) in Berlin. In Berlin one may see the reconstructed Procession Street, the Ishtar Gate, and the decorated facade of the Throne Room of Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon.
For about eight years the Jews endured the Babylonian yoke and paid tribute to Nebuchadnezzar. However, in 589 B.C., Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon, perhaps trusting in the Egyptian promises of military aid. Nebuchadnezzar and his army marched against Jerusalem and besieged the city for about two years.
Finally, in July of 586 B.C., the wall was breached and the Chaldean hordes poured into the city. After the smoke had cleared, the city lay in ruins. Solomon’s temple was razed to its very foundation, and nearly all the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine were carried away into exile. Such was the severity of God’s judgment upon his wayward people.
Babylonia owed its long prosperity to its location astride important trade routes. Babylon itself commanded the north south route of the Tigris River running down from Assyria to the Persian Gulf; the Euphrates River gave access to the west; and a caravan route led eastward through the Zagros Mountains to Iran. Babylon was not only the capital of the country but also a religious center. It became the most populous city of the Near East, and under Nebuchadnezzar II it was a legendary showplace with its great walls and ziggurat, gates and temples, and the fabled Hanging Gardens.
Babylon’s ruins are near the modern city of Al Hillah and about 55 miles south of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad. Much of the ancient site has been looted, and only fragments of some building foundations remain. Victorian archeologists excavated some of Babylon’s treasures, and those can only be seen in German, French, and British museums. The enormous and elaborate Ishtar Gate from the sixth century BC is in Berlin; Iraq has called for its return.
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Ancient Mesopotamian Chief City of Babylon