Babylonian Civilization, History & Art – Quick Facts

Babylon was one of the splendid cities of ancient world. It was an ancient Akkadian speaking state located in the region of Mesopotamia, about 60 miles from Baghdad, Iraq. The name comes from bav-il or bav-ilim, which in Akkadian language meant the Gate of the God. Literal meaning of Babylon is ‘confusion’. The Babylonian civilization existed from the eighteenth century to the sixth century BC.

The country was made up of 12 towns, surrounded by villages. The political structure had the king at top, an absolute monarch who exercised legislative, judicial and executive power. There was a group of governors and administrators below him. Local administration was under the mayors and councils of the elders of the city.

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

An Illustration Of Babylon City

The Babylonians modified and transformed their Sumerian heritage to suit their own culture and way of being and influenced neighboring countries, especially the kingdom of Assyria, which practically adopted Babylonian culture.
The city owes its fame to biblical references.

The tower of Babel, from Bible, features Babylon. Hebrew claimed that the city is known for the confusion that emerged after God caused people to speak different languages. An interest in Mesopotamian archaeology elevated due to many biblical references.

Let’s have a quick fact check of the Babylonian civilization, people, art and culture.

1 Art

The Babylonian civilization, after the rebuilding by Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned from 605 to 562 BC, turned into one of the greatest cities of antiquity. He was responsible for the construction of the Hanging Gardens. Another Babylonian treasure is the animal-human, especially lions with eagle wings. This winged lion, much found in artistic objects, is a true symbol of this people.

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Winged Lion

They are often seen, in paintings, in combat with the protective god of the city, Marduk. Some prophets associate King Nebuchadnezzar with similar images. The lion, king of beasts, and the eagle, which rules the birds, symbolize the heyday of the Babylonian empire, power and glory.

The “human-animals” are so called because in the Old Testament, in which they are much mentioned, they are described as fantastic beings with human expressions and animal bodies. Many passages address these figures, also known as “four geniuses”.

Babylonian architecture has its best definition in the observation of the Ishtar Gate, probably built in 575 BCE, an imposing enamel-covered brick structure, the most majestic of the eight gates that were used as entrance to Babylon. It is now in the Staatliche Museum, in former East Berlin. The Suspended Gardens are also an example of the architectural richness characteristic of this culture.

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Ishtar Gate Of Babylon

Some say that they were built to comfort Nebuchadnezzar’s beloved wife II, Amuhea, longing for her native land, Media. Unfortunately, there is no sign of the gardens. They are known through the detailed descriptions of Greek historians such as Berossus and Diodorus, although they have also not seen them in person. Archaeologists work tirelessly to find traces that effectively indicate their location.

2 Religion

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Marduk was considered the greatest national god. But in all periods, one always believed in thousands of invisible demons who spread evil and blind men. Its general characteristics were:

  • Polytheism;
  • Contempt for life beyond the grave;
  • Belief in geniuses, demons, heroes, divinations and magic;
  • Sacrifice of children and practices of sexual orgies.

For them, the good geniuses helped the gods against the evil demons, against the infirmities and the death. Mortal beings lived in search of knowing the will of the gods, manifested in dreams, eclipses and the movement of the stars. And they gave birth to astrology.

3 Economy

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Agriculture formed the basis of the economy. The construction of channels was controlled by the state. They used a sowing plow, a wheel cart, and a crate. Their geographical situation was not propitious to them, because their raw materials were scarce, which favored the mercantile enterprises.

The caravans of merchants went out to sell their wares and went in search of ivory (from India), copper (from Cyprus) and tin (from the Caucasus). The trade transitions were made on an exchange basis, and in some cases gold and silver bars were used.

4 Policy

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Both the Assyrian and the Chaldean regimes were absolute monarchies. Power was centralized in the hands of the king, who was also the military chief, administrator, supreme legislator, highest priest, and trade supervisor. Society was hierarchical in the following sequence: the king, nobles, priests studied in science, merchants, small proprietors and slaves.

Babylon became the largest Chaldaean city (the term comes from “Chaldea” – the southern and most fertile part of Mesopotamia, where the Empire was located.) – all over Asia, thanks to its extraordinary development in commerce. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean Empire declined due to the corruption as main cause.

The Empire having become the seat of great riches and refinements, made its rulers thirst for even more luxury, making them forget their city, which made their defenses relax. In 539 BC Cyrus II of Persia took advantage of the situation of the city and attacked it, conquering it.

5 Religious Reforms

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Hammurabi undertook a wide religious reform by transforming the Marduk god of the Babylon, in the main god of Mesopotamia and even maintaining the old deities. Marduk was erected a temple and the ziggurat of Babel, quoted by the book of Genesis as a tower to get to heaven.

6 First Written Code Of Law

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Hammurabi carved on a stone monument, an important set of laws, known as the Hammurabi Code or Law of Talion. Hammurabi code contained 282 written laws and regulations about agriculture, marriage, industry, land, governance, property and others. The code was printed on a large piece of stone tablet in the middle of the town. A “tooth for a tooth” and “an eye for an eye” was the main motive of Hammurabi Law Code.

This legal instrument, in general, determined the execution of penalties that were equal to the damages caused by any crime, fault or accident. Hammurabi claimed to be compassionate but his code was harsh, as he was liberal in sentencing death and hacking of the body parts.

7 Rise Of Babylonians And Hammurabi

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Ancient records suggest that more than 4000 years ago, at a time when the city of Ur was the center of an empire, Babylon appeared to have been a provincial administration. After the Ur Empire collapsed, the city was conquered by a man named Samu-abum. He planned to turn Babylon into a petty kingdom.

The disputes between Babylon and the other Mesopotamian city-states, as well as other invading waves, resulted in an almost uninterrupted struggle.
It was in the eighteenth century BC that Hammurabi appeared.

Hammurabi, king of Babylon, reigned between the years 1728 to 1686 BC and undertook complete unification. He succeeded in dominating the whole region, from Assyria in Upper Mesopotamia, to Chaldea in the south. He thus founded the first Babylonian Empire.

The Babylonian capital quickly became one of the major urban centers of antiquity, hosting a powerful empire and becoming the cultural and economic hub of the Fertile Crescent.

During his rule, Hammurabi developed the city of Babylon, which became the capital of his empire and one of the most important urban and commercial centers.

8 Hanging Gardens

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Hanging gardens is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was built in around 600 BC. Made of mud brick waterproofed with lead, the garden stood high at 80 feet (24 meter). Archeologists suggest that the exact location was not in Babylon but 350 miles to the north, in the city of Nineveh. Contrary to the name, The Hanging gardens didn’t hang at all and were made up of mountains with rooftop gardens.

Stories indicate that the garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his homesick wife, Amytis, daughter of king of Medes, as an alliance between two nations. She came from a lush green land and she found Mesopotamia dull. To relieve her depression, the king recreated her homeland. The gardens were ruined after the earthquakes in the 2nd century BC.

9 Assyrians vs. Babylonians

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Assyrians managed a permanent army that dominated regions from the north of the Persian Gulf until the northeast of Africa. Throughout the 8th century BC, the Assyrians were able to undertake a period of territorial expansion followed by the kings Tiglat Falasar III, Sargon II, Sennacherib and Assaradon.

In this process of domination of the Mesopotamian peoples, however, the Assyrians had to face the resistance of the Babylonians and the people of southern Mesopotamia, strongly represented by the tribes of the Chaldeans and Elamites.

Throughout century VII a.C., the Chaldees managed to establish strong pressure against the Assyrians. Counting on the covenant of the Elamites, the Chaldeans sought to put an end to the Assyrian rule in that region. However, the strong Assyrian military training ended up annihilating the opposition of the Elamites.

King Ashurbanipal attacked the king of Elam. The war with the Elamites was long and in 639 BCE the Assyrians won the last battle. The entire region of Elam was destroyed and the capital was sacked. The ziggurat of Susa was destroyed and the temples desecrated and plundered.

At that moment, the contact with the fearful people was opened, which counted on powerful armies.

After the death of the great king Assurbanipal in 627 his son Sinsariscum was declared king, but his brother Assur-Etelli-Illani managed to occupy the throne in Nínive, while Sinsariscum stayed with his troops in the east region of the country. One of his generals, the commander and governor of the province of Babylon Nabopolasar seized the confusion, betrayed Sinsariscum and after two victories with the conquest of two cities he was declared king of Babylon.

But Sinsariscum maintained its dominion over a considerable part of the Babylonian territory and in 623 a.C also overcame its brother Assur-Etelli-Illani, that died. For a few weeks another Sin-Sum-Lisir brother occupied the throne, but soon Sinsariscum succeeded to the throne. Assyria was weakened by civil war and surrounded by enemies like the Medes, the Babylonians and Egypt. In 616 BCE, Nabopolasar led his troops along the Tigris River and besieged Assur, but he was obliged to give up, in part because of the astonishing support that the Assyrians received from their ancient enemy Egypt under Pharaoh Psam’etic I.

It was then that, in 614 BCE, Nabopolasar approached the Medos (referred to as umman-mand, in the “Babylonian Chronicles”), a fierce tribe, whose power was in the process of expansion. The covenant was formalized in Assur (taken after three summons), by means of the marriage of the prince Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolasar, with a Meda princess, daughter of the king Ciáxares, called Amuhea (according to Abideno, quoted by Eusebius).

In 612 BCE, the allies converged on Nineveh, and after a long siege they finally conquered the proud capital of Assyria. The city was devastated and the Assyrian king, Sin-shar-ishkun, disappeared among the flames set by the invaders. His successor and son or brother, Assur-uballit II, still tried to resist in Harran, with the support of the Egyptians, but that city also fell, three years later (609 BCE).

10 Fall of Babylon

Babylonian Civilization, History & Art

Even after the consolidation of the laws and leading the growth and prosperity of the Babylonian Empire post Hammurabi’s death, the empire fell into decay. Reasons cited are- mainly because of internal rebellions and new waves of invasions, such as the Hittites and the Cassites.

The disorganization of the Babylonian Empire promoted the emergence of several rival smaller kingdoms, propitiating the rise of the Assyrians, from 1300 BCE. In the 7th century BC, the fall of the Assyrians in 612 BC, through the invading Chaldeans rushed fear and enabled the revival of the Babylonian Empire.

During the rule of Chaldee Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian civilization lived a period marked by great military achievements and the execution of various public works. Moreover, it was under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar that the Hebrew were enslaved by the Babylonians. This episode is marked within Jewish culture as the period of the Babylonian Captivity. After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the Persians carried out the invasion of Babylon.

Babylon with the fall of Nineveh became powerful with the economic progress and erection of temples, palaces, walls and the famous suspended gardens. In the center of the city was erected a great tower of the temple, called “Zigurat”, that served as observation post of the stars, by the Chaldean priests.

Thus was born the Neo-Babylonian Empire, larger than that of Hammurabi, and more than a thousand years later. During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (604 BC – 561 BC), the Second Babylonian Empire lived its apogee.
Nebuchadnezzar also expanded his empire, dominating much of Phenicia, Syria and Palestine, and enslaving the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah (Ezra, 20-1), who were transferred as slaves to the capital (“Captivity of Babylon”).

The Second Babylonian Empire did not survive for a long time to the death of Nebuchadnezzar, being conquered in 539 a.C. by the Persian king Ciro I. From there, the Mesopotamia and its dominions belonged to the Persian Empire.