Babylon is the most well-known ancient Mesopotamian city, the ruins of which can be found in modern-day Iraq. Ancient Greek writers referred to the city with awe, and it was rumoured to be the location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its reputation has been tainted by numerous negative references to it in the Bible. Under then-President Saddam Hussein, restoration efforts were made in the 1980s, including the reconstruction of the Ishtar gate. In 2019, the Babylonian ruins were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city was first mentioned in an inscription from the time of Sargon of Akkad (r. 2223-2198 BCE).
Hammurabi focused on fortifying Babylon’s walls and beautifying the city while secretly building and training an army. Babylonia shrank in size and scope after Hammurabi’s death, until it was easily sacked by the Hittites in 1595 BCE. Afterward in order to ensure the required stability he instituted his law, known the Code of Hammurabi. The law of retributive justice known as Lex Talionis is exemplified by the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” in Hammurabi’s Code. This was necessary because the population had become even more diverse than before.
(Pritchard, 161)If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.
If he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.
If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.
If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.
The great ziggurat of Babylon, which later became associated with the Tower of Babel, was built sometime between the 14th and 9th centuries BCE. This association is thought to have arisen from a misinterpretation of the Akkadian bav-il for the Hebrew bavel (confusion).
The Assyrian king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar I, built the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on top of Etemenanki, also known as the “Foundation of Heaven and Earth.” The city was a hundred and twenty stadia wide and four hundred and eighty stadia deep, according to Herodotus.
Diodorus’ Histories of the Ancient World (4th century BC) describes the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as Sennacherib’s creation at his capital of Nineveh. In several important details, Sennacherib’s account of the palace gardens he created at Nineveh corresponds to that of the Hanging Gardens. If they had been in Babylon, they would have been part of the city’s central complex.
The Euphrates River divided the city into two parts: old and new. Because Babylon’s walls were impregnable, the Persians cleverly diverted the river’s course so that it fell to a manageable depth. Alexander the Great wished to beautify and restore Babylon, but he died before his plans could be carried out. Whatever remained of Babylon was swept away and buried beneath the sands during the Muslim conquest of the land in 651 CE.
Babylon was a shell of its former self by the time the Parthian Empire ruled the region. The city gradually deteriorated and never recovered its former glory.
Maps of the Babylonian Empire across time:
Source (Copyright): https://www.worldhistory.org/