BABYLON, HAMMURABI AND THE BABYLONIANS
Hammurabi bas-relief on the
U.S. House of Representatives The Babylonians ruled Mesopotamia from 1792 to 1595 B.C. Babylon endured over a 1000 years, until 689 B.C., when it was sacked by the Assyrians in 689 B.C. It was reborn under the Neo-Babylonians.
The Babylonians developed commerce, legal codes, astrology and science and built great temples Babylonian religion and art was based on that of the Sumerians.
Babylon's reputation as the center of sin and vice is undeserved. It was actually the source of the worlds' first legal code and one referred to by the prophet Jeremiah as a "golden cup in the Lord's hand.” Most of the debauchery associated with it occurred under Neo-Babylonians.
Books: Sumerian Dictionary of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania edited by Ake W. Sjoberg (University of Pennsylvania, 1984); The Sumerians, Their History, Culture and Character by Samuel Noah Kramer (University of Chicago Press, 1963); The Ancient Near East By William Hallo and William Kelly Simpson (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1971); Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture by William H. Stiebing Jr. Experts and Sources: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; John Russell, an art historian at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston; Irene Winter, professor of art history at Harvard; McGuire Gibson of Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; Jeremy Black, Oriental Institute at Oxford University; Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan.
Websites and Resources: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu ; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Interent Ancient History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall/ancient ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia
Reconstructed Babylon Babylon (60 miles south of Baghdad) is one of the most famous cities of antiquity. Founded on the west bank of the Euphrates by King Hammurabi, around 1800 B.C., it is where the biblical Tower of Babel was reportedly built; where the Babylonians created the first legal code and 360° circle; where Nebuchadnezzar built his hanging gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; where the Jews were enslaved and freed; and where the Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C. The Bible reads:"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept..."
Babylon’s name is derived from “Bab-Ilu” meaning “Gateway of the Gods.” The Hebrews called it Babel. The Greek historian Herodotus described it as a city “that surpasses in its splendor everything in the known world.” Important discoveries made at Babylon include early evidence of kingship, banking, astronomy. Today, the word Babylon conjures up images of “decadence, glory and prophetic doom.”
The earliest evidence of habitation at Babylon has been dated to around 3000 B.C. Later it was part of the Akkadian empire. But until King Hammurabi arrived it was little more than a village. Under the Babylonians it became the richest and largest city in the world in its time, boasting palaces, temples and towers. The city declined under the Assyrians but was reborn and expanded to the east bank of the Euphrates under King Nebuchadnezzar II (ruled 604-561 B.C.) and the Neo-Babylonians.
Babylon has received some pretty shoddy treatment in recent years. Saddam Hussein gave it a tacky facelift with parts of some buildings rebuilt with bricks with Saddam’s name on them. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied troops parked their tanks and weapons on the site and used earth containing ancient fragments to fill their sandbags. Looters have taken treasures. In 2009, the World Monuments Fund and the U.S. Embassy launched “The Future of Babylon” project to “map the current conditions of Babylon and develop a master plant for its conservation, study and tourism.”
so called head of Hammurabi Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) was perhaps the greatest ruler of Mesopotamia. Known as both a reformer and a ruthless conqueror, he made Babylon into a great city and united Sumer and Akkad and spread the rule of Babylon westward into Syria and the Mediterranean coast. Using his military skill to capture territory and his judicious and humane governorship to maintain control, Babylon and Mesopotamia flourished.
Hammurabi called himself "the sun-god of Babylon who makes the light to rise on the land" and "destroy of the evil and the wicked so that the strong may not oppose the weak." He was described in ancient tablets as a "shepherd," "giver of abundant riches," "bringer of overflowing wealth," "giver of plentiful abundance," "bountiful provider for holy feasts" and "giver of waters of abundance."
Hammurabi instituted a highly developed administration that included courts and a system for the enforcement of laws.
Legal Code of Hammurabi
The Babylonian king Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) produced the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest surviving set of laws. Credited with originating the eye for an eye justice, it consisted of 282 case laws with legal procedures and penalties. Many of the laws had been around for a while. Hammurabi codified them into a fixed and standardized set of laws. He also instituted a highly developed administration that included courts and a system for the enforcement of laws.
Code of Hammurabi The legal code of Hammurabi is listed on an 8-foot-high black diorite stele from the 18th century B.C. On the top of the stele Hammurabi is shown standing before Shamash, the god of justice, receiving the laws. The stele is believed to be one of many that were set up throughout the Babylonian domain to inform people of the law of the land. The Code of Hammurabi slab that exists today was moved to Susa in Iran in 1200 B.C. and discovered in 1901. It is currently at the Louvre.
The legal code of Hammurabi dealt with theft, marriage, debt, slavery, commerce. One of the central tenets of the laws was to protect the weak against the strong. The "an for an eye" saying reads: "If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye...If a son strike his father, they shall cut of his fingers...if one break's a man's bone, they shall break his bone." It came from list of penalties for surgeons. If a surgeon caused someone to lose an eye through negligence the surgeon could lose his eyes.
Hammurabi justice could be quite cruel. One law stated: “If a fire has broken out in a man’s house and a man who has gone to extinguish it has coveted an article of the owner of the house and takes the article of the house, that man shall be cast in that fire.” Hammurabi instituted the death penalty for illegal timber harvesting after wood became in such short supply that people took their doors with them when they moved. The shortages degraded agriculture land and cut production of chariots and naval ships.
Babylon and Science
Code of Hammurabi The Mesopotamians are credited with inventing mathematics. The Mesopotamians numerical system was based on multiples of 6 and 10. The first round of numbers were based on ten like ours, but the next round were based on multiples of six to get 60 and 600. Why it was based on multiples of six no one knows. Perhaps it is because the number 60 can be divided by many numbers: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 15 , 20 and 30.
Babylonians devised the system of dividing a circle into 360 degrees (some say it was the Assyrians who first divided the circle). The tiny circle as a sign for a degree was probably originally a hieroglyph for the sun from ancient Egypt. A circle was used by the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian astronomers to the circle the zodiac. The degree was a way of dividing a circle and designating the distance traveled by the sun each day. It is no coincidence then that the number of degrees in a circle (360) corresponds with the days of the year on the Babylonian calendar.
The Babylonians are often given credit for devising the first calendars, and with them the first conception of time an entity. They developed the used the 360-day year—divided into 12 lunar months of 30 days (real lunar months are 29½ days)—devised by the Sumerians and introduced the seven day week, corresponding to the four waning and waxing periods of the lunar cycle. The ancients Egyptians adopted the 12-month system to their calendar. The ancient Hindus, Chinese, and Egyptians, all used 365-day calendars.
The Babylonians stuck stubbornly to the lunar calendar to define the year even though 12 lunar months did not equal one year. In 432 B.C., the Greeks introduced the so-called Metonic cycle in which every 19 years seven of the years had thirteen months and 12 years had 12 months. These kept the seasons in synch with the year and the roughly kept the days and months of the Metonic year in synch with those on the lunar calendar. The Metonic calendar was too complicated for everyday use and used mostly by astronomers.
After the Babylonians
Code of Hammurabi After Hammurabi’s death, the Babylonians were harassed by Indo-European tribes in the northern mountains. The Babylon empire came to an end when the Indo-European Hittites sacked Babylon in 1595 B.C. Around the same time the Hykos invaded Egypt and the Hurrians occupied Syria.
The Kassites, a tribe from the Zagros mountains in present-day Iran, arrived in Babylonia and filled a vacuum left by the Hittite invasion. The Kassites, controlled Mesopotamia from 1595 to 1157 B.C. They introduced war chariots, The Kassites were defeated by the Elamites in 1157 B.C.
A 300-year Middle Eastern Dark lasted from 1157 to 883 B.C. During this period the Assyrians in what is now northern Syria gained strength.
The late second millennium B.C. has been called “the first international age.” It was a time when there was more interaction between kingdoms.
Aryans and Hittites
Around the second millennia B.C. the Indo Europeans tribes from north of India similar to the Aryans invaded Asia Minor. The Hittites, and later the Greeks, Romans, Celts and nearly all Europeans and North Americans descended from these tribes. They carried bronze daggers.
The Hittite Empire dominated Asia Minor and parts of the Middle East from 1750 B.C. to 1200 B.C. Once regarded as a magical people, the Hittites were known for their military skill, the of development of an advanced chariot, and as one of the first cultures to smelt iron and forge it weapons and tools. They fought with spears from chariots and did not possess more advanced composite bow.
The Hittites were an Indo-European people that served as a conduit and bridge for the cultures of Asia, the Middle East and Europe. They created a society with a government and laws, similar to those in Sumer. The Hittites fought against Kings of Babylonians and the Pharaohs of Egypt for possession what is now Israel, Lebanon and Syria. In the 12th century their empire fell to the Assyrians.
The Hittites were charioteers who wrote manuals on horsemanship. Ninth century B.C. stone reliefs show Hittite warriors in chariots. "Charioteers were the first great aggressors in human history," writes historian Jack Keegan. They had an easy time conquering the nomads and farmers that inhabited the region. Donkeys were their fastest animal.
Around 2000 B.C. the Hittites were unified under a king named Labarna. A later king pushed their domain into Mesopotamia and Syria. The empire lasted into 1650 B.C. A more powerful kingdom rose in 1450 B.C. This kingdom possessed iron.
The Battle of Kadesh in 1288 B.C. between the ancient Egyptians and the Hittites marked the beginning of a decline for the Hittites. After the fall of the empire a number of small Hittite states were created. By the 8th century they were absorbed by the Assyrians.
Mashkan, a Rival of Babylon
Mashkan is is an archeological site in the desert about 90 miles southeast of Baghdad. The ancient city has not been occupied since it was sacked and burned around 1720 B.C. John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “Most ancient cities were inhabited for thousands of years, with the culture of one era building on top of another. This makes it difficult to separate layers of deposits to understand urban life of any given time. Mashkan-shapir, however, enjoyed one distinct 300-year period as a major trading and manufacturing center of 15,000 people, from about 2050 B.C. until it was sacked. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, April 11, 1989]
Scholars had known something of the city's existence from Babylonian documents. But most experts, if they thought much of it at all, had assumed that the site was farther south of ancient Babylon and thus closer to Larsa, Babylon's rival power. What followed in the inscriptions identified the king, Sin-iddinam of Larsa, who ordered the wall to be built and described how the army was mobilized for the task. The wall was erected about 1850 B.C., a time when the city was growing in stature.
Although nominally ruled by the city-state of Larsa in the south, Mashkan-shapir was becoming a strategic military and economic center on the trade routes between southern Mesopotamia and Assyria in the north and Iran in the east. In the early 18th century B.C., ambassadors from Hammurabi regularly called on Mashkan-shapir and the Babylonians gained control over the southern territory only after defeating that city's forces. Decline of Babylon
Moreover, when Hammurabi's empire began to collapse after his death in 1750 B.C., rebellions in Mashkan-shapir contributed to the decline of Babylon that would last until it regained eminence in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.
Discovery of Mshkan
John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “Flakes of crumbling brick drew the archeologist step by step along the line where the wall of an ancient city of lower Mesopotamia once stood. The trail led to remnants of the south gate, and there on the ground lay a clay fragment bearing cuneiform inscriptions.” [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, April 11, 1989]
One name leaped out from the inscribed symbols: Mashkan. In that moment of discovery this January, Elizabeth C. Stone, the archeologist, knew she had found and identified one of the oldest lost cities in the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of southern Iraq. It was without doubt the site of Mashkan-shapir, which flourished 4,000 years ago, becoming a capital of the rival power to rising Babylon. But the city had left little trace in history, except for references in the letters and law code of the great Babylonian ruler, Hammurabi.
Dr. Stone, associate professor of archeology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and her co-investigator and husband, Paul Zimansky, assistant professor of archeology at Boston University, announced the discovery in March 1988. They said that finding the remains of Mashkan-shapir could be one of the major developments in Mesopotamian archeology in more than 40 years. Other scholars cheered the news. William Hallow, professor of Assyriology at Yale University, said, ''It's always a happy day in archeology when someone nails down the identification of an ancient city.''
But archeologists doubted that Mashkan-shapir would prove to be as rich a lode as Ebla, an ancient city in Syria whose voluminous archives were uncovered in the 1970's to reveal a previously unknown language. They said that, depending on later findings, the site could rank in importance with Tell Leilan, the second major Mesopotamian find since World War II. In 1985, archeologists discovered that Tell Leilan in northern Mesopotamia had been the seat of a powerful kingdom in the 18th century B.C. and contained a major archive of royal correspondence. It afforded rare glimpses into life beyond the more celebrated cities of southern Mesopotamia, notably Bablyon.
The Mashkan-shapir discovery became the talk of archeology because it is the rare instance of a site of an ancient city being found and then being identified in one swift stroke. Archeologists must often dig for years before uncovering archives and monuments establishing the city's name and place in history. The identity of the new discovery was determined in the first six weeks of preliminary surveys. A Promising Site
Archeological Work at Mashkan
After aerial photographic surveys and some exploratory digging, Dr. Stone said: ''We have a whole city plan laid out there for us. We know where the canals were, the cemetery, the palace and religious quarters, the manufacturing area and the city wall. A complete, undisturbed city - that's what's really exciting about it as an archeological site.'' [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, April 11, 1989]
Because the city was suddenly abandoned, rather than falling into slow decline, Dr. Stone said, the ruins should include many domestic possessions the fleeing people left behind. The result could be an illuminating picture of daily life among all classes.
The uncovering of Mashkan began in 1975, when Robert McC. Adams, a University of Chicago archeologist who is now secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, noted a scattering of potsherds and other artifacts at the site and so included it in his comprehensive survey of promising places for future exploration. But Dr. Stone and Dr. Zimansky were the first to begin systematic exploration. In 1987, they collected fragments of clay figurines and metal objects on the surface there and traced faint discolorations in the sunbaked soil, which betrayed the outlines of buried or eroded brick building foundations.
The archeologists then examined satellite images of geological patterns revealing the course of the Tigris in earlier times and the routes of ancient canals and a branch of the river that had served the city. Closer aerial examination was hampered by Iraqi military restrictions against using aircraft for photography. But Dr. Zimansky was not deterred. He lofted a kite carrying an automatic camera and soon had pictures revealing all the important building sites, outlines of the city wall and other features that were not immediately apparent from the ground.
Returning to work at the in late 1988 Dr. Stone and Dr. Zimansky dug test trenches with the aerial photographs from the balloons as their guide. Their work was supported by the American Schools of Oriental Research and the National Geographic Society. Close to a dry riverbed the archeologists uncovered the religious quarter, consisting of mudbrick and baked brick platforms that must have supported temples dedicated to Nergal, the ancient Babylonian god of death, pestilence and other disasters. Elsewhere, model chariots in clay bear emblems portraying Nergal or the scythes with which he performed his work as the original grim reaper. This, then, was clearly a city built in honor of Nergal, as neighboring Ur was the city of Nanna, the moon god.
Other spot excavations located the cemetery, where the dead were buried in huge jars, accompanied by beads, copper amulets, weapons and other personal effects. Pottery and copper-bronze workshops were uncovered. The preliminary survey produced more than 600 artifacts, though there were no indications of valuable metals or jewels. The most prized finds so far are the many fragments of clay cylinders bearing inscriptions in the wedge-shaped Sumerian symbols known as cuneiform. The cylinders were about 12 inches long and 6 inches wide. Most of these, like the one Dr. Stone picked up at the south gate, were apparently commemorative objects placed in the foundation of the city wall.
Indeed, as translated by Piotr Steinkeller, professor of Assyriology at Harvard University, the inscription on each piece began with the same phrase: ''When the great lord, the hero, Nergal, in his overflowing heart verily caused his city Mashkan-shapir to rise and determined to build its wall in a pure place and to expand its dwellings . . . .'' ''There's no doubt,'' Dr. Steinkeller said, after examining the inscriptions and confirming Dr. Stone's initial conclusion. ''One couldn't hope for better evidence of the city's identity.''
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Mostly from National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine and New York Times articles, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988. Also from the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011