Hammurabi bas-relief at 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 is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Genesis (11:9) as the home of the notorious Tower of Babel. But the city'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.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:"In treating of the history, character, and influence of this ancient empire, it is difficult not to speak at the same time of its sister, or rather daughter, country, Assyria. This northern neighbour and colony of Babylon remained to the last of the same race and language and of almost the same religion and civilization as that of the country from which it emigrated. The political fortunes of both countries for more than a thousand years were closely interwoven with one another; in fact, for many centuries they formed one political unit..” [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux,Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

See Bible and Jews: Tower of Babel,

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site; British Museum ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia ; Louvre ; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago ; Iraq Museum Database ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory


Reconstructed Babylon
Babylon (80 kilometers south of modern 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 360̊ 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 is regarded as one of the world’s first major cities. it was established as a city around the 23rd century B.C.. according to early records. 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.”

Geography of Babylonia

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“The country lies diagonally from northwest to southeast, between 30° and 33° N. lat., and 44° and 48° E. long., or from the present city of Bagdad to the Persian Gulf, from the slopes of Khuzistan on the east to the Arabian Desert on the west, and is substantially contained between the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, though, to the west a narrow strip of cultivation on the right bank of the Euphrates must be added. Its total length is some 300 miles, its greatest width about 125 miles; about 23,000 square miles in all, or the size of Holland and Belgium together. Like those two countries, its soil is largely formed by the alluvial deposits of two great rivers. A most remarkable feature of Babylonian geography is that the land to the south encroaches on the sea and that the Persian Gulf recedes at present at the rate of a mile in seventy years, while in the past, though still in historic times, it receded as much as a mile in thirty years. In the early period of Babylonian history the gulf must have extended some hundred and twenty miles further inland. [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“According to historical records both the towns Ur and Eridu were once close to the gulf, from which they are now about a hundred miles distant; and from the reports of Sennacherib's campaign against Bît Yakin we gather that as late as 695 B.C., the four rivers Kerkha, Karun, Euphrates, and Tigris entered the gulf by separate mouths, which proves that the sea even then extended a considerable distance north of where the Euphrates and Tigris now join to form the Shat-el-arab. Geological observations show that a secondary formation of limestone abruptly begins at a line drawn from Hit on the Euphrates to Samarra on the Tigris, i.e. some four hundred miles from their present mouth; this must once have formed the coast line, and all the country south was only gradually gained from the sea by river deposit. In how far man was witness of this gradual formation of the Babylonian soil we cannot determine at present; as far south as Larsa and Lagash man had built cities 4,000 years before Christ. It has been suggested that the story of the Flood may be connected with man's recollection of the waters extending far north of Babylon, or of some great natural event relating to the formation of the soil; but with our present imperfect knowledge it can only be the merest suggestion. It may, however, well be observed that the astounding system of canals which existed in ancient Babylonia even from the remotest historical times, though largely due to man's careful industry and patient toil, was not entirely the work of the spade, but of nature once leading the waters of Euphrates and Tigris in a hundred rivulets to the sea, forming a delta like that of the Nile. |=|

Mesopotamian irrigation

“The fertility of this rich alluvial plain was in ancient times proverbial; it produced a wealth of wheat, barley, sesame, dates, and other fruits and cereals. The cornfields of Babylonia were mostly in the south, where Larsa, Lagash, Erech, and Calneh were the centres of an opulent agricultural population. The palm tree was cultivated with assiduous care and besides furnishing all sorts of food and beverage, was used for a thousand domestic needs. Birds and waterfowls, herds and flocks, and rivers teeming with fish supplied the inhabitants with a rural plenty which surprises the modern reader of the cadastral surveys and tithe-accounts of the ancient temples. The country is completely destitute of mineral wealth, and possesses no stone or metal, although stone was already being imported from the Lebanon and the Ammanus as early as 3000 B.C.; and much earlier, about 4500 B.C., Ur-Nina, King of Shirpurla sent to Magan, i.e. the Sinaitic Peninsula, for hard stone and hard wood; while the copper mines of Sinai were probably being worked by Babylonians shortly after 3750, when Snefru, first king of the Fourth Egyptian dynasty, drove them away. It is remarkable that Babylonia possesses no bronze period, but passed from copper to iron; though in later ages it learnt the use of bronze from Assyria. |=|

Towns and Cities of Babylonia and Their References in the Bible

Babylonia is often used to describe the region around the Euphrates River, which occupies a large chunk of Mesopotamia, and includes city-states frpm the Sumerian and Assyrian periods as well as the Babylonian period. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“The towns of ancient Babylonia were the following: southernmost: 1) “Eridu, Semitic corruption of the old name of Eri-dugga, "good city", at present the mounds of Abu-Sharain; 2) Ur, Abraham's birthplace, about twenty-five miles northeast of Eridu, at present Mughair. Both of the above towns lay west of the Euphrates. 3) East of the Euphrates, the southernmost town was Larsa, the Biblical Ellasar (Gen., xiv; in Vulg. and D.V. unfortunately rendered Pontus), at present Senkere; 4) Erech, the Biblical Arach (Gen., x, 10), fifteen miles northwest of Larsa, is at present Warka; |=|

“5) eight miles northeast from the modern Shatra was Shirpurla, or Lagash, now Tello. Shirpurla was one of Babylon's most ancient cities, though not mentioned in the Bible; probably "Raventown" (shirpur-raven), from the sacred emblem of its goddess and sanctuary, Nin-Girsu, or Nin-Sungir, which for a score of centuries was an important political centre, and probably gave its name to Southern Babylonia -- Sungir, Shumer, or, in Gen., x, 10, Sennaar. Gishban (read also Gish-ukh), a small city a little north of Shirpurla, at present the mounds of Iskha, is of importance only in the very earliest history of Babylonia. |=|

“6) The site of the important city of Isin (read also Nisin) has not yet been determined, but it was probably situated a little north of Erech. 7) Calneh, or Nippur (in D.V., Gen., x, 10, Calanne), at present Nuffar, was a great religious centre, with its Bel Temple, unrivaled in antiquity and sanctity, a sort of Mecca for the Semitic Babylonians. Recent American excavations have made its name as famous as French excavations made that of Tello or Shirpurla. |=|

19th century European view of Babylon

“7) In North Babylonia we have again, southernmost, the city of Kish, probably the Biblical Cush (Gen., x, 8); its ruins are under the present mound El-Ohemir, eight miles east of Hilla. 8) A little distance to the northwest lay Kutha, the present Telli Ibrahim, the city whence the Babylonian colonists of Samaria were taken (IV Kings, xvii, 30), and which played a great role in Northern Babylonia before the Amorite dynasty. 9) The site of Agade, i.e. Akkad (Gen., x, 10), the name of whose kings was dreaded in Cyprus and in Sinai in 3800 B.C., is unfortunately unknown, but it must have been not far from Sippara; it has even been suggested that this was one of the quarters of that city, which was scarcely thirty miles north of Babylon and which, as early as 1881, was identified, through British excavations, with the present Abu-Habba. |=|

“10) Lastly, Babylon, with its twin-city Borsippa, though probably founded as early as 3800 B.C., played an insignificant role in the country's history until, under Hammurabi, about 2300 B.C., it entered on that career of empire which it maintained for almost 2000 years, so that its name now stands for a country and a civilization which was of hoary antiquity before Babylon rose to power and even before a brick of Babylon was laid.” |=|

First Babylonian Empire

The first great dynasty for which ancient Babylon is known was West-Semitic and is likely the Amorite Dynasty referred to in the Old Testament. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“ The Babylonians called it the dynasty of Babylon, for, though foreign in origin, it may have had its actual home in that city, which it gratefully and proudly remembered. It lasted for 296 years and saw the greatest glory of the old empire and perhaps the Golden Age of the Semitic race in the ancient world. The names of its monarchs are: Sumu-abi (15 years), Sumu-la-ilu (35), Zabin (14), Apil-Sin (18), Sin-muballit (30); Hammurabi (35), Samsu-iluna (35), Abishua (25), Ammi-titana (25), Ammizaduga (22), Samsu-titana (31). [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“Under the first five kings Babylon was still only the mightiest amongst several rival cities, but the sixth king, Hammurabi, who succeeded in beating down all opposition, obtained absolute rule of Northern and Southern Babylonia and drove out the Elamite invaders. Babylonia henceforward formed but one state and was welded into one empire. They were apparently stormy days before the final triumph of Hammurabi. The second ruler strengthened his capital with large fortifications; the third ruler was apparently in danger of a native pretender or foreign rival called Immeru; only the fourth ruler was definitely styled King; while Hammurabi himself in the beginning of his reign acknowledged the suzerainty of Elam.

“Whereas the Assyrian kings loved to fill the boastful records of their reigns with ghastly descriptions of battle and war, so that we possess the minutest details of their military campaigns, the genius of Babylon, on the contrary, was one of peace, and culture, and progress. The building of temples, the adorning of cities, the digging of canals, the making of roads, the framing of laws was their pride; their records breathe, or affect to breathe, all serene tranquility; warlike exploits are but mentioned by the way, hence we have, even in the case of the two greatest Babylonian conquerors, Hammurabi and Nabuchodonosor II, but scanty information of their deeds of arms. "I dug the canal Hammurabi, the blessing of men, which bringeth the water of the overflow unto the land of Sumer and Akkad. Its banks on both sides I made arable land; much seed I scattered upon it. Lasting water I provided for the land of Sumer and Akkad. The land of Sumer and Akkad, its separated peoples I united, with blessings and abundance I endowed them, in peaceful dwellings I made them to live" -- such is the style of Hammurabi. In what seems an ode on the king, engraved on his statue we find the words: "Hammurabi, the strong warrior, the destroyer of his foes, he is the hurricane of battle, sweeping the land of his foes, he brings opposition to naught, he puts an end to insurrection, he breaks the warrior as an image of clay." But chronological details are still in confusion. In a very fragmentary list of dates the 31st year of his reign is given as that of the land Emutbalu, which is usually taken as that of his victory over western Elam, and considered by many as that of his conquest of Larsa and its king, Rim-Sin, or Eri-Aku. If the Biblical Amraphel be Hammurabi we have in Gen., xiv, the record of an expedition of his to the Westland previous to the 31st year of his reign. Of Hammurabi's immediate successors we know nothing except that they reigned in peaceful prosperity. That trade prospered, and temples were built, is all we can say. |=|

“The Amorite dynasty was succeeded by a series of eleven kings which may well be designated as the Unknown Dynasty, which has received a number of names: Ura-Azag, Uru-ku, Shish-ku. Whether it was Semite or not is not certain; the years of reign are given in the "King-List", but they are surprisingly long (60,-50-55-50-28, etc), so that not only great doubt is cast on the correctness of these dates, but the very existence of this dynasty is doubted or rejected by some scholars (as Hommel). It is indeed remarkable that the kings should be eleven in number, like those of the Amorite dynasty, and that we should nowhere find a distinct evidence of their existence; yet these premises hardly suffice to prove that so early a document as the "King-List" made the unpardonable mistake of ascribing nearly four centuries of rule to a dynasty which in reality was contemporaneous, nay identical, with the Amorite monarchs. Their names are certainly very puzzling, but it has been suggested that these were not personal names, but names of the city-quarters from which they originated. Should this dynasty have a separate existence, it is safe to say that they were native rulers, and succeeded the Amorites without any break of national and political life. Owing to the questionable reality of this dynasty, the chronology of the previous one varies greatly; hence it arises, for instance, that Hammurabi's date is given as 1772-17 in Hasting's "Dictionary of the Bible", while the majority of scholars would place him about 2100 B.C., or a little earlier; nor are indications wanting to show that, whether the "Unknown Dynasty" be fictitious or not, the latter date is approximately right. |=|

Saddam-era reconstruction of Babylon

Babylon Archaeological Site

According to UNESCO: “The Sacred Complex of Babylon, comprising the Esagila temple dedicated to the God of Marduk and the ziggurat Etemenanki (the legendary Tower of Babylon), constituted the spiritual and political hearth of Babylon, capital of the Old Kingdom of Babylonia. With an extension of ca. 180x125 meters of the major temple Esagila (the "House of the Headraising"), and ca. 460x410 meters of the tower complex Etemenanki, meaning "the foundation of heaven and earth", this was the most massive walled-in space within the city. Out of the substructure of approximately 90 x 90 meters, the height of which was in the original of about 15 meters, the tower developed in all together five more levels, one smaller than the other. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, *=*]

Both of these Mesopotamian architectural components formed one unit, so that the low temple Esagila, is neither in its construction nor in its content to be separated from Etemenanki. Their cultic connection was established by the procession street Aj-ibur-shapu running between them, which allowed equal access to both sanctuaries. The ruins of Esagila have been partially excavated. On the other hand, for the tower archaeologists discovered a core consisting of the ruins of previous ziggurats, which had been levelled and enlarged several times, before Nebuchadnezzar added a casing of burnt brick 15m thick. Of this structure, the ground plan and traces of the three stairs leading up to the upper levels have been preserved. The above structures were at the core of the city of Babylon, mentioned in documents of the late third millennium BC and which became important early in the 2nd millennium under the kings of the First Dynasty. *=*

“The sixth king of this dynasty was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) who made Babylon the capital of a vast empire and is best remembered for his code of laws. Sacked by the Hittites in 1595 BCE, during the Second Dynasty of Isin (1157-1026 BCE), Babylon became the capital of southern Mesopotamia and its patron deity Marduk became the national god. In the Neo-Babylonian period (7th-6th century BC), the city once again achieved pre-eminence. Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE) rebuilt Babylon, which became the largest ancient settlement in Mesopotamia. There were two sets of fortified walls and massive palaces and religious buildings, including the central ziggurat tower. *=*

List of Rulers of Babylonians

Old Babylonian dynasty
Sin-muballit: 1812–1793 B.C.
Hammurabi: 1792–1750 B.C.

Kassite dynasty
Kadashman-Enlil I: 1374–1360 B.C.
Burnaburiash II: 1359–1333 B.C.
Kurigalzu II: 1332–1308 B.C.

Babylonian dynasty
Nabu-mukin-zeri: 731–729 B.C.
Marduk-apla-iddina II: 721–710 B.C.
Shamash-shum-ukin: 667–648 B.C.

Neo-Babylonian dynasty
Nabopolassar: 625–605 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar II: 604–562 B.C.
Amel-Marduk: 561–560 B.C.
Neriglissar: 559–556 B.C.
Labashi-Marduk: 556 B.C.
Nabonidus: 555–539 B.C.

[Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "List of Rulers of Mesopotamia", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2004)


Hammurabi (ruled 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 instituted a highly developed administration that included courts and a system for the enforcement of laws.

Hammurabi was the ruler who chiefly established the greatness of Babylon, arguably the world's first metropolis. Many relics of Hammurabi's reign have been preserved.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."

20120207-Hammurabi  so called head.jpg
so called head of Hammurabi
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“Hammurabi is one of the most gigantic figures of the world's history, to be named with Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon, but best compared to a Charlemagne, a conqueror and a lawgiver, whose powerful genius formed a lasting empire out of chaos, and whose beneficent influence continued for ages throughout an area almost as large as Europe. Doubtless a dozen centuries later Assyrian kings were to make greater conquests than he, but whereas they were giant destroyers he was a giant builder. His large public and private correspondence gives us an insight into his multitudinous cares, his minute attention to details, his constitutional methods. (See "The Letters and Inscriptions of Hammurabi", by L. W. King; London, 1898, 3 vols.) His famous code of civil and criminal law throws light on his genius as legislator and judge. The stele on which these laws are inscribed was found at Susa by M. de Morgan and the Dominican friar Scheil, and first published and translated by the latter in 1902. This astounding find, giving us, in 3638 short lines, 282 laws and regulations affecting the whole range of public and private life, is unequalled even in the marvelous history of Babylonian research. From no other document can a more swift and accurate estimate of Babylonian civilization be formed than from this code. (For a complete English translation see T.G. Pinches, op. cit. infra, pp. 487-519.) [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

Morris Jastrow said: “The name of Hammurabi deserves to be emblazoned in letters of gold on the scroll of fame. His predecessors, to be sure, had in part paved the way for him. Availing themselves of the weakness of the south, which had again been split up into a number of independent principalities—Ur, Isin, Larsa, Kish, and Uruk,—they had been successful not only in warding off attacks from the outside upon their own district, but in forcing some of these principalities to temporary subjection. Still, there was much left for Hammurabi to do before he could take the titles “King of Sumer and Akkad” and “King of the Four Regions”; and it was not until the thirtieth year of his reign that, by the successful overthrow of the old-time enemy, Elam, and then of his own and his father’s formidable rival Rim-Sin, the king of Larsa, he could claim to be the absolute master of the entire Euphrates Valley, and of the adjoining Elam.After that, he directed his attention to the north and north-west, and before the end of his reign his dominion embraced Assyria, and extended to the heart of the Hittite domain in the north-west. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

“But Hammurabi is far more than a mere conqueror. He is the founder of a real empire—welding north and south into a genuine union, which outlasts the vicissitudes of time for almost fifteen hundred years. The permanent character of his work is due in part at least to the fact that he is not only “the mighty king, the king of Babylon,” but also “the king of righteousness,” as he calls himself, devoted to promoting the welfare of his subjects, and actuated by the ambition that every one who had a just cause should come to him as a son to a father. He establishes the unity of the country on a firm basis by the codification of the existing laws and by a formal promulgation of this code throughout his empire as the authoritative and recognised guide in government. The importance of this step can hardly be overestimated. If from this time on we speak of a Babylonian empire which, despite frequent changes of dynasties, despite a control of Babylonia for over half a millennium (ca. 1750-1175 B.C.), by a foreign people known as the Kassites, survived with its identity clearly marked, down to the taking of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 B.C., and in some measure even to the advent of Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., —it is due, in the first instance, to the unifying power exerted by Hammurabi’s code, the fortunate discovery of which in 1891 has contributed so much to our knowledge of the conditions of culture and religion in ancient Babylonia.

Legal Code of Hammurabi

Code of Hammurabi
Hammurabi 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.

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.

Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, See Separate Article

Unifying Power of Hammurabi’s Code

Morris Jastrow said: “It is no exaggeration to say that this code created the Babylonian people, just as, about six centuries later, the great leader Moses formed the Hebrew nation out of heterogeneous elements by giving them a body of laws, civil and religious. The code established a bond of union between Sumer and Akkad of a character far more binding than could be brought about by the mere subjection of the south to the north. Through this code whatever distinctions still existed between Sumerians and Akkadians were gradually wiped out. From the time of Hammurabi on, we are justified in speaking of Babylonians, and no longer of Sumerians and Akkadians. The code illustrates in a striking manner the close relationship between culture and religion in the Euphrates Valley. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 <>]

20120207-code of ext_von_Hammurapis_Geset.jpg
Code of Hammurabi
“When the supreme Anu, king of the Annunaki, and Enlil» the lord of heaven and earth, who fixes the destiny of the land, had committed to Marduk, the first-born of Ea, the rule of all mankind, making him great among the Igigi, gave to Babylon his supreme name, making it pre-eminent in the regions (of the world), and established therein an enduring kingdom, firm in its foundation like heaven and earth—at that time they appointed me, Hammurabi, the exalted ruler, the one who fears the gods, to let justice shine in the land, to destroy the wicked and unjust that the strong should not oppress the weak, that I should go forth like the sun over mankind. <>

“Hammurabi then passes on to an enumeration of all that he did for the various cities of his realm— for Nippur, Durilu, Eridu, Babylon, Ur, Sippar, Larsa, Uruk, Isin, Kish, Cuthah, Borsippa, Dilbat, Lagash, Adab, Agade, Nineveh, and the distant Hallab. “It is significant that he refers to his conquests only incidentally, and lays the chief stress upon what he did for the gods and for men, enumerating the temples that he built and beautified, the security that he obtained for his subjects, the protection that he granted to those in need of aid. “Law and justice,” he concludes, “I established in the land and promoted the well-being of the people.” <>

“The religious and ethical spirit is thus the impelling power of the most important accomplishment in Hammurabi’s career; and the interdependence of culture and religion finds another striking illustration in the changed aspect that the pantheon and the cult assumed after the period of Hammurabi. He names at the beginning of his code the two deities, Anu and Enlil. Both were, originally, local gods, Anu the patron deity of Uruk, Enlil the chief deity of Nippur. Through a process...Anu and Enlil became in the course of time abstractions, summing up, as it were, the chief manifestations of divine power in the universe. Anu, from being originally a personification of the sun, becomes the god of heaven, while Enlil, starting out as a storm-god, takes on as the theoretical head of the pantheon the traits of other gods, and becomes the god in control of the earth and of the regions immediately above it. The two therefore stand for heaven and earth, and to them there is joined, as a third member, Ea. Originally, the local deity of another ancient centre (Eridu, on or nearby the Persian Gulf) and a god of the water, Ea became the symbol of the watery element in general.” <>

Babylon and Science

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 as an entity. They developed and 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

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 late second millennium B.C. has been called “the first international age.” It was a time when there was more interaction between kingdoms.

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.

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.

20120207-Yazilikaya rGruppe.jpg
Hittite relief

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.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, 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.

Last updated September 2018

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.