Walls of Babylon
and Temple of Bel
Babylon was reborn under the Neo-Babylonians (792 to 595 B.C.) who defeated the Assyrians and established a large empire. The empire reached its peak in the 6th century B.C. under Nebuchadnezzar, the famous Biblical ruler. The Neo-Babylonians are also known by their Biblical name the Chaldeans. Sometimes their state is called the Second Babylonian Empire.

The Neo-Babylonians began as a little known Semitic people. They rebuilt Babylon and established it as their capital. Their army sacked Jerusalem and enslaved entire races of people. After the Assyrian empire collapsed Jerusalem enjoyed 70 years of independence before it was taken over by Nebuchadnezzar after a year and a half siege.

Much of the debauchery associated with Babylon occurred under the Neo-Babylonians. According the Bible, debauched partiers at King Belshazzar's feast were warned by the prophet Daniel that their kingdom would fall with the words “ Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”.Daniel lived in Babylon. He impressed the Babylonian court with his prophetic interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s death

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)


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

Books: Hendrickson, 1998. Marzahn, Joachim. The Ishtar Gate, The Processional Way, The New Year Festival of Babylon. Mainz am Rhein, Germany: Philipp von Zaubern, 1995. Sack, Ronald H. "Nebuchadnezzar." In Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:1058-59. D. N. Freedman, ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Sack, Ronald H. "Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus in Folklore and History." Mesopotamia 17 (1982):67-131. Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness That Was Babylon. 2d ed. London, 1988. Wiseman, D. J. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985.

Achievements of the Neo-Babylonians

Ishtar Gate

The Neo-Babylonians made great contributions to science, astronomy and mathematics, which were later passed on to the Greeks. Many of the achievements in these fields credited to the Babylonians were actually accomplished by the Neo-Babylonians.

“On Babylon his chief efforts were concentrated; the marvellous constructions to which it owes its eminence in tradition and legend were his achievement. It was he who erected the famous “Hanging Gardens,” a series of raised terraces covered with various kinds of foliage, and enumerated among the “Seven Wonders of the World.” A sacred street for processions was built by him leading from the temple of Marduk through the city and across the river to Borsippa— the seat of the cult of Nebo, whose close association with Marduk is symbolised by their relationship of son and father. This street, along which on solemn occasions the gods were carried in procession, was lined with magnificent glazed coloured tiles, the designs on which were lions of almost life size, as the symbol of Marduk. The workmanship belongs to the best era of Euphratean art. The high towers known as Zikkurats, attached to the chief temples at Babylon and Borsippa, were rebuilt by him and carried to a height greater than ever. By erecting and beautifying shrines to all the chief deities within the precincts of Marduk’s temple, and thus enlarging the sacred area once more to the dimensions of a precinct of the city, he wished to emphasise the commanding position of Marduk in the pantheon. In this way, he gave a final illustration of how indissolubly religious interests were bound up with political aggrandisement.

“The impression, so clearly stamped upon the earliest Euphratean civilisation,—the close bond between culture and religion,—thus marks with equal sharpness the last scene in her eventful history. In Nebuchadnezzar’s days, as in those of Sargon and Hammurabi, religion lay at the basis of Babylonia’s intellectual achievements. The priests attached to the service of the gods continued to be the teachers and guides of the people. The system of education that grew up around the temples was maintained till the end of the neo-Babylonian empire, and even for a time survived its fall. The temple-schools as integral parts of the priestly organisation had given rise to such sciences as were then cultivated—astronomy, medicine, and jurisprudence. All were either attached directly to religious beliefs, as medicine to incantations, astronomy to astrology, jurisprudence to divine oracles, or were so harmoniously bound up with the beliefs as almost to obscure the more purely secular aspects of these mental disciplines. The priests continued to be the physicians, judges, and scribes. Medicinal remedies were prescribed with incantations and ritualistic accompaniments. The study of the heavens, despite considerable advance in the knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets, continued to be cultivated for the purpose of securing, by means of observations, omens that might furnish a clue to the intention and temper of the gods.”

Babylon Under the Neo-Babylonians

20120208-Nebuchadnezzar Barrel cylinder.JPG
Nebuchadnezzar's Barrel cylinder
Babylon declined under the Assyrians but was reborn and expanded to the east bank of the Euphrates under King Nebuchadnezzar II and the Neo-Babylonians.

Nebuchadnezzar returned Babylon to it place as the greatest city in the world. He built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; a stone bridge across the Euphrates; and the Ishtar gate, a huge monumental structure guarded by stone bulls and dragons. Processions honoring the god Marduk marched between the Ishtar gates and the Temple of Marduk, the chief Babylonian deity.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s time Babylon was built in the shape of a 1.6 mile square and was exquisitely planned. It was surrounded by massive walls and centered around 25 major streets paved with slabs of stone that were organized into a grid. Gates made of brass penetrated the walls. A massive bridge spanned the Euphrates which ran through the middle of the city. Mud brick palaces were adorned with glazed tiles of blue, red and green.

At its peak Babylon was a religious center that was the Jerusalem of its day. It was multi cultural and a free city for refugees. The most elaborate temple was dedicate to Marduk, the patron God of Babylon. Extemenanki — a brightly painted, 300-foot-high, stepped ziggurat — that stood near the Temple of Marduk may have been the inspiration for the Tower of Babel. The temples not only supported a caste of priests but also a sages and prophets such as Daniel. In the markets were silver, gold, bronze, ivory, frankincense, myrrh, marble, wine, grains, imported woods brought in by caravans and ships from as far away as Africa and India.

Babylon lost in position as a the most important city in the region when it was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C. but remained an important trading and commerce center. It was still going strong when Alexander the Great arrived here at the end of his great campaign of conquest. He reportedly died in one of Nebuchadnezzar’s palaces. His successor Seleucia built a new city along a part of the Euphrates with a deeper channel. After this Babylon declined and buildings were reduced to foundation as building materials were scavenged from them. Around A.D. 75 Babylon was abandoned.

Eclipsing of the Assyrians by the Neo-Babylonians

Morris Jastrow said: “After the death of Ashurbanapal in 626 B.C., the decline sets in and proceeds so rapidly as to suggest that the brilliancy of his reign was merely the last flicker of a flame whose power was spent—an artificial effort to gather the remaining strength in the hopeless endeavour to stimulate the vitality of the empire, exhausted by the incessant wars of the past centuries. Babylonia survived her northern rival for two reasons. Forced by the superior military power of Assyria to a policy of political inaction or of fomenting trouble for Assyria among the nations that were compelled to submit to her control, Babylonia did not engage in expeditions for conquest, which eventually weaken the conqueror more than the conquered. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 ]

“Instead of war, commerce became the main occupation of the inhabitants of the south. Through the spread of its products and wares, its culture, art, and religious influence were extended in all directions. The more substantial character of the southern civilisation, the result of an uninterrupted development for many centuries, and not, as in the case of Assyria, a somewhat artificial albeit successful graft, lent to Babylonia a certain stability, and provided her with a reserve force, which enabled her to withstand the loss of a great share of her political independence. After the fall of Assyria, there came to the fore a district of the Euphrates Valley in the extreme south—known as Chaldea—which had always maintained a certain measure of its independence, even during the period of strongest union among the Euphratean states, and not infrequently had given the rulers of Babylon considerable trouble.

“The Babylonian empire was also shaken by the blow which brought Assyria to the ground. The Assyrian yoke, to be sure, was thrown off; but in the confusion which ensued, a Chaldean general, Nabopolassar, took advantage of it to make himself the political master of the Euphrates Valley. By means of a treaty of alliance with Elam to the east, Nabopolassar maintained himself on the throne for twenty years, and on his death in 604 B.C., his crown descended to his son—the famous Nebuchadnezzar. Having won his spurs as a general during a military expedition against Egypt, which took place before his father’s death, Nebuchadnezzar was seized with the ambition to found a world-wide empire—a dream which had proved fatal to Assyria. Palestine and Syria were conquered by him, and Egypt humbled, but the last years of his reign were devoted chiefly to building up Babylon, Borsippa, and Sippar in the hope of restoring the ancient grandeur of those political and religious centres.

Early History of the Second Babylonian, or Chaldean, Empire

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“With the death, in 626 B.C., of Kandalanu (the Babylonian name of Assurbanipal), King of Assyria, Assyrian power in Babylon practically ceased. Nabopolassar, a Chaldean who had risen from the position of general in the Assyrian army, ruled Babylon as Shakkanak for some years in nominal dependence on Ninive. Then, as King of Babylon, he invaded and annexed the Mesopotamian provinces of Assyria, and when Sinsharishkun, the last King of Assyria, tried to cut off his return and threatened Babylon, Nabopolassar called in the aid of the Manda, nomadic tribes of Kurdistan, somewhat incorrectly identified with the Medes. Though Nabopolassar no doubt contributed his share to the events which led to the complete destruction of Ninive (606 B.C.) by these Manda barbarians, he apparently did not in person co-operate in the taking of the city, nor share the booty, but used the opportunity to firmly establish his throne in Babylon.[Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“Though Semites, the Chaldeans belonged to a race perfectly distinct from the Babylonians proper, and were foreigners in the Euphrates Valley. They were settlers from Arabia, who had invaded Babylonia from the South. Their stronghold was the district known as the Sealands. During the Assyrian supremacy the combined forces of Babylon and Assyria had kept them in check, but, owing probably to the fearful Assyrian atrocities in Babylon, the citizens had begun to look towards their former enemies for help, and the Chaldean power grew apace in Babylon till, in Nabopolassar, it assumed the reins of government, and thus imperceptibly a foreign race superseded the ancient inhabitants. The city remained the same, but its nationality changed. Nabopolassar must have been a strong, beneficient ruler, engaged in rebuilding temples and digging canals, like his predecessors, and yet maintaining his hold over the conquered provinces. The Egyptians, who had learnt of the weakness of Assyria, had already, three years before the fall of Ninive, crossed the frontiers with a mighty army under Necho II, in the hope of sharing in the dismemberment of the Assyrian Empire. How Josias of Juda, trying to bar his way, was slain at Megiddo is known from IV Kings, xxiii, 29. |=|

Decline of the Neo-Babylonians

After Nebuchadnezzar II’s death in 562 B.C. there was a seven year power struggle, with Nabonidus finally emerging as the new king but he alienated the priestly class by embracing the unpopular noon god Sin and was forced into exile in a remote desert town. Babylon grew weaker. After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, Babylon once again declined. Babylonian was given up to the Persians without a fight as Cyrus the Great and his armies marched westward out of Iran. According to Herodotus the Persians under Cyrus caught the Babylonian completely by surprise and even as the Persians were breaching Babylon’s outer defenses the people “engaged in a festival; continued dancing and reveling.” When Cyrus entered the city he forbade looting and freed the Jews. See Persians

With the end of the Neo-Babylonians the Mesopotamian age came to an end. The focal point of the Middle East and the Mediterranean switched to Persia and then Greece and then Rome. The Hanging Gardens withered along Nebuchadnezzar's empire. They were gone by the time Pliny the Elder visited referred before his death in A.D. 79.

From 539 B.C. to 637 AD, Mesopotamia and the Middle east was ruled by a succession of foreigner usurpers that included the Persian in 539 B.C., Alexander the Great (who died in Babylon in 323 B.C., the Parthians (who ruled for 350 years) and then the Sassanids, Arabs and Turks. Ancient Mesopotamia today lies mostly by Iraq.


Neo-Babylonia After Nebuchadnezzar II

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:” In 561 B.C., Nabuchodonosor was succeeded by Evil-Merodach (IV Kings, xxv, 27), who released Joachim of Juda and raised him above the other vassal kings at Babylon, but his mild rule evidently dIspleased the priestly caste, and they accused him of reigning lawlessly and extravagantly. After less than three years he was assassinated by Neriglissar (Nergal-sar-usur), his brother-in-law, who is possibly the Nergalsharezer present at the taking of Jerusalem (Jer. xxxix, 3-13). Neriglissar was after four years succeeded by his son Labasi-Marduk, no more than a child, who reigned nine months and was assassinated. [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“The conspirators elected Nabonidus (Nabu-na'id) to the throne. He was the last King of Babylon (555-539 B.C.). He was a royal antiquarian rather than a ruling king. From their foundations he rebuilt the great Shamash temple in Sippar and the Sin temple in Harran, and in his reign the city walls of Babylon "were curiously built with burnt brick and bitumen". But he resided in Tema, shunned the capital, offended the provincial towns by transporting their gods to Shu-anna, and alienated the priesthood of Babylon by what they would call misdirected piety. To us his antiquarian research after first foundation-stones of the temples he rebuilt is of the greatest importance. He tells us that the foundation-stone of the Shamash temple laid by Naram Sin had not been seen for 3200 years, which, roughly speaking, gives us 3800 B.C., for Sargon of Akkad, Naram Sin's father; upon this date most of our early Babylonian chronology is based. The actual duties of government seem to have been largely in the hands of the Crown Prince Baltassar (Bel-shar-usur), who resided in Babylon as regent. |=|

Last Days of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: ““Nebuchadrezzar died in 562. During his reign he maintained control of his vast empire with difficulty. A rival, King Cyaxeres of Media, began to build a powerful state with its capital at Ecbatana. Median tribes were subdued, Armenians overcome and the new Median empire pushed into Asia Minor, only to be stopped by the Lydians. During this period, Nebuchadrezzar was campaigning in the west, attempting to quiet unrest that had developed, perhaps augmented by the efforts of the Egyptian Pharaoh Apries or Hophra (589-569). After a thirteen year siege, Tyre became a Babylonian possession with semi-independence (cf. Ezek. 29:17-20). Meanwhile, Pharaoh Apries was defeated by the Greeks at Cyrene (570). In 568, perhaps to prove to the Egyptians the folly of pressing into Asia, Nebuchadrezzar invaded Egypt. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968,]

Fall of Babylon in the Nuremberg Chronicles

“When Nebuchadrezzar died in 562, his long rule was followed by a period of social upheaval and in seven years four different monarchs sat on the Babylonian throne. Amel-Marduk (562-560), a son of Nebuchadrezzar, died a violent death and is believed to be the Evilmerodoch of II Kings 25:27-30 who released King Jehoiakim from prison. Nergal-shar-usar (cf. Jer. 39:3, 13: possibly Nergal-sharezer), a brother-in-law, ruled four years (560-556) and just prior to his death suffered defeat in a battle with the Medes. His infant son Labashimarduk was scarcely crowned when Nabonidus or Nabu-na'id, who was not of the same family, seized the throne in a rebellion supported by chief officials of state.

“Nabonidus' mother was a high-priestess of the moon god Sin and his father was a nobleman, and Nabonidus came into conflict with the priests of Marduk, perhaps through his efforts to make Sin the chief god of the empire. A famine attributed to royal impiety, together with spiraling inflation, produced tension within the empire. Nabonidus moved to the desert oasis of Teima (southeast of Edom) and from this center established military and trade posts throughout the desert as far as Yatrib (later Medina) near the Red Sea. In Babylon, his son Bel-shar-usur (Belshazzar in Daniel) ruled as regent from 552-545. The absence of the monarch created serious religious problems, particularly for the annual Akitu or New Year festival. Finally the monarch returned to Babylon, perhaps to lead his forces against Elamite raiders in southern Babylonia. But new forces were at work that were to deprive him of his crown and terminate the Neo-Babylonian empire.”

Decline of the Neo-Babylonians and the Rise of Persia

Morris Jastrow said: “On the death of Nebuchadnezzar, in 561 B.C., the decline of the neo-Babylonian empire sets in and proceeds rapidly, as in Assyria the decline began after the death of her grand monargue. Internal dissensions and rivalries among the priests of Babylon and Sippar divided the land. The glory of the Chaldean revival was of short duration, and in the year 539 B.C., Nabonnedos, the last native king of Babylon, was forced to yield to the new power coming from Elam. It was the same old enemy of the Euphrates Valley, only in a new garb, that appeared when Cyrus stood before the gates of Babylon. [Source: Morris Jastrow, Lectures more than ten years after publishing his book “Aspects of Religious Belief and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria” 1911 ]

“Nabonnedos gave the weight of his influence to the priestly party of Sippar. In revenge, the priests of Babylon abetted the advance of Cyrus who was hailed by them as the deliverer of Marduk. With scarcely an attempt at resistance, the capital yielded, and Cyrus marched in triumph to the temple of Marduk. The great change had come so nearly imperceptibly that men hardly realised that with Cyrus on the throne of Babylon a new era was ushered in. In the wake of Cyrus came a new force in culture, accompanied by a religious faith that, in contrast to the Babylonian-Assyrian polytheism with its elaborate cult and ritual, appeared rationalistic—almost coldly rationalistic. Far more important than the change of government from Chaldean to Persian control of the Euphrates Valley and of its dependencies was the conquest of the old Babylonian religion by Mazdeism or Zoroastrianism, which, though it did not become the official cult, deprived the worship of Marduk, Nebo, Shamash, and the other gods of much of its vitality.

Overthrow of the Neo-Babylonians by the Persians

Fall of Babylon by Ottheinrich

The Neo-Babylonians (Chaldeans) gave up Babylon without a fight in 539 B.C. to the Persian king Cyrus. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: ”Cyrus, the petty King of Anshan, had begun his career of conquest. He overthrew Astyages, King of the Medes, for which victory Nabonaid praised him as the young servant of Merodach; he overthrew Croesus of Lydia and his coalition; he assumed the title of King of the Parsu, and ha begun a new Indo-Germanic world power which replaced the decrepit Semitic civilization. At last Nabonaid, realizing the situation, met the Persians at Opis. Owing to internal strife amongst the Babylonians, many of whom were dissatisfied with Nabonaid, the Persians had an easy victory, taking the city of Sippar without fighting. Nabonaid fled to Babylon. Cyrus's soldiers, under the generalship of Ugbaru (Gobryas), Governor of Gutium, entered the capital without striking a blow and captured Nabonaid. This happened in June; in October Cyrus in person entered the city, paid homage at E-sagila to Marduk. A week later the Persians entered, at night, that quarter of the city where Baltassar occupied a fortified position in apparent security, where the sacred vessels of Jehovah's temple were profaned, where the hand appeared on the wall writing Mane, Tekel Phares, and where Daniel was offered the third place in the kingdom (i.e. after Nabonaid and Baltassar). That same night Baltassar was slain and the Semitic Empire of Babylon came to an end, for the ex-King Nabonaid spent the rest of his life in Carmania. [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“In one sense Babylonian history ends here, and Persian history begins, yet a few words are needed on the return of the Jewish captives after their seventy years of exile. It has long been supposed that Cyrus, professing the Mazdean religion, was a strict monotheist and released the Jews out of sympathy for their faith. But this king was, apparently, only unconsciously an instrument in God's hands, and the permission for the Jews to return was merely given out of political sagacity and a wish for popularity in his new domains. At least we possess inscriptions of him in which he is most profuse in his homage to the Babylonian Pantheon. As Nabonaid had outraged the religious sentiments of his subjects by collecting all their dogs in Shu-anna, Cyrus pursued an opposite policy and returned all these gods to their own worshippers; and, the Jews having no idols, he returned their sacred vessels, which Baltassar had profaned, and gave a grant for the rebuilding of their Temple. The very phraseology of the decree given in I Esdras, i,2 sqq., referring to "the Lord God of Heaven" shows his respectful attitude, if not inclination, towards monotheism, which was professed by so many of his Indo-Germanic subjects. Darius Hystaspes, who in 521 B.C., after defeating Pseudo-Smerdis, succeeded Cambyses (King of Babylon since 530 B.C.) was a convinced monotheist and adorer of Ahuramazda; and if it was he who ordered and aided the completion of the temple at Jerusalem, after the interruption caused by Samaritan intervention, it was no doubt out of sympathy with the Jewish religion (I Esdr., vi, 1 sqq). It is not quite certain, however, that the Darius referred to is this king; it has been suggested that Darius Nothus is meant, who mounted the throne almost a hundred years later. Zerubabel is a thoroughly Babylonian name and occurs frequently on documents of that time; but we cannot as yet trace any connection between the Zerubabel of Scripture and any name mentioned in these documents.”

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

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