That ancient land in the lower Mesopotamian valley through which the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow, and which corresponds to the southeastern part of modern Iraq. It extends about 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) W of the Euphrates, joining the Arabian Desert. East of the Tigris it is bounded by the Persian hills; on the SE by the Persian Gulf. Its northern boundary is a natural one marked by a noticeable rise in elevation near Baghdad. Here in the N the two rivers approach to within twenty-five miles (40.2 kilometers) of each other. The plain extends about 250 miles (402 kilometers) to the S, and is 100 miles (160.9 kilometers) across at its widest point. This area of about 8,000 square miles (20,720 sq. kilometers) is similar in size to Wales or the state of New Jersey. So flat is this country that from the northern limits to the Gulf there is a fall of only 125 feet (38 meters) in the level of the rivers.
Sometimes historians subdivide Babylonia, calling the northern part Akkad (Accad) and the southern part Sumer or Chaldea. Originally this territory was designated in the Scriptures as “the land of Shinar.” (Gen. 10:10; 11:2; see SHINAR.) Later, when dominating rulers made Babylon their capital, it was known as Babylonia. Because Chaldean dynasties sometimes held sway it was also called “the land of the Chaldeans.” (Jer. 24:5; 25:12; Ezek. 12:13) Some of the ancient cities in Babylonia were Adab, Akkad, Babylon, Borsippa, Erech, Kish, Lagash, Nippur and Ur.
Composed of alluvial soil deposits from the flooding of the two great rivers, the land as a whole was quite fertile. An extensive canal system for both irrigation and drainage made it possible to produce bumper crops of barley, corn, dates, figs and pomegranates. Herodotus reported that two- and three-hundredfold yields of wheat from semiannual harvests were reaped in the long growing season. The climate today is very hot; rainfall is low and so is the humidity except along the seacoast. As a result the land has no great forests. Native building material since the days of Nimrod consisted of clay bricks mortared together with bitumen, found upstream near the city of Hit.
Archaeological excavation here in the cradle of civilization has brought to light many interesting facts about people of the past and their way of life. Decipherment of thousands of clay tablets and inscriptions reveals that people long ago made contracts, signed leases and carried on trade with other nations. They had a system of weights and measures and a knowledge of the science of mathematics. Astronomy, although exploited by the demon-worshiping astrologers, was, nevertheless, able to keep track of time and movement of the heavenly bodies, and thereby useful calendars were developed.
Out of these excavations have also come the names of dynasties and rulers, together with meager accounts of their exploits and conquests in ancient Babylonia. For the most part this archaeological information is only fragmentary, and though scholars have spent much time and effort piecing it all together, the result is only a quilted pattern of secular history, very ragged in its details. Their chronology is largely a matter of conjecture and guesswork requiring periodic revision. However, some of the events of the eighth century B.C.E., when Assyria dominated Babylonia, are illuminated by Biblical testimony.
About the first half of the eighth century B.C.E., an Assyrian king by the name of Tiglath-pileser III (Pul) ruled Babylonia. (2 Ki. 15:29; 16:7; 1 Chron. 5:26) Later, during Sargon II’s reign, a Chaldean called Merodach-baladan proclaimed himself king of Babylon with the backing of Elam and some Aramaeans, but after some years he was ousted by Sargon. Sennacherib, in succeeding Sargon II, faced another Babylonian revolt led by Merodach-baladan. After Sennacherib’s unsuccessful attempt to capture Jerusalem in 732 B.C.E., Merodach-baladan sent envoys to Hezekiah of Judah possibly to seek support against Assyria. (Isa. 39:1, 2; 2 Ki 20:12-18) Some years later Sennacherib drove out Merodach-baladan and crowned himself ruler of Babylon, a position he held until death. His son, Esar-haddon, rebuilt Babylon; he, in turn, was succeeded by Ashurbanipal, who governed Babylonia through a viceroy. After the death of Ashurbanipal the Babylonians rallied around Nabopolassar and bestowed the kingship on him. This, then, was the beginning of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that was to continue until Belshazzar.
Evidently in 632 B.C.E. Assyria was subdued by this new Chaldean dynasty, with the assistance of Median and Scythian allies. In 625, Nabopolassar’s son defeated Pharaoh Necho of Egypt at the battle of Carchemish, and later that year he assumed the helm of government as Nebuchadnezzar II. (Jer. 46:1, 2) In 620 he compelled Jehoiakim to pay tribute, but after two years Jehoiakim revolted. In 618, or during Jehoiakim’s third year as tributary ruler, Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem. (2 Ki. 24:1; 2 Chron. 36:6) However, before he could be taken by the Babylonians, Jehoiakim died. Jehoiachin, having succeeded his father, quickly surrendered and was taken captive along with other nobility to Babylon in 617. (2 Ki. 24:12) Zedekiah was next appointed to the throne of Judah, but he too rebelled; and in 609 the Babylonians again laid siege to Jerusalem and finally breached its walls in 607 B.C.E.—2 Ki. 25:1-10; Jer. 52:3-12.
At least one cuneiform tablet has been found referring to a campaign against Egypt in Nebuchadnezzar’s thirty-seventh year (588/587 B.C.E.). This may be the occasion when mighty Egypt was brought under Babylonian control, as foretold by the prophet Ezekiel evidently in the year 591 B.C.E. (Ezek. 29:17-19) Finally, after a forty-three-year reign, which included both conquest of many nations and a grand building program in Babylonia itself, Nebuchadnezzar II died and was succeeded by his son, Evil-merodach (Amel-Marduk), in 581. This new ruler showed kindness to captive King Jehoiachin. (2 Ki. 25:27-30) The following period of Babylonian history is quite obscure. Archaeologists have been able to find only one strictly historical tablet for the reign of Neriglissar, evidently the successor of Evil-merodach. Historians are reliant on Ptolemy’s canon and quotations that Josephus claims to have made from Berossus, a Babylonian priest, for the reigns of these kings and that of Labashi-Marduk, the apparent successor of Neriglissar. On this basis, and that of some contract tablets, they assign two years for the reign of Evil-merodach, four for Neriglissar, and nine months for Labashi-Marduk. Reasons for doubting that these sources present the whole picture are considered under the heading CHRONOLOGY.
More complete historical information is available for Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, who were evidently ruling as coregents at the time of Babylon’s fall. See the articles under their respective names for fuller details.
By now the Medes and Persians under command of Cyrus the Great were on the march to take over control of Babylonia and become the fourth world power. During the night of October 5/6, 539 B.C.E. (Gregorian calendar), Babylon was seized and Belshazzar slain. Within two years Cyrus issued his famous decree permitting nearly 50,000 captives to return to Jerusalem. Some two hundred years later, Persian domination of Babylonia came to an end when Alexander the Great captured Babylon in 331. By the middle of the second century B.C.E. the Parthians under their king Mithradates I, were in control of Babylonia. Since Jewish communities had been flourishing in this land, Peter the apostle to the Jews went to Babylon, and it was from there that he wrote at least one of his inspired letters. (Gal. 2:7-9; 1 Pet. 5:13) Jewish leaders in these Eastern communities also developed the Babylonian Targum, otherwise known as the Targum of Onkelos, as well as producing a number of manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the most important of the Eastern or Babylonian line of texts is catalogued as the Codex Babylonicus Petropolitanus of 916 C.E., now in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. In 226 C.E. the Parthian rule of Babyionia was replaced by the Sassanian (Persian) dynasty, and around 640 C.E., Moslem Arabs took over control of Babylonia.—See BABYLON
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