History : Jan-Feb 2017
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 37 TRANSFERS OF POWER 19th-16th centuries b.c. The Amorites, including King Hammurabi, reign. The Hittites later conquer the city. Babylon has resonated in Judeo-Christian culture for centuries. The books of the Old Tes- tament recount the exile of the Jews to Babylon following the sack of Jerusalem, by whose waters they “sat down and wept.” By the time of the New Testament, the city had become a potent symbol: the corrupt earthly twin city to the pure, heavenly New Jerusalem. Outside the biblical tradition, Babylon in- trigued Greek and Roman writers, who added to the rich store of legends that have come down to the present day. The Greek historian Herod- otus wrote about Babylon in the fifth century b.c. A number of inconsistencies in his account have led many scholars to believe that he never traveled there and that his text may be closer to hearsay than historical fact. Popular tales of Babylon’s fantastic structures, like the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, may also be products of legends and confusion. Yet to historians and archaeologists, Babylon is a real bricks-and-mortar place at the center of the vi- brant Mesopotamian culture that it dominated for so many centuries. City of Cities The site of Babylon was first identified in the 1800s in what is now Iraq. Later excavations, undertaken by the German archaeologist Robert Koldewey in the late 19th and early 20th cen- turies, established that the city had been built and rebuilt several times, most notably on a lav- ish scale by its king, Nebuchadrezzar II (reigned 605-561 b.c.). Koldewey’s finds revealed an an- cient locus of culture and political power. These excavations unearthed what was to become one of the most magnificent Babylonian landmarks built by Nebuchadrezzar II: the dazzling blue Ishtar Gate, now reconstructed and on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Babylon first rose to prominence in the late Bronze Age, around the beginning of the second millennium b.c. , when it was occupied by peo- ple known as the Amorites. A series of strong Amorite kings—including King Hammurabi, famous for compiling the world’s first legal code— enabled Babylon to eclipse the Sumerian capital, Ur, as the region’s most powerful city. Although Babylon declined after Hammurabi’s death, its M esopotamia—“ the land between two rivers”— gave birth to many of the world’s first great cities. The splendid city of Babylon, located between the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris some 60 miles south of Baghdad, was one of them. Unlike the many towns that fell and disappeared, Babylon was resilient, rising from its own ashes time and again, even as new conquerors invaded and took over. The pleasure its occupiers enjoyed came at a price, however, since the highly desired Babylon would always be seen as a prize for the taking. 16th-11th centuries b.c. The Kassites conquer Babylon. Later, Chaldeans and Aramaeans struggle to control the city. 11th-7th centuries b.c. A period of Assyrian rule is ended by the Chaldeans, who will flourish under Nebuchadrezzar II. 7th-6th centuries b.c. Babylon’s golden age under Chaldean rule is ended by the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 b.c. To the 7th century a.d. Macedonians, Seleucids, and Sasanians control Babylon until the arrival of Islam.
March April 2017