Babylonia was a city state in Mesopotamia in the 2nd millennium BC, over 3000 years ago. Its capital city was Babylon, which meant The Gate of the Gods. They built an empire out of the lands of the former Akkadian empire.
Mesopotamia is the region of the two rivers, Euphrates and Tigris. At that time the region also included the city states of Assyria to the north, and Elam to the south-east. It is part of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. It was there people first lived together in a civilization, with farming, cities and writing.
The Babylonians had a written language that they used for trade and communication. They got it from the Sumerians, who invented it. The Babylonians used the same cuneiform system of pressing triangular shapes into soft clay. They wrote in two different languages: the Sumerian for religious purposes and Akkadian for official purposes.
Hammurabi was a king of Babylon who fought wars and made Babylonia into an empire by putting Assyria under a vassal (puppet) king. He created the earliest written set of laws, called the Code of Hammurabi. It has 280 judgments and can be seen today in the Louvre, a museum in Paris. Whereas the earlier Sumerian punishments had not been harsh, Babylonian law was quite severe. The death penalty was given for theft, murder, and other crimes.
The houses in Babylon had open roofs, so that on hot nights, the family could sleep there. The living rooms, dining rooms, and the kitchens were, of course, downstairs. Lamps burned with olive oil, and every house had a chapel for burial and worship ceremonies. Since Mesopotamia had only clay for use in building, the strong wooden supports for the houses were imported from Lebanon. Eventually, people began baking their bricks and improved the strength of their buildings.
Sack of Babylon
Later, Babylon was sacked by the Hittite king Musilis I, which led to the so-called 'Dark Ages' of the Bronze Age, where there is little evidence in writing. The date of the sacking of Babylon is debated by archaeologists, who have proposed no fewer than four chronologies. Possible dates for the sack of Babylon are:
- ultra-short chronology: 1499 BC
- short chronology: 1531 BC
- middle chronology: 1595 BC
- long chronology: 1651 BC
The difficulty is to line up the Mesopotamian dates with the Ancient Egyptian dates.
After the Hittite destruction, Babylon was ruled by Kassites for 576 years. Next it was ruled by Elam, and then regained its independence for about three centuries. They were then conquered by the Neo-Assyrians. A century later they again became free, to form the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Empire. This constant conquest and re-conquest is partly due to geography. There are no natural boundaries except the rivers, and it is easy to get at the cities from north or south.
Cyrus the Great
In 539 BC Cyrus invaded Babylonia. A battle was fought at Opis in the month of June, where the Babylonians were defeated; and immediately afterwards Sippara surrendered to the invader. Two days after the capture of Sippara, "the soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without fighting". Cyrus did not arrive until the 3rd of Marchesvan (October), Gobryas having acted for him in his absence. Gobryas was now made governor of the province of Babylon.
Cyrus now claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancient Babylonian kings and the avenger of their god Bel-Marduk. The invasion of Babylonia by Cyrus was doubtless helped by the presence of foreign forced exiles like the Jews, who had been planted in the midst of the country.
One of the first acts of Cyrus was to allow these exiles to return to their own homes, carrying with them the images of their god and their sacred vessels. The permission to do so was embodied in a proclamation, whereby the conqueror endeavored to justify his claim to the Babylonian throne. The feeling was still strong that none had a right to rule over western Asia until he had been consecrated to the office by Bel and his priests; and accordingly, Cyrus henceforth assumed the imperial title of "King of Babylon."
Like the Sumerians, the Babylonians ate vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish. They also ate bread and enjoyed toasting and eating the pesky but crunchy locusts which destroyed their precious crops.
Art and science
The Babylonians loved art. Beautiful vessels ornamented with sparkling gold were buried with the kings. In those days books dealt with floods which were thought to be caused by sin, or about the journey of Abraham. Science, too, improved well: they invented the first calendar, the 60-minute hour, and the advance multiplication table.
Life was rich, full, and usually peaceful. People rarely thought about war or how to protect the city. As a result, Babylon was conquered in 730 BC by the Assyrians and Kassites. This great civilization then ended.
Old Babylonian Cylinder Seal, hematite, The king makes an animal offering to Shamash. This seal was probably made in a workshop at Sippar.
Babylonia for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.