(Greek Βαβυλών, from Akkadian: Babili, Babilla
) was a city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers (55 mi) south of Baghdad. All that remains of the original ancient famed city of Babylon today is a mound, or tell, of broken mud-brick buildings and debris in the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city itself was built upon the Euphrates, and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods.Available historical resources suggest that Babylon was at first a small town, that had sprung up by the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. The town flourished and attained prominence and political repute with the rise of the First Babylonian Dynasty. Claiming to be the successor of the ancient Eridu, Babylon eclipsed Nippur as the "holy city" of Mesopotamia around the time Hammurabi first unified the Babylonian Empire, and again became the seat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 612 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.The Greek form Βαβυλών is an adaptation of Babylonian Babili
. The Babylonian name as it stood in the 1st millennium BC had been changed from an earlier Babilli
in early 2nd millennium BC, interpreted as "gateway of the god" (bāb-ili
) by popular etymology.
The earlier name Babilla
appears to be an adaptation of a non-Semitic source of unknown origin or meaning.
In the Hebrew Bible, the name appears as בָּבֶל (Babel
; Tiberian בָּבֶל Bavel
; Syriac ܒܒܠ Bāwēl
), interpreted in the Book of Genesis (11:9) to mean "confusion" (viz. of languages), from the verb בלבל bilbél
, "to confuse".The earliest source to mention Babylon may be a dated tablet of the reign of Sargon of Akkad (ca. 24th century BC short chronology). The so-called "Weidner Chronicle" states that it was Sargon himself who built Babylon "in front of Akkad" (ABC 19:51). Another chronicle likewise states that Sargon "dug up the dirt of the pit of Babylon, and made a counterpart of Babylon next to Agade". (ABC 20:18-19). More recently, some researchers have stated that those sources may refer to Sargon II of the Neo-Assyrian Empire rather than Sargon of Akkad.
Some scholars, including linguist I.J. Gelb, have suggested that the name Babil
is an echo of an earlier city name. Herzfeld wrote about Bawer
in Iran, which was allegedly founded by Jamshid; the name Babil
could be an echo of Bawer. David Rohl holds that the original Babylon is to be identified with Eridu. The Bible in Genesis 10 indicates that Nimrod was the original founder of Babel (Babylon). Joan Oates claims in her book Babylon
that the rendering "Gateway of the gods" is no longer accepted by modern scholars.By around the 20th century BC, much of Mesopotamia was occupied by Amorites, nomadic tribes from the west who were Semitic speakers like the Akkadians, but at first did not practice agriculture like them, preferring to herd sheep. Over time, Amorite grain merchants rose to prominence and established their own independent dynasties in several Mesopotamian city-states, most notably Isin, Larsa and Babylon.
Map showing the Babylonian territory upon Hammurabi's ascension in 1792 BC and upon his death in 1750 BCOld Babylonian period
The Amorite First Babylonian Dynasty was established by Sumu-abum, who declared independence from the neighboring city-state of Kazallu, but Babylon controlled little surrounding territory until it became the capital of Hammurabi's empire a century later (r. 1728–1686 BC short chronology). Hammurabi is famous for codifying the laws of Babylonia into the Code of Hammurabi
that has had a lasting influence on legal thought. Subsequently, the city of Babylon continued to be the capital of the region known as Babylonia.Following the sack of Babylon by the Hittites, and during the almost 400 years of domination by the Kassites, the city was renamed Karanduniash
However, it eventually became subject to the rule of Assyria.It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from ca. 1770 to 1670 BC, and again between ca. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000.Assyrian period
During the reign of Sennacherib of Assyria, Babylonia was in a constant state of revolt, led by Mushezib-Marduk, and suppressed only by the complete destruction of the city of Babylon. In 689 BC, its walls, temples and palaces were razed, and the rubble was thrown into the Arakhtu, the sea bordering the earlier Babylon on the south. This act shocked the religious conscience of Mesopotamia; the subsequent murder of Sennacherib by two of his sons was held to be in expiation of it, and his successor Esarhaddon hastened to rebuild the old city, to receive there his crown, and make it his residence during part of the year. On his death, Babylonia was left to be governed by his elder son Shamash-shum-ukin, who eventually headed a revolt in 652 BC against his brother in Nineveh, Assurbanipal.Once again, Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians and starved into surrender. Assurbanipal purified the city and celebrated a "service of reconciliation", but did not venture to "take the hands" of Bel. In the subsequent overthrow of the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonians saw another example of divine vengeance