1902 Encyclopedia > Babylon


BABYLON (the modern Hillah) is the Greek form of Babel or Bab-ili, "the gate of god" ) (or, as it is sometimes written, "of the gods"), which, again, is the Semitic rendering of Ca-dimirra, the ancient name of the city in the Turanian language of the primitive Accadian population of the country. It is doubtful whether the god meant was Merodach or Anu, Merodach being the patron divinity of Babylon in the Semitic period, and Su-Anna, "the valley of Anu" (Anammelech), being one of its oldest names. Another synonym of the place was E-ci, "the hollow," in reference to its situation, and it was also known, down to the latest times, as Din-Tir, "the house of the jungle," though this seems properly to have been the designation of the town on the left bank of the Euphrates. Under the Cassite dynasty of Khammuragas, it received the title of Gan-Duniyas or Gun-Duni, "the Fortress of Duniyas," which was afterwards made to include the neighboring territory, so that the whole of Babylonia came to be called by this name. Sir H. Rawlinson has suggested that it was he origin of the Biblical Gan eden, or "Garden of Eden" to which a popular etymology has given a Hebrew form. However this may be. Babylon figures in the antediluvian history of Berosus, the first of his mythical monarchs, Alorus, being a native of it. The national epic of the Babylonians, which grouped various old myths round the adventures of a solar hero, knows of four cities only-Babylon, Erech, Nipur (Niffer) or Calneh, and Surippac or larankha; and according to Genesis x., Babylon was a member of the tetrapolis of Shinar or Sumir, where the Semite invaders of the Accadians first obtained permanent settlement and power. It seems however, to have ranked below its three sister-cities. Among which Ereck took the lead until conquered by the Accadian sovereigns of Ur. It was not until the conquest of Khammuragas that Babylon became a capital, a position, however, which it never afterwards lost, except during the Assyrian supremacy. But it suffered severely at the hands of its northern neighbors. Tiglath-Adar drove the cassi fromit, and established an Assyrian dynasty in their place; and after being captured by Tiglath-Pileser I. (1130 B.C.) and Shalmaneser (851 B.C.) it became a dependency of the Assyrian empire in the reign of the son of the latter. The decline of the first Assyrian empire restored Babylon to independence; but it had soon afterwards to submit to the Caldai, and from the reign of Tiglath-Pileser II. to the death of Assur-banipal, it was a mere provincial town of Assyria, breaking now and then into fierce revolt under the leadership of the Caldai, and repeatedly taken and plundered by Sargon, Sennacherib, and Assur-bani-pal. Sennacherib, indeed, razed the city to its foundation. After the defeat of Suzub (690 B.C.), he tells us that he "pulled down, dug up, and burned with fire the town and the palaces, root and branch, destroyed the fortress and the double wall, the temples of the gods and the towers of brick, and threw the rubbish into the Araxes," the river of Babylon. After this destruction it is not likely that much will ever be discovered on the site of Babylon older than the buildings of Essar-haddon and Nebuchadnezzar. It was under the latter monarch and his successors that Babylon became the huge metropolis whose ruins still astonish the traveler, and which was described by Greek writers. Of the older city we can know but little. The Babylon of nebuchadnezzar and his father, Nabopolassar, must have suffered when taken by Cyrus; but two sieges in the reign of darius Hystaspis, and one in the reign of Xerxes, brought about the destruction of the defences, while the monotheistic rule of Persia allowed the temples to fall into decay, Alexander found the great temple of Bel a shapeless ruin, and the rise of Seleucia in its neighborhood drew away its population and completed its material decay. The buildings became a quarry, first for Seleucia and then for Ctesiphon, Al Modain, Baghdad, Kufa, Kerbelah, Hillah, and other towns, and our only cause for wonder is that the remains of the great capital of babylonia are still so extensive.

The principal of these lie on the left bank of the Euphrates, and consist of three vast mounds – the Babi; or Mujellibe, the Kasr, and the Amram, which run from north to south; two parallel lines of rampart east and west of then; and an isolated mass, together with a series of elevations separated by the river westward of the Kasr, the whole being surrounded by a triangular rampart. Our two chief authorities for the ancient topography of the city are Herodotus and Ctesias; and though both were eye-witnesses, their statements differ considerably. The city was built, we are told, on both sides of the river, in the form of a square, and enclosed within a double row of high walls. Ctesias add s third wall, but the inscriptions refer only to two, the inner enceinte, called Imgur-Bel, and its salkhu or outwork, called Nimitti-Bel. Ctesias makes the outermost wall 360 stades (42 miles) in circumference, while according to Herodotus it measures 480 stades (56 miles), which would include an area of about 200 square miles! Pliny (N.H., vi. 260 follows Herodotus in his figures, but Strado (xvi. 1, 5) with his 385 stades, Qu. Curtius (v, 1, 26) with his 368 stades, and Clitarchus 9ap. Diod. Sic.,, ii. 7) with 365 stades, agree sufficiently closely with Ctesias. Even the estimate of Ctesias, however, would make Babylon cover a space of about 100 square miles, nearly five times the size of London. Such an area could not have been occupied by houses, especially as these were three or four stories high (Hdt., i. 180). Indeed q. Curtius asserts (v. 1, 270 that even in the most flourishing times, nine-tenths of it consisted of gardens, parks, fields, and orchards. According to Herodotus, the height of the walls was about 335 feet, and their width 85 feet; while Ctesias makes the height about 300 feet. Later writers give smaller dimensions, but it is clear that they have merely tried to soften down the estimates of Herodotus (and Ctesias); and we seem bound, therefore, to accept the statement of the two oldest eye-witnesses, astonishing as it is. But we may remember that the ruined wall of Nineveh was 150 feet high, even in Xenophon’s time (Anab., iii. 4, 10, and cf. ii. 4, 12), while the spaces between the 250 towers irregularly disposed along the wall of Babylon (Ctes, ap. Diod., ii. 7) were broad enough to allow a four-horse chariot to turn (Hdt., I 179). The clay dug from the moat had served for the bricks of the wall, which was periced with 100 gates, all of brass, with brazen lintels and posts. The two inner enclosures were faced with coloured brick, and represented hunting-scenes. Two other walls ran along the banks of the Euphrates and the quays with which it was lined, each containing 25 gates, which answered to the number of the streets they led into. Ferry-boats plied between the landing-places of the gates; and a movable drawbridge (30 feet broad), supported on stone piers, joined the two parts of the city together. At each end of the bridge was a palace; the great palace of Nebuchadnezzar on the eastern side (the modern Kasr), which Herodotus incorrectly transfers to the western bank, being the most magnificent of the two. It was surrounded, according the Diodorus (ii. 8, 4), by three walls, the outermost being 60 stades (7 miles) in circuit. The inner walls were decorated with hunting-scenes painted on brick, fragments of which have been discovered by modern explorers. Two of its gates were of brass, and had to be opened and shut by a machine; and Mr Smith has found traces of two libraries among its ruins. The palace, called "the Admiration of Mankind’ by Nebuchadnezzar, and commenced by Nabopolassar, overlooked the Ai-ipur-sabu, the great reservoir of Babylon, and stretched from this to the Euphrates on the one side, and from the Imgur-Bel, or inner wall, to the Libil, or eastern canal, on the other. Within its precincts rose the hanging Gardens, consisting of a garden of trees and flowers on the topmost of a series of arches at least 75 feet high, and built in the form of a square, each side measuring 400 Greek feet. Water was raised from the Euphrates by means, it is said, of a screw (Strab, xvi. 1, 5; Diod., ii. 10, 6). Some of the materials for the construction of this building may have been obtained from the old ruined palace of the early kings, now represented by the adjoining Amram mound. The lesser palace in the western division of the city belonged to Neriglissar, and contained a number of bronze statues.

The most remarkable edifice in Babylon was the temple of Bel, now marked by the Babil, on the north-east, as Professor Rawlinson has shown. It was a pyramid of eight square stages, the basement stage being over 200 yards each way. A winding ascent led to summit and the shrine, in which stood a golden image of Bel 40 feet high, two other statues of gold, a golden table 40 feet long and 15 feet broad, and many other colossal objects of the same precious material. At the base of the tower was a second shrine, with a table and two images of solid gold. Two altars were placed outside the chapel, the smaller one being of the same metal. A similar temple, represented by the modern Birs Nimrud, stood at Borsippa, the suburb of Babylon. It consisted of seven stages, each ornamented with one of the seven planetary colors, the azure tint of the sixth, the sphere of Mercury, being produced by the verification of the bricks after the stage had been completed. The lowest stage was a square, 272 feet each way, its four corners exactly corresponding to the four cardinal points, as in all other Chaldean temples, and each of the square stages raised upon it being placed nearer the south-western than the north-eastern edge of the underlying one. It has been partly built by an ancient monarch but, after lying unfinished for many years, like the Biblical tower of Babel, was finally completed by Nebuchadnezzar.

The amount of labor bestowed upon these brick edifices must have been enormous, and gives some idea of the human force at the disposal of the monarch. If any further illustration of this fact were needed, it would be found in the statement made by Nebuchadnezzar in one of his inscriptiuons (and quoted also from Berosus), that he had finished the Imgur-Bel in fifteen days. The same monarch also continued the embankment of the Euphrates for a considerable distance beyond the limits of Babylon, and cut some canals to carry off the overflow of that river into the Tigris. The great reservoir, 40 miles square, on the west of Borsippa, which had been excavated to receive the waters of the Euphrates while the bed of its channel was being lined with brick, was also used for a similar purpose. The reservoir seems to have been entered by the Arakhtu or Araxes, "the river of Babylon," which flowed through a deep wady into the heart of Northern Arabia, as Wetzstein has pointed out. Various nomad tribes, such as the Nabathaeans or the Pekod, pitched their tents on its banks; but, although it is not unfrequently mentioned in early Babylonian history, we hear no more of it after the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It is possible, therefore, that it was drained by the western reservoir. (A. H. S)

The above article was written by Rev. Archibald Henry Sayce, M.A., LL.D., D.D., Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford; Professor of Assyriology, Oxford; one of the Old Testament Revisors, 1874-84; Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology, Oxford, 1876-90; Hibbert Lectures, 1887; Gifford Lectures, 1900-01; author of Assyrian Grammar for Comparative Purposes; Translations in Records of the Past, 1st series; Lectures on the Assyrian Language and Syllabary; The Lost Monuments of the Hittites; The Egypt of the Hebrews and Herodotus; etc.

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