1.1.3.7 Babylonians (1,894 – 539 BCE)

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Worshipper of Larsa
Burney Relief
Code of Hammurabi
King Melishpak I Stele
Marduk-apla-iddina I
Nebuchadnezzar I
King Marduk-nadin-akhe, Black Limestone Boundary Marker
King Nabu-apla-iddina
King Marduk-zakir-shumi
Conical Seal – lapis lazuli
Ishtar Gate (King Nebuchadnezzar II)
Lion and dragon detail from gate
Babylonian Pottery

The water table in Babylonia is high and, as a result, much evidence has been washed away, most of the records from the time becoming one with the soil. Therefore, some of the history of Babylonia is disputed, for example there are two vying King Lists. The patron god of Babylonia was Marduk and a number of its kings inserted Marduk into their title.

His predecessors did build city walls and create irrigation canals and even conquered neighbouring cities from time to time. But it was the ‘sixth’ Babylonian king, Hammurabi 1792-1750 BCE, who by political alliances and military victory managed to expand its territory significantly.

Hammurabi conquered Eshunna and assumed control of significant trade routes. He then set about creating a larger Babylonia in the southern part of Mesopotamia, taking control of Isin, Larsa, Nippur, Ur and Uruk. This girth permitted Babylonia to survive and prosper for over a thousand years.

There were, however, two periods of particular Babylonian ascendancy in the region – 1894–1595 BC (First Babylonian Empire) and 626–539 BC (Second Babylonian Empire). In 539 BCE Babylon was conquered by Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire.

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This bronze statuette is from the paleo-Babylonian era (2004-1595 BCE). Discovered in Larsa (SE of Uruk, Iraq), it is on show at the Louvre and stands 20 x 17 x 5cm.
The face, beard and hands of the man were gilded with gold leaf. The character wears a hat similar to royal attire and puts his hand to his mouth, a gesture of prayer.
The right hand side of the pedestal depicts the same character in the same pose in front of a deity, which the inscription identifies as Amurru, patron god of the Amorrites, his prayer is to safeguard the life of King Hammurabi. The left side features an ox. The front has a small vase used for offerings.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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The Burney Relief aka the ‘Queen of the Night’ (c. 1800-1750 BCE) is a Mesopotamian terra cotta plaque from the Old-Babylonian period. It depicts a winged, nude, goddess-like figure with bird’s talons for feet, She is probably either Ereshkigal or Inanna/Ishtar, and is flanked by owls, while perched upon supine lions. The sculpture is noted for its high relief and large size. Probably a cult relief, it is a rare survival from the period. The exact find location is not recorded.
It was in 1,754 BCE, that Hammurabi published his laws, known as ‘The Code of Hammurabi’. A set of 282 laws were duly inscribed on a 2.25m high diorite stele detailing the legal basis of his administration. These were essentially contract law, defining both sides’ obligations and payment terms. They also detailed the punishments for infringement, which were graduated not to their severity but according to the social status of the miscreant. The stele is on show at the Louvre.
Image source: ancientpages.com
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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This stele shows King Meli-Šipak I from the 3rd Dynasty of Babylon c1186–1172 BCE. It is a kudurru or land boundary marker. The eight-pointed star was Inanna-Ishtar’s most common symbol. Here it is shown alongside the solar disk of her brother Shamash (Sumerian Utu) and the crescent moon of her father Sin (Sumerian Nanna).
This kudurru is for Meli-Šipak’s son Marduk-apla-uddina I, which in Akkadian literally means Marduk has given an heir. He reigned for thirteen years. This was considered a Dark Age with little known from his last seven years of rule, with some confusion in the King Lists. One of his sisters married an Elamite, Shutruk-Nahhunte, Either ending the life of the king or after his death, his brother-in-law invaded Babylonia and sacked several cities, including the capital.
Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Nebuchadnezzar I (1125–1104 BCE), was the fourth king of the Second Dynasty of Isin and of the Fourth Dynasty of Babylon.
He ruled for twenty-two years and was the most prominent monarch of this dynasty, best known for his victory over Elam and the recovery of the cultic idol of Marduk.
This kudurru shows Nebuchadnezzar granting Šitti-Marduk freedom from taxation for his help in the battle with Elam. It also depicts the goddess Nintinugga, her dog, and a scorpion man. It is on show at the British Museum.
A black limestone kudurru of Marduk-nadin-akhe, the sixth king of the Second Dynasty of Isin and the 4th Dynasty of Babylon (1099-1082 BCE), It records the purchase of corn-land by a king’s officer, Marduk-nasir. It too is on show at the British Museum.
Marduk-nadin-akhe was related to previous kings and seized the throne. His predecessor, Enlil-nādin-apli, was away campaigning in Assyria, reputedly seeking to conquer the city of Assur. Marduk-nadin-akhe and other nobles rebelled and seized power, on Enlil’s return they killed him.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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This kudurru shows King Nabu-apla-iddina (888-885 BCE), granting some land. He reigned for thirty-two years, this stele is dated to his 20th year of reign. It was found at Abu-Habbah, today’s Sippar, sixty miles north of Baghdad, on the Euphrates. He presided over the reconstruction of temples and there was a literary revival with many older works being copied.
Marduk-zâkir-šumi was king of Babylon from 855 to 819 BCE during the mixed dynastic period.
The Assyrian king had assisted Marduk when his younger brother tried to usurp his rule. Marduk later repaid the favour when Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria faced similar problems. This relief is from the Throne Dais of Shalmaneser. Marduk is on the left and Shalmaneser to the right. It is on show at the Iraq Museum.
Intriguingly most sources date shaking hands back to Greece and the 5th c BCE, as a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. But here is a 9th c BCE hand-shake.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: metmuseum.org
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This 3 x 2 cm concical seal is made of lapis lazuli. It is dated to the 7th-6th c BCE. It is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York USA.
The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed on the north side of the city in about 575 BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar II and he dedicated it to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.
Nebuchadnezzar II (mentioned in the Bible) rebuilt much of the city constructing an imperial capital with vast palaces and well-appointed temples and colossal city walls, and a great northern entry point.
The Ishtar Gate was approached via a grand walled Processional Way lined with colorful glazed-brick reliefs depicting animals. The walls had glazed bricks, mostly blue, to suggest lapis lazuli.
German archaeologists in the 1930s dismantled it and meticulously reconstructed it in the Pergamon Museum of Berlin.

Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com
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Image sources: Wikimedia commons
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These are details from the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way. The top bas-relief is clearly a lion, the bottom one is a mušḫuššu or dragon. The reliefs also featured aurochs or bulls. These were used to symbolise the Babylonian gods Adad (auroch), Ishtar (lion) and Marduk (dragon).
The Walls of Babylon wre intitally considered, by Antipater of Sidon (100 BCE), as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, but they were later supplanted by the Pharos of Alexandria.
A collection of old Babylonian pottery on display at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago.
Image source: courses.lumenlearning.com

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