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The rise and fall of Babylon throughout its ancient times

One of the most powerful cities in the ancient world used to be on the bank of the Euphrates river. Why did it become so well-known, and what do we truly understand about its hanging gardens? Let’s reveal in a few words what Babylon was like…

Fall of Babylon
Digital painting of the ancient Babylonia, an epic landscape illustration. © breakermaximus/Shutterstock

Where’s Babylon?

The Etemenanki (Sumerian for: “temple of the foundation of heaven and earth”) was a massive ziggurat dedicated to Marduk in ancient Babylon. © World History Encyclopedia

Babylon was the capital of Babylonia, in the southern part of Mesopotamia. It is one of the most well-known cities of any ancient civilization. Approximately 60 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, is where that is now.

How and when did Babylon become the center of such a massive empire?

Detail of a lion found along the processional way from Ishtar Gate into the city of Babylon. The Ishtar Gate was constructed around 575 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, made of fired bricks and decorated with animals made in glazed bricks. © World History Encyclopedia

Little is known about Babylon’s early history, but old records show that it may have been some administrative center around 4,000 years ago. Then, in 1894 BC, a chief from an area near what is now Syria named Samuabum took over the city and turned it into a small kingdom. When Hammurabi became the city’s sixth king in 1792 BC, things changed a lot for the city.

Who was Hammurabi? What did he do?

Hammurabi. © Wikimedia Commons

During his time in power, from 1792 to 50 BC, Hammurabi grew the city-state along the Euphrates River and took over many old cities, like Ur, Uruk, Isin, and Larsa. Hammurabi, the god-like leader of a powerful empire, gave his people new rules: the Code of Hammurabi, written around 1754 BC, has 282 laws.

The code is carved on a four-ton basalt that is now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. If someone broke these laws, they could be punished by having their tongue, hands, breasts, eye, or ear cut off. But the Code of Hammurabi is also one of the earliest forms of the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

In Babylonian society, there were three types of people: those who owned property, those who were free, and enslaved people. For instance, if a doctor killed a wealthy patient, he would’ve had his hands cut off as punishment, but if the person he killed were enslaved, he would only have to pay the money back.

What happened following Hammurabi’s reign?

A Babylonian obelisk found in 1911 bearing an inscription depicting a Babylonian King and the ziggurat of Etemenanki. © Wikimedia Commons

After he died, the empire fell apart, making Babylonia easy to take over by the Hittite Mursili I in 1595 BC. After him, a series of Kassite Kings who came from the Zagros Mountains northeast of Babylonia and ruled peacefully for about 500 years took over. During this moment, the Babylonian language spread throughout the Middle East, and the empire’s power became more stable.

When did Babylonia’s economy start to grow?

The city of Babylon. © Wikimedia Commons

From 1200 BC to 600 BC, Assyria and Elam fought many wars that caused much trouble for the Babylonian Empire. But in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II became king. Through several military victories, Nebuchadnezzar built an even bigger empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the borders of Egypt. Inside the city of Babylon, he started a big building and rebuilding project. He built huge shrines, three big palaces, and the Ishtar Gate, the main entrance to the city’s inner wall.

What happened to the Tower of Babel?

The Tower of Babel is a famous story in the Book of Genesis, but not much else is known about it. The tower itself was said to be the tallest man-made structure at that time, built by the people of Babylon after they were released from their captivity. © Wikimedia Commons

The Tower of Babel is mentioned in the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis. It is often thought of as a mythical building. Still, it has also been linked to real Babylonian buildings, such as the Etemenanki, a pyramid-like ziggurat built around 610 BC and dedicated to the god Marduk. The building was more than 90 meters tall but torn down after Alexander the Great took Babylon.

What were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

This hand-coloured engraving by the 16th-century Dutch artist Martin Heemskerck depicts the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. © Wikimedia Commons

The Hanging Gardens were one of the Ancient World’s Seven Wonders. World. It is said that Nebuchadnezzar built them for his homesick wife, Amyitis, who missed the lush greenery of her home country. The exact location of the gardens has never been found, and they are thought to have been a series of tiered gardens with trees, bushes, and vines. The search for them is still ongoing, but many people don’t believe the gardens exist.

In the end, what happened to the ancient city?

The fall of the Babylon. Sorcerer in hood standing in front of an ancient destructed Babylon tower with flood, fire hurricane illustration. © Image Credit: Brekermaximus/DreamsTime

In 539 BC, the Persians took over the city, but it continued to grow as a center for art and education. Even after Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire in 331 BC, he told Babylon to stay the same. After Alexander’s death, however, the empire was fought over so much that the people of Babylon had to leave, and the city slowly fell apart. Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq at the time, rebuilt Babylon a lot in the 1980s, so not much of the old city is still there.