History of Babylon

Map of Babylon and surrounding cities. via Wikipedia

Around 2300 BCE, a small town sprang up in the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in an area the Greeks called Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.  Originally, this new town called Babylon was part of the Akkadian Empire - and not a very important part, either.  However, it would soon rise to prominence, becoming perhaps the largest city in the world by about 1770 BCE.

The Weidner Chronicle records that Sargon, the ruler of the Akkadian Empire, (also known as Sargon the Great) ordered the construction of Babylon.

  However, the Book of Genesis in the Christian Bible states that Babylon was founded by Nimrod, king of Shinar.  It is linked with Babel, site of the Tower of Babel in the biblical story.  In any case, archaeological evidence shows that the town was protected from flooding by steep earthen embankments all along the Euphrates River's banks, and that at its height it probably supported a population of some 200,000 people.

In 1894 BCE, Babylon declared its independence under the leadership of a Canaanite leader called Sumu-abum.  However, it was still a minor city-state, no match for neighboring towns such as Elam, Larsa, or Assyria.  Just about a hundred years later, though, Babylon underwent its first period of glory under the famous King Hammurabi (r. 1792 - 1750 BCE), compiler of the Code of Hammurabi.  In addition to codifying the laws of the land, Hammurabi conquered the rest of southern Mesopotamia, uniting Ur, Larsa, Uruk, Nippur, Kish, Akkad, and many other city-states into the Babylonian Empire.

  By the end of his life, Babylonian control extended all the way northwest into Anatolia, today part of Turkey.

Hammurabi's empire did not long survive him, however.  Soon, Babylon once more returned to its status as a relatively minor city-state; all of the surrounding territories and city-states broke free from its control.

  In 1595, Hittites from Anatolia overran the city.  Twenty-five years later, the Kassites from Iran's Zagros Mountain region took Babylon, and ruled it for centuries until 1160 BCE.  The Assyrians, Elamites, Arameans, Suteans, and Chaldeans all ruled Babylon in turn during the next two centuries.

Between 911 and 609 BCE, Babylon was under the domination of the Assyrian Empire.  When a coalition of regional powers overthrew the Assyrians, Babylon became independent once more, and rose as the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626 - 539 BCE).  More than 1,000 years after Hammurabi's death, Babylon rose to glory again, conquering the Levant and Mesopotamia. 

One of the best-known rulers from the Neo-Babylonian period was Nebuchadnezzar II, who created the Ishtar Gate, and also the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  However, the new Babylonian Empire did not last for long.  By 539 BCE, it fell to the Persian conqueror, Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire.  Cyrus's troops diverted the Euphrates River from its course, an massive undertaking, leaving Babylon open to their surprise attack.  Under the Achaeminids, Babylon flourished as a center for scientific and mathematical learning.

When Alexander the Great of Macedon defeated Darius III, last king of the Achaemenids, at the Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela), Babylon fell under Greek control.  The city descended into chaos in the aftermath of Alexander's early death, though, and the population fled.  Today, Babylon is still visible as a large tell or mound covering an area of 2 kilometers by 1 kilometer, about 50 miles (85 kilometers) south of Baghdad.