Hammurabi (c1792-1750 BC)


The earliest mention of the city of Babylon is in a tablet from Sargon of Akkad, who reigned in c2270-2215 BC.[1] Sargon made Babylon the capital of his Akkadian empire. Babylon first appeared as a significant force in Mesopotamia after the Empire of Ur fell apart in c2000 BC.[2] The first kingdom of Old Babylonia was a centralised state, created by Semitic people known as Amorites, who settled in southern Mesopotamia. This is one of the most fertile and richest areas of the ancient world. The Amorites gained control when their king, Hammurabi (c1792-1750 BC), defeated a tribe called the Elamites in southern Mesopotamia (south of Baghdad), and made Babylon their capital. Babylonian power emerged when Hammurabi also added the territories of the former kingdoms of Sumer and Akkad. The Akkadian and Sumerian cultures played a continuing role as the Babylonians adopted and built on them, and the region remained an important cultural center even under outside rule.

Hammurabi was a very efficient ruler, establishing a bureaucracy, with taxation and a centralized government. Babylonian officials or soldiers sometimes travelled as far as Syria and Canaan, and visited the Amorite merchants operating throughout Mesopotamia. Hammurabi gave the region stability after turbulent times and transformed Babylon into the central power of Mesopotamia. Guided by Hammurabi, the Babylonians recorded their laws and customs. These laws are now known as the Code of Hammurabi, and they were draconic with many capital crimes. The Code of Hammurabi was one of the first major collections of laws in history. Hammurabi's law code was ordered into use after the expulsion of the Elamites and the settlement of Babylonia. Hammurabi also improved irrigation necessary in the very hot climate, and organized a well-trained army. He had temples repaired and promoted the chief Babylonian god, Marduk, replacing the older Sumerian supreme god Enlil. The Babylonian ziggurat, which was called Etemenanki, was 92m high and was regarded as the foundation of heaven on earth. Babylonian beliefs viewed the king as a priest of Marduk, and the city of Babylon as a "holy city" where legitimate rulers of Mesopotamia had to be crowned.

Hammurabi created his new kingdom by fighting and defeating his neighbours, using some as allies before he turned on them as well. He soon defeated Elam, then Larsa, Ashur (soon to become Assyria), Mari, Aleppo, Elam, and Ešnunna. The Babylonians must have preened in demonstrated macho prowess; however, there was a hidden flaw in Hammurabi's strategy. Mari and Ešnunna had been buffer states against the Hittite Empire and the Kassite tribes in the Zagros Mountains. Mesopotamia had no natural, defensible boundaries and was vulnerable to attack. Hammurabi had been a successful military leader and had conquered all those areas, plus some of the fierce mountain tribes. However, it was impossible for his less-talented successors to fight all these new enemies successfully, and enemy raids quickly invaded Babylonia. Trade and culture thrived for around 150 years, until the reign of Samsu-Ditana, son of Ammisaduqa. Finally, in c1595, the Hittite king Mursili I came down the Euphrates from Anatolia and sacked Babylon. The Hittites even took the statue of Marduk from its temple in Babylonia. Hittite and Assyrian invasions ended the old Babylonian empire by c1590 BC, and Babylonia was turned over to the Kassites.

Kassite Babylon

The first king of the Kassite dynasty, Agum-Kakrîme, later defeated the Hittites and recovered the statue of Marduk. Evidently the Kassite tribes who took over the city were babylonized. The Kassites renamed Babylon "Kar-Duniash", and their rule lasted for 576 years. The Kassite rule parallels that of the Hyksos in ancient Egypt. Babylonia having lost its control over western Asia, the high-priests of Ashur made themselves kings of Assyria. Most divine attributes ascribed to the Semitic kings of Babylonia disappeared at this time and the former Babylonian title of God was never given to a Kassite sovereign.

Babylon continued to be the capital of the Kassite kingdom and the 'holy' city of western Asia, where the priests were all-powerful. Babylon was the only place where the right to inheritance of the old Babylonian empire could be conferred. Despite the loss of territory, and decline in literacy and culture, the Kassite dynasty was the longest-lived dynasty of Babylon. The Kassite power lasted until c1155 BC, when Babylon was conquered by Shutruk-Nahhunte of Elam, and then re-conquered a few years later by Nebuchadrezzar I.[3] However, a decline had started that was to last for almost a millennium.

Babylon Dominated

Babylon's dominance by the Kassites was followed by the Mitanni, who then dominated northern part Mesopotamia. After the Mitanni, the Middle-Assyrian Empire became powerful, and in the thirteenth century, Babylonian rulers had to defer to Assyrian kings Šalmaneser I and Tukulti-Ninurta I. Tukulti-Ninurta defeated Kashtiliash IV, the Kassite king of Babylon, who was deported to Assyria; and captured the Babylon to underscore Assyrian supremacy over Mesopotamia. Tukulti-Ninurta took away the statue of Marduk, but the Assyrian occupation of Babylonia and looting of Marduk did not last. Next in power was Elam. its armies looted Babylon in c1150. The Elamites also captured Marduk's statue, as well as the stele with Hammurabi's laws. The stele was excavated in the Elamite capital Susa. Aramaeans moved into Babylonia, and the central government was lost, while cities regained independent.

In 729 BC, Babylon was integrated into Assyria and put under the king's direct control by Tiglath-pileser III. However, in 721 BC, under the Babylonian Marduk-apal-iddina II, the Babylonians rebelled and again in 703 BC, against the Assyrians. None-the-less, Babylon remained under direct Assyrian rule for another century, until the 627 BC revolt by Nabopolassar. Under Assyrian domination, Babylonia had enjoyed a prominent status, and revolted at hint that it did not. That finally changed in 627 BC with the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Assurbanipal,

Chaldean Babylon

Babylonian Empire: 609-539 BC


In 626 BC, with Babylonia's rebellion under Nabopolassar the Chaldean, and with help from the Medes the Assyrians were routed. In 616, Nabopolassar defeated an Assyrian army on the banks of the Euphrates, south of Harran, but was forced to retreat by an Egyptian army. The Medes joined the attack against Assyria and captured Assur in 615 BC, and Nineveh was sacked in 612 BC. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar defeated Assyria in 609 BC and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia.[4] Nabopolassar was followed by his son the ruthless king Nebuchadnezzar II, whose reign of 43 years made Babylon the centre of the civilized world.

Nebuchadnezzar expanded the new Babylonian empire. He conquered and added Phoenicia in 585 BC, destroyed Jerusalem, imprisoned the Jews, and revived the power of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar's new Babylonian Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the canals, temples, walls, and palaces of Babylon. Near his chief palace he built his famous Hanging Gardens. The gardens were made by planting trees and flowering plants on the steps of a huge ziggurat. Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens built to please his Median queen, Amytis, who was homesick for her home in the Zagros Mountains.

The last strong Babylonian king was Nabonidus, who added most of Arabia to the Babylonian Empire. At the end of Nabonidus' reign Babylonia was conquered by the Persian Cyrus I. In 549 BC, while Nabonidus was still king of Babylon, Cyrus, revolted against the Medes, at Ecbatana. Cyrus established himself at Ecbatana and ended the Median empire.[5] By 546 BC, Cyrus had become king of all Persia, and was fighting in northern Mesopotamia. Because of the events in Persia, Nabonidus had established a camp in the desert, near the southern frontier of Babylonia, but left his son Belshazzar in command of the Babylonian army.

In 539 BC Cyrus invaded Babylonia. A battle was fought at Opis in June 539 BC, and the Babylonians were defeated. King Nabonidus fled and was pursued to Babylon. "The soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without fighting." Nabonidus was dragged from his hiding-place and Cyrus then claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancient Babylonian kings and the avenger of the god, Bel-Marduk. Marduk (and the priesthood) was assumed to have been angered by Nabonidus who had centralised religion at Babylon. Cyrus' successful invasion of Babylonia was probably helped by the large number of captured foreigners and exiles like the Jews. Cyrus soon allowed these exiles to return to their own homes. At the demoted level of viceroy, Cyrus appointed his son Cambyses II to finally rule Babylon.


1          Adapted from Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective, pp. 82-84; Architectural Marvels of Ancient Mesopotamia at,;; Ur at,; Jona Lendering, Babylonia: country, language, religion, culture at,; Iraq4ever; Ellie Crystal, Babylon at,; The Old Babylonian period at,; Babylonia at,; Jona Lendering, Babylonian Empire at,;

2          Ur is considered by most scholars to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abram (Abraham).

3          Confusingly, Nebuchadrezzar is more commonly known as Nebuchadnezzar in English.

4          Map from Israel Science and Technology Homepage, the University of Oregon Historical Atlas Resource at,

5          This is derived from a chronological tablet containing the annals of Nabonidus, supplemented by another inscription of Nabonidus where he recounts his restoration of the temple of the Moon-god at Harran; as well as by a proclamation of Cyrus issued shortly after his formal recognition as king of Babylonia.

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