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Cylinder Seal, Old Babylonian, formerly in the Charterhouse Collection 03

Old Babylonian cylinder seal, hematite. This seal was probably made in a workshop at Sippar (about 40 miles north of Babylon on the map above) either during, or shortly before, the reign of Hammurabi.[1] It depicts the king making an animal offering to the Sun god Shamash.

Old Babylon concerns the occupation of the Amorites in Babylon since the 19th century BCE. Their occupation stretched throughout southern Mesopotamia. The Amorites were nomadic tribes from the northern Levant who were Northwest Semitic speakers, unlike the native Akkadians of southern Mesopotamia and Assyria, who spoke East Semitic. The Amorites at first did not practice agriculture like more advanced Mesopotamians, preferring a semi-nomadic lifestyle, herding sheep. Over time, Amorite grain merchants rose to prominence and established their own independent dynasties in several south Mesopotamian city-states, most notably Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna, Lagash, and later, founding Babylon as a state.

Old-Babylonian periodEdit

According to a Babylonian date list, Amorite[fn 1] rule in Babylon began (c. the 19th or 18th century BC) with a chieftain named Sumu-abum, who declared independence from the neighboring city-state of Kazallu. Sumu-la-El, whose dates may be concurrent with those of Sumu-abum, is usually given as the progenitor of the First Babylonian Dynasty. Both are credited with building the walls of Babylon. In any case, the records describe Sumu-la-El’s military successes establishing a regional sphere of influence for Babylon.[fn 2]

Babylon

Babylon was initially a minor city-state, and controlled little surrounding territory; its first four Amorite rulers did not assume the title of king. The older and more powerful states of Assyria, Elam, Isin and Larsa overshadowed Babylon until it became the capital of Hammurabi's short lived empire about a century later. Hammurabi (r. 1792–1750 BC) is famous for codifying the laws of Babylonia into the Code of Hammurabi. He conquered all of the cities and city states of southern Mesopotamia, including Isin, Larsa, Ur, Uruk, Nippur, Lagash, Eridu, Kish, Adab, Eshnunna, Akshak, Akkad, Shuruppak, Bad-tibira, Sippar and Girsu, coalescing them into one kingdom, ruled from Babylon. Hammurabi also invaded and conquered Elam to the east, and the kingdoms of Mari and Ebla to the north west. After a protracted struggle with the powerful Assyrian king Ishme-Dagan of the Old Assyrian Empire, he forced his successor to pay tribute late in his reign, spreading Babylonian power to Assyria's Hattian and Hurrian colonies in Asia Minor.

Babylonia

After the reign of Hammurabi, the whole of southern Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia, whereas the north had already coalesced centuries before into Assyria. From this time, Babylon supplanted Nippur and Eridu as the major religious centers of southern Mesopotamia. Hammurabi's empire destabilized after his death. Assyrians defeated and drove out the Babylonians and Amorites. The far south of Mesopotamia broke away, forming the native Sealand Dynasty, and the Elamites appropriated territory in eastern Mesopotamia. The Amorite dynasty remained in power in Babylon, which again became a small city state. Texts from Old Babylon often include references to Shamash, the sun-god of Sippar, treated as a supreme deity, and Marduk, considered as his son. Marduk was later elevated to a higher status and Shamash lowered, perhaps reflecting Babylon’s rising political power.[2][3]

Middle Babylon Edit

In 1595 BCE[fn 3] the city was overthrown by the Hittite Empire from Asia Minor. Thereafter, Kassites from the Zagros Mountains of north western Ancient Iran captured Babylon, ushering in a dynasty that lasted for 435 years, until 1160 BCE. The city was renamed Karanduniash during this period. Kassite Babylon eventually became subject to the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1053 BC) to the north, and Elam to the east, with both powers vying for control of the city. The Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I took the throne of Babylon in 1235 BCE.

By 1155 BCE, after continued attacks and annexing of territory by the Assyrians and Elamites, the Kassites were deposed in Babylon. An Akkadian south Mesopotamian dynasty then ruled for the first time. However, Babylon remained weak and subject to domination by Assyria. Its ineffectual native kings were unable to prevent new waves of foreign West Semitic settlers from the deserts of the Levant, including the Arameans and Suteans in the 11th century BC, and finally the Chaldeans in the 9th century BC, entering and appropriating areas of Babylonia for themselves. The Arameans briefly ruled in Babylon during the late 11th century BC.

Assyrian periodEdit

Sennacherib

Sennacherib of Assyria during his Battle of Halule, relief from his palace in Nineveh.

During the rule of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE), Babylonia was under constant Assyrian domination or direct control. During the reign of Sennacherib of Assyria, Babylonia was in a constant state of revolt, led by a chieftain named Merodach-Baladan, in alliance with the Elamites, and suppressed only by the complete destruction of the city of Babylon. In 689 BCE, its walls, temples and palaces were razed, and the rubble was thrown into the Arakhtu, the sea bordering the earlier Babylon on the south. Destruction of the religious center shocked many, and the subsequent murder of Sennacherib by two of his own sons while praying to the god Nisroch was considered an act of atonement. Consequently, his successor Esarhaddon hastened to rebuild the old city and make it his residence during part of the year. After his death, Babylonia was governed by his elder son, the Assyrian prince Shamash-shum-ukin, who eventually started a civil war in 652 BCE against his own brother, Ashurbanipal, who ruled in Nineveh. Shamash-shum-ukin enlisted the help of other peoples subject to Assyria, including Elam, Persia, Chaldeans and Suteans of southern Mesopotamia, and the Canaanites and Arabs dwelling in the deserts south of Mesopotamia.

Once again, Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians, starved into surrender and its allies were defeated. Ashurbanipal celebrated a "service of reconciliation", but did not venture to "take the hands" of Bel. An Assyrian governor named Kandalanu was appointed as ruler of the city. Ashurbanipal did collect texts from Babylon for inclusion in his extensive library at Ninevah.[4] After the death of Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian empire destabilized due to a series of internal civil wars throughout the reigns of Assyrian kings Ashur-etil-ilani, Sin-shumu-lishir and Sinsharishkun. Eventually Babylon, like many other parts of the near east, took advantage of the anarchy within Assyria to free itself from Assyrian rule. In the subsequent overthrow of the Assyrian Empire by an alliance of peoples, the Babylonians saw another example of divine vengeance.[5]

NotesEdit

  1. The Amorites were not native to Mesopotamia, but were semi-nomadic Canaanite Northwest Semitic invaders from the northern Levant. They (together with the Elamites to the east) had originally been prevented from taking control of the Akkadian states of southern Mesopotamia by the intervention of powerful Assyrian kings of the Old Assyrian Empire during the 21st and 20th centuries BC, intervening from northern Mesopotamia. However, when the Assyrians turned their attention to expanding their colonies in Asia Minor, the Amorites eventually began to supplant native rulers across the region.
  2. Vedeler (2006), pp. 8–15. “However, this later tradition is almost certainly a simplification or even a reworking of the actual events surrounding Sumu-abum, who was never regarded as an actual ancestor to the other kings of the Babylon I dynasty (Edzard 1957:122); in reality the relationship of Sumu-abum to Babylon was much more complex. It was long been noted that many of Sumu-abum’s year names are identical or virtually identical to the year names of Sumu-la-el, whom we know for certain was king of Babylon. Goddeeris (2002:319-320) sums these parallels up as follows: Sa 1 and 2 / Sl 5 and 6: building the wall of Babylon. Sa 9 / Sl ‘b’: building the wall of Dilbat. Sa 13/14 / Sl 20/21: the destruction and seizure of Kazallu.”
  3. Please see Chronology of the ancient Near East for more discussion on dating events in the 2nd millennium BC, including the Sack of Babylon.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Al-Gailani Werr, L., 1988. Studies in the chronology and regional style of Old Babylonian Cylinder Seals. Bibliotheca Mesopotamica, Volume 23.
  2. Wilfred G. Lambert, “Babylon: Origins”; in Cancik-Kirschbaum et al. (2011), pp. 71–76.
  3. Vedeler (2006), pp. 7–8.
  4. Olof Pedersén, "Excavated and Unexcavated Libraries in Babylon", in Cancik-Kirschbaum et al. (2011), pp. 47–67.
  5. Albert Houtum-Schindler, "Babylon," Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed.
Bibliography
  • Vedeler, Harold Torger. A Social and Economic Survey of the Reign of Samsuiluna of Babylon (1794-1712 BCE). PhD dissertation accepted at Yale, May 2006.