Table of Contents
right|300px|thumb|(from Oates, 1979)Babylon is well known for its famous ruler Hammurapi (1792-1750 BC), whose extensive law code is now displayed at the Louvre in Paris, and perhaps better known in the biblical context as the enemy of Judah and the power that brought down Jerusalem in 586 BC. But the city has a long history that lasted from the late third millennium BC to the sixth and fifth centuries BC, when it was the center of a vast political power that dominated the ancient world. The Akkadian name of Babylon,
bab ilim, means "The Gate of God," but this is now understood to be a folk etymology derived from an poorly understood earlier name,
babil. The 850 hectare site lies east of the Euphrates today, but in antiquity the river divided the city in half, with the main public quarter located in the eastern portion of the city. It is in this eastern portion that the excavations at Babylon were focused.
History of Excavations
Although European travelers had been exploring the Near East searching for the remains of the Tower of Babel since the 12th century AD, the first scientific investigations at Babylon were conducted by Claudius James Rich in 1811. Later, Robert Mignan excavated at the site, and William K. Loftus, who would later excavate at Uruk/Warka, worked there in 1949. Austen Henry Layard began excavations there in 1850, but found little to warrant further campaigns. In 1852, the French team of Fulgence Fresnel and Jules Oppert found a number of inscriptions and published the first map of Babylon in 1853. In 1854, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and George Smith excavated at the site, and in 1876, Hormuzd Rassam began a new campaign. Although Rassam found a number of important cuneiform documents, some of the ancient architecture of the site was destroyed by overzealous excavators. Between 1899 and 1914, a German team led by Robert Koldewey, and which included Walter Andrae, conducted extensive excavations that succeeded in exposing large structures of the Neo-Babylonian period (625-539 BC). Since Koldewey's excavations, German teams led by Heinrich Lenzen and H. J. Schmidt also conducted limited excavatoins in 1956 and 1966. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities began restoration of many of the Neo-Babylonian structures in 1958. In 2003, coalition forces occupied Babylon, in part to protect it from looting. Since their departure, a team of Polish archaeologists has been surveying damage caused to the site by construction activities associated with the coalition camp.
Babylon Before the Neo-Babylonian Period
right|100px|thumb|Detail of the Code of Hammurapi, showing Hammurapi receiving the symbols of kingship from Shamash, god of justiceBecause the earliest levels of Babylon lie beneath the water table, we know about the site before the Neo-Babylonian period only from cuneiform documents that refer to it’s kings. Pottery collected from the surface of the site indicates that there was an occupation there at the end of the Early Dynastic period (2900-2350 BC). The city appears to have grown in importance during the Akkadian empire (2334-2154 BC) and the Ur III (2100-2000 BC) period. Hammurapi’s (1792-1750 BC) early rise to power remains unclear, but his skillful diplomatic and military dealings with the regional powers of the period, left him in control of all of Mesopotamia by the end of his reign. Babylon was thus the central Mesopotamian capital until it was sacked by the Hittite king Mursili I in 1595 BC. For the next four centuries, Babylon was ruled by Kassite kings until the city was sacked again, this time by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte I in 1159 BC. After the fall of Babylon to Elam, the city was ruled by a succession of dynasties, until the Neo-Assyrian period (911-609 BC). Assyrian kings took varying attitudes towards Babylonia, sometimes allowing its ruler some degree of autonomy, and at other times ruling Babylonia directly. Following a series of revolts by Chaldean tribesmen in Babylonia, Sennacherib (704-681 BC) sacked Babylon in 689 BC. The Neo-Babylonian period officially begins at the accession of Nabopolassar to the throne of Babylon in 625 BC. With the help of the Medes in western Iran, Nabopolassar waged a series of military campaigns against Assyria, and finally sacked the Neo-Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BC. When Assyria fell, Nabopolassar and his dynasty effectively inherited control of the entire Near East from the Tigris to the Mediterranean. His successor, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is responsible for much of the rebuilding of Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian period.
Babylon in the Neo-Babylonian Period (625-539 BC)
left|300px|thumb|Plan of Babylon (from Oates, 1979)Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) occupied 850 hectares and was divided by the Euphrates into an eastern and western section. The course of the river has changed since the Neo-Babylonian period, and much of the western section is now beneath the Euphrates bed. The city was surrounded by two fortification walls. The outer wall was in fact a series of three baked brick and sun-dried brick walls with moat ringing the outermost wall. According to Herodotus, a four-horse chariot to turn around atop the wide outer wall . The inner city wall was a double wall, and the 7 meter space between them was presumably used as a military road. Within the inner wall lay the main palace and temples of Babylon, and a number of other residential and public buildings.
The Ishtar Gate and "Procession Street"
right|100px|thumb|Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and Procession Street (from Unger, 1970)Access to the inner city was controlled by eight gates, each given the name of a Babylonian god. In the north, the imposing Ishtar Gate gave way to "Procession Street," the street that the statues of the gods traversed during the Babylonian New Year’s festival. The large, double Ishtar gate was rebuilt several times. In it’s latest phase, it was faced with dark blue glazed bricks and moulded mythical animals in yellow and white.
left|100px|thumb|Glazed moulded brick from the Ishtar Gate (from Koldewey, 1931) South of the Ishtar Gate on the west side of Processional Way lay the Southern Palace, which was organized around five large courtyards and a central throneroom. The complex also contained several domestic rooms and workshops. Like the Ishtar Gate, the Southern Palace was also decorated with colorful glazed bricks. In the northeast corner of the palace, excavators found a series of vaulted rooms and a well that was originally interpreted as a structure intended to channel water to the famed “Hanging Gardens.” However, the context of the room and texts found within them suggest that this may have been a storage area.
Etemenanki and Esagila
right|200px|thumb|Reconstruction of the Etemenanki and Esagila (from Wetzel, and Weissbach, 1967)Across Procession Street, east of the Southern Palace, was the temple of Ninmah, the
E-mah, one of a number of temples in the inner city of Babylon. South of the
E-mah lay the Temple of Ishtar of Agade, and south of that on the eastern side of Procession Street was the Etemenanki, the ziggurat rebuilt by Nabonidus and Nebuchadnezzar. Very little of the ziggurat remained when Koldewey began excavations, but the bottom, with an area of 91 km2 was visible. Reconstruction of the tower based on the remains of it’s bottom stage show that it originally had six stages, with a temple to Marduk atop the highest level.
South of the Etemenanki lay the Esagila, the temple devoted to Marduk, chief god of the Babylonian pantheon. The main temple of the Esagila complex sat within an outer courtyard 90x116 meters. Within the temple, chapels were dedicated to the Marduk, Ea, Nabu, and other gods.
Babylon: Die Versunken Weltstadt und Ihr Ausgräber Robert Koldewey. Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1952.
Die Königburgen von Babylon 1: Die Sudburg; Die Königburgen von Babylon 2: Die Hauptburg und der Sommerpalast Nebukadnezars Im Hügel Babil. Wissenchaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orientgesellschaft (WVDOG) 54-55. Leipzig, 1931-32.
The excavations at Babylon, tr. by Agnes S. Johns. London : Macmillan and Co., 1914.
Babylon. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979.
Babylon: Die Heilige Stadt Nach der Bescreibung der Babylonier. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1970.
*Wetzel, F, and F. H. Weissbach.
Das Hauptheiligtum Des Marduk in Babylon, Esagila and Etemenanki. WVDOG 59. Osnabrück: Otto Zeller, 1967.