1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Babylon

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BABYLON (mod. Hillah), an ancient city on the left bank of the Euphrates, about 70 m. S. of Bagdad. “Babylon” is the Greek form of Babel or Bab-ili, “the gate of the god” (sometimes incorrectly written “of the gods”), which again is the Semitic translation of the original Sumerian name Ka-dimirra. The god was probably Merodach or Marduk (q.v.), the divine patron of the city. In an inscription of the Kassite conqueror Gaddas the name appears as Ba-ba-lam, as if from the Assyrian babālu, “to bring”; another foreign Volksetymologie is found in Genesis xi. 9, from balbal, “to confound.” A second name of the city, which perhaps originally denoted a separate village or quarter, was Su-anna, and in later inscriptions it is often represented ideographically by E-ki, the pronunciation and meaning of which are uncertain. One of its oldest names, however, was Din-tir, of which the poets were especially fond; Din-tir signifies in Sumerian “the life of the forest,” though a native lexicon translates it “seat of life.” Uru-azagga, “the holy city,” was also a title sometimes applied to Babylon as to other cities in Babylonia. Ka-dimirra, the Semitic Bab-ili, probably denoted at first E-Saggila, “the house of the lofty head,” the temple dedicated to Bel-Merodach, along with its immediate surroundings. Like the other great sanctuaries of Babylonia the temple had been founded in pre-Semitic times, and the future Babylon grew up around it. Since Merodach was the son of Ea, the culture god of Eridu near Ur on the Persian Gulf, it is possible that Babylon was a colony of Eridu. Adjoining Babylon was a town called Borsippa (q.v.).

The earliest mention of Babylon is in a dated tablet of the reign of Sargon of Akkad (3800 B.C.), who is stated to have built sanctuaries there to Anunit and Aē (or Ea), and H. Winckler may be right in restoring a mutilated passage in the annals of this king so as to make it mean that Babylon owed its name to Sargon, who made it the capital of his empire. If so, it fell back afterwards into the position of a mere provincial town and remained so for centuries, until it became the capital of “the first dynasty of Babylon” and then of Khammurabi's empire (2250 B.C.). From this time onward it continued to be the capital of Babylonia and the holy city of western Asia. The claim to supremacy in Asia, however real in fact, was not admitted de jure until the claimant had “taken the hands” of Bel-Merodach at Babylon, and thereby been accepted as his adopted son and the inheritor of the old Babylonian empire. It was this which made Tiglath-pileser III. and other Assyrian kings so anxious to possess themselves of Babylon and so to legitimize their power. Sennacherib alone seems to have failed in securing the support of the Babylonian priesthood; at all events he never underwent the ceremony, and Babylonia throughout his reign was in a constant state of revolt which was finally suppressed only by the complete destruction of the capital. In 689 B.C. its walls, temples and palaces were razed to the ground and the rubbish thrown into the Arakhtu, the canal which bordered the earlier Babylon on the south. The act shocked the religious conscience of western Asia; the subsequent murder of Sennacherib was held to be an expiation of it, and his successor Esar-haddon hastened to rebuild the old city, to receive there his crown, and make it his residence during part of the year. On his death Babylonia was left to his elder son Samas-sum-yukin, who eventually headed a revolt against his brother Assur-bani-pal of Assyria. Once more Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians and starved into surrender. Assur-bani-pal purified the city and celebrated a “service of reconciliation,” but did not venture to “take the hands” of Bel. In the subsequent overthrow of the Assyrian empire the Babylonians saw another example of divine vengeance.

With the recovery of Babylonian independence under Nabopolassar a new era of architectural activity set in, and his son Nebuchadrezzar made Babylon one of the wonders of the ancient world. It surrendered without a struggle to Cyrus, but two sieges in the reign of Darius Hystaspis, and one in the reign of Xerxes, brought about the destruction of the defences, while the monotheistic rule of Persia allowed the temples to fall into decay. Indeed part of the temple of E-Saggila, which like other ancient temples served as a fortress, was intentionally pulled down by Xerxes after his capture of the city. Alexander was murdered in the palace of Nebuchadrezzar, which must therefore have been still standing, and cuneiform texts show that, even under the Seleucids, E-Saggila was not wholly a ruin. The foundation of Seleucia in its neighbourhood, however, drew away the population of the old city and hastened its material decay. A tablet dated 275 B.C. states that on the 12th of Nisan the inhabitants of Babylon were transported to the new town, where a palace was built as well as a temple to which the ancient name of E-Saggila was given. With this event the history of Babylon comes practically to an end, though more than a century later we find sacrifices being still performed in its old sanctuary.

Our knowledge of its topography is derived from the classical writers, the inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar, and the excavations of the Deutsche Orientgesellschaft, which were begun in 1899. The topography is necessarily that of the Babylon of Nebuchadrezzar; the older Babylon which was destroyed by Sennacherib having left few, if any, traces behind. Most of the existing remains lie on the E. bank of the Euphrates, the principal being three vast mounds, the Babil to the north, the Qasr or “Palace” (also known as the Mujelliba) in the centre, and the Ishān ‛Amrān ibn ‛Ali, with the outlying spur of the Jumjuma, to the south. Eastward of these come the Ishān el-Aswad or “Black Mound” and three lines of rampart, one of which encloses the Babil mound on the N. and E. sides, while a third forms a triangle with the S.E. angle of the other two. W. of the Euphrates are other ramparts and the remains of the ancient Borsippa.

We learn from Herodotus and Ctesias that the city was built on both sides of the river in the form of a square, and enclosed within a double row of lofty walls to which Ctesias adds a third. Ctesias makes the outermost wall 360 stades (42 m.) in circumference, while according to Herodotus it measured 480 stades (56 m.), which would include an area of about 200 sq. m. The estimate of Ctesias is essentially the same as that of Q. Curtius (v. 1. 26), 368 stades, and Clitarchus (ap. Diod. Sic. ii. 7), 365 stades; Strabo (xvi. 1. 5) makes it 385 stades. But even the estimate of Ctesias, assuming the stade to be its usual length, would imply an area of about 100 sq. m. According to Herodotus the height of the walls was about 335 ft. and their width 85 ft; according to Ctesias the height was about 300 ft. The measurements seem exaggerated, but we must remember that even in Xenophon's time (Anab. iii. 4. 10) the ruined wall of Nineveh was still 150 ft high, and that the spaces between the 250 towers of the wall of Babylon (Ctes. 417, ap. Diod. ii. 7) were broad enough to let a four-horse chariot turn (Herod. i. 179). The clay dug from the moat served to make the bricks of the wall, which had 100 gates, all of bronze, with bronze lintels and posts. The two inner enclosures were faced with enamelled tiles and represented hunting-scenes. Two other walls ran along the banks of the Euphrates and the quays with which it was lined, each containing 25 gates which answered to the number of streets they led into. Ferry-boats plied between the landing-places of the gates, and a movable drawbridge (30 ft. broad), supported on stone piers, joined the two parts of the city together.

The account thus given of the walls must be grossly exaggerated and cannot have been that of an eye-witness. Moreover, the two walls—Imgur-Bel, the inner wall, and Nimitti-Bel, the outer—which enclosed the city proper on the site of the older Babylon have been confused with the outer ramparts (enclosing the whole of Nebuchadrezzar's city), the remains of which can still be traced to the east. According to Nebuchadrezzar, Imgur-Bel was built in the form of a square, each side of which measured “30 aslu by the great cubit”; this would be equivalent, if Professor F. Hommel is right, to 2400 metres. Four thousand cubits to the east the great rampart was built “mountain high,” which surrounded both the old and the new town; it was provided with a moat, and a reservoir was excavated in the triangle on the inner side of its south-east corner, the western wall of which is still visible. The Imgur-Bel of Sargon's time has been discovered by the German excavators running south of the Qasr from the Euphrates to the Gate of Ishtar.

The German excavations have shown that the Qasr mound represents both the old palace of Nabopolassar, and the new palace adjoining it built by Nebuchadrezzar, the wall of which he boasts of having completed in 15 days. They have also laid bare the site of the “Gate of Ishtar” on the east side of the mound and the little temple of Nin-Makh (Beltis) beyond it, as well as the raised road for solemn processions (A-ibur-sabu) which led from the Gate of Ishtar to E-Saggila and skirted the east side of the palace. The road was paved with stone and its walls on either side lined with enamelled tiles, on which a procession of lions is represented. North of the mound was a canal, which seems to have been the Libilkhegal of the inscriptions, while on the south side was the Arakhtu, “the river of Babylon,” the brick quays of which were built by Nabopolassar.

The site of E-Saggila is still uncertain. The German excavators assign it to the ‛Amrān mound, its tower having stood in a depression immediately to the north of this, and so place it south of the Qasr; but E. Lindl and F. Hommel have put forward strong reasons for considering it to have been north of the latter, on a part of the site which has not yet been explored. A tablet copied by George Smith gives us interesting details as to the plan and dimensions of this famous temple of Bel; a plan based on these will be found in Hommel's Grundriss der Geographie und Geschichte des alten Orients, p. 321. There were three courts, the outer or great court, the middle court of Ishtar and Zamama, and the inner court on the east side of which was the tower of seven stages (known as the House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth), 90 metres high according to Hommel's calculation of the measurements in the tablet; while on the west side was the temple proper of Merodach and his wife Sarpanit or Zarpanit, as well as chapels of Anu, Ea and Bel on either side of it. A winding ascent led to the summit of the tower, where there was a chapel, containing, according to Herodotus, a couch and golden table (for the showbread) but no image. The golden image of Merodach 40 ft. high, stood in the temple below, in the sanctuary called E-Kua or “House of the Oracle,” together with a table, a mercy-seat and an altar—all of gold. The deities whose chapels were erected within the precincts of the temple enclosure were regarded as forming his court. Fifty-five of these chapels existed altogether in Babylon, but some of them stood independently in other parts of the city.

There are numerous gates in the walls both of E-Saggila and of the city, the names of many of which are now known. Nebuchadrezzar says that he covered the walls of some of them with blue enamelled tiles “on which bulls and dragons were pourtrayed,” and that he set up large bulls and serpents of bronze on their thresholds.

The Babil mound probably represents the site of a palace built by Nebuchadrezzar at the northern extremity of the city walls and attached to a defensive outwork 60 cubits in length. Since H. Rassam found remains of irrigation works here it might well be the site of the Hanging Gardens. These consisted, we are told, of a garden of trees and flowers, built on the topmost of a series of arches some 75 ft. high, and in the form of a square, each side of which measured 400 Greek ft. Water was raised from the Euphrates by means of a screw (Strabo xvi. 1. 5; Diod. ii. 10. 6). In the Jumjuma mound at the southern extremity of the old city the contract and other business tablets of the Egibi firm were found.

See C. J. Rich, Memoir on the Ruins of Babylon (1816), and Collected Memoirs (1839); A. H. Layard, Nineveh and Babylon (1853); C. P. Tiele, De Hoofdtempel van Babel (1886); A. H. Sayce, Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, App. ii. (1887); C. J. Ball in Records of the Past (new ser. iii. 1890); Mittheilungen der deutschen Orientgesellschaft (1899-1906); F. Delitzsch, Im Lande des einstigen Paradieses (1903); F. H. Weissbach, Das Stadtbild von Babylon (1904); F. Hommel, Grundriss der Geographie und Geschichte des alten Orients (1904). (A. H. S.)