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Babylon and its History

Unknown author

The City of Babylon

Babylon was situated about fifty miles south of present day Baghdad in Iraq. During the time of Nabopolassar, Babylon became most important city in the world. It was a huge city on both sides of the Euphrates, with the river dividing the city into two almost equal parts. Both banks of the river were guarded by brick walls, with twenty-five gates connecting the streets with ferry boats. There was one bridge, built on stone piers, one kilometre long and ten metres wide. It had drawbridges which were removed at night. There was also a tunnel under the river five metres wide and four metres high. In Mesopotamia, there was no stone, only clay, so the walls were made with bricks. Houses had walls made of clay.

The walls of Babylon

The walls were described by historians Josephus and Herodotus. They were double walls 100 metres high, forming a wide rectangle nearly twenty kilometres around the city. The walls continued below ground to prevent tunnelling. They were built with thirty centimetre square bricks, which were ten centimetres thick.

The inner wall of the city, consisted of two parallel walls of brick twelve metres apart, about seven metres thick. The space between was filled with rubble, making the total thickness about twenty-five metres. Beyond the inner wall were wide deep moats, filled with water. The outer wall was built in the same manner. The walls contained one hundred brass gates.

250 high watch towers were built upon the wall, with guard rooms for the soldiers. There was a quarter mile of clear space between and city and the wall all the way round. They thought their city was totally impregnable.

The most famous gate was the Ishtar Gate with glazed bricks and carved reliefs, which was at the end of a processional avenue 250 metres long, and twenty metres wide.


There was a great temple adjoining the Tower of Babylon (Babel?) and fifty-five smaller altars to Marduk. The temple to Marduk (Bel) was 500 metres square. The golden image of Bel and a golden table stood in the temple, weighed at least 22,000 kg. At the top were golden images of Bel and Ishtar, two golden lions, a golden table ten metres long and five metres wide and a human figure of solid gold six metres high. Babylon was truly a "City of gold" (Is 14:4). The image of gold (Dan 3:1) may have been set up between the Tower of Babylon and the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar.

There were also 300 altars to other gods and 600 altars to other heavenly deities. There were also 180 altars to Ishtar (like Ashtoreth), the goddess of fertility. It was considered a duty for every woman in the empire to be a temple prostitute at one time or another in her life. You can imagine how Daniel functioned in the midst of this. It took great wisdom and tact. Babylon was a very religious empire. Nebuchadnezzar named himself after the god Nebo, the god of destiny. Both the Babylonians and the Persians felt they were destined to conquer the world.

Marduk was the storm god or child god (similar to Baal). Nebo was the god of science, leaning and destiny. Shamask was the god of the heavens. Other gods were Sin, Gala and Adad.

Nebuchadnezzar's Palace

This was one of the most magnificent buildings ever erected on the earth. Daniel often went into this. Its vast ruins were uncovered around 1900. The south walls of the throne room were six metres thick. The north side was protected by three walls. Just north of them were more walls twelve metres thick and more massive walls further away.

The Hanging Gardens

The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world described by the Greek Historian Herodotus. Nebuchadnezzar married a Median queen, the beautiful daughter of Cyaxeres, who had helped Nebuchadnezzar conquer Nineveh. She came from the mountains and so was accustomed to greenery. Nebuchadnezzar built the famous hanging gardens for her, a huge terraced garden, on the top of the palace, watered with water from a reservoir at the top. The water was lifted by a hydraulic pump from the River Euphrates, by slaves turning screws to raise the waters. There were several tiers of arches, above each other, each bearing a solid platform 120 metres square. The terraces on the top were covered with flowers, shrubs and trees. In the arches were luxurious apartments, the pleasure ground of the palace. The gardens were built while Daniel was chief governor of the wise men of Babylon.

The History of Babylon

Nimrod the mighty warrior founded Babylon and other cities around 2500 BC (Gen 10:9). The Tower of Babel (Gen 11) was probably a ziggurat, a temple to the moon god, a tower built with its top in the heavens. The people didn't want to be dispersed around the world. Babel was named because God confused the language (Gen 11:9). The word "Babel" means "gate of el" or "confusion". Babylon was founded on rebellion against God. Throughout the Bible, Babylon and Jerusalem are opposed: Babylon being the kingdom of Satan, and Jerusalem the kingdom of God.

The Early Babylonian Empire

Babylon became the centre of an earlier empire, which is not mentioned much in the Bible. One of the kings, Hammurabi is famous for his law code.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire (7th century BC)

The Neo-Babylonian empire was only short lived. It reached its zenith under Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 562) and came to an end only seventy years after its beginning when Cyrus of Persia took Babylon in 539 BC.

During the time of the Assyrian Empire, Babylonia was under their rule. It was destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. At the death of Shalmaneser V (during the fall of Samaria 722), Merodach-Baladan proclaimed Babylon's independence. With Elamite support (people from east of River Tigris), he held out against the Assyrians for ten years.

In 710, Sargon II lead a successful attack on the south and was welcomed into Babylon. He allowed Merodach-Baladan to remain as sheikh of his tribe. In 703, Merodach-Baladan made another bid for power and this may be the time he visited Hezekiah (2 Kg 20:12, Is 39) seeking Hezekiah's help. Isaiah's opposition to such a pact was soon vindicated, Sennacherib's attack defeated the Babylonians. Babylon was again plundered and left with governors to rule it.

This was followed by various fights for power with different people, which resulted in a further attack and sacking of the city, during the reign of Manasseh in Judah. Esarhaddon followed Sennacherib and having governed the city and liking it, he rebuilt it. He made one of his sons king of Assyria and one king of Babylonia. This worked well for twelve years, until Assyria marched on Babylon and after three years, the king of Babylon burned the palace down around him and Assyria installed a governor.

During the last year of Ashurbanipal, 626 BC, the governor died and Nabopolassar, a Chaldean tribal leader, rallied the tribes and rebelled against the Assyrians. He cleared Babylon of the Assyrians for the last time. Six weeks later he was asked to be king. At this time the Assyrians were torn by internal strife and rebellion among their vassals and could not put down this rebellion. In 614, he allied with Cyaxeres, the King of the Medes, who joined with the Babylonian armies, led by his son, Nebuchadnezzar, to attack Assur and then Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, which fell in 612 BC. The remnant of the Assyrian army was driven west to Carchemish, a city situated on a ford on the Euphrates.

The Battle of Carchemish

Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, thinking that it was better to support the failing Assyrians against the Babylonians, who were seen as a greater threat, took his army up to Carchemish to fight against Nabopolassar. There was a significant battle at Carchemish in 605 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians (2 Kg 23:29), and destroyed the remnant of Assyria, giving the Babylonians control of the west, including Judah. It was when Pharaoh Necho was going up for this battle that King Josiah was defeated and killed in 609 BC, Judah then came under Egyptian dominance.

About this time, Nabopolassar died and his son Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to claim the throne 605 BC. He then returned west, and after a siege Jehoiakim was made his vassal in 604 BC (2 Kg 24:1). Daniel and a small group of bright young men were taken to Babylon at this time. After 3 years Jehoiakim rebelled by forming an alliance with Necho of Egypt, and the Babylonians attacked again. By this time Jehoiakim had been succeeded by Jehoiachin, who was defeated after only 3 months reign (2 Kg 24:8). He surrendered and was deported with a number of people (including Ezekiel) and much spoil in 598 BC (2 Kg 24:10), and Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah on the throne.

The craftsmen were deported to help with Nebuchadnezzar's great building program in Babylon (2 Kg 24:14), leaving only the poorest people in the land. Zedekiah rebelled and in 586 BC, what was left of Jerusalem was taken. The city and temple were destroyed, Zedekiah was taken blinded to Babylon and Gedaliah left as governor (2 Kg 25). Some final captives were taken from Jerusalem in 581 BC.

Nebuchadnezzar was a very strong king, the only strong king of the Babylonians, those who followed him were not of his calibre. His destruction of cities was so fierce, the fires in Lachish were found to have been so hot that the limestone buildings were turned into lime.

fter the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the empire was steadily weakened. Amel-Marduk (Evil-Meroach of 2 Kg 25:27) ruled 2 years and was replaced by Neriglessar (Nergal-Sharezur in Jer 39:3). He was ousted and Labashi-Marduk took his place, a weak king, who lasted only a few months.

After a coup d'etat in 556 BC, Nabonidus took the throne. In 553 BC, he led the army to Palestine and N. Arabia leaving Belshazzar as co-regent in charge of the city of Babylon. Some say he left for health reasons, being better suited to the region of Arabia, others suggest he was so unpopular that he just left the city. As Belshazzar was only the second in the kingdom, he offered Daniel the reward of third rank in the kingdom for interpreting the writing on the wall (Dan 5:7,16).

Because of Nabonidus's expensive military expenditure and extensive building programs begun by Nebuchadnezzar, inflation rose to fifty percent. This led to widespread famine and brought about much discontent. When Cyrus entered the city, there was much rejoicing.

The Persian conquest of Babylon

Babylon was conquered on Oct 13, 539 BC by Cyrus and the Persians. Cyrus realized after laying siege that it was impossible to scale the huge walls. But Cyrus had noticed that the Euphrates was running literally through the walled city, under the walls, with heavy gates in the river bed. Two deserters came out from the city and Cyrus sent them back into the city to find out how to take Babylon from the inside. The Babylonians were carousing at a feast (Belshazzar's Feast, Dan 5). They were drinking from the vessels which were to be used in the house of the Lord. Cyrus diverted the river Euphrates away from Babylon, so the armies could enter the city under the walls by the dried up river bed. The city was taken without a fight and Belshazzar was killed. The Persians were looked upon as conquering saviours and heros by the population.

Predictions of the fall of Babylon

Isaiah lived during the time when the Assyrians were the reigning world power (200 years earlier), but he also prophesied about the time of the Babylonians. Isaiah predicted the fall of the Babylonian empire before it even existed and detailed how the fall would happen.

The main passages are: Is 13:1-14:23, 21:1-10, 43:10, 46:1-10, 47:1-15. 14:12-20 is often interpreted as describing the fall of Satan, but is in the context of the fall of Babylon.

od said that he was stirring up the Medes (Persians) against the Babylonians (13:17). Cyrus said in his diary that Marduk had called him by name. Cyrus thought it is Marduk that is stirring him up, feeling that such a power had taken hold of him. But God says it was really him that did it. "I call Cyrus by name" (Isaiah 45:4). In 46:1, Isaiah predicted that Bel bows, Nebo stoops, the gods of the Babylonians.

Isaiah predicted that the rivers would be dried up (44:27) and that the gates of bronze and iron would be open to Cyrus (45:1) (prophesied by name), describing the way Cyrus and his armies would enter the city.

The ruins of Babylon

Babylon was completely lost for centuries but has now been found by archaeologists who confirm the accounts of Herodotus. An archaeologist said, "Even the Euphrates has abandoned Babylon. The very trace of life has gone out from Babylon. Under my feet are the dens of jackals and foxes. Nothing breaks this deadly silence, a jackal is now sending forth his cry. A certain fascination holds me here, why should a flourishing city like this be utterly devastated? Why should a flourishing city the seat of an empire completely disappear? Was it the result of some curse or prophecy?"

Babylonian Kings

1 Nabopolassar 626 - 605
2 Nebuchadnezzar 605 - 562
3 Evil-Merodach 562 - 560
4 Neriglessar 560 - 556
5 Labashi-Marduk 556
6 Nabonidus 556 - 534
7 Belshazzar 553 - 539 (as regent)
Fall of Babylon 539

Family relationship of kings

1. Nabopolasser (626-605)
2. Nebuchadnezzar (605-562)
3. Evil-Merodach
(2 Kg 25:27, Jer 52:31)
daughter m. 4. Neriglissar
(Jer 39:3) (560-556)
5. Labashi-Marduk
(556 - 2 mts)
daughter Nitocris
m. 6. Nabonidus
7. Belshazzar (553-539)