The ruins of Babylon (from Bab-ili, meaning "Gate of God"), the
2d-1st millennium BC capital of southern Mesopotamia (BABYLONIA),
stand beside the Euphrates about 90 km (55 mi) south of modern
Baghdad, Iraq. Occupied in prehistoric times but first mentioned
in the late 3d millennium BC, the city became important when its
AMORITE king HAMMURABI (r. 1792-50 BC) gained control of all
southern Mesopotamia. Raided by the HITTITES about 1595 BC,
Babylon then came under KASSITE rule about 1570 BC, only to be
sacked again about 1158 BC by the Elamites, who removed many
Babylonian monuments to SUSA, including the famous Law Code stela
of Hammurabi (now in the Louvre). Dominated by Assyria from the
9th century until that country's fall to the Medes in 612 BC,
Babylon once more became a major political power under the
6th-century CHALDEAN kings, in particular NEBUCHADNEZZAR II (r.
605-562), builder of much of the existing city. Surrendered to
CYRUS THE GREAT in 539 BC and possibly the intended capital of
Alexander the Great, who died there in 323 BC, Babylon declined
after the founding of SELEUCIA, the new Greek capital.
Nebuchadnezzar's triple-walled city measured at least 18 km (11
mi) in circumference. In the old city, on the east bank of the
Euphrates, stood Esagila, the temple of Marduk, the city god, and
the associated seven-staged ziggurat Etemenanki, popularly
associated with the Tower of BABEL. Northward from Esagila, the
Processional Way, decorated with animals in glazed and relief
brickwork, led through the Ishtar Gate (now in the Berlin Museum)
to the New Year (Akitu) temple. Northwest of the Processional
Way stood Nebuchadnezzar's palace. Vaulted structures at its
northwest corner may be remains of the legendary Hanging Gardens,
numbered among the SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD.
The site was first excavated in 1811, but the principal German
investigations begun by Robert KOLDEWEY took place in 1899 to
1917. The Iraq Department of Antiquities has carried out recent
Bibliography: Koldewey, Robert, The Excavations at Babylon
(1914); Lloyd, Seton, Ruined Cities of Iraq (1942); Oates, Joan,
Babylon (1986); Saggs, H. W. F., The Greatness That Was Babylon
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