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 restoration work.

Kate Fielden

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 (1962).

Copyright - 1992 Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.


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