A First Kingdom — the Lion

Human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883-­859 B.C. Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Mesopotamia.
Human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883-­859 B.C. Neo-Assyrian period, reign of Ashurnasirpal II, excavated at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Mesopotamia.

The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.





Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

  1. Babylonia: 1894-1750 BCE*
  2. Neo-Babylonia (Chaldean Dynasty): 612-539 BCE

*The first period of Babylonian rule, to which belonged Nimrod, is often used more loosely to refer to the entire culture that developed in the area from the time it was first settled, circa 4000 BCE, thus covering the expanse of two millennia.


Secularly, Babylon is celebrated for edifices, renowned as a seat of learning and culture, eulogised for a legal codification pre-dating Mosaic Law (see Code of Hammurabi), and marvelled for aqueduct-lined Hanging Gardens, one of Herodotus’ Seven Wonders of the (Ancient) World.

Earlier Akkadian (north-west) and Sumerian (south-east) Mesopotamian tradition and their mutual bilingualism heavily influenced Babylonian (and Assyrian) culture. And Akkadian had gradually predominated to become lingua franca at the turn of the third millennium of antiquity. Well apart from Hammurabi’s laws and administration, his success was largely due to the ‘virtues’ of both diplomacy and war. By 1755 BCE he had united all of Mesopotamia under the rule of Babylon, at the time the largest city in the world and part of the realm that he called Babylonia. (Debate persists to the degree in which the cities of Nineveh, Tuttul, and Assur were under Babylonian authority.)

The ancient Semitic cultural region of the central and southern Mesopotamian plain emerged as the independent Akkadian nation-state of Babylonia with the Amorite Dynasty. The region corresponds to present-day Al Hillah, Babylon Province in Iraq, not 100 km south of Baghdad. The capital city of Babylon was founded upon the 3rd millennium BCE ancient city of Eridu, home to the water-god Enki. And the city—which grew to eclipse the then Mesopotamian “holy city” of Nippur, home to Enlil, supreme god of Sumer and Akkad—was built astride the Euphrates River.

The Babylonian Empire had two incarnations:


It is officially founded by those intractable masters of Canaanite witchcraft—the Amorites—upon the remains of the Akkadian Empire, after collapse of the Third Dynasty of Ur, related to Sargon (of Akkad). It is in 1894 BCE that Sumuabum rules but the kingdom is not well established until its sixth ruler, Hammurabi, and then lasting only until his death. Following his death Babylonia is ruled successively by the Hittites, Kassites, Assyria (Sennacherib, reigning from 705-681 BCE, razed the city of Babylon), and Elamites.


In 608 BCE Sennacherib’s son (Esarhaddon) rebuilt the city of Babylon, reclaiming the empire and the fledgling kingdom revolts and breaks from Ashurbanipal of Nineveh in 612 BCE, to be developed by the Chaldeans, starting with Nabopolassar. It is relics from this second period only that excavations have been able to unveil. Rising water levels over the centuries has meant that the ruins of the Old Babylon are inaccessible and with it perhaps the city’s true early role within the ancient world. Most of what is known of Old Babylon is from geographically distant artefact. After it falls a second time, in 539 BCE, Babylonia is ruled in turn by the Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians, Romans, and Sassanids. And so the seat of empire returned to Babylonia more than a thousand years after the rule of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE).

Nebuchadnezzar II (604-561 BCE), the son of Nabopolassar, renovates the city to its grand splendour. It is at this time that the great walls, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Ishtar Gate are built. This period coincides with the time of the Babylonian Exile of the Jews in which the (Babylonian) Talmud is written.

Joshua J. Mark says that:

The Euphrates River divided the city in two between an `old’ and a `new’ city with the Temple of Marduk and the great towering ziggurat in the center. Streets and avenues were widened to better accommodate the yearly processional of the statue of the great god Marduk in the journey from his home temple in the city to the New Year Festival Temple outside the Ishtar Gate.

The Neo-Babylonian rulers are, in turn:

  • Nabopolassar: 625-604 BC
  • Nebuchadrezzar II (s): 604-568 BC
  • Evil-Merodach (s): 561-560 BC
  • Neriglissar (brother-in-law): 559-556 BC
  • Labosoarchad (s): 556 BC
  • Nabonidus: 555-539 BC
    • Belshazzar: 539 BC

The last Chaldean (Babylonian) king, Nabonidus (see Cylinder of Nabonidus), was from the Assyrian capital of Harran, his son the regent, Belshazzar.

Panoramic of the present-day city of Babylon [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Cyrus the Great conquered Babylonia in 539 BC, by diverting river water out of the moat so his men could then easily place ladders to scale the otherwise laxly-defended city walls.

Editor’s note:

More recently it has been suggested that the Hanging Gardens may have been built by Sennacherib at his capital of Nineveh and in honour of Semiramis, who was likely based on the Assyrian queen Sammu-Ramat, who reigned 811-806 BCE.

Sargon of Akkad was possibly the biblical Nimrod (and grandson of Ham) whom it is said built the original Tower of Babel.

Babylonian king titles underwent a transition from “king of Babylon” during the Neo-Babylonian period from Nabopolassar to Nabonidus, to “king of Lands, king of Babylon” during the Persian period from Cyrus to Darius I, and with the rebellion in Babylon to just “king of Lands” from Xerxes to Alexander (Shea, 1982:235-236).

—Shea, William. Andrews University Seminary Studies. Darius the Mede: An Update. Andrews University Press, 1982.

Babylon in the End of Days
  • Jeremiah chapters 50 and especially 51

Further Reading

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