A History of Babylon

A History of Babylon

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The aim of this project is to write a narrative history of Babylon from the time of its First Dynasty (1880-1595) until the last centuries of the city's existence during the Hellenistic and Parthian periods (ca. 331-75 AD). During most of its history, Babylon was the capital of a kingdom that corresponded roughly to the southern and central parts of Iraq, an area commonly designated as 'Babylonia', although this term did not come into widespread use until Babylon had lost its independence and become a province of the Persian and Seleucid empires. At other times Babylon's rule extended well beyond Babylonia, for instance during the second half of the 6th century, when the city was the capital of a vast empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to Cilicia and from Jerusalem to the confines of Armenia. During the second millennium Babylon had received, synthesized and transformed the heritage of the old civilization of Sumer and Akkad to become the main expression of Mesopotamian civilization. Babylon even wielded decisive cultural influence over Assyria, although the latter was often more powerful politically and militarily.
Babylonian became the international language of culture and diplomacy during the Late Bronze, and in almost every capital of the Near East including Egypt an elite of scribes copied and studies classics of Babylonian literature and wrote official correspondence to other courts in the Middle Babylonian dialect. Although the cosmopolitan reach of Babylonian receded in the first millennium, the development of Babylonian science and scholarship ensured the continued influence of that civilization even after the loss of independence. As late as the second century BC, Greek astronomers like Hipparchus borrowed entire sets of data and parameters from their Babylonian colleagues. At the same time, however, Jewish thinkers were spreading the view, inherited from the prophets of the Biblical period, of Babylon as the emblematic city of imperial hubris, idolatry and corruption. This view entirely dominated the imagination of the Western and Islamic worlds until the 19th century, when the rediscovery of cuneiform documentation allowed historians to redress the balance and separate history from myth.
Therefore, to write a History of Babylon means not only to write a history of the most important phase in the development of Mesopotamian culture, but also to understand how an ancient and complex civilization became memorialized for posterity as a purely theological symbol.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 312 pages
  • 170 x 256 x 15mm | 466g
  • Wiley-Blackwell (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Ltd)
  • Chicester, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1405188987
  • 9781405188982
  • 344,749

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Table of contents

Chapter 1: Introductory Concerns (Sources, Chronology, and Natural Conditions): discussion of cuneiform texts as historical sources, their potential and limitations - the basic chronological issues (e.g. low, middle and high chronology) and the native chronographic tradition, especially the traditional divisions into Dynasties - the geography of Babylonia and its influence on the historical development of the country (irrigation and agricultural cycle, flood plain and shifting bed of rivers, salinization of the soil, climate, agricultural zone and pastoralist zone, etc...).Chapter 2: The Sumero-Akkadian Background (3,300-1880): at the end of the fourth millennium BC, during the late Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods, southern Iraq acquires the distinctive traits that will make it one of the great pristine civilizations of umankind, notably the writing system, the city and her temples as focus of the state and the communal life, and the notion of humanity as.existentially dependent on the gods. This chapter will trace the development of the main elements of the civilization of Sumer (southern Iraq) and Akkad (central Iraq) in the third millennium that will eventually form the basis for the civilization of Babylon. The early history of the city, until ca. 1880, will be sketched against this general background.Chapter 3: The First Dynasty of Babylon (1880-1595): during the Old Babylonian period (1880-1585) the First Dynasty of Babylon, a ruling house of Amorite origin, unified most of Iraq and put an end to the political fragmentation that had characterized much of the previous history of Sumer and Akkad. From that point on Babylon will remain the capital of Babylonia irrespective of the changes of dynasties. That age also saw the emergence of a specifically Babylonian culture and the definitive transition from Sumerian to Akkadian as language of culture with the creation of an Akkadian literature. Other aspects that need to be emphasized are: the complicated political history of the age of Hammurabi as revealed mostly by the archive of the palace of Mari in the middle.Euphrates region - the role of the Amorites and other semi-nomadic pastoralists in the political and socio-economic life of the period - the importance of law codes and edicts of redress promulgated by various kings of the First Dynasty, the most famous being the Code of Hammurabi - ethical content of Old Babylonian Law - the economic collapse of the south under Samsu-iluna, Hammurabi's successor, and the establishment of a local Dynasty of the Sealand near the Persian Gulf that will last until ca.1475 - the final decades of Babylon I which are becoming better known thanks to increased publication and study of texts, especially as it now seems that the Hittite intervention was not the sole reason for the downfall of Samsu-ditana, the last king of the dynasty.Chapter 4: The Period of Kassite Rule (1595-1157): the origins of the Kassites in the Zagros area and their infiltration of Babylonia starting at the end of the 18th century - their assumption of power in Babylon (16th-15th centuries are poorly known and there are huge problems with the chronology) - their acculturation to Babylonian civilization - the prestige of the Kassite monarchy during the age of Amarna (14th century) and the beginning of the rivalry with Assyria - Babylonian becomes the international language of culture and diplomacy - social structure of the Kassite period (ruralization of Babylonia with few important urban centers, tribal organization of the Kassites, appearance of a new type of legal document, the kudurru) - role of Nippur as southern capital and its governor as second-in-rank after the king - creation of a new royal residence in the north at Dur-Kurigalzu, near present-day Baghdad, with temples dedicated to the gods of Nippur - conflict with Elam and downfall of the Kassite monarchy, the Elamites carry off the statue of Marduk, the god of Babylon, to Susa.Chapter 5: The Second Dynasty of Isin (1157-1027): a relatively short but very important period from the cultural point of view. Although the Dynasty originated in Isin, they reigned from Babylon. The reign of Nebuchadnezzar I was pivotal; he raided Susa, the capital of Elam, and brought the statue of Marduk back to Babylon. This event generated considerable literary and theological activity, especially around the motif of divine absence as a result of divine anger. Many date the promotion of Marduk to the status of 'king of the gods' and the composition of the Babylonian Epic of Creation (Enuma elish) to that period. Important pieces of Wisdom Literature probably also date to that period, and later tradition attributes to Esagil-kin-apli, a scholar from the time of king Adad-apla-iddina (1069-1048), the compilation of the first medical treatise in cuneiform and the systematization of the exorcist's craft (ashiputu), one of the main intellectual disciplines of late Babylonian scholarship.Chapter 6: Arameans and Chaldeans (1027-747): end of Isin II Dynasty ushers in a long period of decline with very sparse documentation. Babylonia undergoes a severe economic and demographic slump. Temporary revival of Babylon in the 9th century (Nabu-apla-iddina and Marduk-zakir-shumi I). By the end of this period Arameans have settled along the Tigris river in eastern Babylonia, while the Chaldeans have formed important tribal confederations in the countryside of southern Babylonia. The contrast is sharp between the rural hinterland, more and more dominated by foreigners of semi-nomadic origins, and the cities, dominated by an elite that controls the temples and their vast holdings and insist of the antiquity of their bloodline.Chapter 7: The Assyrian Century (747-626): the reign of Nabonassar was an important cultural watershed with the beginning of systematic astronomical observations and of the compilation of Babylonian Chronicle Series. Century-long struggle against Assyria with the gradual incorporation of Babylonia in the Assyrian empire and the creation of an Assyro-Babylonian monarchy under.Assyrian control - Chaldean tribe of Bit-Yakin leads resistance to Assyrian takeover - dramatic destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689 - Babylonian revolt of Shamash-shum-ukin in 652-648. Progress of astronomical science in the 7th century and influence of Babylonian scholars at the court of Nineveh. A significant economic recovery of Babylonia in the 7th century in spite of political struggles lays the ground for the brief success of the Babylonian empire of the 6th century.Chapter 8: Imperial Twilight (626-539): open rebellion of Nabopolassar in 626 against the Assyrians and foundation of a native Babylonian dynasty. In conjunction with the Medes, the Babylonians succeed in overthrowing the Assyrian empire (capture of Nineveh in 612, of Harran in 609). Babylonia first emerges from the political vaccum as rump state but with Nebuchadnezzar II quickly expands to seize control of territories formerly ruled by Assyria - conquest of Jerusalem in 597 and 587 and deportation of Judeans to Babylonia with much new evidence on their settlement in their new home - expansion into Northern Arabia under the last king Nabonidus (556-539). Spectacular rebuilding of Babylon with grandiose monuments (Gate of Ishtar, Double circuit of walls; temple tower of the god Marduk; legend of the Hanging Gardens). This period sees a dramatic increase in source material, especially archival documents from temple and private archives, which continues into the 5th century. Last flowering of Babylonian culture and cuneiform writing in spite of the complete replacement of the late Babylonian dialect by Aramaic. Political instability after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II brings usurpers to the throne, including Nabonidus, who tries religious reforms but is eventually ousted by the Persians.Chapter 9: Babylon under Foreign Rule (539-75 AD): Babylonia now becomes part of far-flung multinational empires. In spite of this Babylon retains an important status until the foundation of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris by Seleucus I in 301 and continues to thrive afterwards for two more centuries as religious and cultural center. With the demise of the native monarchy the city elites of Babylonia assume the leadership of their culture. Failed rebellions against Persian rule in 521-520 and 486-485. Spectacular development of mathematical astronomy between the 5th and 2nd centuries, the first exact science in world history. Parallel development of astrology with appearance of horoscopes at the end of the 5th century. Demise of Babylonian culture in the early Parthian period (1st century BC to 1st century AD), when Babylon becomes a largely deserted site. Last cuneiform tablet datable to 75 AD.Chapter 10: The Judeo-Christian Theologization of Babylon: as Babylonian civilization disappears and its traditions are forgotten the Biblical view becomes predominant in the memorialization of Babylon. Complex theologization of the figure of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel with important Babylonian background to these traditions. Legend of the Tower of Babel as countertheology.to Babylonian claims of cosmological centrality. Possibility of post-colonial reading of Jewieh tradition about Babylon's imperial hubris. Babylon eventually becomes symbol for Rome and all oppressive and corrupt powers. The only positive memory of Babylon is transmitted by Greek scientists, mainly Ptolemy, who records Babylonian eclipse observations in his Almagest.and praises the antiquity and accuracy of Babylonian astronomical science.
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About Paul-Alain Beaulieu

Paul-Alain Beaulieu is Professor of Assyriology at the University of Toronto. He is the author of several articles and books on the history and culture of Babylonia, as well as the greater spectrum of Mesopotamian history. He has been teaching Assyriology and Ancient Near Eastern History for almost eleven years.
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