Babylon (1800-1600 bce) Rise of the Babylonians and King Hammurabi

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Babylon (1800-1600 BCE)

Rise of the Babylonians and King Hammurabi 

The city of Babylon had been a city-state in Mesopotamia for many years. After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the city was taken over and settled by the Amorites. The city began its rise to power in 1792 BC when King Hammurabi took the throne. He was a powerful and capable leader who wanted to rule more than just the city of Babylon. 

Not long after becoming King, Hammurabi began to conquer other city-states in the area. Within a few years, Hammurabi had conquered all of Mesopotamia including much of the Assyrian lands to the north. 

The City of Babylon 

Under Hammurabi's rule, the city of Babylon became the most powerful city in the world. Located on the banks of the Euphrates River, the city was a major trade hub bringing together new ideas and products. Babylon also became the largest city in the world at the time with as many as 200,000 people living there at its peak. 

At the center of the city was a large temple called a ziggurat. This temple looked something like a pyramid with a flat top and archeologists think that it was 300 feet tall! There was a wide street leading from the gates to the center of the city. The city was also famous for its gardens, palaces, towers, and artwork. It would have been an amazing sight to see. 

The city was also the cultural center of the empire. It was here that art, science, music, mathematics, astronomy, and literature were able to flourish. 

Hammurabi's Code 

King Hammurabi established firm laws called Hammurabi's Code. This was the first time in history that the law was written down. It was recorded on clay tablets and tall pillars of stones called steles. 
pillar with hammurabi\'s code

Hammurabi's code consisted of 282 laws. Many of them were quite specific, but were meant as guidelines to be used in similar circumstances. There were laws governing commerce such as wages, trade, rental rates, and the sale of slaves. There were laws governing criminal behavior describing the penalties for stealing or damaging property. There were even laws governing adoption, marriage, and divorce. 

Fall of Babylon 

After Hammurabi died, his sons took over. However, they were not strong leaders and soon Babylon grew weak. In 1595 the Kassites conquered Babylon. They would rule for 400 years. Later, the Assyrians would take over. It wasn't until 612 BC that Babylonia once again rose to power as the ruler of the empire over Mesopotamia. This second Babylonian Empire is called the neo-Babylonian Empire.

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New Babylonia (Chaldeans) (612-539 BCE)
Neo-Babylonian Empire 

Around 616 BC King Nabopolassar took advantage of the fall of the Assyrian Empire to bring the seat of the empire back to Babylon. It was his son Nebuchadnezzar II who led Babylon back to its former glory. 

Nebuchadnezzar II ruled for 43 years. He was a great military leader and expanded the empire to include much of the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This included the conquering of the Hebrews and taking them into slavery for 70 years as told in the Bible. Under Nebuchadnezzar's rule, the city of Babylon and its temples were restored. It also became the cultural center of the world, just like during Hammurabi's rule. 

Hanging Gardens of Babylon 

Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This was a large series of terraces that rose to around 75 feet high. They were covered with all sorts of trees, flowers, and plants. The gardens is considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world. 

painting of the hanging gardens of babylon 
Painting of the Hanging Gardens

Fall of Neo-Babylonia 

After Nebuchadnezzar II died, the empire began to fall apart once again. In 529 BC, the Persians conquered Babylon and made it part of the Persian Empire. 

Fun Facts About the Babylonians

  • Nebuchadnezzar had a moat built around the city of Babylon for defense. That must have been quite a sight in the desert!

  • All that remains of the city of Babylon is a mound of broken mud buildings about 55 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.

  • Alexander the Great captured Babylon as part of his conquests. He was staying in the city when he got sick and died.

  • The city has been rebuilt or reconstructed in Iraq. The actual ruins and artifacts are likely buried under the reconstruction.

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Assyrians (1365-612 BCE)

The Assyrians rose to power from 1365 BC to 612 BC. They conquered all of Mesopotamia and expanded the empire to include much of the Middle East including Egypt, Babylonia, Israel, and Cypress.

During this time Assyria had a string of powerful and capable rulers. These leaders built the empire into one of the most powerful empires in the world. They conquered much of the Middle East and Egypt. It was the Babylonians who brought down the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC. 

Great Warriors 
The Assyrians were perhaps most famous for their fearsome army. They were a warrior society where fighting was a part of life. It was how they survived. They were known throughout the land as cruel and ruthless warriors. 

The early Assyrians were a warrior society. Every young man was expected to train as a warrior and be ready to fight. As the Assyrian Empire grew, they built a standing army. The Assyrians used a wide variety of weapons including swords, spears, bows and arrows, slings, and daggers. The Assyrians were the first to use iron to make their weapons. Iron was stronger than the bronze used by their enemies and gave them a distinct advantage. 

A standing army is one made up of professional soldiers whose only job is to fight. The Assyrian soldiers were trained in siege warfare, battle tactics, and hand-to-hand combat. Every spring the Assyrian army would launch a battle campaign. They would conquer rich cities, expanding the Assyrian Empire and bringing back wealth to the king.
The kings of the Assyrians were expected to be warriors themselves. They led the Assyrian army into battle and fought fiercely.
 One of the greatest strengths of the Assyrian army was its chariots. A chariot is a wheeled vehicle pulled by two to four horses. Riders would stand on the chariot. Typically there were two riders; a driver and a soldier armed with a spear and a bow and arrow. Chariots were used to smash into enemy lines to create a gap for the rest of the army. They were also used for leaders and generals who could move about the battlefield quickly issuing orders. 
The Assyrians invented some of the first siege equipment to defeat fortified cities. They used battering rams to break down gates and siege towers to go over walls. This was the first time that such complicated siege equipment was used in battle. The Assyrian army was one of the first to use cavalry. They used also inflated sheep skins to keep rafts afloat while they transported heavy chariots across rivers.

The Library at Nineveh 

The last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, constructed a great library at the city of Nineveh. He collected clay tablets from all over Mesopotamia. These included the stories of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, and more. Much of our knowledge of the Ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia comes from the remains of this library. According to the British Museum in London, just over 30,000 tablets have been recovered. These tablets make up around 10,000 different texts.  Ashurbanipal’s library was the first in Mesopotamia.

Interesting Facts About the Assyrians

  • Tiglath-Pileser III built roads throughout the empire to enable his armies and messengers to travel quickly.

  • The Assyrians were experts at siege warfare. They used battering rams, siege towers, and other tactics such as diverting water supplies in order to take a city.

  • Their cities were strong and impressive. They had huge walls built to withstand a siege, many canals and aqueducts for water, and extravagant palaces for their kings

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Persians (529-334 BCE)

The first Persian Empire took control of the Middle East after the fall of the Babylonian Empire. It is also called the Achaemenid Empire. 

Cyrus the Great 
The empire was founded by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus first conquered the Median Empire in 550 BC and then went on to conquer the Lydians and the Babylonians. Under later kings, the empire would grow to where it ruled Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. Its borders would eventually stretch over 3,000 miles from east to west making it the largest empire on Earth at the time. 

Different Cultures 
Under Cyrus the Great, the Persians allowed the peoples they conquered to continue their lives and cultures. They could keep their customs and religion as long as they paid their taxes and obeyed the Persian rulers. This was different from how earlier conquerors such as the Assyrians had ruled. 

In order to maintain control of the large empire, each area had a ruler called a satrap. The satrap was like a governor of the area. He enforced the king's laws and taxes. There were around 20 to 30 satraps in the empire. 

The empire was connected by many roads and a postal system. The most famous road was the Royal Road built by King Darius the Great. This road stretched around 1,700 miles all the way from Sardis in Turkey to Suza in Elam. 

Although each culture was allowed to keep their own religion, the Persians followed the teaching of the prophet Zoroaster. This religion was called Zoroastrianism and believed in one main god called Ahura Mazda. 

Fighting the Greeks 
Under King Darius the Persians wanted to conquer the Greeks who he felt were causing rebellions within his empire. In 490 BC Darius attacked Greece. He captured some Greek city-states, but when he attempted to take the city of Athens, he was soundly defeated by the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon. 

In 480 BC Darius' son, Xerxes I, attempted to finish what his father started and conquer all of Greece. He amassed a great army of hundreds of thousands of warriors. This was one of the largest armies assembled during ancient times. He initially won the Battle of Thermopylae against a much smaller army from Sparta. However, the Greek fleet defeated his navy at the Battle of Salamis and he was eventually forced to retreat. 

Fall of the Persian Empire 
The Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Starting in the year 334 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire from Egypt all the way to the borders of India. 

Interesting Facts About the Persian Empireillustrerad verldshistoria band i ill 058.jpg

  • The name "Persian" comes from the people's original tribal name Parsua. This was also the name they gave the land they originally settled which was bounded by the Tigris River to the west and the Persian Gulf to the south.

  • The Persian culture held the truth in high esteem. Telling a lie was one of the most disgraceful things a person could do.

  • The capital of the empire was the great city of Persepolis. This name is Greek for "Persian City".

  • After Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and to rebuild their temple at Jerusalem.

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