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Semitic stock-raising tribes who settled in the outlying regions of Babylonia, on the northwestern coast of the Persian Gulf, in the first half of the first millennium B.C.
The Chaldeans were probably of Aramean origin; however, there is some evidence to suggest that they originated in southern Arabia. What language the Chaldeans spoke is open to dispute, since the aristocracy rapidly assimilated with the Babylonians and bore Accadian names. Moreover, there are no written texts that can be positively identified as Chaldean. In the Bible and in post-biblical tradition, a Baby Ionian-Aramaic dialect is referred to as the Chaldean language.
The Chaldeans who settled in the southern part of Mesopotamia gradually adopted a settled way of life and formed a series of principalities, such as Bit-Yakin. Most of these principalities were named after their founders. Beginning in the ninth century B.C., the Chaldeans and Elam fought Assyria for control of Babylon. In the second half of the eighth century and in the early seventh century, Chaldean princes managed to seize the Babylonian throne a number of times. Each time, however, the Chaldeans were driven out by the Assyrians. From 626 B.C. to 538 B.C. the Chaldean dynasty ruled Babylon. This dynasty, which included Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II, established the New Babylonian Empire.
In ancient Greece and Rome, priests and fortune-tellers of Babylonian origin were called Chaldeans. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the term “Chaldeans” was erroneously applied to the Sumerians.