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Babylonia (băbĭlōˈnēə), ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C. Historically it is limited to the first dynasty of Babylon established by Hammurabi (c.1750 B.C.), and to the Neo-Babylonian period after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Hammurabi, who had his capital at Babylon, issued the code of laws for the management of his large empire—for he was in control of most of the Tigris and Euphrates region even before he defeated the Elamites. Babylonian cuneiform writing was derived from the Sumerians. The quasifeudal society was divided into classes—the wealthy landowners and merchants and the priests; the less wealthy merchants, peasants, and artisans; and the slaves. The Babylonian religion (see Middle Eastern religions) was inherited from the older Sumerian culture. All these Babylonian institutions influenced the civilization of Assyria and so contributed to the later history of the Middle East and of Western Europe.
The wealth of Babylonia tempted nomadic and seminomadic neighbors; even under Hammurabi's successor Babylonia was having to stave off assaults. Early in the 18th cent. B.C. the Hittites sacked Babylon and held it briefly. The nomadic Kassites (Cassites), a tribe from Elam, took the city shortly thereafter and held it precariously for centuries. Babylonia degenerated into anarchy c.1180 B.C. with the fall of the Kassites. As a subsidiary state of the Assyrian Empire (after the 9th cent. B.C.), Babylonia flourished once more. It was the key area in the attempted uprising against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and Babylon was sacked (c.689 B.C.) in his reign.
After the death of Assurbanipal, the last great Assyrian monarch, Nabopolassar, the ruler of Babylonia, established (625 B.C.) his independence. He allied himself with the Medes and Persians and helped to bring about the capture of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. He established what is generally known as the Chaldaean or New Babylonian Empire. Under his son, Nebuchadnezzar, the new empire reached its height (see Babylon). The recalcitrant Hebrews were defeated and punished with the Babylonian captivity. Egypt had already been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in the great battle of Carchemish (605) while Nabopolassar was still alive. The empire seemed secure, but it was actually transitory. The steady growth of Persian power spelled the end of Babylonia, and in 538 B.C. the last of the Babylonian rulers surrendered to Cyrus the Great (see also Belshazzar). Babylonia became an important region of the Persian Empire.
See R. W. Rogers, A History of Babylonia and Assyria (6th ed. 1915); D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (1926–27); G. R. Driver et al., The Babylonian Laws (1952–55); H. W. F. Saggs, Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria (1965, repr. 1987); J. Wellard, Babylon (1972).
an ancient state in southern Mesopotamia (region of present-day Iraq) that arose at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. and finally lost its independence in 539 B.C. It obtained its name from the main city Babylon. Prior to the rise of this center Babylonia was known as Sumer and Akkad (and frequently, following tradition, even in later times). Before the early 19th century B.C., Babylon did not play an independent role, for it was subject to the kings of Akkad (24th-22nd centuries) and later to the kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur (end of the 22nd and early 21st centuries).
In 1894 B.C. a local dynasty of Amorite origin became established in Babylonia, and under King Hammurabi it succeeded in unifying a large part of Mesopotamia and creating a large centralized slave-owning despotic state. Babylonia reached a high level of economic development. The irrigation system was extended, and bronze tools were used more than before. The importance of money grew; payment in silver gradually displaced barter and compensation in kind for work. Society was divided into slave owners and slaves, as proved by the state and private legal documents that have come down to us. As shown by Hammurabi’s Code of Laws, there were also hired farm laborers and artisans working on individual orders. The buying and selling of land was permitted, and tamkars (business agents engaged in trade and usury) were active. The rural communal society was in the process of disintegrating.
In the second half of the 18th century B.C., Babylonia was invaded by foreign enemies, mainly the Kassites, who occupied the entire country in the 16th century. Under the Kassite dynasty (1518-1204) a brief regression was followed by an economic upsurge, with development of horse breeding and establishment of regular relations with Egypt from which gold was imported. During the Kassite dynasty and succeeding dynasties, Babylonia was repeatedly invaded by new external enemies (chiefly the Assyrians and Elamites). In the seventh century B.C. (689 and 648), Babylon was destroyed twice by Assyrian troops.
In 626 B.C. the Assyrian vicegerent Nabopolassar (of Chaldean origin) separated from Assyria and proclaimed himself king of Babylonia. He supported the Medes in their struggle with Assyria and divided the territory of the Assyrian state with Cyaxares. The year 626 is usually considered the beginning of the neo-Babylonian kingdom. Under Nebuchadnezzar II, successful wars were waged against Egypt and its Asian allies. Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 and Judea became a province of Babylonia. In 574, Tyre acknowledged the authority of Babylonia. The economy of Babylonia reached a relatively high level under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II. Babylon became the main trade center of Southwest Asia. Trading and money-lending houses (Egibi and others) began to play a major role. Slave labor increased in importance in all branches of the economy. Several palace revolutions broke out after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II. In 555, Nabonidus seized the throne. Babylonia was defeated in the struggle with the Persian Achaemenid state in the middle of the sixth century. The Persian king Cyrus II captured Babylon in 539 B.C. Although the Persian kings formally called themselves kings of Babylonia until A.D. 482, the country had, in fact, lost its political independence.
REFERENCESRiftin, A. P. Staro-vavilonskie iuridicheskie i administrativnye dokumenty v sobraniiakh SSSR. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.
D’iakonov, I. M. “Zakony Vavilonii, Assirii i Khettskogo tsarstva.” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1952, nos. 3-4.
Nikol’skii, N. M. Chastnoe zemlevladenie i chastnoe zemlepol’zovanie v Drevnem Dvurech’e. Minsk, 1948.
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Meissner, B. Babylonien und Assyrien, vols. 1-2. Heidelberg, 1920-25.
D. G. REDER