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Terracotta Clay Cylinder of King Nebuchadnezzar II

Terracotta Clay Cylinder of King Nebuchadnezzar II

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The Great Biblical Enemy – Who was King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon?

By the 7th century BC, ancient Babylonia fell under the shadow of other powers in the region. But then a great king was born — it was time for Babylon to rise again.

Nebuchadnezzar II was Babylon’s great builder king, reigning from 605 until 562 BC. In his more than 40 years of rule, Nebuchadnezzar II extended the borders of his kingdom and undertook immense architectural efforts in his cities, most notably in the capital of Babylon.

For one, the iconic, glimmering-blue Ishtar Gate was commissioned under his command, the reconstruction of which can today be seen in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

An engraving on an eye stone of onyx with an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II.

If Nebuchadnezzar was loved for his great achievements by his own people, he was, of course, not so much admired by those whom he confronted. When the kingdom of Judah also fell under Babylonian dominion, and the Jewish elite were sent into exile to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar ensured his name would enter the Holy Scriptures as the great enemy of the Jewish people. In the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel, he would be referred to as the “enemy of God.” This depiction of Nebuchadnezzar has endured throughout the ages, going so far as to associate him with the “Antichrist” in some circles. A famous example of this is William Blake’s famous painting of Nebuchadnezzar, showing him in a brute, almost demonic state.

Nebuchadnezzar II by William Blake

Nebuchadnezzar II inherited the throne from his father, Nabopolassar, the first in the Chaldean lineage of kings to reign the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Nabopolassar, who claimed the throne around 625 BC, began Babylon’s decade-long confrontation with the neighboring Assyrians. The Assyrians lost the war, but their allies such as Egypt remained an open issue.

Building Inscription of King Nebuchadnezar II at the Ishtar Gate.

Nebuchadnezzar II inherited the throne from his father Nabopolassar in 604/605 BC. He had already demonstrated his prowess as Prince Consort, defeating the combined Egyptian and Assyrian armies in a battle near Carchemish. He was celebrated as a hero after the battle, as he appropriated new territories into the Neo-Babylonian empire.

Under Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylonia continued to grow in strength and power. The empire stretched from the Persian Gulf on the south, through the ancient rivers of Tigris and Euphrates in the middle, and ending to the west with Syria and Palestine. The territories included the historic Kingdom of Judea, which Nebuchadnezzar II claimed from Egypt, the most serious competitor to retain control of this territory.

This small terracotta cylinder records the work on the walls of the city of Babylon by the king Nabopolassar. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) CC BY-SA 4.0

What Nebuchadnezzar basically did was to drain each new territory he controlled of its gold and treasures, investing them for the prosperity and revival of Babylon.

In fact, this would be his life mission: to restore the former glory of the name of Babylon, lost in the previous century when much of the region was in the dominion of the Assyrians.

His own name must have served as a motivation as well. Nebuchadnezzar I was another great monarch, who had reigned Babylon from 1125 BC to 1104 BC and was the most distinguished ruler of that dynasty. Both of them share one other thing in common: they centered religion around the deity of Marduk, despite building their empires centuries apart.

As for building Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II stunningly improved the defensive structures by adding fortifications, walls, a great moat, and canals. Water, which was a precious resource for Babylon, was secured with a most sophisticated irrigation system, previously unseen in the known world.

This hand-coloured engraving, probably made in the 19th century after the first excavations in the Assyrian capitals, depicts the fabled Hanging Gardens, with the Tower of Babel in the background.

This same advanced water system could have well nourished the enigmatic Hanging Gardens of Babylon — traces of which have never been found by archeologists, but we learn about their grandiose from ancient scriptures.

The Hanging Gardens could have been yet another of Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments, as some sources hint, perhaps a gift to his wife Amytis of Media.

Detail of a terracotta cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II, recording the building and reconstruction works at Babylon, 604–562 BC. From Babylon, Iraq, housed in the British Museum Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) CC BY-SA 4.0

Nebuchadnezzar II also paved the Processional Way which connected with the famous Ishtar Gate. It would be around the Ishtar Gate that Babylonians would gather to celebrate a new agricultural year and engage in related New Year religious processions.

Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

The prosperity of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon had implications far greater than he could have possibly imagined.

After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the exiled Judean populations were able to go back and rebuild their city of Jerusalem. But many of them also opted to stay in Babylon, which, in the meantime, had grown as their new, thriving religious center.

René-Antoine Houasse’s 1676 painting Nebuchadnezzar giving royal order to your subjects the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to please his Consort Amyitis.

The Babylonian Talmud was produced in the city, today considered the principal source of Jewish religious law and theology.

National Geographic writes on the effect of the exile: “The pain of separation from home runs through the books of the Bible devoted to this time, resulting in some of its most beautiful passages. In his allegory of the Exile, Ezekiel casts Nebuchadnezzar as a ‘great eagle, with great wings and long pinions, rich in plumage of many colors.’”

Stone from the ruins of Babylon with a long inscription describing the achievements of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC). British Museum Photo by BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0

“The eagle king is presented as an instrument of God, who carries away the Jews and plants them as a seedling in ‘fertile soil a plant by abundant waters, he set it like a willow twig’ (Ezekiel 17:35). The experience profoundly shaped Jewish religious and national identity.”

When King Nebuchadnezzar II passed away in 562 BC, the glory and power of Babylon quickly plummeted. There was no succeeding ruler great enough to endure his legacy. Just two decades later, a new power rose to prominence in the region. Led by Cyrus the Great, the Persians seized Babylon and it was the beginning of a new era for this great ancient power center.


There are only very few cuneiform sources for the period between 594 BC and 557 BC, covering much of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, and the reigns of his three immediate successors Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar and Labashi-Marduk. [13] This lack of sources has the unfortunate effect that even though Nebuchadnezzar had the longest reign of all of them, less is confidently known of Nebuchadnezzar's reign than of the reigns of almost all the other Neo-Babylonian kings. Though the handful of cuneiform sources recovered, notably the Babylonian Chronicle, confirm some events of his reign, such as conflicts with the Kingdom of Judah, other events, such as the 586 BC destruction of Solomon's Temple and other potential military campaigns Nebuchadnezzar conducted, are not covered in any known cuneiform documents. [14]

Historical reconstructions of this period as such generally follow secondary sources in Hebrew, Greek and Latin to determine what events transpired at the time, in addition to contract tablets from Babylonia. [13] Though using the sources written by later authors, many of them created several centuries after Nebuchadnezzar's time and often including their own cultural attitudes to the events and figures discussed, [15] presents problems in and of itself, blurring the line between history and tradition, [14] it is the only possible approach to gain insight into Nebuchadnezzar's reign. [14]

Ancestry and early life Edit

Nebuchadnezzar was the eldest son of Nabopolassar ( r . 626–605 BC), the founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. This is confirmed by Nabopolassar's inscriptions, which explicily name Nebuchadnezzar as his 'eldest son', as well as inscriptions from Nebuchadnezzar's reign, which refer to him as the 'first' or 'chief son' of Nabopolassar, and as Nabopolassar's 'true' or 'legitimate heir'. [16] The Neo-Babylonian Empire was founded through Nabopolassar's rebellion, and later war, against the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which liberated Babylonia after nearly a century of Assyrian control. The war resulted in the complete destruction of Assyria, [17] and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose in its place, was powerful, but hastily built and politically unstable. [18]

As Nabopolassar never clarified his ancestry in lineage in any of his inscriptions, his origin is not entirely clear. Subsequent historians have variously identified Nabopolassar as a Chaldean, [19] [20] [21] an Assyrian [22] or a Babylonian. [23] Although no evidence conclusively confirms him as being of Chaldean origin, the term "Chaldean dynasty" is frequently used by modern historians for the royal family he founded, and the term "Chaldean Empire" remains in use as an alternate historiographical name for the Neo-Babylonian Empire. [19]

Strengthening this connection is that Nebuchadnezzar II is attested very early during his father's reign, from 626/625 to 617 BC, as high priest of the Eanna temple in Uruk, where he is often attested under the nickname 'Kudurru'. [2] [3] Nebuchadnezzar must have been made high priest at a very young age, considering that his year of death, 562 BC, is 64 years after 626 BC. [4] The original Kudurru's second son, Nabu-shumu-ukin, also appears to be attested as a prominent general under Nabopolassar, and the name was also used by Nebuchadnezzar II for one of his sons, possibly honoring his dead uncle. [2]

Name Edit

Nebuchadnezzar II's name in Akkadian was Nabû-kudurri-uṣur, [6] meaning "Nabu, watch over my heir". [8] The name was often interpreted in earlier scholarship as "Nabu, protect the boundary", given that the word kudurru can also mean 'boundary' or 'line'. Modern historians support the 'heir' interpretation over the 'boundary' interpretation in terms of this name. There is no reason to believe that the Babylonians intended the name to be difficult to interpret, or to have a double meaning. [26]

Nabû-kudurri-uṣur is typically anglicised to 'Nebuchadnezzar', following how name is most commonly rendered in Hebrew and Greek, particularly in most of the Bible. In Hebrew, the name was rendered as נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּר (Nəḇūḵaḏneʾṣṣar) and in Greek it was rendered as Ναβουχοδονόσορ (Nabouchodonosor). Some scholars, such as Donald Wiseman, prefer the anglicisation 'Nebuchadrezzar', with an 'r' rather than an 'n', following the assumption that 'Nebuchadnezzar' is a later, corrupted, form of the contemporary Nabû-kudurri-uṣur. The alternate anglicisation 'Nebuchadrezzar' derives from how the name is rendered in the Biblical Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר (Nəḇūḵaḏreʾṣṣar), a more faithful transliteration of the original Akkadian name. The Assyriologist Adrianus van Selms suggested in 1974 that the variant with an 'n' rather than an 'r' was a rude nickname, deriving from an Akkadian rendition like Nabû-kūdanu-uṣur, which means 'Nabu, protect the mule', though there is no evidence for this idea. Van Selms believed that a nickname like that could derive from Nebuchadnezzar's early reign, which was plagued by political instability. [27]

Nebuchadnezzar II's name, Nabû-kudurri-uṣur, was identical to the name of his distant predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar I ( r . c. 1125–1104 BC), who ruled more than five centuries before Nebuchadnezzar II's time. [6] Like Nebuchadnezzar II, Nebuchadnezzar I was a renowned warrior-king, who appeared in a time of political upheaval and defeated the forces of Babylon's enemies, in Nebuchadnezzar I's case the Elamites. [28] Although theophoric names using the god Nabu are common in texts from the early Neo-Babylonian Empire, the name Nebuchadnezzar is relatively rare, only being mentioned four times with certainty. Though there is no evidence that Nabopolassar named his son after Nebuchadnezzar I, Nabopolassar was knowledgeable in history and actively worked to connect his rule to the rule of the Akkadian Empire, which preceded him by nearly two thousand years. The significance of his son and heir bearing the name of one of Babylon's greatest kings would not have been lost on Nabopolassar. [29]

If Jursa's theory concerning Nabopolassar's origin is correct, it is alternatively possible that Nebuchadnezzar II was named after his grandfather of the same name, as the Babylonians employed patronymics, rather than after the previous king. [29] [30]

Nebuchadnezzar as crown prince Edit

Nebuchadnezzar's military career began already during the reign of his father, though little information survives. Based on a letter sent to the temple administration of the Eanna temple, it appears that Nebuchadnezzar participated in his father's campaign to take the city of Harran in 610 BC. [31] Harran was the seat of Ashur-uballit II, who had rallied what remained of the Assyrian army and ruled what was left of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. [32] The Babylonian victory in the Harran campaign, and the defeat of Ashur-uballit, in 609 BC marked the end of the ancient Assyrian monarchy, which would never be restored. [33] According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar also commanded an army in an unspecified mountainous region for several months in 607 BC. [31]

In the war against the Babylonians and Medes, Assyria had allied with Pharaoh Psamtik I of Egypt, who had been interested in ensuring Assyria's survival so that Assyria could remain as a buffer state between his own kingdom and the Babylonian and Median kingdoms. [34] After the fall of Harran, Psamtik's successor, Pharaoh Necho II, personally led a large army into former Assyrian lands to turn the tide of the war and restore the Neo-Assyrian Empire, [35] even though it was more or less a lost cause as Assyria had already collapsed. [36] As Nabopolassar was occupied with fighting the Kingdom of Urartu in the north, the Egyptians took control of the Levant largely unopposed, capturing territories as far north as the city of Carchemish in Syria, where Necho established his base of operations. [37]

Nebuchadnezzar's greatest victory from his time as crown prince came at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, [31] which put an end to Necho's campaign in the Levant by inflicting a crushing defeat on the Egyptians. [38] [36] Nebuchadnezzar had been the sole commander of the Babylonian army at this battle as his father had chosen to stay in Babylon, [17] perhaps on account of illness. [37] Necho's forces were completely annihilated by Nebuchadnezzar's army, with Babylonian sources claiming that not a single Egyptian escaped alive. [39] The account of the battle in the Babylonian Chronicle reads as follows: [31]

The king of Akkad [c] stayed home (while) Nebuchadnezzar, his eldest son (and) crown prince mustered [the army of Akkad]. He took his army's lead and marched to Carchemish, which is on the bank of the Euphrates. He crossed the river at Carchemish. [. ] They did battle together. The army of Egypt retreated before him. He inflicted a [defeat] upon them (and) finished them off completely. In the district of Hamath the army of Akkad overtook the remainder of the army of [Egypt which] managed to escape [from] the defeat and which was not overcome. They inflicted a defeat upon them (so that) a single (Egyptian) man [did not return] home. At that time Nebuchadnezzar conquered all of Ha[ma]th. [31]

The story of Nebuchadnezzar's victory at Carchemish reverberated through history, appearing in many later ancient accounts, including in the Book of Jeremiah and the Books of Kings in the Bible. It is possible to conclude, based on subsequent geopolitics, that the victory resulted in all of Syria and Palestine coming under the control of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, a feat which the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III ( r . 745–727 BC) only accomplished after five years of protracted military campaigns. [31] The defeat of Egypt at Carchemish ensured that the Neo-Babylonian Empire would grow to become the major power of the ancient Near East, and the uncontested successor of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. [17] [41]

Accession to the throne Edit

Nabopolassar died just a few weeks after Nebuchadnezzar's victory at Carchemish. [31] At this point in time, Nebuchadnezzar was still away on his campaign against the Egyptians, [39] having chased the retreating Egyptian forces to the region around the city of Hamath. [42] The news of Nabopolassar's death reached Nebuchadnezzar's camp on 8 Abu (late July), [42] [43] and Nebuchadnezzar quickly arranged affairs with the Egyptians and rushed back to Babylon, [39] where he was proclaimed king on 1 Ulūlu (mid-August). [42] The speed in which Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon might be due to the threat that one of his brothers (two are known by name: Nabu-shum-lishir [44] [45] and Nabu-zer-ushabshi) [46] could claim the throne in his absence. Though Nebuchadnezzar had been recognised as the eldest son and heir by Nabopolassar, Nabu-shum-lishir, [44] Nabopolassar's second-born son, [45] had been recognised as "his equal brother", a dangerously vague title. [44] [d] Despite these possible fears, there were no attempts made at usurping his throne at this time. [44]

One of Nebuchadnezzar's first acts as king was to bury his father. Nabopolassar was laid in a huge coffin, adorned with ornamented gold plates and fine dresses with golden beads, which was then placed within a small palace he had constructed in Babylon. [44] Shortly thereafter, before the end of the month in which he had been crowned, Nebuchadnezzar returned to Syria to resume his campaign. The Babylonian Chronicle records that 'he marched about victoriously' (meaning that he faced little to no resistance), returning to Babylon after several months of campaigning. [42] The Syrian campaign, though it resulted in a certain amount of plunder, was not a complete success in that it did not ensure Nebuchadnezzar's grasp on the region. He had seemingly failed to inspire fear, given that none of the westernmost states in the Levant swore fealty to him and paid tribute. [12]

Early military campaigns Edit

Though little information survives concerning them, the Babylonian Chronicle preserves brief accounts of Nebuchadnezzar's military activities in his first eleven years as king. In 604 BC, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned in the Levant once again, conquering the city of Ashkelon. [42] According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Ashkelon's king was captured and taken to Babylon, and the city was plundered and levelled to the ground. Modern excavations at Ashkelon have confirmed that the city was more or less destroyed at this point in time. [48] The Ashkelon campaign was preceded by a campaign in Syria, which was more successful than Nebuchadnezzar's first, resulting in oaths of fealty from the rulers of Phoenicia. [12]

In 603 BC, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned in a land whose name is not preserved in the surviving copy of the chronicle. The chronicle records that this campaign was extensive, given that the account mentions the construction of large siege towers and a siege of a city, the name of which does not survive either. Anson Rainey speculated in 1975 that the city taken was Gaza, whereas Nadav Na'aman thought in 1992 that it was Kummuh in south-eastern Anatolia. In the second half of the 5th century BC, some documents mentioned the towns Isqalanu (the name derived from Ashkelon) and Hazzatu (the name possibly derived from Gaza) near the city of Nippur, indicating that deportees from both of these cities lived near Nippur, and as such possibly that they had been captured at around the same time. [42]

In both 602 BC and 601 BC, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned in the Levant, though little information survives beyond that a 'vast' amount of booty was brought from the Levant to Babylonia in 602 BC. [42] On account of the entry for 602 BC also referring to Nabu-shum-lishir, Nebuchadnezzar's younger brother, in a fragmentary and unclear context, it is possible that Nabu-shum-lishir led a revolt against his brother in an attempt to usurp the throne in that year, especially since he is no longer mentioned in any sources after 602 BC. [49] The damage to the text however makes this idea speculative and conjectural. [42]

In the 601 BC campaign, Nebuchadnezzar departed from the Levant and then marched into Egypt. Despite the defeat at Carchemish in 605 BC, Egypt still had a great amount of influence in the Levant, even though the region was ostensibly under Babylonian rule. Thus, a campaign against Egypt was logical in order to assert Babylonian dominance, and also carried enormous economic and propagandistic benefits, but it was also risky and ambitious. The path into Egypt was difficult, and the lack of secure control of either side of the Sinai Desert could spell disaster. Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Egypt did fail–the Babylonian Chronicle states that both the Egyptian and Babylonian armies suffered a huge number of casualties. [50] Though Egypt was not conquered, the campaign did result in momentarily curbing Egyptian interest in the Levant, given that Necho II gave up his ambitions in the region. [51] In 599 BC, Nebuchadnezzar marched his army into the Levant and then attacked and raided the Arabs in the Syrian desert. Though apparently successful, it is unclear what the achievements gained in this campaign were. [50]

In 598 BC, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned against the Kingdom of Judah, succeeding in capturing the city of Jerusalem. [52] Judah represented a prime target of Babylonian attention given that it was at the epicenter of competition between Babylon and Egypt. By 601 BC, Judah's king, Jehoiakim, had begun to openly challenge Babylonian authority, counting on that Egypt would lend support to his cause. Nebuchadnezzar's first, 598–597 BC, assault on Jerusalem is recorded in the Bible, but also in the Babylonian Chronicle, [48] which describes it as follows: [48]

The seventh year [of Nebuchadnezzar], in the month of Kislimu, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Levant, and set up quarters facing the city of Judah [Jerusalem]. In the month of Addaru [early in 597 BC], the second day, he took the city and captured the king. He installed there a king of his choice. He colle[cted] its massive tribute and went back to Babylon. [48]

Jehoiakim had died during Nebuchadnezzar's siege and been replaced by his son, Jeconiah, who was captured and taken to Babylon, with his uncle Zedekiah installed in his place as king of Judah. Jeconiah is recorded as being alive in Babylonia thereafter, with records as late as 592 or 591 BC listing him among the recipients of food at Nebuchadnezzar's palace and still referring to him as the 'king of the land of Judah'. [48]

In 597 BC, the Babylonian army departed for the Levant again, but appears to not have engaged in any military activities as they turned back immediately after reaching the Euphrates. In 596 BC, Nebuchadnezzar marched his army along the Tigris river to do battle with the Elamites, but no actual battle happened as the Elamites retreated out of fear once Nebuchadnezzar was a day's march away. In 595 BC, Nebuchadnezzar stayed at home in Babylon but soon had to face a rebellion against his rule there, though he defeated the rebels, with the chronicle stating that the king 'put his large army to the sword and conquered his foe'. Shortly thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar again campaigned in the Levant and secured large amounts of tribute. In the last year recorded in the chronicle, 594 BC, Nebuchadnezzar campaigned in the Levant yet again. [52]

There were several years without any noteworthy military activity at all. Notably, Nebuchadnezzar spent all of 600 BC in Babylon, when the chronicle excuses the king by stating that he stayed in Babylon to 'refit his numerous horses and chariotry'. Some of the years when Nebuchadnezzar was victorious can also hardly be considered real challenges. Raiding the Arabs in 599 BC was not a major military accomplishment and the victory over Judah and the retreat of the Elamites were not secured on the battlefield. It thus appears that Nebuchadnezzar achieved little military success after the failure of his invasion of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar's poor military record had dangerous geopolitical consequences. If the Biblical record is to be believed, in Zedekiah's fourth year as king of Judah (594 BC), the kings of Ammon, Edom, Moab, Sidon and Tyre met in Jerusalem to deal with the possibility of throwing off Babylonian control. Evidence that Babylonian control was beginning to unravel is also clear from contemporary Babylonian records, such as the aforementioned rebellion in Babylonia itself, as well as records of a man being executed in 594 BC at Borspippa for 'breaking his oath to the king'. The oath-breaking was serious enough that the judge in the trial was Nebuchadnezzar himself. It is also possible that Babylonian–Median relations were becoming strained, with records of a "Median defector" being housed in Nebuchadnezzar's palace and some inscriptions indicating that the Medes were beginning to be seen as 'enemies'. By 594 BC, the failure of the Egyptian invasion, and the lacklustre state of Nebuchadnezzar's other campaigns, loomed high. According to the Assyriologist Israel Ephʿal, Babylon at this time was seen by its contemporaries more like a 'paper tiger' (i. e. an ineffectual threat) than a great empire, like Assyria had been just a few decades prior. [53]

Destruction of Jerusalem Edit

From his appointment as king of Judah, Zedekiah waited for the opportune moment to throw off Babylonian control. After Pharaoh Necho II's death in 595 BC, Egyptian intervention in affairs in the Levant increased once again under his successors, Psamtik II ( r . 595–589 BC) and Apries ( r . 589–570 BC), who both worked to encourage anti-Babylonian rebellions. [48] It is possible that the Babylonian failure to invade Egypt in 601 BC helped inspire revolts against the Babylonian Empire. [54] The outcome of these efforts was Zedekiah's open revolt against Nebuchadnezzar's authority. [48] Unfortunately, no cuneiform sources are preserved from this time and the only known account of the fall of Judah is the Biblical account. [48] [55]

In 589 BC, Zedekiah refused to pay tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, and he was closely followed in this by Ithobaal III, the king of Tyre. [56] In response to Zedekiah's uprising, [48] Nebuchadnezzar conquered and destroyed the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC, [48] [55] one of the great achievements of his reign. [48] [55] The campaign, which probably ended in the summer of 586 BC, resulted in the plunder and destruction of the city of Jerusalem, a permanent end to Judah, and it led to the Babylonian captivity, as the Jews were captured and deported to Babylonia. [48] Archaeological excavations confirm that Jerusalem and the surrounding area was destroyed and depopulated. It is possible that the intensity of the destruction carried out by Nebuchadnezzar at Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Levant was due to the implementation of something akin to a scorched earth-policy, aimed at stopping Egypt from gaining a foothold there. [57]

Some Jewish administration was allowed to remain in the region under the governor Gedaliah, governing from Mizpah under close Babylonian monitoring. [48] According to the Bible, and the 1st-century AD Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Zedekiah attempted to flee after resisting the Babylonians, but was captured at Jericho and suffered a terrible fate. According to the narrative, Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make an example out of him given that Zedekiah was not an ordinary vassal, but a vassal directly appointed by Nebuchadnezzar. As such, Zedekiah was supposedly taken to Riblah in northern Syria, where he had to watch his sons being executed before having his eyes gouged out and sent to be imprisoned in Babylon. [58]

Per the Books of Kings in the Bible, the campaign against Judah was longer than typical Mesopotamian wars, with the siege of Jerusalem lasting 18–30 months (depending on the calculation), rather than the typical length of less than a year. Whether the unusual length of the siege indicates that the Babylonian army was weak, unable to break into the city for more than a year, or that Nebuchadnezzar by this time had succeeded in stabilising his rule in Babylonia and could thus wage war patiently without being pressured by time to escalate the siege, is not certain. [55]

Later military campaigns Edit

As Herodotus describes Pharaoh Apries as campaigning in the Levant, taking the city of Sidon and fighting the Tyrians, it is possible that the Egyptians took advantage of the Babylonians being preoccupied with besieging Jerusalem to invade the Levant once more. [56] Apries is unlikely to have been as successful as Herodotus describes, given that it is unclear how the Egyptian navy would have defeated the superior navies of the Phoenician cities, and even if some cities had been taken, they must have shortly thereafter fallen into Babylonian hands again. [58] Tyre had rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar at around the same time as Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar moved to retake the city after his successful subduing of the Jews. [58]

The Biblical Book of Ezekiel describe Tyre in 571 BC as if it had been recently captured by the Babylonian army. [59] The supposed length of the siege, 13 years, [60] is only given by Flavius Josephus, and is subject to debate among modern scholars. [57] Josephus's account of Nebuchadnezzar's reign is obviously not entirely historic, as he describes Nebuchadnezzar as, five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, invading Egypt, capturing the Pharaoh and appointing another Pharaoh in his place. [55] Josephus states that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre in the seventh year of 'his' reign, though it is unclear of 'his' in this context refers to Nebuchadnezzar or Ithobaal III of Tyre. If it refers to Nebuchadnezzar, a siege begun in 598 BC and lasting for thirteen years, later simultaneously with the siege of Jerusalem, is unlikely to have gone unmentioned in Babylonian records. If the seventh year of Ithobaal is intended, the beginning of the siege may conjecturaly be placed after Jerusalem's fall. If the siege lasting 13 years is taken at face value, the siege would then not have ended before 573 or 572 BC. [60] The supposed length of the siege can be ascribed to the difficulty in besieging the city: Tyre was located on an island 800 metres from the coast, and could not be taken without naval support. Though the city withstood numerous sieges, it would not be captured until Alexander the Great's siege in 332 BC. [61]

In the end, the siege was resolved without a need of battle and did not result in the Tyre being conquered. [57] [61] It seems Tyre's king and Nebuchadnezzar came to an agreement for Tyre to continue to be ruled by vassal kings, though probably under heavier Babylonian control than before. Documents from Tyre near the end of Nebuchadnezzar's reign demonstrate that the city had become a centre for Babylonian military affairs in the region. [57] According to later Jewish tradition, it is possible that Ithobaal III was deposed and taken as a prisoner to Babylon, with another king, Baal II, proclaimed by Nebuchadnezzar in his place. [62] Nebuchadnezzar's campaigns in the Levant, most notably those directed towards Jerusalem and Tyre, completed the Neo-Babylonian Empire's transformation from a rump state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire to the new dominant power of the ancient Near East. [57] Still, Nebuchadnezzar's military accomplishments can be questioned, [12] given that the borders of his empire, by the end of his reign, had not noticeably increased in size and that his main rival, Egypt, had not submitted to his rule. Even after a reign of several decades, Nebuchadnezzar's greatest victory remained his victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC, before he even became king. [63]

Building projects Edit

The Babylonian king was traditionally a builder and restorer, and as such large-scale building projects were important as a legitimizing factor for Babylonian rulers. [66] Nebuchadnezzar extensively expanded and rebuilt his capital city of Babylon and the most modern historical and archaeological interpretations of the city reflect it as it appeared after Nebuchadnezzar's construction projects. [57] The projects were made possible through the prospering economy during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, sustained by his conquests. [67] His building inscriptions record work done to numerous temples, notably the restoration of the Esagila, the main temple of Babylon's national deity Marduk, and the completion of the Etemenanki, a great ziggurat dedicated to Marduk. [57]

Extensive work was also conducted on civil and military structures. Among the most impressive efforts was the work done surrounding the city's northern ceremonial entrance, the Ishtar Gate. These projects included restoration work on the South Palace, inside the city walls, the construction of a completely new North Palace, on the other side of the walls facing the gate, as well as the resoration of Babylon's Processional Street, which led through the gate, and of the gate itself. [67] The ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's North Palace are poorly preserved and as such its structure and appearance are not entirely understood. Nebuchadnezzar also constructed a third palace, the Summer Palace, built some distance north of the inner city walls in the northernmost corner of the outer walls. [68]

The restored Ishtar Gate was decorated with blue and yellow glazed bricks and depictions of bulls (symbols of the god Adad) and dragons (symbols of the god Marduk). Similar bricks were used for the walls surrounding the Processional Street, which also featured depictions of lions (symbols of the goddess Ishtar). [67] Babylon's Processional Street, the only such street yet excavated in Mesopotamia, ran along the eastern walls of the South Palace and exited the inner city walls at the Ishtar Gate, running past the North Palace. To the south, this street went by the Etemenanki, turning to the west and going over a bridge constructed either under the reign of Nabopolassar or Nebuchadnezzar. Some of the bricks of the Processional Street bear the name of the Neo-Assyrian king Sennacherib ( r . 705–681 BC) on their underside, perhaps indicating that construction of the street had begun already during his reign, but the fact that the upper side of the bricks all bear the name of Nebuchadnezzar suggests that construction of the street was completed under Nebuchadnezzar's reign. [69] Glazed bricks such as the ones used in the Procession Street were also used in the throne room of the South Palace, which was decorated with depictions of lions and tall, stylized palm trees. [67]

Nebuchadnezzar also directed building efforts on the city of Borsippa, with several of his inscriptions recording restoration work on that city's temple, the Ezida, dedicated to the god Nabu. Additionally, Nebuchadnezzar also restored the ziggurat of the Ezida, the E-urme-imin-anki, and also worked on the temple of Gula, Etila, as well as numerous other temples and shrines in the city. Nebuchadnezzar also repaired Borsippa's walls. [70]

Other great building projects by Nebuchadnezzar include the Nar-Shamash, a canal to bring water from the Euphrates close to the city of Sippar, and the Median Wall, a large defensive structure built to defend Babylonia against incursions from the north. [71] The Median Wall was one of two walls built to protect Babylonia's northern border. Further evidence that Nebuchadnezzar believed the north to be the most likely point of attack for his enemies comes from that he fortified the walls of northern cities, such as Babylon, Borsippa and Kish, but left the walls of southern cities, such as Ur and Uruk, as they were. [72] Nebuchadnezzar also began work on the Royal Canal, also known as Nebuchadnezzar's Canal, a great canal linking the Euphrates to the Tigris which in time completely transformed the agriculture of the region, but the structure was not completed until the reign of Nabonidus, who ruled as the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 556 to 539 BC. [71]

Death and succession Edit

Nebuchadnezzar died at Babylon in 562 BC. [11] The last known tablet dated to Nebuchadnezzar's reign, from Uruk, is dated to the same day, 7 October, as the first known tablet of his successor, Amel-Marduk, from Sippar. [73] Amel-Marduk's administrative duties probably began before he became king, during the last few weeks or months of his father's reign when Nebuchadnezzar was ill and dying. [74] Having ruled for 43 years, Nebuchadnezzar's reign was the longest of his dynasty [28] and he would be rembered favourably by the Babylonians. [75]

The succession to Nebuchadnezzar appears to have been a troublesome one. In one of the inscriptions written very late in his reign, after Nebuchadnezzar had already ruled for forty years, he affirms that he had been chosen for kingship by the gods before he had even been born. Stressing divine legitimacy in as great a fashion as this inscription, was usually only done by usurpers, or if there were political problems with his intended successor. Given that Nebuchadnezzar had been king for several decades, and had been the legitimate heir of his predecessor, the first option seems unlikely. [76] For unknown reasons, Nebuchadnezzar picked Amel-Marduk, who was not his eldest son, to be his crown prince and heir. [77] [78] The choice is especially strange given that some sources suggest that the relationship between Nebuchadnezzar and Amel-Marduk was particularly poor, with one surviving text describing both as parties in some form of conspiracy and accusing one of them (the text is too fragmentary to determine which one) of failing in the most important duties of Babylonian kingship through exploiting Babylon's populace and desecrating its temples. [77] Amel-Marduk also at one point appears to have been imprisoned by his father, possibly on account of the Babylonian aristocracy having proclaimed him as king while Nebuchadnezzar was away. [74] It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar intended to replace Amel-Marduk as heir with another son, but died before doing so. [79]

No surviving contemporary Babylonian documents provide the name of Nebuchadnezzar's wife. According to Berossus, her name was Amytis, daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. Berossus writes that '[Nabopolassar] sent troops to the assistance of Astyages, the tribal chieftain and satrap of the Medes in order to obtain a daughter of Astyages, Amyitis, as wife for his son [Nebuchadnezzar]'. Though the ancient Greek historian Ctesias instead wrote that Amytis was the name of a daughter of Astyages who had married Cyrus I of Persia, it seems more likely that a Median princess would marry a member of the Babylonian royal family, considering the good relations estalished between the two during Nabopolassar's reign. [46] Given that Astyages was still too young during Nabopolassar's reign to already have children, and was not yet king, it seems more probable that Amytis was Astyages's sister, and thus a daughter of his predecessor, Cyaxares. [80] By marrying his son to a daughter of Cyaxares, Nebuchadnezzar's father Nabopolassar likely sought to seal the alliance between the Babylonians and the Medes. [81] According to tradition, Nebuchadnezzar constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, featuring exoting shrubs, vines and trees as well as artificial hills, watercourses and knolls, so that Amytis would feel less homesick for the mountains of Media. No archaeological evidence for these gardens has yet been found. [82]

Nebuchadnezzar had six known sons. [83] Most of the sons, [84] with the exceptions of Marduk-nadin-ahi [78] and Eanna-sharra-usur, [85] are attested very late in their father's reign. It is possible that they might have been the product of a second marriage and that they could have been born relatively late in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, possibly after his known daughters. [84] The known sons of Nebuchadnezzar are:

  • Marduk-nadin-ahi (Akkadian: Marduk-nādin-aḫi) [84] – the earliest attested of Nebuchadnezzar's children, attested in a legal document, probably as an adult as he is described as being in charge of his own land, already in Nebuchadnezzar's third year as king (602/601 BC). Presumably Nebuchadnezzar's firstborn son, if not eldest child, and thus his legitimate heir. [86] He is also attested very late in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, named as a 'royal prince' in a document recording the purchase of dates by Sin-mār-šarri-uṣur, his servant, in 563 BC. [85][78]
  • Eanna-sharra-usur (Akkadian: Eanna-šarra-uṣur) [85] – named as a 'royal prince' among sixteen people in a document at Uruk from 587 BC recorded as receiving barley 'for the sick'. [85]
  • Amel-Marduk (Akkadian: Amēl-Marduk), [74] originally named Nabu-shum-ukin (Nabû-šum-ukīn) [74] – succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king in 562 BC. His reign was marred with intrigues and he only ruled for two years before being murdered and usurped by his brother-in-law, Neriglissar. Later Babylonian sources mostly speak ill of his reign. [83][87] Amel-Marduk is first attested, notably as crown prince, in a document 566 BC. [88] Given that Amel-Marduk had an older brother in Marduk-nadin-ahi, alive as late as 563 BC, why he was named crown prince is not clear. [89]
  • Marduk-shum-usur (Akkadian: Marduk-šum-uṣur [84] or Marduk-šuma-uṣur) [85] – named as a 'royal prince' in documents from Nebuchadnezzar's 564 BC and 562 BC years, recording payments by his scribe to the Ebabbar temple in Sippar. [85]
  • Mushezib-Marduk (Akkadian: Mušēzib-Marduk) [84] – named as a 'royal prince' once in a contract tablet from 563 BC. [85]
  • Marduk-nadin-shumi (Akkadian: Marduk-nādin-šumi) [85] – named as a 'royal prince' once in a contract tablet from 563 BC. [85]

Three of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters are known by name: [25]

  • Kashshaya (Akkadian: Kaššaya) [90] – attested in several economic documents from Nebuchadnezzar's reign as "the king's daughter". [91] Her name is of unclear origin it might be derived from the word kaššû (kassite). [92] Kashshaya is attested from contemporary texts as a resident of (and landowner in) Uruk. [25] Kashshaya is typically, although speculatively, identified as the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar who married Neriglissar. [84][93]
  • Innin-etirat (Akkadian: Innin-ēṭirat) [94] – attested as "the king's daughter" in a 564 BC document which records her granting mār-banûtu status [94] ("status of a free man") [95] to a slave by the name Nabû-mukkê-elip. [94] The document in question was written at Babylon, but names including the divine prefix Innin are almost unique to Uruk, suggesting that she was a resident of that city. [25]
  • Ba'u-asitu (Akkadian: Ba'u-asītu) [94] – attested as the owner of a piece of real estate in an economic document. The precise reading and meaning of her name is somewhat unclear. Paul-Alain Beaulieu, who in 1998 published the translated text which confirms her existence, believes that her name is best interpreted as meaning "Ba'u is a/the physician". [96] The document was written at Uruk, where Ba'u-asitu is presumed to have lived. [25]

It is possible that one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters married the high official Nabonidus. [97] Marriage to a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar could explain how Nabonidus could became king, and also explain why certain later traditions, such as the Book of Daniel in the Bible, describe Nabonidus's son, Belshazzar, as Nebuchadnezzar's son (descendant). [97] [98] Alternatively, these later traditions might instead derive from royal propaganda. [99] The ancient Greek historian Herodotus names the "last great queen" of the Babylonian Empire as 'Nitocris', though that name (nor any other name) is not attested in contemporary Babylonian sources. Herodotus's description of Nitocris contains a wealth of legendary material that makes it difficult to determine whether he uses the name to refer to Nabonidus's wife or mother, but William H. Shea proposed in 1982 that Nitocris may tentatively be identified as the name of Nabonidus's wife and Belshazzar's mother. [100]

Assessment by historians Edit

Nebuchadnezzar is recognised as the greatest and most prestigious king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. [8] [11] [12] Because of the scarcity of sources, assessment by historians of Nebuchadnezzar and his reign have differed considerably over time. Since military activity was not a major issue described in the inscriptions of any Neo-Babylonian king regardless of their actual military accomplishments, in sharp contrast to the inscriptions of their Neo-Assyrian predecessors, Nebuchadnezzar's own inscriptions talk very little about his wars. Out of the fifty or so known inscriptions by the king, only a single one deals with military action, and in this case only small-scale conflicts in the Lebanon region. Many Assyriologists, such as Wolfram von Soden in 1954, thus initially assumed that Nebuchadnezzar had mainly been a builder-king, devoting his energy and efforts to building and restoring his country. [101] A major change in evaluations of Nebuchadnezzar came with the publication of the tablets of the Babylonian Chronicle by Donald Wiseman in 1956, which cover the geopolitical events of Nebuchadnezzar's first eleven years as king. From the publication of these tablets and onwards, historians have shifted to perceiving Nebuchadnezzar as a great warrior, devoting special attention to the military achievements of his reign. [101]

According to the historian Josette Elayi, writing in 2018, Nebuchadnezzar is somewhat difficult to characterise on account of the scarcity of Babylonian source material. Elayi wrote, about Nebuchadnezzar, that 'He was a conqueror, even though reservations can be had about his military capabilities. There was no lack of statesmanlike qualities, given his success in building the Babylonian Empire. He was a great builder, who restored a country that for a long time had been devastated by war. That is roughly all we know about him because the Babylonian Chronicles and other texts say little about his personality.' [12]

In Jewish and Biblical tradition Edit

The Babylonian captivity initiated by Nebuchadnezzar came to an end with the fall of Babylon to the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. Within a year of their liberation, the captured Jews returned to Palestine. Their liberation did little to erase the memory of five decades of imprisonment and oppression. Instead, Jewish literary accounts ensured that accounts of the hardship endured by the Jews, as well as the monarch responsible for it, would be remembered for all time. [6] The Book of Jeremiah calls Nebuchadnezzar a 'lion' and a 'destroyer of nations'. [102]

Nebuchadnezzar's story thus found its way into the Old Testament of the Bible. [6] The Bible narrates how Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Kingdom of Judah, besieged, plundered and destroyed Jerusalem, and how he took away the Jews in captivity, portraying him as a cruel enemy of the Jewish people. [103] The Bible also portrays Nebuchadnezzar as the legitimate ruler of all the nations of the world, appointed to rule the world by God. As such, Judah, through divine ruling, should have obeyed Nebuchadnezzar and not rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar is also depicted as carrying out death sentences pronounced by God, slaying two false prophets. Nebuchadnezzar's campaigns of conquest against other nations are portrayed as being in-line with God's will for Nebuchadnezzar's dominance. [104]

Despite Nebuchadnezzar's negative portrayal, he is notably referred with the epithet 'my servant' (i.e. God's servant) in three places in the Biblical Book of Jeremiah. Nebuchadnezzar's attack on the Kingdom of Judah is theologically justified in the Book of Jeremiah on account of its populace's 'disobedience' of God, and the king is called 'Nebuchadressar the king of Babylon, my servant'. The Book of Jeremiah also states that God has made all the Earth and given it to whom it seemed proper to give it to, deciding upon giving all of the lands of the world to 'Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant'. The Book of Jeremiah also prophesises Nebuchadnezzar's victory over Egypt, stating that 'Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant' will invade Egypt and 'deliver to death those appointed for death, and to captivity those appointed for captivity, and to the sword those appointed for the sword'. Given that Nebuchadnezzar was the enemy of what the Bible proclaims as God's chosen people, possibly the worst enemy they had faced until this point, there must be a special reason for referring to him with the epithet 'my servant'. Other uses of this epithet are usually limited to some of the most positively portrayed figures, such as the various prophets, Jacob (the symbol of the chosen people) and David(the chosen king). Klaas A. D. Smelik noted in 2004 that 'in the Hebrew Bible, there is no better company conceivable than these at the same time, there is no candidate less likely for this title of honour than the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar'. [105] It is possible that the epithet is a later addition, as it is missing in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, perhaps added after Nabuchadnezzar began to be seen in a slightly more favourable light than immediately after Jerusalem's destruction. [106] Alternatively, possible theological explanations include Nebuchadnezzar, despite his cruelty, being seen as an instrument in fulfilling God's universal plan, or perhaps that designating him as a 'servant' of God was to show that readers should not fear Nebuchadnezzar, but his true master, God. [107]

In the Book of Daniel, recognised by scholars as a work of historical fiction, [108] [109] [110] [111] Nebuchadnezzar is given a portrayal that differs considerably from his portrayal in the Book of Jeremiah. He is for the most part depicted as a merciless and despotic ruler. The king has a nightmare, and asks his wisemen, including Daniel and his three companions Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to interpret the dream, but refuses to state the dream's contents. When the servants protest, Nebuchadnezzar sentences all of them (including Daniel and his companions) to death. By the end of the story, when Daniel successfully interpreted the dream, Nebuchadnezzar is nevertheless shown to be very grateful, showing Daniel with gifts, making him the governor of the 'province of Babylon' and making him the chief of the kingdoms' wisemen. A second story again casts Nebuchadnezzar as a tyrannical and pagan king, who after Daniel and his companions refuse to worship a newly erected golden statue sentences them to death through being thrown into a furnace. After Daniel interprets another dream as meaning that Nebuchadnezzar will lose his mind and live like an animal for seven years before being restored to his normal state, Nebuchadnezzar saves Daniel and his companions from their fiery fate and acknowledges Daniel's god as the 'lord of kings' and 'god of gods'. Though Nebuchadnezzar is also mentioned as acknowledging the Jewish god as the true god in other passages of the Book of Daniel, it is apparent that his supposed conversion to Judaism does not change his violent character, given that he proclaims that anyone who speaks amiss of God 'shall be cut in pieces and their houses shall be made a dunghill'. [112] The portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel is a fickle tyrant who is not particularly consistent in his faith, far from the typical 'servants of God' in other books of the Bible. [113]

Given that Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the father of Belshazzar in the Book of Daniel, it is probable that this portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar, especially the story of his madness, was actually based on Belshazzar's real father, Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire ( r . 556–539 BC). Separate Jewish and Hellenistic traditions exist concerning Nabonidus having been mad, [114] and it is likely that this madness was simply reattributed to Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel through conflation. [115] [116] Some later traditions conflated Nebuchadnezzar with other rulers as well, such as the Assyrian Ashurbanipal ( r . 669–631 BC), the Persian Artaxerxes III ( r . 358–338 BC), the Seleucids Antiochus IV Epiphanes ( r . 175–164 BC) and Demetrius I Soter ( r . 161–150 BC) and the Armenian Tigranes the Great ( r . 95–55 BC). [117] The apocryphal Book of Judith, which probably applies the name Nebuchadnezzar to Tigranes the Great of Armenia, refers to Nebuchadnezzar as a king of the Assyrians, rather than Babylonians, and demonstrates that Nebuchadnezzar was still viewed as an evil king, responsible for destroying Jerusalem, looting its temple, taking the Jews hostage in Babylon, and for the various misdeeds ascribed to him in later Jewish writings. [118]

In most of his inscriptions, Nebuchadnezzar is typically only titled as 'Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon' or 'Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the one who provides for Esagil and Ezida, son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon'. [119] In economic documents, Nebuchadnezzar is also ascribed the ancient title 'king of the Universe', [120] and he sometimes also used the title 'king of Sumer and Akkad', used by all the Neo-Babylonian kings. [121] Some inscriptions accord Nebuchadnezzar more elaborate version of his titles, including the following variant, attested in an inscription from Babylon: [119]

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, pious prince, the favorite of the god Marduk, exalted ruler who is the beloved of the god Nabû, the one who deliberates (and) acquires wisdom, the one who constantly seeks out the ways of their divinity (and) reveres their dominion, the indefatigable governor who is mindful of provisioning Esagil and Ezida daily and (who) constantly seeks out good things for Babylon and Borsippa, the wise (and) pious one who provides for Esagil and Ezida, foremost heir of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, am I. [119]

The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar

In Toronto, at the Royal Ontario Museum (if you haven’t visited you really should) are two square clay building blocks with an inscription stamped upon them reading, “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who provides for (the temples) Esagila and Ezida, the eldest son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, am I”. King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon was a prolific builder. According to some sources, Nebuchadnezzar’s workers used over 15,000,000 bricks in his building projects and almost all of them carried the same inscription.

Nebuchadnezzar was keenly aware of Egyptian Pharaoh’s and Mesopotamian monarchs who had been erased from the historical record by envious and resentful successors. The Babylonian king would not allow the same thing to happen to him. No one could ever take credit for his greatest work, the rebuilding of the great capital of Babylon but the man whose name and esteemed royal parentage was pressed into the very walls and foundations of everything he built.

For this reason, Nebuchadnezzar bricks are a relatively common sight at ancient history museums around the world. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York City is a dedication cylinder inscribed with cuneiform writing. It is one of many that have been found underneath Nebuchadnezzar’s building projects. The one at the MET commemorates Nebuchadnezzar’s construction of a new outer city wall and it reads in part, “I built a strong wall that cannot be shaken with bitumen and baked bricks… I laid its foundation on the breast of the netherworld, and I built its top as high as a mountain… The fortifications of Esagila and Babylon I strengthened and established the name of my reign forever.”” The world’s museums contain many other examples of Nebuchadnezzar’s self-glorification.

Cuneiform cylinder: inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II describing the construction of the outer city wall of Babylon at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

All of this fits perfectly the Biblical portrait of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom the prophet Daniel records as boasting:

Is this not Babylon the Great that I myself have built for the royal house by my own strength and might and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4: 30)

That Nebuchadnezzar was a vainglorious braggart is not controversial, nor is it particularly unusual for an ancient king. What is controversial is an episode that happened to the king as a direct consequence of his pride and his vanity. According to the Biblical prophet Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was punished by God and lost his sanity for a period of 7 years:

He was driven away from mankind, and he began to eat vegetation just like bulls, and his body became wet with the dew of the heavens, until his hair grew long just like eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4: 33)

At the end of the 7 years, Daniel reports that his reasoning faculties were divinely restored to him and that Nebuchadnezzar, the proudest of ancient rulers was forced to acknowledge Jehovah, the God of Israel.

Some historians have described this event as being fictional. They make this claim on the following grounds:

  • We know too much of Nebuchadnezzar’s life and the historical record does not allow for 7 missing years from his reign.
  • If Nebuchadnezzar was incapacitated by mental illness, surely other ambitious and grasping nobles would have eliminated him to assume the throne.
  • No other contemporary historical record reports this event as one might expect if Nebuchadnezzar suffered such a fate.

Of course, if this account is fiction than a case may be made that the famous prophetic claims in the Bible book of Daniel are fictional as well. So let us examine each of those objections closely.

The Critics Arguments Examined

How much do we really know of the life of King Nebuchadnezzar? In some respects, we know a great deal. This knowledge is acquired by means of contemporary or near-contemporary historians, the Biblical record and finally the archeological record. Paul Ferguson, a professor of the Old Testament wrote that, “Meticulous historical records are available up to about the eleventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, after which the chronicles are practically silent.” This would suggest that something was seriously amiss in the later part of the king’s reign. As Nebuchadnezzar II had the longest reign of any king of the Babylonian empire (almost 43 years), and as so little is known about so many of those years, there can be no basis for claiming that too much is known of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign to allow for 7 missing years.

Would Nebuchadnezzar’s incapacity necessarily have led to his assassination? This is the weakest argument against Daniel’s claim, because many historical examples argue otherwise. King George III of England famously struggled with mental illness for decades and for the last 10 years of his life was incapacitated to the point that a Regent had to be appointed to carry out his royal functions. Yet George III died of natural causes at a ripe old age. Similarly, it is likely that the son and eventual successor of Nebuchadnezzar named in the Bible Evil-merodach (Jeremiah 52: 31) known to history as Amel-Marduk served as Regent during his father’s incapacity.

It should also be noted that in the ancient Middle-East, the mentally ill were sometimes regarded with a superstitious fear as it was thought that they had a special channel to the divine and so their ravings were often examined for evidence of inspiration. For this reason, many cultures thought it bad luck to kill a mentally ill person. This seems to have been why David, before he became King feigned insanity while amongst the Philistine’s in Gath. (1 Samuel 21: 13) Doing so seems to have saved his life because the Philistines had wanted him to kill him.

So there is no reason to suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would have necessarily been murdered during his period of his incapacitation. Evil-merodach may have been happy to wait for his father’s natural death and of course in the meantime he enjoyed all the privileges of full kingship while serving as Prince Regent.

Finally, is the contemporary historical record silent on the subject of Nebuchadnezzar’s period of insanity? Before answering this question, a couple of points should be made. Ancient historical records were seldom written to be objective, but rather served as national propaganda. Therefore, public monuments would record victories, but seldom defeats. The accomplishments of a ruler were boasted of and often embellished. For example, it is not unusual to read on ancient monuments boastful accounts of successful military campaigns, the construction of some new palace or public building project or of the unsurpassed wealth of the ruler etc. Defeats in battle, national or royal scandals or other accounts that did not serve to flatter or elevate the esteem of the sovereign were almost never recounted (which makes the Biblical “warts and all” historical accounts of the kings of Judah and Israel so refreshing!) So we should not expect to find many historical or archeological records detailing what was to the Babylonian royal family, likely an embarrassing family secret.

The second point about the lack of information from the contemporary historical record is simply that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! The fact that little or no historical evidence exists does not mean a certain event never occurred. It may simply mean that the event was not sufficiently recorded by historians. For example, the Bible book of Ezekiel recounts two events regarding the military campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar that contemporary historians were generally silent on. They were the protracted siege by Nebuchadnezzar of the Phoenician city of Tyre and the second was his military campaign against Egypt. Yet while contemporary historians were silent on those two events, archeological evidence has shown that they both took place! The archeological record showed that the Bible was correct. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have seen that this has been the case over and over again.

The Account Of Megasthenes

Oftentimes, ancient historians had access to records or histories that are simply lost to us. The famous 4th century historian of early Christendom named Eusebius quoted one such source. He quoted a Greek historian named Abydenus who wrote a history of the Assyrians. In that history, Abydenus quotes another ancient Greek historian named Megasthenes whose works are also largely lost to history. Megasthenes was born circa 350 B.C, so his writings by ancient standards could be considered nearly contemporaneous with the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.

Eusebius quotes regarding Nebuchadnezzar: “ABYDENUS, in his history of the Assyrians, has preserved the following fragment of Megasthenes, who says: That Nabucodrosorus (Nebuchadnezzar), having become more powerful than Hercules, invaded Libya and Iberia, and when he had rendered them tributary, he extended his conquests over the inhabitants of the shores upon the right of the sea. It is moreover related by the Chaldæans, that as he went up into his palace he was possessed by some god and he cried out and said: “Oh! Babylonians, I, Nabucodrosorus (Nebuchadnezzar), foretell unto you a calamity which must shortly come to pass…”

This may be seen as a badly garbled recounting of the same episode that Daniel records in Daniel chapter 4. Megasthenes says Nebuchadnezzar, after completing his various military adventures (which we know included the conquest of Judah and its capital Jerusalem), went up into his palace and there, “he was possessed by some god”. The dismissive sounding phrase, “some god” would seem to refer to a deity who was foreign to Megasthenes but whom Bible readers would identify as Jehovah the God of Israel. This possession was followed by a judgement message. Compare now the Bible account in the book of Daniel:

“… he (Nebuchadnezzar) was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king was saying: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I myself have built for the royal house by my own strength and might and for the glory of my majesty?” While the word was yet in the king’s mouth, a voice came down from the heavens: “To you it is being said, O King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘The kingdom has gone away from you, and from mankind you are being driven away.” (Daniel 4: 29-32)

The similarities between the accounts are obvious. Of course there are differences. In Megasthenes account, the judgement message concerns the eventual downfall of Babylon to the Persians. In Daniel’s account the judgement message concerns the kings debasement, to live as an animal for 7 years. In Megasthenes account, Nebuchadnezzar dies after his possession ends. In Daniel’s account, Nebuchadnezzar’s senses are restored to him after 7 years and he dies at some point after this. Still there is enough here to come to the reasonable conclusion that both accounts refer to the same event.

A Babylonian Document Of Nebuchadnezzar’s Illness?

And what of archeology, can it shine any light on the madness of King Nebuchadnezzar? Remarkably, a rare find at the British Museum seems to corroborate Nebuchadnezzar’s illness! The Babylonian cuneiform tablet was first published in 1975 by A.K. Grayson. The tablet is broken and so the text is not as complete as what me might wish for. But for a Bible student, the text that remains is very exciting indeed! The tablet reads:

2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered

3 His life appeared of no value to [him, ……]

5 And (the) Babylon(ian) speaks bad counsel to Evil-merodach [….]

6 Then he gives an entirely different order but [. . .]

7 He does not heed the word from his lips, the cour[tier(s) – – -]

11 He does not show love to son and daughter [. . .]

12 … family and clan do not exist [. . .]

14 His attention was not directed towards promoting the welfare of Esagil [and Babylon]

16 He prays to the lord of lords, he raised [his hands (in supplication) (. . .)]

17 He weeps bitterly to Marduk, the g[reat] gods [……]

18 His prayers go forth to [……]

A couple of points before we attempt to understand the inscription. The missing lines are illegible, so significant content is missing. The end of every line is missing due to the condition of the tablet so some of the lines are incomplete. This being said, enough remains of the text that coupled with Daniel chapter 4 we can make a reasonable reconstruction.

It is clear from line number 2 that the text refers to King Nebuchadnezzar. Lines 3, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 14 seem to refer to the abnormal behaviour of Nebuchadnezzar which is being reported to his son and heir Evil-merodach by the courtiers and palace officials. They report to the son that his father the king’s life appears of no value to him, his orders are contradictory, he does not listen to his palace courtiers, he neglects his own sons and daughters, he is not performing his sacred religious duties as king at the most important temple complex in Babylon called the Esagil. Who is giving bad counsel to Evil-merodach in line 5? Could it be palace officials who counselled Evil-merodach to assume the throne entirely, rather than merely serve as Regent during his fathers incapacity? Lines 16 through 18 may refer to Evil-merodach’s attempts to enlist the aid of Marduk, the principal god in the Babylonian pantheon of deities. It seems his prayers go unanswered.

Although other interpretations are possible, in the light of Daniel chapter 4 we seem to be catching a glimpse of a Nebuchadnezzar’s period of affliction from the perspective of palace officials. In the text, something is seriously wrong with Nebuchadnezzar and nobody, least of all his son and heir Evil-merodach knows what to do about it. The gods just aren’t listening! There is a definite tone of desperation in the text. We are listening in as those who are in the know discuss a deep, dark palace secret.

Of course, Daniel chapter 4 reveals that Nebuchadnezzar would survive his 7 year period of insanity and his faculties were restored to him. It was then that Nebuchadnezzar, this haughtiest of rulers was forced to acknowledge that Jehovah, the God of the Hebrew people who were at this point languishing in exile throughout his empire, was superior to the god’s of Babylonia.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, am praising and exalting and glorifying the King of the heavens, because all his works are truth and his ways are just, and because he is able to humiliate those who are walking in pride.” (Daniel 4: 37)

Did Nebuchadnezzar abandon Marduk and the vast array of gods in Babylon and come to worship the one god of the Hebrews? Since the first part of his reign was marked with abundant public declarations of devotion to Marduk and the gods, some have suggested that the fact that very few religious inscriptions or proclamations exist from the later part of his reign may indicate a loss of enthusiasm for the gods of Babylon. Still, the evidence is scanty. Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgement of Jehovah at Daniel 4 verse 37 may have been a short-lived recognition or his declaration may have been simply a statement of fact but did not reflect a changed heart. It also seems likely that after his restoration to active duty, Nebuchadnezzar did not have many years of life left to him. Thankfully for Bible readers and history lovers, the prophet Daniel would survive Nebuchadnezzar and live to see the end of Babylonian rule.

Picture Credits:

Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake from 1795. Copper engraving with pen and ink and watercolour. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Building brick from Babylon with inscription at the Royal Ontario Museum. Photo by author.

Nebuchadnezzar cylinder at the MET. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

See also

  1. ↑ "In some passages of the Bible, the name is given, mistakenly, with an "n" in place of the "r," as Nebuchadnezzar." Asimov, I. (1968) The Near East, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., p. 62
  2. ↑ In Jeremiah 49:28 only, the Hebrew name is
  3. נְבוּכַדְרֶאצּוֹר , with
  4. צּוֹ instead of
  5. צַּ .
  6. ↑ This is the Hebrew spelling in 13 cases in 13 other cases, the Hebrew spelling is one of the following:

A Cylinder to Remember the Ruler

Finally, it is worth mentioning an artifact connected to the Babylonian ruler. A clay cylinder known as the ‘Nabopolassar Cylinder’ was discovered in Baghdad around 1921. From the inscription on the cylinder, we learn that the ruler portrayed himself as a pious man and it was due to this piety that the gods were on his side.

This small terracotta cylinder records the work on the walls of the city of Babylon by the king Nabopolassar. From Babylon, Mesopotamia, Iraq. Neo-Babylonian period, 625-605 BC. The British Museum, London. (Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

The author of the text, presumably Nabopolassar himself, mentions how he succeeded in defeating the Assyrians with the help of the gods. Moreover, the text also mentions the restoration work he had carried out on some of the structures in Babylon.

Top image: Babylonian/Assyrian king by Angus McBride. ( Public Domain ) Background: Detail of a relief reconstruction from the processional way that lead to the Ishtar Gate. ( CC0)

Nebuchadnezzar&rsquos &lsquoTower of Babel&rsquo

N ebuchadnezzar ii is one of the most infamous kings of the Bible. He is particularly known for the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century b.c.e ., and for his relationship with the Prophet Daniel. Proof of his exploits, as described in the Bible, has been evidenced heavily in archaeology: his role as king of Babylon, his defeat of the Egyptian army, his repeat sieges of Jerusalem, his installation of a puppet king (Zedekiah), and his final destruction of Jerusalem c. 586 b.c.e . There is even a possible reference to the Prophet Daniel’s three friends on one of Nebuchadnezzar’s clay tablets (see here for more information).

One thing Nebuchadnezzar isn’t generally known for, though, is a link with the tower of Babel—the attempt by Nimrod to build a tower up to heaven, dashed by God’s confounding of the languages (Genesis 11). A small handful of artifacts, however, help show an interesting link between Nebuchadnezzar and the biblical colossus.

Birs Cylinders

The Birs Cylinders are a series of clay cylinders dating to c. 600 b.c.e ., discovered by Sir Henry Rawlinson during the mid-19th century at the Babylonian site of Borsippa. The cylinders, bearing parallel inscriptions, were found inserted into the walls of a massive, heavily damaged tower at the site. This tower—a type of the famous Mesopotamian religious ziggurats—had been heavily repaired during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. Bricks were found around the site, having been stamped with the name of the king. And the wall cylinders had an interesting story to tell. Rawlinson (known as the father of Assyriology) translated the inscriptions as follows:

I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon … my great lord has established me in strength, and has urged me to repair his buildings … the Tower of Babylon, I have made and finished … the Tower of Borsippa had been built by a former king. He had completed 42 [cubits?], but he did not finish its head from the lapse of time it had become ruined … the rain and wet had penetrated into the brickwork the casing of burnt brick had bulged out … Merodach, my great lord, inclined my heart to repair the building. I did not change its site, nor did I destroy its foundation platform but, in a fortunate month, and upon an auspicious day, I undertook the rebuilding … I set my hand to build it up, and to finish its summit. As it had been in ancient times, so I built up its structure ….

As translated above, Nebuchadnezzar literally calls this monument the Tower of Babylon. (“Babylon” is interchangeable with Babel.) He describes this tower as an important ancient Babylonian edifice built by a “former king” that, for some reason or other, the workers stopped short in finishing—they “did not finish its head.” Why not? Some clue could be taken from the second name Nebuchadnezzar gives for this tower: the Tower of Borsippa. Borsippa literally means tongue tower, thus providing a link to language. Surely a significant linguistic event must have happened in order for Borsippa to receive its unique name? The Bible—as well as early secular histories—provide the explanation.

There is another translation of this text that is even more direct in language. This one comes from Rawlinson’s contemporary Assyriologist, Julius Oppert. He translates a couple of lines slightly differently:

… the most ancient monument of Babylon I built and finished it … A former king built it—they reckon 42 ages [ago]—but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it without order expressing their words ….

This translation calls this massive, unfinished tower the most ancient monument of Babylon. This fits squarely with the tower of Babel (Genesis 10:10 11:4). And, if indeed more accurate, it provides an even stronger link to the language “phenomenon” at the tower of Babel, stating that sometime during this original building project the people had “abandoned it without order expressing their words.” Was this, then, the reason that the tower was named Borsippa—because a great “Babel” of “unordered words” led to the abandonment of the project? And what caused such a linguistic phenomenon, that such a rich and luxurious tower would be built and then abandoned, with only its upper “head” left to finish?

The fascinating account on the cylinders—either translation—matches beautifully with the biblical record, found in Genesis 11:4, 6-9:

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven …. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language …. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth ….

Borsippa today lies in ruins however, the imposing remains of the ziggurat still tower to a height of 52 meters above the plain. Borsippa is also commonly known as Birs Nimrud, due to the strong traditional connection with Nimrod.

Not only does Nebuchadnezzar describe, on these cylinders, a rebuilding of this tower, another of his inscriptions depicts what it may have looked like.

Tower of Babel Stele

The Tower of Babel Stele is a black ceremonial stone, about 50 centimeters (20 inches) tall, discovered just over a century ago among the ruins of the city of Babylon. Since then, it has been kept as part of the private Norwegian Schøyen Collection. It has only recently been restudied, and the conclusions have led to great excitement in the scientific community, along with a corresponding video production by the Smithsonian Channel reexamining the authenticity of the Tower of Babel story.

The tablet, belonging to King Nebuchadnezzar, dates to around 600 b.c.e ., and includes a depiction of the king in the upper right-hand corner. In the left-hand corner of the tablet there is a diagram of a large, seven-storied tower above it, a separate floor plan of the massive edifice. The lower part of the tablet contains an inscription, describing Nebuchadnezzar’s tower-building programs. The partial translation follows:

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon am I: In order to complete [the towers] Etemenanki and Eurmeiminanki, I mobilized all countries everywhere … the base I filled in to make a high terrace. I built their structures with bitumen and baked brick throughout. I completed it raising its top to the heaven ….

This tablet describes two different religious towers, known as ziggurats: Etemenanki and Eurmeiminanki. Etemenanki was the central tower in later Babylon, and Eurmeiminanki was the Borsippa tower described earlier, located about 11 miles away. This stele is primarily dedicated to the tower at Etemenanki however, the diagram and floor plan depicted on the stele may apply to both structures, given the textual description of both. On this stele, we may have a glimpse into what the tower of Babel looked like—or, at least, what Nebuchadnezzar’s reconstruction of it looked like. This was an imposing tower: Archaeological excavations, as well as a third century b.c.e . Greek document, show that it was nearly 100 meters wide and probably the same height (in comparison, the Great Pyramid of Giza is about 140 meters tall). The stele’s statement of raising the tower’s top to the heaven is interesting—it parallels the intent in building the tower of Babel, “whose top is in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4).

The Etemenanki ziggurat (again, a likely parallel to the Borsippa tower) is also described by fifth-century b.c.e . historian Herodotus:

In the middle of [Babylon’s] precinct there was a tower of solid masonry … upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. … On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple … There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land.

This woman appears to have been a representation of the ancient deified Inanna/Ishtar, herself associated in later traditions as the mother-wife of Nimrod.

And as an aside, Herodotus’s description of a winding ascent—together with the stele’s representation of the tower—show that some of the famous Renaissance paintings of a “stepped” tower of Babel are not too far off the mark.

Clearly, we cannot know from these discoveries precisely what the original tower of Babel looked like, or even if Nebuchadnezzar really did rebuild his tower over the “right spot”—there is still much debate as to the location of the tower of Babel’s ruins. Putting aside the diagrams, location debates and Nebuchadnezzar’s handsome portrait, the most significant part of Nebuchadnezzar’s rediscovered memorials is the rich textual history, which does indeed closely parallel the biblical account of the earliest Babylonian memories at an original tower of Babel.

Unfortunately, certain scholars have used Nebuchadnezzar’s Tower of Babel Stele to say that the tower Nebuchadnezzar built became the inspiration for the Israelite’s tower of Babel story—that it was from this late, c. 600 b.c.e . tower that the legendary epic (dated to about 2300 b.c.e ., according to biblical chronology) derived. But Nebuchadnezzar’s own cylinder inscriptions affirm that his tower was built as an attempt to complete the most ancient [and unfinished] monument in Babylon. Archaeology has shown that Babylon’s history goes back—surprise, surprise—to c. 2300 b.c.e .

But these 600 b.c.e . inscriptions are not even the earliest archaeological record we have of a tower of Babel–confusion of languages story. An Assyrian inscription, written up to 200 years earlier (eighth century b.c.e .), describes a tower built in Babylon and a deity who set out “to confound their speeches.” Another text, dating approximately 1,400 years earlier (c. 2100 b.c.e .), describes the building of a tower, a deity confounding languages, and a prescribed incantation to cause the language of the people to become as one! More on those discoveries can be read here.

Despite the claims of critics (particularly those who try to pass off the Bible as a late forgery of overly imaginative writers), archaeological finds such as Nebuchadnezzar’s cylinders and Tower of Babel Stele continue to provide sound evidence that backs up the biblical account. Nothing has been disproved—only the numerous theories of the critics. It is the critics who are almost monthly forced to “move their goalposts”—not the Hebrew Bible, which has remained unchanged for well over 2,000 years.

For more information on what archaeology says about Nimrod, the original builder of the tower of Babel, read our article “NIMROD: Found?”

And if the Bible is accurate about the tower of Babel, then could it also be accurate about what followed—the forced spread of humanity around the world, according to languages, from this single post-Flood group? Such an event would result in some form of a tower of Babel–confusion of languages story being carried by separate cultures all over the world. And that we do find? These stories are found among the world’s most far-reaching, diverse cultures. You can read about them in our article “The Tower of Babel: Just a Bible Story?”

For a more complete look at the accuracy of the biblical account, read our booklet The Proof of the Bible. You can read it online or request a free print copy.

The Persians

By the 7 th century BCE, a group of ancient Iranian people had established the Median Empire, a vassal state under the Assyrian Empire that later tried to gain its independence in the 8th century BCE. After Assyria fell in 605 BCE, Cyaxares, king of the Medes, extended his rule west across Iran. (21)

Cyrus the Persian or &ldquoGreat&rdquo

Around 550 BCE, Cyrus II of Persia, who became known as Cyrus the Great, rose in rebellion against the Median Empire, eventually conquering the Medes to create the first Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus utilized his tactical genius, as well as his understanding of the socio-political conditions governing his territories, to eventually assimilate the neighboring Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires into the new Persian Empire. (21)

Cyrus, whose rule lasted between 29 and 31 years, until his death in battle in 530 BCE, controlled the vast Achaemenid Empire through the use of regional monarchs, called satrap , who each oversaw a territory called asatrapy . The basic rule of governance was based upon the loyalty and obedience of the satrapy to the central power, the king, and compliance with tax laws. Cyrus also connected the various regions of the empire through an innovative postal system that made use of an extensive roadway and relay stations.

Cyrus the Great was recognized for achievements in human rights and politics, having influenced both Eastern and Western Civilization. The ancient Babylonians called him &ldquoThe Liberator,&rdquo while the modern nation of Iran calls Cyrus its &ldquofather.&rdquo (22)

The book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible remembers him as a savior or &ldquomessiah&rsquo. This is for good reason. Cyrus granted the descendants of the exiled kingdom of Judah to return home to Israel in 540 BCE following Babylonian captivity (c.f. Isa 45:1). The Cyrus Cylinder serves as a testament of the Persian king&rsquos magnanimous treatment of captured persons.

The Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder is an ancient clay artifact, now broken into several fragments, that has been called the oldest-known charter of universal human rights and a symbol of his humanitarian rule. The cylinder dates from the 6 th century BCE, and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, in 1879. In addition to describing the genealogy of Cyrus, the declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script on the cylinder is considered by many Biblical scholars to be evidence of Cyrus&rsquos policy of repatriation of the Jewish people following their captivity in Babylon.

The historical nature of the cylinder has been debated, with some scholars arguing that Cyrus did not make a specific decree, but rather that the cylinder articulated his general policy allowing exiles to return to their homelands and rebuild their temples. (22)

Darius I

When Darius I (550-486 BCE), also known as Darius the Great , ascended the throne of the Achaemenid Empire in 522 BCE, he established Aramaic as the official language and devised a codification of laws for Egypt. Darius also sponsored work on construction projects throughout the empire, focusing on improvement of the cities of Susa,Pasargadae , Persepolis, Babylon, and various municipalities in Egypt.

When Darius moved his capital from Pasargadae to Persepolis, he revolutionized the economy by placing it on a silver and gold coinage and introducing a regulated and sustainable tax system. This structure precisely tailored the taxes of each satrapy based on its projected productivity and economic potential. For example, Babylon was assessed for the highest amount of silver taxes, while Egypt owed grain in addition to silver taxes. (22)

Behistun Inscription

Sometime after his coronation, Darius ordered an inscription to be carved on a limestone cliff of Mount Behistun in modern Iran. The Behistun Inscription, the text of which Darius wrote, came to have great linguistic significance as a crucial clue in deciphering cuneiform script.

The inscription begins by tracing the ancestry of Darius, followed by a description of a sequence of events following the deaths of the previous two Achaemenid emperors, Cyrus the Great and Cyrus&rsquos son, Cambyses II, in which Darius fought 19 battles in one year to put down numerous rebellions throughout the Persian lands.

The inscription, which is approximately 15 meters high and 25 meters wide, includes three versions of the text in three different cuneiform languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, which was a version of Akkadian. Researchers were able to compare the scripts and use it to help decipher ancient languages, in this way making the Behistun Inscription as valuable to cuneiform as the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs. (22)

The Persian Empire After Darius I

Between c. 500&ndash400 BCE, Darius the Great and his son, Xerxes I, ruled the Persian Plateau and all of the territories formerly held by the Assyrian Empire, including Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Cyprus. It eventually came to control Egypt, as well. This expansion continued even further afield with Anatolia and the Armenian Plateau, much of the Southern Caucasus, Macedonia, parts of Greece and Thrace, Central Asia as far as the Aral Sea, the Oxus and Jaxartes areas, the Hindu Kush and the western Indus basin, and parts of northern Arabia and northern Libya.

This unprecedented area of control under a single ruler stretched from the Indus Valley in the east to Thrace and Macedon on the northeastern border of Greece. At its height, the Achaemenid Empire ruled over 44% of the world&rsquos population, the highest such figure for any empire in history. (21)

Special Treatment

If anything, the Jews were treated better than most. Most of the nations that Babylon conquered were so badly crushed that they left no signs of life for years. The only people who seemed to continue to live in their homelands and trade with their neighbors were the Jews in the northern Judah state of Benjamin. For whatever reason, they alone seem to be have been allowed to stay in their homeland after the Babylonian invasion.

King Jehoiachin, the king of Judah, was given a seat of honor in Babylon and provided with monthly stipend of grain and oil. Cuneiform tablets found in Babylon show that Nebuchadnezzar made sure he was given oil and barley directly from the royal storehouses, and even provided for Jehoiachin’s family and his men.

Detail of a terracotta cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II, recording the building and reconstruction works at Babylon. 604–562 BC. From Babylon, Iraq, housed in the British Museum. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Some of Jews living as expats got rich. Archaeologists have found tablets listing land contracts, purchases, and other dry little administrative details that hint at some incredible stories. Within a few years of being conquered, some of the Jews living in Babylon had already earned enough to buy massive tracts of lands or to be counted among the elite.

Some rose so high that they were counted among the most powerful people in Babylon. There are records of Jews in Babylon who worked as royal merchants, courtiers, and even officials in direct service to the king.

The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform on the orders of Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 B.C.E.) after he captured Babylon in 539 B.C.E. It was found in Babylon in modern Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation.

Cyrus claims to have achieved this with the aid of Marduk, the god of Babylon. He then describes measures of relief he brought to the inhabitants of the city, and tells how he returned a number of images of gods, which Nabonidus had collected in Babylon, to their proper temples throughout Mesopotamia and western Iran. At the same time he arranged for the restoration of these temples, and organized the return to their homelands of a number of people who had been held in Babylonia by the Babylonian kings. Although the Jews are not mentioned in this document, their return to Palestine following their deportation by Nebuchadnezzar II, was part of this policy.

Watch the video: Γιατί πριν γυαλιζουμε πρέπει να καθαριστεί με πηλό η επιφάνεια στο βερνίκι (June 2022).


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