After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, two new empires rose to power. They were the Babylonians in the south and the Assyrians to the north. The Babylonians were the first to form an empire that would encompass all of Mesopotamia.
The Rebuilt city of Babylon today from the US Navy
Rise of the Babylonians and King Hammurabi
The city of Babylon had been a city-state in Mesopotamia for many years. After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, the city was taken over and settled by the Amorites. The city began its rise to power in 1792 BC when King Hammurabi took the throne. He was a powerful and capable leader who wanted to rule more than just the city of Babylon.
Not long after becoming King, Hammurabi began to conquer other city-states in the area. Within a few years, Hammurabi had conquered all of Mesopotamia including much of the Assyrian lands to the north.
The City of Babylon
Under Hammurabi's rule, the city of Babylon became the most powerful city in the world. Located on the banks of the Euphrates River, the city was a major trade hub bringing together new ideas and products. Babylon also became the largest city in the world at the time with as many as 200,000 people living there at its peak.
At the center of the city was a large temple called a ziggurat. This temple looked something like a pyramid with a flat top and archeologists think that it was 300 feet tall! There was a wide street leading from the gates to the center of the city. The city was also famous for its gardens, palaces, towers, and artwork. It would have been an amazing sight to see.
The city was also the cultural center of the empire. It was here that art, science, music, mathematics, astronomy, and literature were able to flourish.
King Hammurabi established firm laws called Hammurabi's Code. This was the first time in history that the law was written down. It was recorded on clay tablets and tall pillars of stones called steles.
Top of a pillar with some of the code inscribed by Unknown
Hammurabi's code consisted of 282 laws. Many of them were quite specific, but were meant as guidelines to be used in similar circumstances. There were laws governing commerce such as wages, trade, rental rates, and the sale of slaves. There were laws governing criminal behavior describing the penalties for stealing or damaging property. There were even laws governing adoption, marriage, and divorce.
Fall of Babylon
After Hammurabi died, his sons took over. However, they were not strong leaders and soon Babylon grew weak. In 1595 the Kassites conquered Babylon. They would rule for 400 years. Later, the Assyrians would take over. It wasn't until 612 BC that Babylonia once again rose to power as the ruler of the empire over Mesopotamia. This second Babylonian Empire is called the neo-Babylonian Empire.
Around 616 BC King Nabopolassar took advantage of the fall of the Assyrian Empire to bring the seat of the empire back to Babylon. It was his son Nebuchadnezzar II who led Babylon back to its former glory.
Nebuchadnezzar II ruled for 43 years. He was a great military leader and expanded the empire to include much of the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This included the conquering of the Hebrews and taking them into slavery for 70 years as told in the Bible. Under Nebuchadnezzar's rule, the city of Babylon and its temples were restored. It also became the cultural center of the world, just like during Hammurabi's rule.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This was a large series of terraces that rose to around 75 feet high. They were covered with all sorts of trees, flowers, and plants. The gardens is considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon by Maarten van Heemskerck
Fall of Neo-Babylonia
After Nebuchadnezzar II died, the empire began to fall apart once again. In 529 BC, the Persians conquered Babylon and made it part of the Persian Empire.
Fun Facts About the Babylonians
Nebuchadnezzar had a moat built around the city of Babylon for defense. That must have been quite a sight in the desert!
All that remains of the city of Babylon is a mound of broken mud buildings about 55 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.
Alexander the Great captured Babylon as part of his conquests. He was staying in the city when he got sick and died.
The city has been rebuilt or reconstructed in Iraq. The actual ruins and artifacts are likely buried under the reconstruction.