The Rise and Fall of the City of Babylon

The Rise and Fall of the City of Babylon - The World's First City

When was the ancient city of Babylon founded? How did meet it meet its end? What future does it have?
Babylon was the world's first city. It sat aside the Euphrates river, and at one time was an important manufacturing center. In addition, it became a commercial center of trade between the East and the West, with traders transporting goods both by land and sea.
Babylon was founded in the latter part of the third millennium by a man named Nimrod. It was originally called Babel, meaning confusion. It was here that the Bible says "God confused the languages of mankind". In later centuries, city builders came and went. According to history, in 1790 B.C.E. Hammurabi began to rule over Babylon. He increased the city limits, strengthened it, and made it the capital of an empire. He built a society based on the rule of law. He had his now famous law code inscribed on an upright stone pillar, or stele.
After this, the city was occupied by various powers, most notably the Hittites and Assyrians. Eventually, around 645 B.C., the Chaldean, Nabopolassar founded a new dynasty in Babylon. His son Nebuchadnezzar was to bring Babylon its greatest fame. He conducted numerous building projects. These included palaces, temples, protective walls, and his most famous project, the hanging gardens of Babylon. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, Babylon's gardens consisted of vaulted terraces one above the other, which were big enough to contain full-grown trees. These gardens were so magnificent they became known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. These various projects caused Nebuchadnezzar to boast about how great his city was, as recorded in the Bible book of Daniel. His accomplishments were also documented in numerous cuneiform inscriptions. Archaeology and the Bible, by G. Barton (1949, pp. 478, 479), relates an example of one of these. It reads, in part, "at the enclosure of Babylon I made an enclosure of a strong wall on the east side. I dug a moat, I reached the level of the water. I then saw that the wall which my father had prepared was too small in its construction. I built with bitumen and brick a mighty wall which, like a mountain, could not be moved and connected it with the wall of my father."
At its height, Babylon must truly have seemed impregnable to the outsiders. Archeology tells us that the city lay on both sides of the Euphrates River. This means that the river ran through the middle of the city, providing a constant source of water in the event of a siege. The river was also used as a moat around the city, providing a natural defense. Inside this moat the Babylonians had constructed a double system of walls. One of these was said to be so thick that two chariots could run side by side on the top. Along the river, these walls contained sets of two large leafed copper doors.
Yet, as mighty as the city appeared to be, on a night in 539 B.C.E. it fell, virtually without a fight. The conqueror was a Persian by the name of Cyrus the Great. While the people of the city enjoyed a feast, Cyrus' military engineers diverted the Euphrates River from its normal course. When it had dropped to a sufficient level for wading, they moved down the riverbed, up the bank, and through the open doors, surprising the city and taking it virtually without a fight. Interestingly, 200 years prior to this, the Bible writer Isaiah had prophesied that this would happen (Isa. 44:27 - 45:2). Isaiah even mentioned Cyrus by name.
People have been quarrying the ancient city for the past two thousand years for its excellent baked bricks. However, after that conquest, Babylon steadily declined until it was finally abandoned.

Will Babylon ever be restored? In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein ordered that repairs be started at the ancient site. However, this work was never completed. Interestingly, prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah also commented on the final state of the city of Babylon. As stated on page 41 of the book Archeology and Old Testament Study (Edited by D. W. Thomas, Oxford), "These extensive ruins, of which, despite Kol Dewey's work, only a small proportion has been excavated, have during past centuries been extensively plundered for building materials. Partly in consequence of this, much of the surface now presents an appearance of such chaotic disorder that it is strongly evocative of the prophecies of Isa. xiii. 19-22 and Jer. l. 39 f., the impression of desolation being further heightened by the aridity which marks a large part of the area of the ruins."

This once great and prosperous city remains a desolate waste to this day.

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