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Neo-Babylonian Empire

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Neo-Babylonian Empire
609 BC539 BC

The Neo-Babylonian Empire at its greatest extent of power

Capital Babylon
Languages Akkadian, Aramaic
Government Not specified
626605 BC Nabopolassar (first)
556539 BC Nabonidus (last)
Babylonian Revolt 609 BC
Battle of Opis 539 BC
Preceded by Succeeded by
Neo-Assyrian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
Today part of Iraq
Saudi Arabia
Part of a series on the
History of Iraq
Detail from the Ishtar Gate
Ancient Mesopotamia
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v t e
The Neo-Babylonian Empire, also known as the Chaldean Empire, was a period of
Mesopotamian history which began in 626 BC and ended in 539 BC.[1] During the
preceding three centuries, Babylonia had been ruled by their fellow Akkadian
speakers and northern neighbours, Assyria. A year after the death of the last
strong Assyrian ruler, Assurbanipal, in 627 BC, the Assyrian empire spiralled into
a series of brutal civil wars. Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar, a member of
the Chaldean tribe which had migrated from the Levant to south eastern Babylonia in
the early 9th century BC. In alliance with the Medes, Persians, Scythians and
Cimmerians, they sacked the city of Nineveh in 612 BC, and the seat of empire was
transferred to Babylonia for the first time since the death of Hammurabi in the mid
18th century BC. This period witnessed a general improvement in economic life and
agricultural production, and a great flourishing of architectural projects, the
arts and science.

The Neo-Babylonian period ended with the reign of Nabonidus in 539 BC. To the east,
the Persians had been growing in strength, and eventually Cyrus the Great conquered
the empire.

Contents [hide]
1 Historical background
1.1 Revival of old traditions
1.2 Cultural and economic life
2 Neo-Babylonian dynasty
2.1 Nabopolassar 626 BC 605 BC
2.2 Nebuchadnezzar II 605 BC 562 BC
2.3 Amel-Marduk 562 BC 560 BC
2.4 Neriglissar 560 BC 556 BC
2.5 Labashi-Marduk 556 BC
2.6 Nabonidus 556 BC 539 BC
3 Fall of Babylon
4 See also
5 References
Historical background[edit]
Babylonia was subject to and dominated by Assyria during the Neo-Assyrian period
(911-616 BC), as it had often been during the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365-1020
BC). The Assyrians of Upper Mesopotamia had usually been able to pacify their
southern relations through military might, installing puppet kings, or granting
increased privileges.

Revival of old traditions[edit]

After Babylonia regained its independence, Neo-Babylonian rulers were deeply
conscious of the antiquity of their kingdom and pursued an archtraditionalist
policy, reviving much of the ancient Sumero-Akkadian culture. Even though Aramaic
had become the everyday tongue, Akkadian was retained as the language of
administration and culture. Archaic expressions from 1500 years earlier were
reintroduced in Akkadian inscriptions, along with words in the long-unspoken
Sumerian language. Neo-Babylonian cuneiform script was also modified to make it
look like the old 3rd-millennium BC script of Akkad.

Ancient artworks from the heyday of Babylonia's imperial glory were treated with
near-religious reverence and were painstakingly preserved. For example, when a
statue of Sargon the Great was found during construction work, a temple was built
for it, and it was given offerings. The story is told of how Nebuchadnezzar, in his
efforts to restore the Temple at Sippar, had to make repeated excavations until he
found the foundation deposit of Naram-Sin of Akkad. The discovery then allowed him
to rebuild the temple properly. Neo-Babylonians also revived the ancient Sargonid
practice of appointing a royal daughter to serve as priestess of the moon-god Sin.

Cultural and economic life[edit]

Much more is known about Mesopotamian culture and economic life under the Neo-
Babylonians than about the structure and mechanics of imperial administration. It
is clear that for southern Mesopotamia, the Neo-Babylonian period was a
renaissance. Large tracts of land were opened to cultivation. Peace and imperial
power made resources available to expand the irrigation systems and to build an
extensive canal system. The Babylonian countryside was dominated by large estates,
which were given to government officials as a form of pay. The estates were usually
managed by local entrepreneurs, who took a cut of the profits. Rural folk were
bound to these estates, providing both labour and rents to their landowners.

Urban life flourished under the Neo-Babylonians. Cities had local autonomy and
received special privileges from the kings. Centered on their temples, the cities
had their own law courts, and cases were often decided in assemblies. Temples
dominated urban social structure, just as they did the legal system, and a person's
social status and political rights were determined by where they stood in relation
to the religious hierarchy. Free laborers like craftsmen enjoyed high status and a
sort of guild system came into existence, which gave them collective bargaining
power. The period witnessed a general improvement in economic life, agricultural
production, and a significant increase in architectural projects, the arts and

Neo-Babylonian dynasty[edit]
Dynasty XI of Babylon (Neo-Babylonian)

Nabu-apla-usur 626 605 BC

Nabu-kudurri-usur II 605 562 BC
Amel-Marduk 562 560 BC
Neriglissar 560 556 BC
Labai-Marduk 556 BC
Nabonidus 556 539 BC
Nabopolassar 626 BC 605 BC[edit]

The Ishtar Gate of Babylon as reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

After the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC, the Assyrian Empire began to
disintegrate, riven by internal strife. Ashur-etil-ilani co-ruled with Ashurbanipal
from 630 BC, while an Assyrian governor named Kandalanu sat on the throne of
Babylon on behalf of his king. Babylonia seemed secure until both Ashurbanipal and
Kandalanu died in 627 BC, and Assyria spiralled into a series of internal civil
wars which would ultimately lead to its destruction. An Assyrian general, Sin-
shumu-lishir, revolted in 626 BC and declared himself king of Assyria and Babylon,
but was promptly ousted by the Assyrian Army loyal to king Ashur-etil-ilani in 625
BC. Babylon was then taken by another son of Ashurbanipal Sin-shar-ishkun, who
proclaimed himself king. His rule did not last long however, and the native
Babylonians revolted with the help of the migrant Chaldean tribe (Bit Kaldu), led
by the previously unknown Nabopolassar, who had made himself king of Chaldea in the
far south east of Mesopotamia. Nabopolassar seized the throne amid the confusion,
and the Neo-Babylonian dynasty was born. Babylonia as a whole then became a battle
ground between king Ashur-etil-ilani and his brother Sin-shar-ishkun who fought to
and fro over the region. This anarchic situation allowed Nabopolassar to stay on
the throne of the city of Babylon itself, spending the next three years
undisturbed, consolidating his position in the city.[2]

However, in 623 BC, Sin-shar-ishkun killed his brother the king in battle at Nippur
in Babylonia, seized the throne of Assyria, and then set about retaking Babylon
from Nabopolassar. Nabopolassar was forced to endure Assyrian armies encamped in
Babylonia over the next seven years. However, he resisted, aided by the continuing
civil war in Assyria itself, which greatly hampered Sin-shar-ishkun's attempts to
retake the parts of Babylonia held by Nabopolassar. Nabopolassar took Nippur in 619
BC, a key centre of pro-Assyrianism in Babylonia, and by 616 BC, he was still in
control of much of southern Mesopotamia. Assyria, still riven with internal strife,
had by this time lost control of its colonies, who had taken advantage of the
various upheavals to free themselves. The empire had stretched from Cyprus to
Persia and The Caucasus to Egypt at its height.
Nabopolassar attempted a counterattack; he marched his army into Assyria proper in
616 BC and tried to besiege Assur and Arrapha (Kirkuk), but was defeated by Sin-
shar-ishkun and driven back into Babylonia. A stalemate seemed to have ensued, with
Nabopolassar unable to make any inroads into Assyria despite its greatly weakened
state, and Sin-shar-ishkun unable to eject Nabopolassar from Babylon due to the
unremitting civil war in Assyria itself.

However the balance of power was decisively tipped when Cyaxares, ruler of the
Iranic peoples (the Medes, Persians and Parthians), and technically a vassal of
Assyria, attacked a war-weary Assyria without warning in late 615 BC, sacking
Arrapha and Kalhu (the Biblical CalahNimrud). Then in 614 BC Cyaxares, in alliance
with the Scythians and Cimmerians, besieged and took Assur, with Nabopolassar
remaining uninvolved in these successes.[3]

Nabopolassar too then made active alliances with other former subjects of Assyria;
the Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians.

During 613 BC the Assyrian army seems to have rallied and successfully repelled
Babylonian, Median and Scythian attacks. However, in 612 BC Nabopolassar and the
Median king Cyaxares led a concentrated coalition of forces including Babylonians,
Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians in an attack on Nineveh. The
size of the forces ranged against Assyria in its weakened state proved too much,
and, after a bitter three-month siege, followed by house-to-house fighting, Nineveh
finally fell, with Sin-shar-ishkun being killed defending his capital.

An Assyrian general, Ashur-uballit II, became king of Assyria amid the fighting.
According to the Babylonian Chronicle he was offered the chance to bow in vassalage
to the rulers of the alliance. However, he refused, and managed to fight his way
free of Nineveh to set up a new capital at Harran. Nabopolassar, Cyaxares, and
their allies, then fought Ashur-uballit II for a further five years, until Harran
fell in 608 BC; after a failed attempt to retake the city, Ashur-uballit II
disappeared from the pages of history.

The Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho II had invaded the near east in 609 BC in a
belated attempt to help their former Assyrian rulers. Nabopolassar (with the help
of his son and future successor Nebuchadnezzar II) spent the last years of his
reign dislodging the Egyptians (who were supported by Greek mercenaries and the
remnants of the Assyrian army) from Syria, Asia Minor, northern Arabia and Israel.
Nebuchadnezzar proved to be a capable and energetic military leader, and the
Egyptians, Assyrians and their mercenary allies were finally defeated by the
Babylonians, Medes and Scythians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.

The Babylonians were now left in possession of much of Assyria, with the northern
reaches being held by the Medes, however they appear to have made no attempt to
occupy it, preferring to concentrate on rebuilding southern Mesopotamia.

Nebuchadnezzar II 605 BC 562 BC[edit]