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Babylonians

With their hearts and minds immersed in their great heaving metropolises, the Babylonians are among the era's great builders, thinkers, and mathematicians.

Few cities have left such a deep mark in the long and multi-layered history of the Ancient Near East as Babylon. Alternately a city-state or imperial capital, independent and strong or submissive and plundered, Babylon’s cultural influence was unrivaled in the Near East for nearly 1500 years.

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There is evidence of Babylon in lower Mesopotamia (in the middle of present-day Iraq) dating back to 2500 BCE. The gradual consolidation of the city saw the rise of two large territorial empires under the reigns of Hammurabi (1792–1750 BCE) and Nebuchadnezzar II (604–562 BCE). Under Nebuchadnezzar II, the city stretched to both sides of the Euphrates river and covered an area of 10 km2. At the time, Babylon was surrounded by a thick city wall that was pierced with nine richly decorated, monumental city gates. It had numerous palaces and 43 temples, including the temple complex of Marduk—the city’s patron deity—which occupied 20 hectares in the heart of the city. The temple and ziggurat dedicated to Marduk stood at the center of this complex. These temples served more than just a religious function: they were also a place of study and preservation of knowledge. Thousands of tablets written by scribes have revealed the extent of Babylonian knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. Contemporary research shows that they were aware of the Pythagorean theorem and had developed algorithms to predict the movement of the planet Jupiter.

Did you know?

In reggae music, many of the songs portray Babylon as a corrupt, brutal, and degenerate place. The city owes its bad reputation to biblical writings and, more generally, to the Christian tradition that began with the conquering of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. Following a prolonged siege, King Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Solomon’s Temple and exiled most of the city’s inhabitants, leaving a powerful mark on the Jewish and Christian collective memory.