Persian Conquest and the End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Episode 24: The End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This final lecture concerns the collapse of the Babylonian empire, following conquest by King Cyrus of Persia in 593 BC. The clay tablets Cyrus  left behind claim the people of Babylonia welcomed him. This may be true. The last Babylonian king Nabonidus was quite unpopular, both for the mass imposition of forced labor and for his mandate requiring all local gods be relocated to the capitol (Babylon).

When Cyrus assumed control Babylonia he wrote (in Akkadian) that Marduk wanted him to take power because Nabonidus had abandoned the Babylonian god. Cyrus also released Babylonian slaves from forced labor and allowed captured Jews to return to Jerusalem.

For the first decade or so Babylonian life continued unchanged under Persian rule. Like former Assyrian kings, Persian kings returned to Babylon every year to renew their authority (under Marduk) at the New Year’s festival.

By 539 BC the Persian empire was the largest in history, extending from the Indus Valley to the Aegean Sea.

The Axial Age (700 – 200 BC) seems to have influenced Mesopotamia as much as other areas of the world. This period saw the rise of all the world’s great religions and many of its great philosophies, including Hinduism and Jainism in India and Confucianism and Taoism in China. In Persian and Mesopotamia, it  saw the rise of the prophet Zarathustra* and a growing trend towards monotheism. During this period, Babylonians came view some gods as as having greater wisdom and power than others. It was also during this period that Jewish monotheism became much more prevalent throughout the region.

By the year 1 AD, all Mesopotamian culture seems to have vanished. Yet the legacy of the Mesopotamian civilizations lives on to the current day, thanks to their many important innovations:

  • Invention of writing
  • World’s first cities
  • World’s first laws and judicial systems
  • Invention of international diplomacy
  • Mapping of constellations, planetary movements and ability to calculate future dates of eclipses
  • Mathematical calculations necessary to construct right angle triangles
  • Base 60 number system, still used in telling time and spherical geometry.

*Zarathustra had a revelation that all existence is a battle between good and evil gods, that it’s up to human beings to choose good and that good will eventually win out. He taught that all good gods are incarnations of Ahura Mazda.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

Mesopotamia: The Collapse of the Assyrian Empire

Episode 22: The Assyrian Empire, Warfare and Collapse

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

At the time of its collapse the Assyrian empire, the largest the world had known, extended across Mesopotamia, Syria, Levant and parts of Anatolia.

Assyria became more unstable during the last century before its final collapse in 612 BC. Provincial kings had allowed provincial governors to become too independent, and civil rebellions were widespread. King Tiglath-Pilesur III (745-727 BC) temporarily increased the king’s power by making provinces smaller, appointing governors who directly accountable to the king and improved provincial communication (with horses and teams of rides). However he proved unable to prevent Assyria’s eventual downfall.

The province of Babylonia enjoyed special privileges under Assyrian rule (see The Special Status of Babylonia Under Assyrian Rule), with the whole empire adopting its language (Akkadian) and religion. In fact, it was common for either the king or his son to rule Babylonia directly. This changed after the death of Tiglath-Pilesur III, with the Babylonian throne changing hands 20 times in 100 years.

Under the reign of Sennacherib (704-681 BC), the Elamites supported a Babylonian revolt against Assyria and installation of their own king. Sennacherib’s army invaded to suppress the revolt and put his own son on the Babylonian thrown. A second invasion became necessary when the son was “disappeared” and a coalition of Babylonian. This time Elamite and Chaldean [1] forces fought Sennacherib’s army to a standstill.

In 689 BC, Sennacherib laid siege to the city of Babylon for 15 months, eventually decimating it palaces and temples. Worse still the the statue of the king of the gods Marduk was moved to the capitol of Assyria. Until it was returned in 668 BC, the annual reconsecration ceremony ceased to occur and Babylonia lacked (in the view of the population) a true king,

In 687 BC Sennacherib was assassinated by his sons, resulting in the first of many Assyrian civil wars.

In 671 Assyria conquered Egypt for the first time. They ruled the the country until 669 BC, when southern Egypt rebelled. Subsequent campaigns to retake southern Egypt were expensive and unsuccessful.

In 663 Assyrian king Asherbanipal (669 – 631 BC) [2] successfully conquered and occupied Elam.

Following his death, his son Ashur-etil-ilani became king of Assyria and installed his brother on the throne of Babylonia. Assisted by the Elamites, his brother led an uprising against Assyrian rule in 640 BC.

In 617 BC, the Babylonian king, with the support of Elamites and the Medes, [3] Babylonia invaded Assyria proper and conquered several regions west of the Euphrates.

In 612 BC, this coalition sacked Nineveh, [4] the new capitol of Assyria, with Babylonia taking control of much of Assyria – forming the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

[1] Chaldea was a small country that between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BC, whose population was assimilated into the indigenous population of Babylonia

[2] Ruled a loose coalition of city states in Media.

[3]See History of Assyria: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh

[4] Ashurbanipal moved the capitol of Assyria to Nineveh around 700 BC. At time it was sacked, it was the largest city in the world (est pop 230,000).

The Special Status of Babylonia under the Assyrian Empire

Marduk and pet.jpg


Episode 21: Babylon and the New Year’s Festival

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture mainly concerns the semi-autonomous status Babylonia enjoyed following its conquest by Assyria and the participation of the Assyrian emperor in the annual New Years (Akitu) festival in Babylon. During these 12-day festivals secret ceremonies occurred in the temple of Marduk, the king of the gods, in which he officially reconfirmed the Babylonian king’s right to rule. The high point of the festival was a ritual in which the high priest (on behalf of Marduk) slapped and humiliated the Babylonian king.

During most of the period Assyria ruled Babylonia, either the Assyrian emperor or his son (as governor of Babylonia) participated in this annual ceremony to renew the dynasty’s legitimacy in ruling Babylonia.

Podany also describes Babylon’s creation myth in this presentation. In the Babylonian religion, all gods were descended from the salt water goddess and the sweet spring water god. During the period prior to the formation of land masses, there was a war between the good and evil gods. The good god Marduk killed the evil goddess Tiamet and gained control of The Tablet of Destinies (Ammet). He then split her body in half to create the sky and earth, shrines for all the gods, constellations, weather, springs and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. He ultimately created human beings so the gods wouldn’t have to work so hard looking after themselves.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.