Ancient History 101, pt. 3 : Babylon.

(remember, we’re still talking about the early Mesopotamian kingdoms)

babylon

(Mediterranean kingdom, 1900s BC)

The Old Babylonian Empire, part of the western half of the Fertile Crescent, lasted from 1792 to 1234 BC.

We already know, thanks to my spoiler concerning the Hittites, that they plunder Babylon in 1595. But something good happens before that something awful. Something good called Hammurabi.

Babylon existed before Hammurabi in the 1700s, but he's the bloke who made them powerful. So he's the guy history remembers. Sometimes sadly that's how history works most of the time.

King Hammurabi created the Babylonian Empire. Under his rule beginning in 1792 BC, they built roads to encourage trade and travel, but he is most famous for taking the Sumerians’ ideas about the legal system and creating a list of 282 laws called Hammurabi's Code.

THE FIRST TIME LAWS ARE ALL WRITTEN OUT!

Pretty much built on the concept of 'an eye for an eye.' Some great ideas, such as a main one:

"the strong shall not oppress the weak"

Even in this first codified system of laws, men held all the power, which is what we call a patriarchal society. Men could punish women and children. Interestingly, there were all kinds of specifics about fines and exile and horrible forms of execution, but nothing about imprisonment.

That was the good news. It helped things together for a while, but rulers were starting to learn that building an empire is different than keeping an empire together. Good things end, and in 689, the Babylonian empire was destroyed, but guess what and *spoiler alert*... maybe not destroyed for good! Read on to find out...

Assyria the Empire (circa 1400 BCE)

Yep, this is the kindly civilization that crushed Babylon. But first:

Located in the northern part of Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq), it was easy for outsiders to get into and attack (flat ground, no giant mountains or forests, etc.), so they had to become skilled warriors. Instead of waiting to be attacked, Assyria went on the offensive and began conquering lands from the Nile River (modern day Egypt) to the Persian Gulf. They destroyed Babylon in 689 after a bunch of resistance. Sad. But hold on…

...eleven years later they felt bad, or some sort of remorse, and rebuilt it eleven years later.

King Sargon II was the most important leader of Assyria (722-705 BCE). Kings ruled with absolute power, which meant the king did whatever he wanted. Whoa. It’s good to be king.

Another important king was Ashurbanipal, although some consider him overrated because of how much he inherited from previous rulers. Nevertheless, he ruled over the largest amount of territory and built a giant library.

The greatest Assyrian leader may have been Tiglath Pileser III. He built a brutal and massive army that was the biggest the world had ever seen. He conquered a huge territory after bringing his country back from near-destruction and built the largest empire the world had known.

Did the Assyrians do anything important besides take over other countries? It’s debatable. A couple other items of note:

  • They developed a system of communication using horses and riders

  • They developed a far-reaching trade networks that reached to the Mediterranean.

  • They built city walls that were 85 feet thick, which is worth mentioning.

  • Nineveh, their capital, was a center of learning and...

  • ...they had ONE OF THE WORLD'S FIRST LIBRARIES!!!!!!

Sadly (for them) they were eventually defeated by the Medes, Persians, and Scythians. Like amateur historian Kurt Vonnegut said many times...

…and so it goes.

Babylon pt. II : The Neo-Babylonian Empire (626 BCE)

The Second Babylonian phase was the New Babylonian Empire This was around 626ish to 539 BCE. Don’t try to memorize those dates though. Just try to remember the right century, within a century or two.

This is where Babylon rises...AGAIN! This time under the Chaldeans, who were masters of mathematics and astronomy. At least masters until Aristotle showed them up. But it’s okay, he got shown up later by Copernicus and Galileo. But let’s not skip ahead two thousand years anymore, okay?

They were the first to identify five of the other planets. Earth being the one most humans were most familiar with at the time.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn

They figured this out by assigning workers every night to chart their movement. Brilliant. .

Under Nebuchadnezzar II, Babylon was awesome. Population of 250,000, with massive palaces and and temples and houses. They loved to conquer other places and build. Oh, how they loved to build.

Summary

Remember the first civilizations like this:

Superman (Sumerians)
Attacked (Akkadians)
Awful (Assyrians)
Batman (Babylonians)

Additional notes

The Sumerians had already done a little bit of writing down laws, but Hammurabi compiled all his kingdom’s laws into a complete legal code.

The greatest song ever about prison is System of a Down’s Prison System. It has nothing to do with Hammurabi.

Footnote

Introduction to Ancient History, from the Paleolithic Era to the fall of Rome, and how the lives, cultures, decisions, and actions of these periods affects our modern lives.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.