Babylonia and Assyria


Babylonia (băbĬlō´nēə), ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium BC Historically it is limited to the first dynasty of Babylon established by Hammurabi (c.1750 BC), and to the Neo-Babylonian period after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Hammurabi, who had his capital at Babylon, issued the code of laws for the management of his large empire—for he was in control of most of the Tigris and Euphrates region even before he defeated the Elamites. Babylonian cuneiform writing was derived from the Sumerians. The quasifeudal society was divided into classes—the wealthy landowners and merchants and the priests; the less wealthy merchants, peasants, and artisans; and the slaves. The Babylonian religion (see Middle Eastern religions) was inherited from the older Sumerian culture. All these Babylonian institutions influenced the civilization of Assyria and so contributed to the later history of the Middle East and of Western Europe.

The wealth of Babylonia tempted nomadic and seminomadic neighbors; even under Hammurabi's successor Babylonia was having to stave off assaults. Early in the 18th cent. BC the Hittites sacked Babylon and held it briefly. The nomadic Kassites (Cassites), a tribe from Elam, took the city shortly thereafter and held it precariously for centuries. Babylonia degenerated into anarchy c.1180 BC with the fall of the Kassites. As a subsidiary state of the Assyrian Empire (after the 9th cent. BC), Babylonia flourished once more. It was the key area in the attempted uprising against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and Babylon was sacked (c.689 BC) in his reign.

After the death of Assurbanipal, the last great Assyrian monarch, Nabopolassar, the ruler of Babylonia, established (625 BC) his independence. He allied himself with the Medes and Persians and helped to bring about the capture of Nineveh (612 BC) and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. He established what is generally known as the Chaldaean or New Babylonian Empire. Under his son, Nebuchadnezzar, the new empire reached its height (see Babylon). The recalcitrant Hebrews were defeated and punished with the Babylonian captivity. Egypt had already been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in the great battle of Carchemish (605) while Nabopolassar was still alive. The empire seemed secure, but it was actually transitory. The steady growth of Persian power spelled the end of Babylonia, and in 538 BC the last of the Babylonian rulers surrendered to Cyrus the Great (see also Belshazzar). Babylonia became an important region of the Persian Empire.

See R. W. Rogers, A History of Babylonia and Assyria (6th ed. 1915); D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (1926–27); G. R. Driver et al., The Babylonian Laws (1952–55); H. W. F. Saggs, Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria (1965, repr. 1987); J. Wellard, Babylon (1972).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Babylonia and Assyria: Selected full-text books and articles

The Babylonians: An Introduction By Gwendolyn Leick Routledge, 2003
Who Were the Babylonians By Bill T. Arnold Brill, 2004
Images of Nebuchadnezzar: The Emergence of a Legend By Ronald H. Sack Susquehanna University Press, 2004 (2nd edition)
Ancient Semitic Civilizations By Sabatino Moscati G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1957
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "The Babylonians and Assyrians"
Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria By Georges Contenau St. Martin's Press, 1954
The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium By Ian Morris; Walter Scheidel Oxford University Press, 2009
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "The Neo-Assyrian Empire"
FREE! A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians By George Stephen Goodspeed Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902
A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law By Raymond Westbrook; Gary Beckman; Richard Jasnow; Baruch Levine; Martha Roth Brill, vol.2, 2003
Librarian's tip: "Mesopotamia: Neo-Assyrian Period" begins on p. 883 and "Mesopotamia: Neo-Babylonian Period" begins on p. 911
The Pre-Islamic Middle East By Martin Sicker Praeger Publishers, 2000
The Face of the Ancient Orient: A Panorama of Near Eastern Civilizations in Pre-Classical Times By Sabatino Moscati Quadrangle Books, 1960
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "The Babylonians and Assyrians"
Four Thousand Years Ago: A World Panorama of Life in the Second Millennium B.C By Geoffrey Bibby Alfred A. Knopf, 1961
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "The Lawgiver: 1790-1720 B.C."
The Arts of Assyria By André Parrot; Stuart Gilbert; James Emmons Golden Press, 1961
The Culture of War: Invention and Early Development By Richard A. Gabriel Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "The Iron Army of Assyria"
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