Babylonia, a name applied to the southern part of Mesopotamia in the wider sense, of which Babylon became the capital. Babel, the corresponding Hebrew name, is occasionally used in Scripture in this sense; but the usual term to designate the country and the people is Chasdim, which in the Septuagint and most other versions becomes Chaldea and the Chaldeans. Babylonia included the space between the Euphrates and the -Tigris now known as Irak-Arabi (see Ieak-Aeabi), together with the strip of territory west of the Euphrates, bordered by the Arabian desert. This country, made wonderfully fertile by an almost unparalleled network of canals, and peopled by Semites, Cushites, and Turanians, was the seat of one of the earliest and most powerful kingdoms of antiquity. (See Chaldea.) From the establishment of the kingdom down to 625 B. C. the history of Babylonia is chiefly known in connection with its contests with Assyria. (See Assyeia.) About that year lower Babylonia rose against Assyria, and was joined by Media. Asshur-bani-pal, the Assyrian king, placed the force in Babylonia under the command of Nabopolassar, apparently a Chaldean. But Nabopolassar entered into a league with Cyaxares the Mede, to whose daughter he married his son, afterward the great Nebuchadnezzar. The Assyrians were defeated by the combined Medes and Babylonians, and Nineveh was destroyed.
Babylonia became independent, her boundaries being enlarged on the north by the addition of a few miles between the rivers, on the west by a strip beyond the Euphrates, and on the east by the annexation of Susiana. The greater portion of Assyria fell into the hands of the Medes. For nearly the whole of his reign, which ended in 604, Nabopolassar was occupied in organizing his kingdom. Toward its close Necho, king of Egypt, attempted to extend his dominion to the Euphrates. The Assyrian king sent against him an army under his son Nebuchadnezzar. The Egyptians suffered a total rout at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and the victors took possession of the whole country between the Euphrates and the "river of Egypt" - not the Nile, but a small stream falling into the Mediterranean at El-Arish. Nebuchadnezzar had pursued the beaten enemy to the frontier of Egypt when he received tidings that his father was dead. Intrusting his army, with the captives and spoil, to the command of his lieutenant, to lead them home by the usual circuitous route, he hurried with a small escort straight across the desert. The chief of the Chaldean priests had acted as regent; and when Nebuchadnezzar appeared the crown passed to him without opposition.
He reigned 43 years (604-561). With the exception of the period of his seven years' madness, probably near the close of his life, his was among the most glorious reigns in history. Yet, save his name stamped upon innumerable bricks, and the "standard inscription" found among the debris of the temple of Belus, there is not a line of native contemporary history of his reign. The standard inscription speaks only of the great architectural, military, and hydraulic works which he constructed at Babylon. On that series of events which connect him with the history of the Jews, the Bible speaks with considerable minuteness; for the rest we have only a few scattered fragments preserved by the chronographers. Herodotus never names him; and Xenophon had another hero to celebrate. His wars lasted about 35 years, in the course of which he became master of Syria, Judea, Phoenicia, Moab, and Edom, and twice carried his victorious arms into Egypt, far up the Nile, apparently subjugating the country, and placing upon the throne a monarch of his own choosing. But during all this time he was busy in completing the great works at Babylon which his father had commenced.
For these his conquests gave him an abundance of such material as could not be supplied by the clay of his own dominion; while his settled policy of dealing with conquered peoples, transporting them in mass to Babylonia, furnished the requisite laborers. He was thus able, without burdening his own people, to carry out his great architectural schemes. The captives were colonized in all parts of Babylonia; forced labor was required of them, and by this the walls of Babylon were raised, the temples and palaces built, the canals and reservoirs excavated, which formed the special glory of the Babylonian monarchy. Making all allowance for the evident exaggeration of later historians, there can be no doubt that Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest building ruler the world has ever seen. Still, from its very nature, his kingdom could not be a lasting one. Literally, as well as metaphorically, its feet were of clay. Its chief military strength lay in its cavalry. The low hot country could furnish no stout infantry capable of withstanding the attacks of the formidable Medo-Persian power which was growing up among the mountains on the east.
Nebuchadnezzar must have perceived this; for, in the absence of all natural defences, he set himself to transform his capital into an immense fortified camp, capable of holding a nation, and with walls impregnable to assault. Within three years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar Cyrus revolted against Astyages, and, placing himself at the head of the now formidable Medo-Persian kingdom, began that series of wars in which Babylonia became involved, and which in less than 20 years ended in her overthrow. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Evil-merodach, of whom hut a single act is recorded. He released Jehoiachin, the captive king of Judah, from his imprisonment of 37 years, and treated him with distinguished favor, though still detaining him in Babylon. After a reign of two years Evil-merodach was assassinated by his brother-in-law Neriglissar, who died in less than four years, and was succeeded by his son Laborosoarchod, a mere boy, who in nine months was put to death by a conspiracy formed by his relations. He was succeeded (555) by Nabonadius, the sixth and last king of Babylonia. He appears to have belonged, like Neriglissar, to the priestly order; and it has been conjectured that he was married to Nitocris, a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and that she was queen regnant.
This conjecture, if admitted, would confirm the statement of Herodotus that many of the defensive works at Babylon, especially designed to repel the Medes, were the work of a queen named Nitocris. It is certain that some of these were constructed during the reign of Nabonadius. If we may assume that his queen was a daughter of the great Nebuchadnezzar, and co-sovereign with her husband, it would be quite natural that tradition should give her the credit for these constructions. Moreover, we are told that Nabonadius was not related to the boy Laborosoarchod, and so could not have been a descendant of Nebuchadnezzar; but in Daniel the queen addresses Belshazzar, the son of Nabonadius, as the son or descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. If now we suppose this queen to have been the queen-mother, and so the wife of Nabonadius, all the accounts are brought into harmony. She speaks also with a kind of authority natural for a mother in addressing her son, but hardly to be expected from a young oriental queen toward her husband.
The queen also is especially distinguished from the wives of Belshazzar. At all events, Nabonadius at length perceived the danger which was impending from the direction of Persia. Cyrus was engaged in his war against Croesus, king of Lydia. Nabonadius joined in the alliance between Lydia and Egypt against Cyrus; but it appears that the Babylonian forces did not arrive in time to take part in the campaign which ended with the overthrow of Croesus at Sar-dis. Lydia subjected, Cyrus turned his arms against Babylonia. In 539 the Persian army moved to the Tigris. They wintered on the banks of the Gyndes, and in the spring crossed the Tigris and overran the whole upper country. Nabonadius, leaving his young son Belshazzar in charge of the capital, gave battle under the walls of the city. The Assyrians were defeated, and the king threw himself into the strong fortress of Borsippa, a few miles distant. Cyrus now formally invested the city, and having, after a long siege and bold enterprise (see Babylon), secured complete possession of it, was about to attack Borsippa; but Nabonadius surrendered without offering any defence. Thus, in 538, the Babylonian kingdom came to an end.
The book of Daniel relates that Darius the Mede, son of Ahasuerus, was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, being then 62 years of age. Attempts have been made to identify this Darius with several princes of Medo-Per-sia. All these attempts involve insuperable chronological difficulties. Possibly he was a Median nobleman, not elsewhere named, whom Cyrus appointed as viceroy over Babylonia. This seems indeed to be implied by the phrase of Daniel, that "he was made" king. His viceroyalty lasted only two years, being most likely ended by his death; and Cyrus then personally assumed the sovereignty. The captive Jews, who were subject to the direct rule of Darius, naturally spoke of him as king, and usually reckoned the years of Cyrus from the beginning of his personal reign at Babylon, though he had been king of Persia for 20 years. Among the first acts of Cyrus after taking upon himself the government of Babylonia, was to issue an edict permitting such Jews as chose to do so to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
The date of the issue of the edict is one of the epochs which have been fixed upon as the close of the 70 years of captivity. (See Babylonish Captivity.) The overthrow of the Babylonian kingdom marks the period when the empire of the East, so long held by the Semitic stock, passed into the hands of the Arvan race, who retained it for 12 centuries, when it was again wrested from them by the Mohammedan conquest. But for 2,400 years Babylonia has ceased to have any special history of its own, being successively under the sway of the Persians, Greeks, Partisans, Neo-Persians, Saracens, and finally Turks, under whom the country has sunk deeper and deeper into decay.