As noted in September, it’s high time to rewrite an old post and assess my writing progress. I wrote ‘The Historical Babylon’ on October 25th 2017, two years ago when this blog was young. Why this one? Well, it’s old, I like the subject, and it could be better. As the original ranks higher on Google, I will replace the old post with the new edit.
- The Original:
Babylon (2300 BC – 1000 AD) was an ancient Mesopotamian city and the first true metropolis. It was the capital of four different empires and, from 1770 – 1670 BC and 609 – 539 BC, the largest city in the world. Centuries before Classical Greece Babylon was the centre of ancient astronomy, philosophy and science. As a cosmopolitan city peopled by myriad cultures and nationalities, the first ever to reach 200,000 inhabitants, Babylon set the example for later cities such as Alexandria, Rome and Constantinople. New York fills this role today.
Most of our knowledge of Babylon and the Babylonians today comes from the Hebrew Bible, the Greeks and archaeology. The Babylonians themselves called the city ‘Babila’, thought to mean ‘gate of the gods’, while the Hebrews called it Babel.
King Hammurabi expanded Old Babylon from city state to empire in the 1700s when he conquered Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and neighbouring Elam (southwestern Iran). He is famous for dictating the first known code of laws, inscribed on a 2.25 metre stone stele. Hammurabi’s Code covers everything from payment and contract to slavery and family inheritance. His laws followed an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ doctrine but applied differently to slaves, freed men, property owners, women and men.
One thousand years of foreign rule separate the kingdom of Hammurabi from Babylon’s second age of glory. The Hittites sacked the city in 1595, followed by the Kassites, who ruled for five centuries and left few records. After the Kassites came the Elamites, and then the Assyrians; Babylon’s traditional nemeses. Babylon prospered as Assyria’s second capital and the centre of Mesopotamian religion.
In the 700 and 600s BC a series of ambitious princes exploited local resentment to launch rebellions from Babylon. The first was Meradoch-Baladan, who proclaimed himself king of Babylon and contested the Assyrians on three separate occasions. In 689 BC Sennacherib, king of Assyria, defeated him and razed the city to the ground. So sacrilegious was this act that his murder at the hands of his own sons was attributed to divine justice. Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s youngest, restored the city and governed well, but was executed after rising against his brother.
The fifth uprising, led by the Chaldean Nabopolassor was successful. In alliance with the Cimmerians, Scythians and Medes he sacked Nineveh and overthrew the Assyrian yoke. His brief but vibrant ‘Neo-Babylonian Empire’ (626-539 BC) is the Babylon best known today.
Nabopolassor’s son Nebuchadnezzar led Babylon to its zenith. New conquests brought riches and slaves to the capital to fund his ambitious projects. First Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the old city walls and its eight entrances. This included the famous ‘Ishtar Gate’, an opulent structure adorned with lapis lazuli and the images of aurochs, lions and dragons. He also rebuilt the city’s ziggurats; notably Esagila and the 91-metre tall Etemenaki. Both were dedicated to Marduk, Babylon’s chief god.
Nebuchadnezzar’s most famous construction was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to legend he built it to quell the homesickness of Amytis, his Median queen, who longed for the verdant wooded hills of her homeland. Possibly apocryphal, the gardens were a multi-layered pyramid filled with artificial forests and waterfalls. Herodotus named it one of Seven Wonders of the World.
Babylon was always a centre of mathematics and science. Their numeric system was based on the number 60, which is how we tell the time today. Babylonians invented algebra in the 1600s BC, and their discoveries inspired the Greeks and Arabs. Babylonian astronomers were the first to recognise the planets and discover they revolved around the sun. They even calculated the frequency of lunar and solar eclipses. A less boastful achievement was the foundation of western astrology.
Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BC. As Persia’s administrative capital the city continued to prosper. It was briefly Alexander the Great’s capital too before he died there in 323 BC. The new millennium began a slow decline, fallen to ruin by the year 1000.
- The Rewrite:
Babylon (2300 BC – 1000 AD) was the world’s first metropolis. On the banks of the Euphrates river in modern-day Iraq, it was the capital of four empires and twice the largest city in the world. Babylon was the centre of ancient astronomy, philosophy and science centuries before Greece and the first city with 200,000 inhabitants. Like Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and New York, it was the cosmopolitan capital of its day.
Archaeologists unearthed Babylon and translated its stone tablets in the 1800s. Before then our only records came from the Hebrews and Greeks. The Babylonians called their city ‘Babila’, meaning ‘Gate of the Gods’ in Akkadian, while the Hebrews called it Babel. ‘Babylon’ comes from the Greeks.
Hammurabi’s Code of laws was the first of its kind. Inscribed on a 2.25 metre stone stele, it covers everything from inheritance to payment and contract. The king of Babylon’s laws followed an ‘eye-for-an-eye’ philosophy that applied differently to slaves, freedmen, property owners, women and men. Hammurabi founded the Old Babylonian Empire when he conquered Mesopotamia and Elam (southwestern Iran) in the 1700s BC.
Foreigners ruled for the next thousand years. The Hittites sacked Babylon in 1595, then the Kassites ruled for five centuries, leaving few records. The Elamites, Aramaeans and Assyrians followed. Though Babylon and Assyria were traditional enemies, under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-609 BC), Babylon prospered as a secondary capital and centre of Mesopotamian religion.
In the 700s and 600s BC, ambitious princes rebelled from Babylon. Merodach-Baladan II seized the throne three times. Sennacherib of Assyria finally defeated him in 689 BC and razed Babylon to the ground. When Sennacherib was murdered by his own sons, Babylonians called it divine justice. Esarhaddon, his youngest, restored the city and named his younger son Shamash-Shum-Kin governor. When Shamash-Shum Kin rose against his brother Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian king burned down the palace with him inside it.
The fifth uprising, led by Nabopolassar, was successful. In alliance with the Cimmerians, Scythians and Medes he sacked Nineveh and ended the Assyrian yoke. His brief but vibrant ‘Neo-Babylonian Empire’ (626-539 BC) is the Babylon best known today.
Nebuchadnezzar II led Babylon to its peak. On succeeding his father Nabopolassar, he conquered the old Assyrian lands and brought slaves and treasure to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar built new walls with eight entrances that included the ‘Ishtar Gate’ made of lapis lazuli and adorned with aurochs, lions and dragons. He rebuilt the ziggurats Esagila and 91-meter tall Etemenaki, dedicating them to Marduk, Babylon’s chief god.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a Wonder of the World. According to legend, Nebuchadnezzar built them for Amytis, his homesick Median queen who longed for the verdant hills of her homeland. A terraced pyramid filled with forests and waterfalls, the Hanging Gardens were Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest achievement. Though famous in the ancient world, no trace of them remains today.
Babylon led the world in mathematics and science. Based on the number 60, their numeric system is how we tell the time today. Babylonians invented algebra in the 1600s BC and their discoveries inspired the Greeks and Arabs. Babylonian astronomers were the first to name the planets and figure they orbit the sun. They also calculated the frequency of lunar and solar eclipses and founded western astronomy.
Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BC. As Persia’s administrative capital the city continued to prosper. It was briefly Alexander the Great’s capital too before he died there in 323 BC. By the new millennium, Babylon was in decline and by AD 1000 in ruins.
What I changed:
- Bolding the focus of each section, instead of keywords. This makes nicer to look at and easier to read.
- Tautologies: cosmopolitan city peopled by myriad cultures and nationalities
- Shortening sentences: to direct, punchy ones, over waffly long ones.
- Active voice over passive voice where applicable.
- Removing fluffy, descriptive words like opulent. Let the descriptions speak for themselves.
- Trying to say more with fewer words
- Fact-checking: Esharhaddon was king of Assyria. His son rebelled from Babylon. Shame on me.