Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fall of Ancient Babylon

The Hounds of Zeus begins in Babylon, 553 BC.How do you reconstruct a great city fallen to dust?

Capital of the ancient land of Babylonia in southern Mesopotamia, Babylon was situated on the sacred Euphrates River. In the 6th century BC, she was riding the crest of her power and splendor, a city like no other and a mega-center of trade in the known world. Called the Queen of Cities, she was renowned for her high, well-fortified walls, for the magnificence of her temples and palaces, and for the famous Hanging Gardens—one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Babylon had been blessed by great Marduk, Master of Magick, as shown in these lines from a prayer offered up by priests on the second day of Akitu (the 12 day New Year's Festival):

Oh Lord, Babylon is thy seat, Borsippa they crown,
The wide heavens are they body . . .
Within thine arms, thou takest the strong . . .
Within they glance, thou grantest them grace

It must have seemed as if Babylon would stand for ten thousand years.  A far cry from the rubble and ruins of Babylon today. So what happened?

The writing on the wall
According to the Bible, Babylon was doomed for many reasons, including the worship of false gods. Several strangely prophetic verses describe the great city’s eventual fall and death. A good example: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms…will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited…But wild beasts of the desert will lie there…The hyenas will howl in their citadels, and jackals in their pleasant palaces” (Isaiah 13:19-22).

 According to Daniel 5:1-31, King Balthazar of Babylon hosted a banquet during which sacred golden and silver vessels taken from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem were used. As Balthazar and his court praise "the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone,'" the disembodied fingers of a human hand appear and write on the wall of the royal palace words foretelling the imminent end of the Babylonian kingdom.

Biblical prophecies aside, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon, and the decline of the great city began. By the time Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, pushed back the Persians and came to Babylon (331 BC), the city—though still greatly admired—was beginning to crumble. The introduction of Greek culture pushed along the social decay. Old customs were forgotten or no longer performed, and the old gods were abandoned. As Babylon declined, so did the Mesopotamian civilization.

Over time, the great city grew more and more insignificant, then perished completely, buried beneath successive layers of dirt and years.

Of course, this is only a bare-bones run-down of what happened to the impressive civilization that evolved with Babylon as its magnificent centerpiece. The whole story is far richer and more complex, but there are plenty of books and web sites where you can explore the details. A good starting place that I found helpful as I began my research for The Hounds of Zeus was

So, what’s left of ancient Babylon today? Has the Queen of Cities been rebuilt? More about that in my next post.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or question here regarding the novel or this post.

P. A. Peirson 

Gryphon Cylinder Seal, Mesopotamia

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