Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nabonidus, Ancient Babylonia's Last King : End of the Chaldean Empire

Esagila Temple Complex : Ziggurat commonly referred to as Tower of Babel on left and temple of Bel-Marduk on right

A contributing factor in the Persian defeat of Babylon was likely Nabonidus's undeniable unpopularity. While researching my current historical I learned that one of Nabonidus's own governors conspired against him and actually joined the Persian army in their attack on Babylon. This cropped up in almost every place I looked yet nowhere could I learn the why of it. Why would a high ranking official betray his king? Finally, in an obscure text that unfortunately burned in our house fire a few years ago, I learned that either Nabonidus or Belshazzar had killed the governor's son. The circumstances were not given, just the fact of his death at the hands of the king. Suddenly it made perfect sense.

Moon god 'Sin'  generally represented as an old man with a flowing beard and his crescent moon symbol - from

Many of Nabonidus's decisions did not endear him to the populace either. He threatened to elevate the moon god, Sin, to a place of pre-eminence, removing Bel-Marduk, the supreme god of the land and patron god of Babylon, from his own temple with the intention of installing Sin in his place.

Excavations of Temple of Bel at Nippur -

Nabonidus left Babylon and remained in Tema for ten years. During his absence from Babylon the annual New Year Festival, necessary for the continued prosperity of both the city and the empire, could not be held. The king was supposed to enter the temple of Bel-Marduk to take part in a ritual in which he would declare that he had cared for Babylon, not neglected the Esagila temple complex nor forgotten its ritual, etc. Unfortunately, Nabonidus had left Babylon, had neglected Esagila and according to cuneiform texts, mixed up the rituals, confused the oracles and uttered unnamed 'blasphemies'.  His contemporaries considered him dangerous to the stability of the country and unfit to be ruler of Babylonia.

As Cyrus and the Persian army advanced into Babylonia, the gods were brought to Babylon, ostensibly for protection. However, Nabonidus ensured the loyalty of the Babylonian cities by keeping their gods in Babylon. A city's loyalty to Nabonidus was guaranteed as long as its gods were held hostage to him in the capital. Put another way: if a god showed support for Nabonidus by fleeing to Babylon, his priests (no matter who appointed them) could not be true to the god and at the same time support Cyrus. A city could not switch outward allegiance from Nabonidus to Cyrus as long as Nobonidus held its gods in his power. (1) Some cities saw through this subterfuge and refused to relinquish their gods.

All in all it is small wonder that the Babylonians may have given little resistance to the incursion of the Persian army.
(1) The Priest and the Great King by Lisbeth S. Fried
Citizens gathering outside Ishtar Gate for procession to Akitu festival house

1 comment:

    Ancient Babylonian rulers and kings not all listed but very interesting standpoints with pictures.