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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Babylo´nia (so called from the name of its chief city, termed also Chaldea, from those who at a later period inhabited it), a province of Middle Asia, bordered on the north by Mesopotamia, on the east by the Tigris, on the south by the Persian Gulf, and on the west by the Arabian Desert. On the north it begins at the point where the Euphrates and Tigris approach each other, and extends to their common outlet in the Persian Gulf, pretty nearly comprising the country now designated Iraq Arabi. The climate is temperate and salubrious. The country in ancient times was very prolific, especially in corn and palms. Timber-trees it did not produce. Many parts had springs of naphtha. As rain is infrequent, even in the winter months, the country owes its fruitfulness to the annual overflow of the Euphrates and the Tigris, whose waters are conveyed over the land by means of canals.

The alluvial plains of Babylonia, Chaldea, and Susiana, including all the river, lake, and newer marine deposits at the head of the Persian Gulf, occupy an extent of about 32,400 square geographic miles. The rivers are the Euphrates and its tributaries, the Tigris and its tributaries, the Kerah, the Karun and its tributaries, the Jerahi, and the Idiyan; constituting, altogether, a vast hydrographical basin of 189,200 geographic square miles; containing, within itself, a central deposit of 32,400 miles of alluvium, almost entirely brought down by the waters of the various rivers, and which have been accumulating from periods long antecedent to all historical records. The modern accumulation of soil in Babylonia from annual inundations is still very great. Several canals convey water at certain seasons of the year from one river and part of the country to another. In general, the alluvium that is brought down by canals and rivulets, and deposited at their mouths, is a fine clay. The great extent of the plain of Babylonia is everywhere altered by artificial works. There is still some cultivation and some irrigation. Flocks pasture in meadows of coarse grasses; the Arabs' dusky encampments are met with here and there; but, except on the banks of the Euphrates, there are few remains of the date-groves, the vineyards, and the gardens which adorned the same land in the days of Artaxerxes; and still less of the population and labor which must have made a garden of such soil in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The vegetation of these tracts is characterized by the usual saline plants, the river banks being fringed by shrubberies of tamarisk and acacia, and occasional groves of a poplar which has been mistaken for a willow.

The Euphrates is still a majestic stream, but wanders through a dreary solitude. Its banks are hoary with reeds, and the grey osier-willows are yet there on which the captives of Israel hung up their harps, and, while Jerusalem was not, refused to be comforted. According to Rennel its breadth at Babylon is about 491 English feet. Rich ascertained its depth to be 2½ fathoms, and that the current runs gently at the medium rate of about two knots an hour. The Euphrates is far less rapid than the Tigris, and rises at an earlier period. When at its height—from the latter end of April to the latter end of June—it overflows the surrounding country. The ruins of Babylon are then so inundated as to render many parts of them inaccessible. The course of the river through the site of Babylon is north and south. During the three great empires of the East, no tract of the whole appears to have been so reputed for fertility and riches as the district of Babylonia, which arose in the main from the proper management of the mighty river which flowed through it. But the abundance of the country has vanished as clean away as if 'the besom of desolation' had swept it from north to south; the whole land, from the outskirts of Bagdad to the farthest reach of sight, lying a melancholy waste.

In order to defend the country against hostile attacks from its neighbors, northward from Babylon, between the two rivers, a wall was built, which is known under the name of the Median Wall. The Babylonians were famous for the manufacture of cloth and carpets: they also excelled in making perfumes, in carving in wood, and in working in precious stones. They were a commercial as well as a manufacturing people, and carried on a very extensive trade alike by land and by sea. Babylon was indeed a commercial depot between the Eastern and the Western worlds (Ezekiel 17:4; Isaiah 43:14). Thus favored by nature and aided by art, Babylonia became the first abode of social order and the cradle of civilization.

The original inhabitants were without doubt of the Shemitic family; and their language belonged to the class of tongues spoken by that race, particularly to the Aramaic branch, and was indeed a dialect similar to that which is now called Chaldee.

From the account which is found in Genesis 10:8, Nimrod, the son of Cush, appears to have founded the kingdom of Babylon, and to have been its first sovereign. In Genesis 14:1, Amraphel is cursorily mentioned as king of Shinar. In the reign of Hezekiah (B.C. 713)—2 Kings 20:12—'Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan,' was 'king of Babylon,' and 'sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.' About a hundred years later, Jeremiah and Habakkuk speak of the invasion of the Babylonians under the name of the Chaldeans; and now Nebuchadnezzar appears in the historical books (2 Kings 24:1, sq.; Jeremiah 36:9; Jeremiah 36:27) as head of the all-subduing empire of Babylon. Evilmerodach (2 Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 52:31), son of the preceding, is also mentioned as 'king of Babylon;' and with Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1; Daniel 5:30) the line of the Chaldean kings was closed: he perished in the conquest of Babylon by the Medo-Persians (Daniel 5:31), 'and Darius, the Median, took the kingdom.'

The domination of the Chaldeans in Babylon has given historians some trouble to explain. The Chaldeans appear to have originally been a nomadic tribe in the mountains of Armenia, numbers of whom are thought to have settled in Babylon as subjects, where, having been civilized and grown powerful, they seized the supreme power and founded a Chaldeo-Babylonian empire.

There can be little doubt that the Chaldeans were a distinct nation. In connection with Babylonia they are to be regarded as a conquering nation as well as a learned people: they introduced a correct method of reckoning time, and began their reign with Nabonassar, B.C. 747. The brilliant period of the Chaldaeo-Babylonian empire extended to B.C. 538, when the great city, in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel, was sacked and destroyed. Babylonia, during this period, was 'the land of the Chaldeans,' the same as that into which the children of Judah were carried away captive (Jeremiah 24:5); which contained Babylon (Jeremiah 1:1; Ezekiel 12:13) was the seat of the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:12), and contained the house of the god of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:1-2).





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Babylonia'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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