previous next


BABYLO´NIA ( Βαβυλωνία), a province of considerable extent on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris, and the 9th satrapy of Dareius. (Her. 3.183.) Its capital was Babylon, from which it is probable that the district adjoining derived its name. It is not easy to determine from ancient authors with any strictness what its boundaries were, as it is often confounded with Mesopotamia and Assyria, while in the Bible it receives the yet more indefinite appellation of the land of the Chaldees. In early times, however, it was most likely only a small strip of land round the great city, perhaps little more than the southern end of the great province of Mesopotamia. Afterwards it is clear that it comprehended a much more extensive territory. A comparison of Strabo and Ptolemy shows that, according to the conception of the Roman geographers, it was separated from Mesopotamia on the N. by an artificial work called the Median Wall [MEDIAE MURUS], which extended from the Tigris, a little N. of Sittace, to the neighbourhood of the Euphrates, and that it was bounded on the E. by the Tigris, on the S. by the Persian Gulf, and on the W. and SW. by the desert sands of Arabia. Eratosthenes (ap. Strab. 2.80) compares its shape to that of the rudder of a ship. The most ancient name for Babylonia was Shinar which is first mentioned in Genesis (10.10), where it is stated that the beginning of the kingdom of Nimrod was Babel in the land of Shinar: a little later we meet with the name of Amraphel, who was king of that country in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14.1, &c.) It long continued a native appellation of that land. Thus we find Nebuchadnezzar removing the vessels of the temple of Jehovah to the house of his god in “the land of Shinar” (Dan. 1.2); and, as late as B.C. 519, Zephaniah declaring that a house shall be built “in the land of Shinar” (Zeph. 5.11). A fragment of Histiaeus (ap. Joseph. Antiq. 1.43) shows that the name was not unknown to Greek writers, for he speaks of “Σεννάαρ τῆς Βαβυλωνίας.

It has been thought by some that the ancient name has been preserved in the classical Singara ( Σιγγάρας, Ptol. 5.18.2; Amm. Marc. 23.5, 25.7), now Sinjar. But this seems very doubtful; as the character of the Sinjar country is wholly different from the plain land of Babylonia. If, however, we adopt this view, and Bochart inclines to it, we must suppose the name of the high northern land of Mesopotamia to have been gradually extended to the lowlands of the south (Wahl, Asien, p. 609; Rosenm. Bibl. Alt. 2.8). Niebuhr has noticed this attribution. D'Anville (Comp. Anc. Geogr. p. 433) has rejected it; while Beke (Orig. Bibl. p. 66) has identified Shinar and the present Kharput Dawassi, for which there seem to be no grounds whatever.

The inhabitants of Babylonia bore the general name of Babylonians; but there also appears everywhere in their history a people of another name, the Chaldaeans, about whom and their origin there has been much dispute in modern times. Their history is examined elsewhere. [CHALDAEA] It is sufficient to state here that we think there is no good evidence that the Chaldaeans were either a distinct race from the Babylonians, or a new people who conquered their country. We believe that they were really only a distinguished caste of the native population, the priests, magicians, soothsayers, and astrologers of the country; till, in the end, their name came to be applied as the genuine title of the main body of the people, among whom they were, originally, only the class who devoted themselves to scientific pursuits. Strabo (xvi. p.739), indeed, speaks as though he considered them as a separate but indigenous nation, and places them in the southern part of Babylonia, adjoining the Persian Gulf and the Deserts of Arabia (see also Ptol. 5.20.3), but the authority of these writers will be diminished, when it is remembered that seven centuries had elapsed between the extinction of the [p. 1.361]Chaldaeo-Babylonian Empire and the era of those authors. Ptolemy (5.20.3) divides Babylonia into three districts which he calls Auchanitis (Αὐχανῖτις), Chaldaea (Χαλδαία), and Amardocaea (Ἀμαρδοκαία), of none of which, with the exception of Chaldaea, we know any thing; and mentions the following chief towns which are described under their respective names: BABYLON on the Euphrates, VOLOGESIA and BARSITA or BORSIPPA on the Maarsares canal; TEREDON OR DIRIDOTIS near the mouth of the Tigris; and ORCHOR in the Marshes. He speaks also of several smaller towns and villages to which we have now no clue, omitting Seleuceia and some others, because, probably, at his time, they had either altogether ceased to exist, or had lost all importance. A few other places are mentioned by other writers, as Pylae, Charmande, Spasinae-Charax, and Ampe, about which however little is known; and another district called Mesene, apparently different from that in which Apameia was situated [APAMEIA]. These are noticed under their respective names.

Babylonia was an almost unbroken plain. without a single natural hill, and admirably adapted for the great fertility for which it was celebrated in antiquity, but liable at the same time to very extensive floods on the periodical rising of its two great rivers. Herodotus (1.193) says that its soil was so well fitted for the growth of the cerealia, that it seldom produced less than two hundred fold, and in the best seasons as much as three hundred fold. He mentions also the Cenchrus (Panicum miliaceum) and Sesamum (perhaps the Sesamum Indicum, from which an useful oil was extracted: Plin. Nat. 18.10; Diosc. 2.124; Forskal, Flora Arab. p. 113) as growing to a prodigious size. He adds that there was a great want of timber, though the date-palm trees grew there abundantly, from which wine and honey were manufactured by the people. (See also Amm. Marc. 24.3; Plut. Sympos. 8.4; S. Basil. Homil. 5.) Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 1.5.10.) alludes to the great fertility of the soil, and notices the honey made from the palm, the excellence of the dates themselves, which were so good that what the Babylonians gave to their slaves were superior to those which found their way to Greece (Anab. 2.3. § § 15, 16), and the intoxicating character of the wine made from their fruit. In the Cyropaedeia (7.5.11) he speaks also of the gigantic size of the Babylonian palm-trees. Strabo (xvi. p.741) states that Babylonia produced barley such as no other country did; and that the palm-tree afforded the people bread and honey, and wine and vinegar, and materials for weaving. Its nuts served for the blacksmith's forge, and when crushed and macerated in water were wholesome food for the oxen and sheep. In short, so valuable was this tree to the natives, that a Poem is said to have been written in Persian, enumerating 360 uses to which it could be applied. At present Mr. Ainsworth says (Res. p. 125) that the usual vegetation is, on the river bank, shrubberies of tamarisk and acacia, and occasionally poplars, whose lanceolate leaves resemble the willow, and have hence been taken for it. It is curious that there is no such thing as a weeping willow (Salix Babylonica) in Babylonia. The common tamarisk is the Athleh or Atle of Sonnini (Athele, Ker Porter, ii. p. 369, resembling the Lignum Vitae, Rich, Mem. p. 66, the Tamarix Orientalis of Forskal, Flora Arab. p. 206) In the upper part of Babylonia, Herodotus (1.179) mentions a village called Is, famous for the production of bitumen, which is procured there in large quantities, and which was used extensively in the construction of their great works. Strabo (l.c.) confirms this statement, distinguishing at the same time between the bitumen or asphalt of Babylonia, which was hard, and the liquid bitumen or naphtha, which was the product of the neighbouring province of Susiana. He adds that it was used in the construction of buildings and for the caulking of ships. (Comp. Diod. 2.12.)

The great fertility of Babylonia is clear from the statement of Herodotus, who visited Babylon about seventy years after the destructive siege by Dareius, and who did not, therefore, see it in its magnificence. Even in his time, it supported the king of Persia, his army, and his, whole establishment for four months of the year,affording, therefore, one-third of the produce of the whole of that king's dominions: it fed also 800 stallions and 16,000 mares for the then Satrap Tritantaechmes, four of its villages (for that reason free of any other taxes) being assigned for the maintenance of his Indian dogs alone (Her. 1.192; Ctesias, p. 272, Ed. Bähr.)

We may presume also that its climate was good and less torrid than at present, as Xenophon (Xen. Cyrop. 8.7.22) expressly states that Cyrus was in the habit of spending the seven colder months at Babylon, because of the mildness of its climate, the three spring months at Susa, and two hottest summer ones at Ecbatana.

The fertility of Babylonia was due to the influence of its two great rivers, assisted by numerous canals which intersected the land between them. Theremains of many great works, the chief objects of which were the complete irrigation or draining of the country, may yet be traced; though it is not easy, even since the careful survey of the Euphrates by Col. Chesney and the officers who, with him, conducted the “Euphrates Expedition,” satisfactorily to identify many of them with the descriptions we have of their ancient courses. Rich. (p. 53.) and Ker Porter (p. 289) state that, at present, the canals themselves show that they are of all ages, and that new ones are continually being made. Arrian (Arr. Anab. 7.7.) considers that a difference between the relative heights of the beds of the Euphrates and Tigris was favourable to their original construction, an opinion which has been borne out by modern examination; though it seems likely that Arrian had exaggerated notions of the beds of the two rivers, as he had, also, of the difference in the rapidity of their streams. Not far above Babylon, the bed of the Euphrates was found to be about five feet above that of the Tigris, according to Mr. Ainsworth, (Researches, p. 44.) who confirms, generally, Arrian's views, and shows that, owing to the larger quantity of alluvium brought down by the Euphrates than by the Tigris, it happens that, above Babylon, the waters of the Euphrates find a higher level by which they flow into the Tigris, while, at a considerable distance below Babylon, the level of the Euphrates is so low that the Tigris is able to send back its waters, He doubts, however (p. 110.), the statement of the difference in the speed of the current of the two rivers, which he considers to be much the same, and not very rapid even in flood time. Rich (p. 53), on the other hand, says, that the banks of the Euphrates are lower, and the stream more equal than that of the Tigris. These points are more fully discussed elsewhere [EUPHRATES; TIGRIS]. The canals were not sunk into the land, but were rather aqueducts constructed on its surface. The water was forced [p. 1.362]into them by dykes or dams made across the river. Instances of the former practice are still found at Adhem on the Diala (one of the eastern tributaries of the Tigris), and at Hit on the Euphrates (Frazer, Mesop. and Assyr. p. 31).

Herodotus, who states generally, that Babylonia, like Egypt, was intersected by many canals (κατατέτμηται εἰς διώρυχας, 1.193), describes particularly one only, which was constructed by a Queen Nitocris as a protection against an invasion from Media. (1.185.) It was an immense work, whereby, he adds, the course of the Euphrates, which had previously been straight, was rendered so tortuous, as thrice to pass the same village, Ardericca. The position of this place has not been ascertained: we only knew that it was to the north of Babylon itself; probably not far below the ancient Pylae or Charmande, which both Colonel Chesney and Mr. Ainsworth suppose to be near Hit. The position indeed of Pylae cannot be accurately determined, but it has been supposed: (Grote, Hist. Greece, vol. 9.48) that there were some artificial barriers dividing Babylonia from Mesopotamia and which bore the name of Pylae, or Gates. It was, probably, at that part of the country where the hills which have previously followed the course of the Euphrates melt into the alluvial plain. (See. remarks of Col. Chesney, i. p. 54).

Xenophon (Xen. Anab. 1.7.15) speaks of four principal canals, which were separated the one from the other by a parasang. According to him, they flowed from the Tigris in the direction of the Euphrates, and were large enough to convey corn vessels. It is most likely that the Nahr-Malcha (which appears under various names more or less corrupted as in Isid. Charax, Narmacha; in Zosimus, 3.27, Narmalaches; in Abyd.ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang.ix. 41, Armacales; in Plin. Nat. 6.26, Armalchar) is the μεγίστη τῶν διωρύχων of Herodotus, as this appears to have borne the name of the Royal River. Ammianus (24.6) speaks of a work which was called “Naarmalcha, quod interpretatur flumen regium,” and Abydenus (l.c.) attributes its creation to Nebuchadnezzar. Herodotus (1.193) says that it connected the two rivers and was navigable. Like all the other canals in the soft alluvial soil of Babylonia, it soon fell into decay on the decline of the capital. It was however, opened again by Trajanus and Severus, so that,with some subsequent reparation, Julian's fleet passed down by it from the Euphrates to the Tigris (Amm. Marc. 24.6). It appears to have left the Euphrates not far above the modern castle of Felujah, and to have entered the Tigris originally below the city of Seleuceia. In later times, its course was slightly altered, and an opening was made for it above that city.

Besides the canals to the N. of Babylon, and more or less connecting the Euphrates with the Tigris, there were two other great works, of which mention is made in antiquity, designed, as it would seem, to carry off seawards the superabundant waters of the Euphrates, and to facilitate the navigation of the river. The first of these, called by Ptolemy (5.20.2) Maarsares (Μααρσάρης), and by Ammnianus (23.6.) Marses, (most correctly Nahr-sares), commenced a little above Babylon, and flowed on the west side of it, parallel with the Euphrates, till it terminated near the place where that river and the Tigris form one stream. It has been conjectured that it may be the same as the Narraga of Pliny (6.26), but for this there is no sufficient evidence.

The second was called Pallacopas (Ραλλακόπας, Arrian, 7.21; Pallacottas, Appian, App. BC 2.153.) It commenced about 800 stadia, or 76 miles, below Babylon, and served as an outlet for its waters into the marshes below, at the time when they were at their highest. At the drier season it was, however, found necesary to prevent the escape of the water from the river, and Arrian mentions a Satrap who ruled the country and who had employed 10,000 men (as it would seem ineffectually) in constructing dams &c. to keep the river within its ordinary channel. It is recorded,. by the same writer, that Alexander having sailed down the Euphrates to the Pallacopas, at once perceiving the necessity of making the works more efficient, blocked up its former mouth, and cut a new channel 30 stadia lower down the Euphrates, where the nature of the soil was more strong and less yielding. Arrian adds, that Alexander having reached the land of Arabians by the Pallacopas, built a city there; and founded a colony for his mercenary and invalided Greek soldiers. Frazer (p. 34) supposes that the Pallacopas must have commenced about the latitude of Kufah, and that Meshed Ali now represents the site of the town he founded. Its termination was at the sea near Teredon (now Jebel Sanam), for Col. Chesney travelling W. from Basrah found its bed sixty paces broad, between Zobeir and that town. (Frazer, l.c.

Besides the main stream of the Euphrates, and the numerous canals more or less connected with it, a large portion of Babylonia, especially to the S. of the capital, was covered by shallow lakes or marshes. Of these some were probably artificial, like the vast work ascribed to Nitocris by Herodotus (1.185), which was to the N. of Babylon. The majority of them, however, were certainly natural ; on the west, extending up to the very walls of the city, and forming an impassable natural defence to it (Arrian, 7.17); on the south, covering a vast extent of territory, and reaching, with little interruption, to the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris. They bore the general name of τὰ ἕλη τὰ κατὰ Χαλδαίους (Strab. 16.767), Chaldaicus Lacus (Plin. Nat. 6.27. s. 31), and it was through them, according to Onesicritus, that the Euphrates reached the sea (Strab. xv. p.729). Late surveys confirm the general accuracy of the ancient accounts. Thus the marshes of Lamlúm no doubt represent the first great tract of marshy land below Babylon. Ainsworth (Res. p. 123) describes them as shallow sheets of water with reeds and rushes like the tarns of Scotland and meres of England: they teem with buffaloes, and when partially dried in summer, are covered with luxuriant rice crops. They extend from Lamlúm to Kelát-al-Gherrah, 40 miles in lat. and nearly the same in long. The people live in reed huts temporarily erected on the dry spots like islets. To the south, the plains rise almost imperceptibly from the marshes. A little N. of Korna, the place where the Euphrates and Tigris now join, Ainsworth states (Res. p. 123) that there is a vast extent of country subject to almost perpetual inundation, and (p. 129) extensive reed marshes which are chiefly fed by the Tigris.

Col. Chesney thinks that the Chaldaicus Lacus is now represented by the Samargah and Samidah marshes ; but these would seem to be too much to the E. Pliny, however, speaks of the Tigris flowing into them.

The general effect of these canals and marshes was to make the main stream of the Euphrates of very irregular breadth, and to produce the resuit [p. 1.363]noticed very early in History that the Euphrates was distinguished from all other known rivers, in that it got smaller instead of bigger as it flowed on. Col. Chesney shows that this difference of breadth is still very manifest. Thus at Hillah, it is 200 yards broad; at Diwaniyah, 160; at Lamlûm, 120; through the marshes, often not more than 60: below them and on to Korna, its original breadth of 200 yards returns. Below Korna, there is reason to believe that the alluvium brought down by the two rivers has produced a very considerable delta, and that the land now projects into the Persian Gulf full fifty miles further than it did when Nebuchadnezzar founded Teredon. [EUPHRATES]

On the whole, the accounts of modern travellers confirm in all essential points the narratives of ancient authors. Rich and Ker Porter, Colonel Chesney, Mr. Ainsworth and Mr. Frazer, demonstrate that, allowing for the effect of centuries during which no settled population have inhabited the country, the main features of Babylonia remain as Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian have recorded. Ker Porter speaks of the amazing fertility of the land on the subsiding of the annual inundations (Travels, vol. ii. p. 259), and states that the name Nahr Malka for one of the canals is still preserved among the people (ibid. p. 289), (according to Chesney, now called the Abu-Hitti canal), adding that one great difficulty in identifying ancient descriptions and modern works arises from this, that new canals are constantly being cut (one was in operation when he was there in 1818), “dividing and subdividing the ruined embankments again and again, like a sort of tangled net-work over the interminable ground” (ibid. p. 297).

One great peculiarity of Babylonia are the vast mounds which still remain, attesting the extent of the former civilization of the district and the vast works undertaken by its rulers. Besides the great mounds of the Birs-i-Nimrúd near Babylon, and those of Al Heimar and Akkerkuf between it and Baghdád, Col. Chesney's survey of Euphrates and the investigations of other modern travellers have brought to light the existence of a vast number of these works between the latitude of Baghdád and the Persian Gulf. Of these the most important seem to be those of Umgheier, Warha, Senkera, Tel Eide, Jebel Sanúm (Teredon) Iskuriyah, Tel Siphr, Niffer, and Beth Takkara. Mr. Loftus has examined lately the mound at Warka, and has found extraordinary remains, leading him to suppose that it must have been the necropolis of the surrounding country. Some coffins beautifully glazed, the results of his excavations, are now in the British Museum. Of Umgheier or Mugeyer, “the place of Bitumen,” Mr. Frazer, the only traveller who has, so far as we know, examined the place thoroughly, has given a particular description (p. 149). It was noticed by Della Valle as early as 1625, and was supposed by Rennell to be the same as Orchoe.

(Rich, Babylon and Persepolis ; Rennell, Geogr. of Herodotus ; Ker Porter, Travels, vol. ii.; Ainsworth, Researches in Assyria, &c.; Frazer, Mesop. and Assyria; Chesney, Exped. for Survey of Euphrates ; Rawlinson, Jour. Asiat. Soc. vol. xii.)


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: