Babylon: ancient history brought to life

Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, Multi-National Division – South commanding general, looks over what is left of the foundation of Ishtar’s Gate. This gate was originally built by Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 B.C. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw)


AL HILLAH, Iraq – High-reaching walls, ancient statues and a past filled with wonders and fame are an intrinsic part of Babylon.Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, Multi-National Division – South commanding general, Brig. Gen. Gerald Lang, MND-S deputy commanding general for support, Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Julin, MND-S senior enlisted leader and other Soldiers and civilians visited the site July 18 to see what this ancient city has to offer for Iraq.

“The mission (to Babylon) was to educate those on the command staff and some of the primary staff members on the importance of the religious aspects of this country and what there is to offer,” said Julin. “Even though we are at war there are some very important things we have to preserve here and help them preserve as well.”

Babylon is officially recognized by some as one of the first civilizations on earth.

“Babylon was established as a settlement in 3000 B.C. and was a product of dynasty work which was already old here,” said Ahmed Aziz Ibrheiz, an archeologist with the Department of Babylon city. “It has a long history of about 5,000 years.”

Babylon’s story is not only one of great length, but also one of much fame and historical significance.

The earliest of this fame is Hammurabi and his legal code around 1700 B.C. This code was displayed on tablets so everyone could read them. The only known surviving code has almost 300 laws, stands seven-feet tall and is currently displayed at Paris’ Louvre Museum. The code covers many social and economic relationships, one law stating, “If a free person puts out the eye of a free person, then that person’s eye shall be put out.”

To archaeologists, the historic significance comes from the age of Nebuchadnezzar II in approximately 600 B.C. This was called the Golden Period.

“Most of the great parts were built during this age, the Hanging Gardens which were one of the Seven Wonders of the World and, in addition to that, the construction of Babylon tower and other (structures) here, like the walls, temples and palaces,” said Ibrheiz.

The Hanging Gardens are the only wonder whose existence remains in some doubt. However, there is a part of the tour with arched ceilings and indoor wells where it is believed the gardens may have grown. In early lists of the seven wonders, the Walls of Babylon were included. Later lists replace the walls with the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

These walls are one of Babylon’s claims to fame. One of the most famous of these was Ishtar’s Gate.

The tour of the site begins by passing through a re-creation of the Ishtar Gate. This gate was originally built by Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 B.C. It was dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. It was built with glazed blue tiles with alternating rows of dragons and bulls. The dragons were a tribute to Marduk, the god of water, vegetation, judgment and magic. The bulls were dedicated to the rain god, Adad. The re-creation was built in the 1930s with site tiles. The foundation of the original gate remains at the site.

There is also significance in the city for those interested in war and military commanders. Alexander the Great conquered the city in 331 B.C. Babylon became the center of his empire for his 12-year campaign against the Persians and India. He died in Babylon in 323 B.C. His generals fought for control of his empire, causing the citizens of Babylon to disperse. Babylon never regained its position as a great world power. To religious people, Babylon also has a strong significance.

“Babylon is a very important empire and city in the old testament. It figures prominently in the development of the Jewish faith as well as the Christian faith,” said Chap. (Lt. Col.) John Morris, MND-S command chaplain. “About two-thirds of the old testament mentions Babylon in one form or another. Sometimes it’s prior to the Babylonian exile of Jewish people from Israel to Babylon. Sometimes it’s in the midst of that exile and sometimes it’s afterwards. The prophets particularly talk about Babylon as an instrument of God’s wrath. The Book of Daniel centers itself in Babylon as well as the Book of Ezekiel. So, Babylonian history is very important for people of faith to understand.”

Muslims and Christians are also an important part of Babylonian history. “In addition, Muslims revere many of the prophets who were in Babylon who were mentioned in the old testament,” said Morris. “Of course, Christians understand Babylon from the new testament. It’s mentioned prominently in the Book of Revelation as a city and as a metaphor for a gigantic civilization in opposition to God. So, that empire and that city are important for people of monotheist faiths to understand the development of their faith.”

In recent history, Saddam Hussein had begun reconstruction of the ruins and built a palace on the site. Many bricks of the reconstruction have an inscription in the imitation of Nebuchadnezzar II. Many of them state, “This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq.”

Today, surveys are being conducted to determine the possibility of making Babylon a historic and tourism site. For people like Morris, this is an exciting prospect as he saw the visit as a unique opportunity. “To be there today for me personally as a person of faith and a Christian is a sacred privilege,” he said.

- By Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw on: Tue July 21, 2009 04:03 pm CDT (139 Reads)

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Soldiers stand guard within the walls of the ancient city of Babylon. Some of the ruins were reconstructed by Saddam Hussein. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw)

Soldiers and civilians prepare to enter the ancient city of Babylon for a tour. The entrance to the ruins is a re-creation of Ishtar Gate. This gate was originally built by Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 B.C. It was dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw)