Nabonidus

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Nabonidus in relief showing him praying to the moon, sun and Venus
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Terracotta cylinder by Nabonidus concerning repairs on the temple of Sin, British Museum


Nabonidus (Akkadian Nabû-nāʾid) was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, reigning from 556-539 BCE. His reign has long been misunderstood, because of strongly coloured accounts by the Persians and Greeks and in the Hebrew Bible, but is becoming more clear now thanks to new studies and finds.

Historiography on Nabonidus

More than with others, our perception of Nabonidus' reign has been badly coloured by later accounts, notably by the Persians and the Greeks, as well as in the Hebrew Bible. These stories have been widely believed in the past, not only because there was nothing else, but also because they fitted in with a set of views on the Near East which are now known as Orientalism. In the present day, not only has Orientalism been exposed for what it is, but we also possess additional texts from within Babylonia, dating to the final days of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the early Persian Empire. In combination with renewed studies of the aforementioned accounts, our views on Nabonidus and the events that happened during his reign have been significantly altered. Therefore, where relevant, both the traditional and the new view will be presented below.

Coming to power

Nabonidus' background is unclear. Because of later activities during his reign, it has been proposed that he was an Assyrian[1], but there is no certainty. It is clear though that he did not belong to the previous ruling dynasty, the Chaldeans, of whom Nebuchadnezzar II was the most famous member. He came to the throne in 556 BC by overthrowing the youthful king Labashi-Marduk. It is possible that he substantiated his claim to the throne by his marriage to Nitocris, who was the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II and the widow of Nergal-sharezer.

Reign

Traditional view

In most ancient accounts, Nabonidus has been depicted as a royal anomaly. He is supposed to have worshipped the moongod Sin beyond al the other gods, and to have paid special devotion to Sin's temple in Harran, where his mother was a priestess. This should have reached almost henotheistic heights, which would have been a particularly bad thing in Babylon, where at least since the time of Hammurapi, this position had been reserved for Marduk. Because of the tensions that these religious reforms generated, in 549 BCE, he had to leave the capital for the rich desert oasis of Tayma in Arabia, from which he only returend in 540 BCE. In the meantime, his son Belshazzar ruled from Babylon, supposedly in the typical fashion of an oriental despot.

Updated view

Religious policy

While it cannot be disputed that Nabonidus had a personal preference for Sin, it cannot be said that he downplayed or even neglected the other cults in his kingdom to the extent that has been proposed. All of them reserved the attention they deserved and there is no sign of the civil unrest that would have been indicative of the opposite. In fact, even during his absence, there is nothing that points at attempts to overthrow Nabonidus, either by his son or by others, which is also shown by the fact that even after his prolonged stay outside Babylon, Nabonidus could return to his throne without a problem.

Another misunderstood topic is Nabonidus' gathering of the most important cultic statues from all over southern Mesopotamia in Babylon, just before the Persian attack. This was not a sign of blasphemy of some sort, but part of his defense of Babylonia: by gathering the statues (of which good care was taken, which must have involved a huge adminstrative effort), Nabonidus tried to ensure the support of the gods in the upcoming war against the Persians.[2] It is hardly surprising that his enemies later explained as a sign of Nabonidus unfitness to rule.[3]

All in all then, Nabonidus' reign, at least from a religious point of view, seems to have been largely in line with the examples set by his Mesopotamian predecessors.

Nabonidus at Tayma

As it has now become clear that Nabonidus had no reason to flee Babylon, the discussion about his sojourn at Tayma is open again.[4] One option is that he moved to Tayma because this provided him with a capital less close to his most dangerous enemies, the Persians in Iran. However, the economic, political and symbolic status of Babylon makes this move unlikely; no king could give up this capital so easily. The most plausible explanation is that basing himself at Tayma provided him with the opportunity to dominate some very lucrative Arabian trade routes - which the Babylonians were indeed the first Mesopotamians to gain control of. During his stay, Nabonidus adorned Tayma with a full royal complex, most of which has come to light during recent excavations.

The Persian conquest of Babylonia[5]

Traditional view

In the traditional account of the Persian conquest of Babylonia, King Cyrus the Great could take Babylon without meeting resitance. The population had grown so fed up with Nabonidus, that they opened their gates Cyrus and greeted him as their liberator.

Updated view

As it has now become clear that Nabonidus was not hated, and that he returned from Tayma in time to organise the defence of Babylonia, it seems unlikely that Cyrus could enter so easily. And indeed, he did not. When he attempted to march into southern Mesopotamia, he was met by the Babylonians near Opis. In the ensuing battle, the Persians booked a minor victory, not sufficient for Nabonidus to be defeated altogether, but enough for the Persians to be able to massacre the people of Opis, which in turn caused the nearby city of Sippar to surrender. Meanwhile, the Babylonians had withdrawn south to establish a line of defense near the Euphrates that should prevent Cyrus from advancing too far. Cyrus in turn did not try the Babylonian army, but sent a small division south along the Tigris to try and take the capital by surprise. This plan worked: the division could reach Babylon undetected and caught it unawares. Thus, they were not only able to capture Babylon, but also King Nabonidus, who briefly afterwards left his army to return to Babylon, not knowing that the city had already been taken.

This left the Babylonian army in a precarious position, and talks were initiated, which soon resulted in its surrender. In the meantime, Ugbaru, the commander of the division that had captured Babylon, had taken good care that his men would not plunder or otherwise harm the city; he had even made sure that the temple rites continued to be observed.[6] It was only after all of this had been arranged, and after further talks with representatives from the city, that Cyrus went to Babylon, where he could now have his 'unopposed triumphant entry to the cheers of the people'.

The death of Nabonidus?

The subsequent fate of Nabonidus is uncertain. His life was probably spared, and he may been allwowed to retire somewhere in the Persian mainland, but it may also be that he was taken prisoner and died in captivity in 538 BC.[7]

Trivia

From Belshazzar 'reign' stems the well-known Biblical story of the writing on the wall (Daniel 5:1–31|). The Hebrew Bible tells that in 539 BC, while Belshazzar and the nobles of the empire were feasting and drinking from the chalices from the Hebrew Temple of Jerusalem, a hand wrote an unknown Aramaic text on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. None of Belshazzar's soothsayers could translate the words written and then Daniel the Hebrew, known for his accurate prophecies was called to translate the text. He said unto the appointed "King of Babylon" : "This is the interpretation of each word. "Mene," "God has numbered your kingdom and brought it to an end. "Tekel," You have been weighed in the balances and are found wanting. "Peres," Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." These words indicated the arrival of the Persian king Cyrus the Great who rode out to conquer Babylon.

See also

References

1. ^ S. Parpola, "National and ethnic identity in the Neo-Assyrian empire and Assyrian identity in post-empire times", in Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies 18.2 (2004), 5-49.
2. ^ P.-A. Beaulieu, "An episode in the fall of Babylon to the Persians", in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52 (1992), 241-61.
3. ^ For an example of Persian propaganda, see A. Kuhrt, "The Cyrus cylinder and Achaemenid imperial policy", in Journal of the Study of the Old Testament 25 (1983), 83-97.
4. ^ For an overview of the history of Tayma, current archaeological work, as well as bibliographical references, see Deutsches Archäologisches Institut: Tayma. Retrieved on 2007-10-16.
5. ^ Comparative data on takings of Babylon is gathered in A. Kuhrt, "'Ex orient lux': How we may widen our perspectives on ancient history", in R. Rollinger, A. Luther and J. Wiesehöfer (edd.), Getrennte Wege? Kommunikation, Raum und Wahrnehmung in der alten Welt (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Antike 2007), 617-32. For a study of the historical events surrounding Cyrus' taking of Babylon, see G. Tolini, "Quelques éléments concernant la prise de Babylon par Cyrus (octobre 539 av. J.-C.)", in Arta 2005/003 (online available at Achemenet.). In general, see also P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A history of the Persian Empire (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns 2002).
6. ^ Apparently, the only damage in the city was to the Gate of Enlil, where supposedly a small fight had taken place (thus Tolini 2005 [see above]).
7. ^ It is not true that King Cyrus the Great was known for sparing the lives of the kings whom he had defeated. This idea is based on his treatment of King Croesus of Lydia, who was allowed to live after his defeat at King Cyrus's court as an advisor - or so Herodotus tells us. But the Babylonian Chronicles in their succinct style just say that Lydia was captured and its king killed (see The End of Lydia: 547?.for details). So in reality, we have no idea how Cyrus 'usually' treated captured kings.

External links

Preceded by
Labashi-Marduk
King of Babylon
556–539 BC
Succeeded by
Nebuchadnezzar IV (self-proclaimed)

References

<references />
Orientalism is the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, and peoples by Western scholars. It can also refer to the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists.
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Chaldean (from Akkadian Kaldu, via Greek Χαλδαιος Chaldaios) may refer to:
  1. historical Babylonia

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Labashi-Marduk, Chaldean king of Babylon (556 BCE), and son of Neriglissar. Labashi-Marduk succeeded his father when still only a boy, after the latter's four-year reign. Most likely due to his very young age, he was unfit to rule, and was murdered in a conspiracy only nine months
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Carrhae redirects here.
Harran, is a district of Şanlıurfa Province in the southeast of Turkey, also known eponymously as Carrhae after the defunct ancient town (now an valuable archaelogical site) of that name which gave its name to the Roman
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Hammurabi (Akkadian from Amorite ˤAmmurāpi, "the kinsman is a healer," from ˤAmmu, "paternal kinsman," and Rāpi, "healer"; c.
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Marduk (Sumerian spelling in Akkadian: AMAR.UTU 𒀫𒌓 "solar calf"; perhaps from MERI.DUG; Biblical: Merodach מְרֹדַךְ
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Tayma (Arabic: تيماء; also transliterated Tema) is a large oasis with a long history of settlement, located in northeastern Saudi Arabia at the point where the trade route between Yathrib (Medina) and
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Belshazzar (or Baltasar; Akkadian Bel-sarra-usur) was a prince of Babylon, the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. In the Book of Daniel (chapters 5 and 8) of the Jewish Tanakh or Christian Old Testament, Belshazzar is the King of Babylon before
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Cyrus II of Persia, The Great
King of Persia, King of Media

An old Iranian portrait of Cyrus the Great (artist's conception).
Reign 550 BC to 529 BC
Born 590 BC or 576 BC
Anshan
Died August 530 BC
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Opis (Akkadian Upî or Upija) was an ancient Babylonian city on the Tigris, not far from modern Baghdad. The precise location of Opis has not been established, but from the Akkadian and Greek texts, it was located on the east bank of the Tigris, near the Diyala
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Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habbah, Sumerian Zimbir "bird city") was an ancient Babylonian city on the east bank of the Euphrates, some 60 km north of Babylon.
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Origin Eastern Turkey
Mouth Shatt al Arab
Basin countries Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran
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Origin Eastern Turkey
Mouth Shatt al-Arab
Basin countries Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran
Length 1.900 km (1.180 mi)

The Tigris is the eastern member of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, along with the Euphrates, which flows from
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Hebrew Bible is a generic reference to books of the Bible, originally written in Hebrew, of uncontroversial canonicity. More precisely, it refers to a collection of specific ancient documents viewed as an organic corpus.
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Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple (Hebrew: בית המקדש, transliterated Bet HaMikdash and meaning literally "The Holy House") was located on the Temple Mount (Har HaBayit) in the old city of Jerusalem.
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Daniel (Hebrew: דָּנִיֵּאל, Standard  
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Ancient Mesopotamia

Euphrates Tigris
Cities / Empires
Sumer: Uruk ' Ur ' Eridu
Kish ' Lagash ' Nippur
Akkadian Empire: Akkad
Babylon ' Isin ' Susa
Assyria: Assur Nineveh
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Medes were an ancient Iranian people, who lived in the north, western, and northwestern portions of present-day Iran, and roughly the areas of present day Kurdistan, Hamedan, Tehran, Azarbaijan, north of Esfahan and Zanjan.
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BCE Zayandeh River Civilization Sialk civilization 7500–1000 Jiroft civilization (Aratta) Proto-Elamite civilization Bactria-Margiana Complex Elamite dynasties 2800–550 Kingdom of Mannai Median Empire 728–550 Achaemenid Empire Seleucid Empire Greco-Bactrian
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Cyrus II of Persia, The Great
King of Persia, King of Media

An old Iranian portrait of Cyrus the Great (artist's conception).
Reign 550 BC to 529 BC
Born 590 BC or 576 BC
Anshan
Died August 530 BC
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Ancient Mesopotamia

Euphrates Tigris
Cities / Empires
Sumer: Uruk ' Ur ' Eridu
Kish ' Lagash ' Nippur
Akkadian Empire: Akkad
Babylon ' Isin ' Susa
Assyria: Assur Nineveh
..... Click the link for more information.
The Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar is a long text in which king Nabonidus of Babylonia (556-539) describes how he repaired three temples: the sanctuary of the moon god Sin in Harran, the sanctuary of the warrior goddess Anunitu in Sippar, and the temple of Šamaš
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Biblical archaeology is "the archaeology of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament."[1] It was given its theoreticfal framework, and enjoyed its most influential period, in the early to mid 20th century through the influence of William F.
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Nabonidus Chronicle records the events during the rule of the last king of Babylonia (King Nabonidus) before the Persian king Cyrus conquered the kingdom in October 539 BCE.
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