Babylonia. Way of Life. Language and Literature. Religion

Babylonia was an ancient region around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now southeastern Iraq. The region centered around the ancient city of Babylon, which stood about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of present-day Baghdad, Iraq. A great civilization began in this region about 3500 B.C., and the area was the site of several great empires until the 200's B.C. Babylonia produced the first form of writing, a set of laws, and studies in mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences. Great leaders, such as Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar II, Cyrus the Great, and Alexander the Great, were rulers of Babylonia.

Location of Babylonia

Way of life. Babylonian society was divided into various classes at various times. Usually, the aristocracy(upper class) in cluded government officials, priests, large landowners, and some traders. The common people were craft workers, clerks, and farmers. Slaves made up the lowest class.

The Babylonian economy depended chiefly on farming. The king and nobles owned much of the land, and the temples also controlled large areas. The people built networks of canals to carry water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the fields. Landlords maintained the canals on their property, and the use of water was carefully regulated. Babylonian farmers harvested large crops of grain, vegetables, and fruits.

Industry and trade were well developed. The Babylonians exported manufactured goods and perhaps some farm products to all parts of the Middle East. Traders brought back metal, wood, and stone—raw materials which Babylonia lacked. The people began using wheeled carts and chariots about 3500 B.C. The Sumerians, who were the first recorded inhabitants of Babylonia, built huts out of reeds and mud. Because the land had no stone or large trees, the people also used baked or sun-dried bricks for their houses and temples.

Some Babylonian temples and palaces included many colorfully decorated rooms and courtyards. The ziggurats (temple towers) that stood in the important cities were the most impressive Babylonian buildings. The Babylonians discovered and used many technical devices in erecting buildings. They paid careful attention to drainage, used slightly curved lines in high walls to keep them from appearing top-heavy, and developed mathematical measuring techniques.

Language and literature. About 3500 B.C., the Sumerians began to produce written records in Babylonia. The writing consisted of picture like symbols scratched on lumps of clay. These symbols later were modified to produce cuneiform writing. The use of cuneiform probably lasted until about A.D. 75. See Cuneiform.

Archaeologists have found hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets in Babylonia and as far away as Egypt. The tablets are in Sumerian and in various dialects of Akkadian, the Semitic language of Babylon itself. They include historical and legal documents; letters; economic records; literary and religious texts; and studies in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and magic.

The Sumerians and Semites kept business records. They produced religious texts giving accounts of rituals, and mythological stories explaining past and present events. Late in the Sumerian period, around 2000 B.C., scribes (writers) wrote some law codes.

When the Semites adopted the cuneiform system for their own language, they also borrowed many of the Sumerian stories. But they changed the mythological accounts of creation and of the actions of the gods to fit their own religious system. Most famous of these accounts are the Creation Story and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

The first tells the story of the creation of the world by the god Marduk, patron god of the city of Babylon. The second describes a great flood similar to the story found in the Bible. The Semites also created the set of laws called the Code of Hammurabi. The Akkadian-speaking Assyrians wrote about the adventures of kings and their armies after the early Babylonian period.

Mathematical and astronomical texts show that the ancient Babylonians had developed the 360-degree circle and the 60-minute hour. In addition, the Babylonians understood such concepts as fractions, squares, and square roots. They also could predict eclipses of the sun and moon.

Religion. Babylonians believed that changes in nature and in the fortunes of people were ruled by events that occurred in the heavens among the many gods. On earth, the king reigned as the representative of the gods, especially blessed by them. Babylonian religions combined scientific observation of the sky and the weather, prayer to the various gods who were believed to be in control of these things, and magic. This eventually led to the study of astrology.

Sumerian religion, like Sumerian literary forms, was adopted in part by the Semites. But the Semites emphasized the gods of their own cities rather than earlier Sumerian gods. Babylonians never really rejected earlier gods, however, so the number of gods they worshiped grew into the thousands. There were patron gods and goddesses of each city-state as well as gods representing such things as the sun, moon, and stars, the weather, crops, rivers, and the land.

Art. Making and decorating pottery probably constituted the earliest arts of the Babylonian people. Many broken pieces of early pottery with painted patterns and designs still remain.

By 3000 B.C, the Babylonians had begun carving stones and shells. They began making statues at about the same time. They also produced beautiful jewelry and other art objects in gold and silver. The people sealed jars and documents with stamp seals or cylinder seals, which were engraved with simple designs or religious scenes. The stamp seals were like the rubber hand stamps that are used today. The cylinder seals were rolled in clay while it was wet. The seals often gave the name of the owner or producer of the sealed object. Although no examples remain, Babylonian business records describe elaborate and expensive textiles.


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