An Historical Sketch of Babylon
In the pages of history there lives no city more glamorous than Babylon. Its
very name conjures visions of wealth and splendor. Its treasures of gold and
jewels were fabulous. One naturally pictures such a wealthy city as located
in a suitable setting of tropical luxury, surrounded by rich natural resources
of forests, and mines. Such was not the case. It was located beside the
Euphrates River, in a flat, arid valley. It had no forests, no mines — not
even stone for building. It was not even located upon a natural trade-route.
The rainfall was insufficient to raise crops.
Babylon is an outstanding example of man’s ability to achieve great
objectives, using whatever means are at his disposal. All of the resources
supporting this large city were man-developed. All of its riches were
Babylon possessed just two natural resources — a fertile soil and water in
the river. With one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of this or
any other day, Babylonian engineers diverted the waters from the river by
means of dams and immense irrigation canals. Far out across that arid
valley went these canals to pour the life giving waters over the fertile soil.
This ranks among the first engineering feats known to history. Such
abundant crops as were the reward of this irrigation system the world had
never seen before.
Fortunately, during its long existence, Babylon was ruled by successive
lines of kings to whom conquest and plunder were but incidental. While it
engaged in many wars, most of these were local or defensive against
ambitious conquerors from other countries who coveted the fabulous
treasures of Babylon. The outstanding rulers of Babylon live in history
because of their wisdom, enterprise and justice. Babylon produced no
strutting monarchs who sought to conquer the known world that all nations
might pay homage to their egotism.
As a city, Babylon exists no more. When those energizing human forces
that built and maintained the city for thousands of years were withdrawn, it
soon became a deserted ruin. The site of the city is in Asia about six
hundred miles east of the Suez Canal, just north of the Persian Gulf. The
latitude is about thirty degrees above the Equator, practically the same as
that of Yuma, Arizona. It possessed a climate similar to that of this
American city, hot and dry.
Today, this valley of the Euphrates, once a populous irrigated farming
district, is again a wind-swept arid waste. Scant grass and desert shrubs
strive for existence against the windblown sands. Gone are the fertile fields,
the mammoth cities and the long caravans of rich merchandise. Nomadic
bands of Arabs, securing a scant living by tending small herds, are the only
inhabitants. Such it has been since about the beginning of the Christian era.
Dotting this valley are earthen hills. For centuries, they were considered by
travelers to be nothing else. The attention of archaeologists were finally
attracted to them because of broken pieces of pottery and brick washed
down by the occasional rain storms. Expeditions, financed by European and
American museums, were sent here to excavate and see what could be
found. Picks and shovels soon proved these hills to be ancient cities. City
graves, they might well be called.
Babylon was one of these. Over it for something like twenty centuries, the
winds had scattered the desert dust. Built originally of brick, all exposed
walls had disintegrated and gone back to earth once more. Such is Babylon,
the wealthy city, today. A heap of dirt, so long abandoned that no living
person even knew its name until it was discovered by carefully removing
the refuse of centuries from the streets and the fallen wreckage of its noble
temples and palaces.
Many scientists consider the civilization of Babylon and other cities in this
valley to be the oldest of which there is a definite record. Positive dates
have been proved reaching back 8000 years.
An interesting fact in this connection is the means used to determine these
dates. Uncovered in the ruins of Babylon were descriptions of an eclipse of
the sun. Modern astronomers readily computed the time when such an
eclipse, visible in Babylon, occurred and thus established a known
relationship between their calendar and our own.
In this way, we have proved that 8000 years ago, the Sumerites, who
inhabited Babylonia, were living in walled cities. One can only conjecture
for how many centuries previous such cities had existed. Their inhabitants
were not mere barbarians living within protecting walls. They were an
educated and enlightened people. So far as written history goes, they were
the first engineers, the first astronomers, the first mathematicians, the first
financiers and the first people to have a written language.
Mention has already been made of the irrigation systems which transformed
the arid valley into an agricultural paradise. The remains of these canals can
still be traced, although they are mostly filled with accumulated sand. Some
of them were of such size that, when empty of water, a dozen horses could
be ridden abreast along their bottoms. In size they compare favorably with
the largest canals in Colorado and Utah.
In addition to irrigating the valley lands, Babylonian engineers completed
another project of similar magnitude. By means of an elaborate drainage
system they reclaimed an immense area of swamp land at the mouths of the
Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and put this also under cultivation.
Herodotus, the Greek traveler and historian, visited Babylon while it was in
its prime and has given us the only known description by an outsider. His
writings give a graphic description of the city and some of the unusual
customs of its people. He mentions the remarkable fertility of the soil and
the bountiful harvest of wheat and barley which they produced.
The glory of Babylon has faded but its wisdom has been preserved for us.
For this we are indebted to their form of records. In that distant day, the use
of paper had not been invented. Instead, they laboriously engraved their
writing upon tablets of moist clay. When completed, these were baked and
became hard tile. In size, they were about six by eight inches, and an inch in
These clay tablets, as they are commonly called, were used much as we use
modern forms of writing. Upon them were engraved legends, poetry,
history, transcriptions of royal decrees, the laws of the land, titles to
property, promissory notes and even letters which were dispatched by
messengers to distant cities. From these clay tablets we are permitted an
insight into the intimate, personal affairs of the people. For example, one
tablet, evidently from the records of a country storekeeper, relates that upon
the given date a certain named customer brought in a cow and exchanged it
for seven sacks of wheat, three being delivered at the time and the other
four to await the customer’s pleasure.
Safely buried in the wrecked cities, archaeologists have recovered entire
libraries of these tablets, hundreds of thousands of them.
One of the outstanding wonders of Babylon was the immense walls
surrounding the city. The ancients ranked them with the great pyramid of
Egypt as belonging to the “seven wonders of the world.” Queen Semiramis
is credited with having erected the first walls during the early history of the
city. Modern excavators have been unable to find any trace of the original
walls. Nor is their exact height known. From mention made by early
writers, it is estimated they were about fifty to sixty feet high, faced on the
outer side with burnt brick and further protected by a deep moat of water.
The later and more famous walls were started about six hundred years
before the time of Christ by King Nabopolassar. Upon such a gigantic scale
did he plan the rebuilding, he did not live to see the work finished. This was
left to his son, Nebuchadnezzar, whose name is familiar in Biblical history.
The height and length of these later walls staggers belief. They are reported
upon reliable authority to have been about one hundred and sixty feet high,
the equivalent of the height of a modern fifteen story office building. The
total length is estimated as between nine and eleven miles. So wide was the
top that a six-horse chariot could be driven around them. Of this
tremendous structure, little now remains except portions of the foundations
and the moat. In addition to the ravages of the elements, the Arabs
completed the destruction by quarrying the brick for building purposes
Against the walls of Babylon marched, in turn, the victorious armies of
almost every conqueror of that age of wars of conquest. A host of kings laid
siege to Babylon, but always in vain. Invading armies of that day were not
to be considered lightly. Historians speak of such units as 10,000 horsemen,
25,000 chariots, 1200 regiments of foot soldiers with 1000 men to the
regiment. Often two or three years of preparation would be required to
assemble war materials and depots of food along the proposed line of
march. The city of Babylon was organized much like a modern city. There
were streets and shops.
Peddlers offered their wares through residential districts. Priests officiated
in magnificent temples.
Within the city was an inner enclosure for the royal palaces. The walls
about this were said to have been higher than those about the city.
The Babylonians were skilled in the arts. These included sculpture,
painting, weaving, gold working and the manufacture of metal weapons and
agricultural implements. Their Jewellers created most artistic jewellery.
Many samples have been recovered from the graves of its wealthy citizens
and are now on exhibition in the leading museums of the world.
At a very early period when the rest of the world was still hacking at trees
with stone-headed axes, or hunting and fighting with flint-pointed spears
and arrows, the Babylonians were using axes, spears and arrows with metal
heads. The Babylonians were clever financiers and traders. So far as we
know, they were the original inventors of money as a means of exchange, of
promissory notes and written titles to property.
Babylon was never entered by hostile armies until about 540 years before
the birth of Christ.
Even then the walls were not captured. The story of the fall of Babylon is
most unusual. Cyrus, one of the great conquerors of that period, intended to
attack the city and hoped to take its impregnable walls.
Advisors of Nabonidus, the King of Babylon, persuaded him to go forth to
meet Cyrus and give him battle without waiting for the city to be besieged.
In the succeeding defeat to the Babylonian army, it fled away from the city.
Cyrus, thereupon, entered the open gates and took possession without
Thereafter the power and prestige of the city gradually waned until, in the
course of a few hundred years, it was eventually abandoned, deserted, left
for the winds and storms to level once again to that desert earth from which
its grandeur had originally been built. Babylon had fallen, never to rise
again, but to it civilization owes much.
The eons of time have crumbled to dust the proud walls of its temples, but
the wisdom of Babylon endures.
Money is the medium by which earthly success is measured.
Money makes possible the enjoyment of the best the earth af ords.
Money is plentiful for those who understand the simple laws which govern
Money is governed today by the same laws which controlled it when
prosperous men thronged the streets of Babylon, six thousand years ago.