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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Babylon

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Bab´ylon; the name in Hebrew is Babel, from the confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:1-9). In Daniel 4:27 the place is appropriately termed 'Babylon the Great.' This famous city was the metropolis of the province of Babylon and of the Babyionio-Chaldean Empire. It was situated in a wide plain on the Euphrates, which divided it into two nearly equal parts. According to the book of Genesis, its foundations were laid at the same time with those of the tower of Babel. In the revolutions of centuries it underwent many changes, and received successive reparations and additions. Semiramis and Nebuchadnezzar are those to whom the city was indebted for its greatest augmentations and its chief splendor. Its site has been ascertained to be near Hillah, about forty miles from Bagdad.

According to Herodotus, the walls of Babylon were sixty miles in circumference, built of large bricks cemented together with bitumen, and raised round the city in the form of an exact square; hence they measured fifteen miles along each face. They were87 feet thick and 350 feet high protected on the outside by a vast ditch lined with the same material, and proportioned in depth and width to the elevation of the walls. The city was entered by twenty-five gates on each side, made of solid brass, and additionally strengthened by 250 towers, so placed that between every two gates were four towers, and four additional ones at the four corners. The whole city contained 676 squares, each two miles and a quarter in circumference. The river ran through the city from north to south; and on each side was a quay of the same thickness as the walls of the city, and 100 stadia in length. In these quays were gates of brass, and from each of them steps descending into the river. A bridge was thrown across the river, of great beauty and admirable contrivance, a furlong in length and 30 feet in breadth. The greatest circumference ascribed by the ancients to the city walls is 480 stadia, the most moderate 360. The smallest computation supposes an area for the city of which we can now scarcely form an idea. Its population however may not have been in proportion to its extent. The place was probably what in these days would be considered an enclosed district rather than a compact city.

One or two additional facts may aid in conveying a full idea of this great and magnificent-city. When Cyrus took Babylon by turning the Euphrates into a neighboring lake, the dwellers in the middle of the place were not for some time aware that their fellow-townsmen who were near the walls had been captured. From the fallen towers of Babylon have arisen not only all the present cities in its vicinity, but others which, like itself, have long since gone down into the dust. Since the days of Alexander four capitals, at least, have been built out of its remains—Seleucia by the Greeks, Ctesiphon by the Parthians, Al Maidan by the Persians, and Kufa by the Caliphs; with towns, villages, and caravansaries without number. The necessary fragments and materials were transported along the rivers and the canals. The new palace built by Nebuchadnezzar was prodigious in size and superb in embellishments. Its outer wall embraced six miles; within that circumference were two other embattled walls, besides a great tower. Three brazen gates led into the grand area, and every gate of consequence throughout the city was of brass.

The palace was splendidly decorated with statues of men and animals, with vessels of gold and silver, and furnished with luxuries of all kinds brought thither from conquests in Egypt, Palestine, and Tyre. Its greatest boast were the hanging gardens. They are attributed to the gallantry of Nebuchadnezzar, who constructed them in compliance with a wish of his queen Amytis to possess elevated groves such as she had enjoyed on the hills around her native Ecbatana. Babylon was all flat; and to accomplish so extravagant a desire an artificial mountain was reared, 400 feet on each side, while terraces one above another rose to a height that over-lapped the walls of the city, that is, above 300 feet in elevation. The ascent from terrace to terrace was made by corresponding flights of steps. The level of each terrace or garden was then formed in the following manner: the top of the piers was first laid over with flat stones, 16 feet in length and 4 feet in width; on these stones were spread beds of matting, then a thick layer of bitumen; after which came two courses of bricks, which were covered with sheets of solid lead. The earth was heaped on this platform; and in order to admit the roots of large trees, prodigious hollow piers were built and filled with mould. From the Euphrates, which flowed close to the foundation, water was drawn up by machinery. The whole had, to those who saw it from a distance, the appearance of woods overhanging mountains. Such was the completion of Nebuchadnezzar's work, when he found himself at rest in his house, and flourished in his palace. The king spoke and said, 'Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and the honor of my majesty' (Daniel 4:30). Nowhere could the king have taken so comprehensive a view of the city he had so magnificently constructed and adorned as when walking on the highest terrace of the gardens of his palace.

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Babylon'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/b/babylon.html.

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