King Nebuchadnezzar II (634-562 BCE) was the greatest king of ancient Babylon, succeeding his father, Nabopolassar. King Nabopolassar had defeated the Assyrians with the help of the Medes and liberated Babylonia from Assyrian rule. In this way he provided for his son (as Philip II would do for his son Alexander later) a stable base and ample wealth on which to build; an opportunity for greatness which Nebuchadnezzar took full advantage of. He married Amytis of Media (630-565 BCE) and so secured an alliance between the Medes and the Babylonians (Amytis being the daughter or granddaughter of Cyaxerxes, the king of the Medes) and, according to some sources, had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon built for her to remind her of her homeland in Persia.
Upon ascending to the throne, Nebuchadnezzar spoke to the gods, in his inaugural address, saying, “O merciful Marduk, may the house that I have built endure forever, may I be satiated with its splendor, attain old age therein, with abundant offspring, and receive therein tribute of the kings of all regions, from all mankind” and it would seem the gods heard his prayer in that, under his reign, Babylon became the most powerful city-state in the region and Nebuchadnezzar II himself the greatest warrior-king and ruler in the known world. He is portrayed in unflattering light in the Bible, most notably in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Jeremiah (where he is seen as an 'enemy of God’ and one whom the deity of the Israelites intends to make an example of or, conversely, the agent of God used as a scourge against the faithless followers of Yahweh). Those portraits notwithstanding, Nebuchadnezzar II was most certainly responsible for the so-called Babylonian Exile of the Jews and, so, for the formation of modern-day Judaism (in that, the temple destroyed, the Priestly class of the Levites of the Jews had to re-create their religion “in a foreign land” as recounted famously in Psalm 137 from the Bible, and elsewhere).
Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the Egyptians and their allies the Assyrians at Carchemish, subdued Palestine and the region of Syria and, consolidating his power, controlled all the trade routes across Mesopotamia from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Remaining true to the vision of his inaugural address, the great king spent the tolls he collected and the taxes he gathered in creating a city which, he hoped, would be recognized as a wonder of the world (and, indeed, his hopes were realized in later writers adding the walls of Babylon and, in particular, the Ishtar gate to the list of the Seven Wonders of the World). In the forty-three years of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar II made the most of the time employing a vast army of slave labor to surround his city with walls so thick that chariot races were conducted around the tops and which stretched fifty-six miles in length, encircling an area of two hundred square miles. The bricks of the walls were faced with a bright blue and bore the inscription, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.”
Surviving an apparent seven-year bout with insanity (the cause of which is still not known today) Nebuchadnezzar II created a city which was not only wonderous to behold but also a center for the arts and intellectual pursuits. Women enjoyed equal rights with men under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule (though, certainly, not completely equal in status nor opportunity by any modern-day standard) schools and temples were plentiful and literacy, mathematics and craftsmanship flourished along with a tolerance of, and interest in, other gods of other faiths. The great king died, as he had hoped, in the magnificent city he had built, an old man.
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1. Joshua J. Mark, “Nebuchadnezzar II,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified July 20, 2010, http://www.ancient.eu /Nebuchadnezzar_II/.As Bibliography Entry:
Joshua J. Mark. “Nebuchadnezzar II,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 20, 2010. http://www.ancient.eu /Nebuchadnezzar_II/.