Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Period
(The Last Native Rule of Mesopotamia)
The term Chaldean comes from the Greek word, “Chaldaios” which means an inhabitant of Chaldea. The name represents a native Mesopotamian ethnic group- Kāldu. Kaldu was divided into three leading tribes, Bit-Amurkani, Bit-Dakkuri, and Bit-Jakin. The first mention of the Kaldi can be located in the annals of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (859BC), and were first referred to as belonging to Bit of “so-and-so”. For example, Bit Dakkuri (house of Dakkuri) (Kamoo 33).
Where did they come from?
Historically, scholars have debated about the origins of the Chaldeans. Some scholars have posited that the Chaldeans were a group closely related to the Arameans, however, this notion is challenged by evidence suggesting that the two tribes are historically distinct. On the same token, other scholars have claimed that the Chaldeans lived with the Sumerians. Different claims call for extraordinary evidence.
Defeat of Assyria
One of the main figures of the leading Kaldu tribes was Nabopolassar; namely the founder of the Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean period. Nabopolassar was a prominent figure in rebellious attacks during the time of Assyrian political fragmentation (between 627-612BC).“With the decline of Assyrian power, the native governor, Nabopolassar, was able, in 625 B.C. to become king of Babylon and to inaugurate a Chaldean dynasty. The word Chaldean becomes synonymous with Babylon” (Hanish 33). His first great victory was in the Babylonian city of Ur where he captured and established his military prominence. During these conquests, Nabopolassar annexed territories in the north using military aggression. As Roci Riva mentions, “Nabopolassar was a solider who led his country against the Assyrians. He had the support of the tribal groups as he was probably a Chaldean of Dakkuri” (7). By the same token, during this period of around 616BC, the Chaldean Babylonia was now the dominant force of Mesopotamia. With the help of the allied Medes, the Chaldeans inherited the Assyrian empire through conquest and constant revolts.
Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean Period “The Rise of Babylon”
The massive Babylonian empire contained the southern part of Arabia all the way west to Egypt, touching the “Four Quarters.”
The lingua franca was Aramaic, which was used primarily by the whole population. During the Chaldean period, arguably its most prominent king, named Nebuchadnezzar II, is one of the best-known figures of ancient history. Nebuchadnezzar II, the eldest son of Nabopolassar, ruled from 605BC-562BC. Nebuchadnezzar II, engaged in many military campaigns from 604-594BC in the western Mediterranean, and in 601BC attacked Egypt. During this time, Nebuchadnezzar II received news about his father Nabopolassar’s death, leading Nebuchadnezzar II to leave Egypt and to return home for his crowning as King of Babylon. In 597BC, the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, stopped paying his tributes to Babylon, which consequently initiated the upcoming siege. In 586BC, Judah was captured and the king, his family, and a large population of bureaucrats (approx.10, 000), were taken as captives into Babylon. This important moment in Jewish history is known as the Babylonian Exile. During the exile, the Hebrew Bible was preserved and formulated in the city of Babylon.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, reports of this event by the reflection of an ancient historian widely known as Berossos shown below:
Josephus contra Apionem (Against Apion) 1.131-44 (134-41 = Syncellus Ecloga Chronographica [Chronological Excerpts] 416-18 = Josephus Antiquitates Judaicae [Jewish Antiquities] 10.220-28): “Berossos reports on Nabopalassaros, the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans (132). He took the following about his accomplishments. He sent his son Naboukhodonosoros with a great army against Egypt and our lands, when he learned they had rebelled against him. He conquered them and destroyed temple in Jerusalem and caused all our people to settle in Babylonia. It happened then that our city was deserted for seventy years until Cyrus the Persian King (133). Berossos says that the Babylonians ruled Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, and Arabia and that their king by his exploits surpassed all those who had ruled before him over the Chaldeans and the Babylonians” (Verbrugghe and Wickersham 57).
After the death of Nebuchadnezzar II, his son took the throne for only two years. After that, several other kings ruled Babylon; none led Babylon into further glory. The last king of the Neo-Babylonian period was Nabonidus and he ruled from 556-539BC. He was not of the royal Chaldean line rather his identity is unknown. “Nabonidus had no claim to the throne, since he bore no relation to the loyal family, a fact that he was reluctant to admit” (Beaulieu 47). In the last ten years of his rule, Nabonidus took his army and courts into Arabia and established himself there. As M. Chahin, author of “Before the Greeks” states, “his unpopularity was compounded by a plague, which swept across the country” (22). Nabonidus also displeased the priesthood by neglecting the supreme god Marduk for the Moon-god Sin.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great”
In 539BC, the Persian king Cyrus invaded Babylon and the Marduk priesthood approved. Once Cyrus obtained control, he called for all captives in Babylon to return to their homelands with funding to rebuilt temples for their gods. The Babylonian culture and Chaldean settlement was preserved in Babylon. By respecting the Babylonian customs, gods, and beliefs, Cyrus received the submission of the entire Chaldean Empire without striking a blow (Chahin 22). The Chaldeans were the last native rule of Mesopotamia. The identity and culture of the Chaldeans was preserved beyond Babylon as well. Shak Hanish states, “It was reported that the Chaldean identity was preserved on the establishment of the Chaldean principality of Udeini, along Euphrates (located in southeastern Turkey today)” (34). Chaldean settlement flourished around Mesopotamia even before the Neo-Babylonian period; King Shalmaneser III (859BC), in his inscriptions, had documented the deportation of over 200, 000 Chaldeans into Assyria. On the same token, during the conquests (as described above in Defeat of Assyria), the Assyrian capitals were invaded and eventually captured, allowing for Chaldean settlement, primarily for Chaldean-army veterans.
Babylon was the metropolis stretching over 900 hectares, and had a population of ¼ million. In it stood the Hanging Gardens. The water of the gardens supposedly flew upwards and pumped approx. 300 tons of water daily. The gardens are considered one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World and have been described and depicted by ancient Greek scholars including Strabo. According to accounts, the Hanging Gardens were supposedly constructed during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II for his Median wife who had been homesick. However, some scholars debate the existence of these gardens for several reasons. Next, was the Ishtar gate as Marc Van De Mieroop explains, “an entrance that was entirely decorated with glazed colored tiles forming images of bulls, lions, and dragons in low relief” (278).
Moreover, the study of astronomy as a science also was a highlight during this period. The notions of the stars and sky observation were adapted to lifestyles of certain intellects. “The Chaldeans were the founders of astronomy as a science. Careful astronomical observations were continuously kept for over 360 years, and these calculations form the longest series ever made” (Wright & Filson 6). An ancient Roman author and architect by the name of Vitruvius makes mention of the study of astronomy and its history below:
Vitruvius de Architectura (On Architectura) 9.6.2: Concerning astronomy: “In determining what effects the twelve signs, the five planets, the sun, and the moon have on the course of human life, the calculations of the Chaldeans must hold first place, because they have the ability to cast horoscopes so that they can explain the past and the future from their calculations of the heavens. They have, moreover, left their findings, and those who are descended from the Chaldean nation have the greatest skill and wisdom in these matters” (Verbrugghe and Wickersham 35).
The Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean period is arguably one of the greatest Babylonian dynasties in ancient history. The period is labeled under the Golden Age, which established a great structure of political and social philosophy. This period had a short reign of 86 years however, many accomplishments were made as demonstrated above. Although this period was short-lived, and malleable at its climax, its significance remains in historical and traditional placement externally.
Kamoo, Ray. Ancient and Modern Chaldean History: A Comprehensive Bibliography of Sources. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1999. Print.
Mieroop, Marc. A History of the Ancient Near East, Ca. 3000-323 B.C. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.
Hanish, Shak. “The Chaldean Assyrian Syriac People of Iraq: An Ethnic Identity Problem.” Digest of Middle East Studies: 32-47. Print.
Verbrugghe, Gerald, and John M. Wickersham. Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1996. Print.
Beaulieu, Paul. The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, 556-539 B.C. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989. Print.
Chahin, M. Before the Greeks. Cambridge [England: Lutterworth, 1996. Print.
Wright, George. The Westminister Historical Atlas to the Bible. Westminister, 1956. Print.
Nardo, Don. Empires of Mesopotamia. San Diego, CA: Lucent, 2001. Print.
Riva, Roci. The Inscriptions of Nabopolassar, Amel-Marduk and Neriglissar. Print.