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1900 BC - 1600 BC - Amorite / Old Babylon

namedates, BCyears
Sumu-abiSumu-abum 189418811415
Sin-muballitSin-muballit 181217932030
AbishuaAbi-eshuh 171116842528
Ammi-titana Ammi-ditana168316472537
This period, particularly during the reign of Hammurabi (1792 1750 B.C.) is regarded as one of the highlights of ancient civilization. The collection of laws promulgated by him form a framework for laws governing society to this day, moving justice from the whims of the powerful, to a codified regulation applicable to all society.

It is very difficult to define the exact boundaries of Babylonia and Assyria, since these varied so greatly at different periods in their history In general, they occupied the region watered by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Babylonia lay to the south and occupied the alluvial plain between the two rivers from the point where they most nearly approach each other on the north to the Persian Gulf on the south. The whole of Babylonia was well watered by the rivers and, a fine system of canals, and the fertility of the country has received much comment from both Oriental and classical writers.

The principal cities of Babylonia were Eridu (AbuShahrein), Ur (Mugheir), Larsa (Senkereh), Erech (Warka), Shirpurla or Lagash (Tello), Isin and Maru, in the south; and Babylon (near Hilleh), Borsippa (Birs Nimrud), Kutha (Tel-Ibrahim), Sippar (Abu Habba), Kish, Nippur (Niffer, Nufar), and Agade in the north.

The prevailing view is that the Semites of Amurru came out of Arabia as barbarians in the latter part of the third millennium BC, and later. The Amorites established cities on the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers and made Babylon, a town to the north, their capital. The Amorite capital is known as Old Babylon, and the Amorite Empire (1900-1600 BCE) is known as the Old Babylon period. The Amorites, who like the Akkadians spoke a Semitic language, infiltrated the area around Babylon curing this final dissolution of the Sumerian Epoch, gradually gaining power. By 1894 BC they were in control of the whole of what is now known as Babylonia and some portions of Sargon's foreign Empire, establishing the first dynasty of Babylon, which lasted until 1595 BC.

The Babylonians called it the dynasty of Babylon, for, though foreign in origin, it may have had its actual home in that city, which it gratefully and proudly remembered. It lasted for 296 years and saw the greatest glory of the old empire and perhaps the Golden Age of the Semitic race in the ancient world. The names of its monarchs are: Sumu-abi (15 years), Sumu-la-ilu (35), Zabin (14), Apil-Sin (18), Sin-muballit (30); Hammurabi (35), Samsu-iluna (35), Abishua (25), Ammi-titana (25), Ammizaduga (22), Samsu-titana (31). Under the first five kings Babylon was still only the mightiest amongst several rival cities, but the sixth king, Hammurabi, who succeeded in beating down all opposition, obtained absolute rule of Northern and Southern Babylonia and drove out the Elamite invaders. Babylonia henceforward formed but one state and was welded into one empire. There were apparently stormy days before the final triumph of Hammurabi. The second ruler strengthened his capital with large fortifications; the third ruler was apparently in danger of a native pretender or foreign rival called Immeru; only the fourth ruler was definitely styled king; while Hammurabi himself in the beginning of his reign acknowledged the suzerainty of Elam.

Life in Mesopotamia changed considerably during Hammurabi's time. The Sumerian language was falling into disuse, giving way to the Semitic tongues of the Near East. The Sumerians themselves seem to have disappeared as they mixed with the foreigners. It was in to this civilization that the patriarch Abraham was born and raised in the (already) ancient city of Ur, sometime before 1700 BC.

A most significant change was in the concept and knowledge which the people of Mesopotamia had regarding the world. Traders came to Babylon from as far away as Egypt where the splendid days of the Middle Kingdom were just ending. From India to the east, traders brought cotton cloth and elaborate feather work. From the west, the island of Crete furnished beautiful pottery and unusual beads, while fine wool was imported from Anatolia. In the Arabian Gulf, the islands of Bahrain were the source of pearls. It is even thought that Lapis Lazuli was imported from as far away as the borders of western China. It was beginning to be a truly international world with Babylon as its center.

The requirements of trade needed the refinement of the standards of measurement introduced by the Sumerians, and gold and silver were increasingly used as standards of measuring value. Fixed weights and measures also were developed to facilitate commerce during this period. Literary arts, architecture, sculpture. and the sciences all flourished. In geometry and mathematics the Babylonians had formulated theories which were in much later times ascribed to Euclid and Pythagoras. They used first and second degree algebraic formulae, and set the foundations of Logarithms. Medicine and surgery were highly developed, along with astronomy and astrology.

Whereas the Assyrian kings loved to fill the boastful records of their reigns with ghastly descriptions of battle and war, providing the minutest details of their military campaigns, the genius of Babylon, on the contrary, was one of peace, and culture, and progress. The building of temples, the adorning of cities, the digging of canals, the making of roads, the framing of laws was their pride; their records breathe, or affect to breathe, all serene tranquillity; warlike exploits are but mentioned by the way, hence, even in the case of the two greatest Babylonian conquerors, Hammurabi and Nabuchodonosor II, there are but scanty information of their deeds of arms. "I dug the canal Hammurabi, the blessing of men, which bringeth the water of the overflow unto the land of Sumer and Akkad. Its banks on both sides I made arable land; much seed I scattered upon it. Lasting water I provided for the land of Sumer and Akkad. The land of Sumer and Akkad, its separated peoples I united, with blessings and abundance I endowed them, in peaceful dwellings I made them to live"-such is the style of Hammurabi. In what seems an ode on the king, engraved on his statue are the words: "Hammurabi, the strong warrior, the destroyer of his foes, he is the hurricane of battle, sweeping the land of his foes, he brings opposition to naught, he puts an end to insurrection, he breaks the warrior as an image of clay." Of Hammurabi's immediate successors little is known, except that they reigned in peaceful prosperity, trade prospered, and temples were built.

With the demise of the First Dynasty of Babylon the early period of the Mesopotamian world came to an end. The next four hundred years or so are shrouded in mystery as an Indo European group called the Cassites moved down from the highlands of southwestern Asia and conquered the plain, imposing their government on Babylonia and on Assyria in the north. The Kassite Dynasty, which rapidly adopted much of the culture and institutions of their predecessors but left little record of their own, lasted until 1150 B.C.

Beginning in approximately 1600 BC, Indo-European-speaking tribes invaded India; other tribes settled in Iran and in Europe. One of these groups, the Hittites, allied itself with the Kassites, a people of unknown origins. Together, they conquered and destroyed Babylon. The end of the powerful dynasty of Hammurabi may probably be traced, directly or indirectly, to the Hittite invasion.

The Amorite dynasty was succeeded by a series of eleven kings which may well be designated as the Unknown Dynasty, which has received a number of names: Ura-Azag, Uru-ku, Shish-ku. Whether it was Semite or not is not certain; the years of reign are given in the "King-List", but they are surprisingly long (60-56-55-50-28, etc.), so that not only great doubt is cast on the correctness of these dates, but the very existence of this dynasty was doubted or rejected by some scholars. It is indeed remarkable that the kings should be eleven in number, like those of the Amorite dynasty, and that there was nowhere a distinct evidence of their existence; yet these premises hardly sufficed to prove that so early a document as the "King-List" made the unpardonable mistake of ascribing nearly four centuries of rule to a dynasty which in reality was contemporaneous, nay identical, with the Amorite monarchs. Their names are certainly very puzzling, but it has been suggested that these were not personal names, but names of the city-quarters from which they originated. Should this dynasty have a separate existence, it is safe to say that they were native rulers, and succeeded the Amorites without any break of national and political life. Owing to the questionable reality of this dynasty, the chronology of the previous one varies greatly; hence it arises, for instance, that Hammurabi's date is given as 1772-17 in Hastings' "Dictionary of the Bible", while the majority of scholars in the early 20th Century placed him about 2100 BC, or a little earlier; nor were indications wanting to show that, whether the "Unknown Dynasty" be fictitious or not, the latter date is approximately right.

It is difficult to see, how the Hittites, according to the natural order of things, could have been content only to make a conquest, and then immediately leave another people, the Kassites, to reap the advantages of the whole conquest, unless, (what has not been shown), the Hittites and the Kassites are identical. A people like the Hittites, being able to conquer Babylon and overthrow the ruling dynasty, would also be able to keep the conquered territory in their hands, at least for some time. The Hittites, moreover, were no marauding tribes that would only be content with plunder. A Hittite conquest and the overthrow of the native dynasty would naturally have as a consequence the establishment of Hittite rule. Hence some time must have elapsed between the end of the first dynasty and the beginning of the rule of the third over Babylon.

Hittite power subsequently waned, but, in the first half of the fourteenth century BC, the Hittites reemerged, controlling an area that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The military success of the Hittites has been attributed to their monopoly in iron production and to their use of the chariot. Nevertheless, in the twelfth century BC, the Hittites were destroyed, and no great military power occupied Mesopotamia until the ninth century BC.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:25 ZULU