Herodotus on the Glory of Babylon

by Esteban

“The rise of Babylon inaugurated a new era in the history of Western Asia.

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Considerable wealth had accumulated at Babylon when the Dynasty of Ur reached the zenith of its power. It is recorded that King Dungi plundered its famous “Temple of the High Head,” E-sagila, which some identify with the Tower of Babel, so as to secure treasure for Ea’s temple at Eridu, which he specially favoured.

His vandalistic raid, like that of the Gutium, or men of Kutu, was remembered for long centuries afterwards, and the city god was invoked at the time to cut short his days.

No doubt, Hammurabi’s Babylon closely resembled the later city so vividly described by Greek writers, although it was probably not of such great dimensions.

According to Herodotus, it occupied an exact square on the broad plain, and had a circumference of sixty of our miles. “While such is its size,” the historian wrote, “in magnificence there is no other city that approaches to it.” Its walls were eighty-seven feet thick and three hundred and fifty feet high, and each side of the square was fifteen miles in length.

The whole city was surrounded by a deep, broad canal or moat, and the river Euphrates ran through it.

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(Herodotus continues): In the circuit of the wall are a hundred gates, all of brass, with brazen lintels and side posts.” These were the gates referred to by Isaiah when God called Cyrus:

I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.

The outer wall was the main defence of the city, but there was also an inner wall less thick but not much inferior in strength. In addition, a fortress stood in each division of the city. The king’s palace and the temple of Bel Merodach were surrounded by walls.

All the main streets were perfectly straight, and each crossed the city from gate to gate, a distance of fifteen miles, half of them being interrupted by the river, which had to be ferried. As there were twenty-five gates on each side of the outer wall, the great thoroughfares numbered fifty in all, and there were six hundred and seventy-six squares, each over two miles in circumference.

From Herodotus we gather that the houses were three or four stories high, suggesting that the tenement system was not unknown, and according to Q. Curtius, nearly half of the area occupied by the city was taken up by gardens within the squares.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.