CreditsDirector: Antti Kaskia
Catalog number # 22
25 minutes Color
Age Range: 14 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
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Babylon, on the banks of the River Euphrates, existed at least 4,000 years ago. It became the seat of the kings of Babylon in the second millennium B.C. Its tale ended in the turmoil of war between the Persians and the Parthians a little over two thousand years ago.
The splendid history of Babylon unfolded in those centuries - it was the world's mightiest metropolis and a center of commerce, science, art and architecture.
We are in the center of ancient Babylon. Mounds of ruins cover a temple to the god Marduk and the palm grove marks the site of one of the eight wonders of the world: the temple tower or ziggurat known as the Tower of Babel.
The tower no longer exists: for centuries, the inhabitants of nearby towns used its thick walls as a source of free bricks and now all that remains is a pit and some ditches.
The tower was of massive proportions: its sides 90 and 100 meters and its height over 80 meters.
The tower was surrounded by a wall, within which were several temples. It was a place of worship.
This ditch is the site of the steps which led to the top of the tower. In the nineteenth century, European 'archaeologists' or treasure hunters to be more precise, went so far as to try blasting in the hope of finding riches. The modern archaeologist carefully uses a shovel, a shaving brush and a toothpick.
The Euphrates flowed through the city, providing transport and facilitating an irrigation and sewer network. The river has long ago changed its course.
Parts of the walls, which surrounded the inner part of Babylon, the temple area, have been excavated. The ground water almost reaches the surface here.
The German Robert Kuldewey excavated here from 1899 to 1915. He can be called the father of the re-born Babylon. As an architect himself, he succeeded magnificently in recording the architectural splendor of the city. By the time he died in 1925, he was already being called 'the father of modern archaeology'.
Pictures taken by Koldewey at intervals of a few years show how quickly the two mighty rivers of this land can change their courses. Maintaining the irrigation canals well was vital to the prosperity of the Babylonian Empire. Everybody had to help. The canals needed constant dredging. When their sides grew too high for people or animals to pass, new canals were dug and the old ones filled in.
In places, Koldewey had to dig exceptionally deep in Babylon. River silt, desert sand, topographical leveling and thousands of years of habitation had raised the surface of the land. The Esagila temple was found at a depth of over twenty meters. There were several more modern habitation layers in between. The oldest layers of Babylon are out of reach below the water table.
The so-called Southern Palace is on the side of the city's central wall. In fact, this part of the city contains five different palaces. Small, even labyrinthine parts of the palace were used for residential purposes and as archives and offices. The large court halls and the throne room were for ceremonies.
The central wall of Babylon and on the left the extensive ruins of the Southern palace. The metropolis once covered dozens of square kilometers outside this wall as well.
This group of palaces dates from the Late Babylonian Period, about 600 B.C. it was probably built on top of older ones in a similar style.
The oldest layers, for example those dating from the time of King Hammurab, have not yet been excavated. The Euphrates water table is quite near and due to the high salt content of the soil the water would rapidly crumble the bricks if it were allowed to come in contact with the air. An obviously expensive method of dealing with this problem is now being developed by Iraq's Directorate General of Antiquities.
The aim is to use the original methods to restore the excavated ruins. Even the bricks are hand-made the old way: clay and straw are mixed together and the bricks are dried in the sun. The same clay is used for plastering walls. It seems that today's masons can still learn from the ancient ones.
The Southern Palace was a center of administration and lay ceremonies. Immediately one steps into the ruins one can sense the functionality of the architecture and its ancient splendor. Passageways, alleys, lanes and chambers as well as splendid rooms and halls tell of bustling urban life in this metropolis, the capital of an empire. Some remaining surfaces made of glazed bricks attest to the splendor of the Southern Palace.
Beside the Istar Gate in the northern part of the Southern palace one finds the ruins of a strange building. It is believed to be the foundation of another of the eight wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
As the excavations proceed further, the mystery of this building will be solved. To judge by the strength of the foundations, the building was tall, perhaps even tower-like. This is an artist's impression of the Hanging Gardens.
Above the arched gateway one can still see traces of the reddish paint which was once applied to the wall surface. What do you think yourself? Even today' confident person, blinded by technology, can do nothing but stand in bafflement before this riddle. The Ishtar Gate is part of the northern wall. It leads to Ishtar Square, from where Procession Street stretches about two kilometers to the Esagila Temple and the Temple Tower.
Procession Street, along which the rulers paraded and which was used for religious ceremonies, is coated with asphalt, which can still be seen in several places. The world's oldest asphalt street is thus 3,100 years old.
The Ishtar Gate was a splendid double tower clad with glazed bricks. This is a slightly downscaled replica, which serves as a gateway to the Babylon museum area. The original Ishtar Gate was taken to a Berlin museum early this century.
The walls of the gate are decorated with typical Babylonian cult animals. Horses, bulls, lions and the mysterious Mushhushu griffin. These zoomorphic motifs are repeated on many of the walls of the Ishtar Gate and on buildings along Procession Street.
The Ishtar Gate was raised several times in different periods as the surface of the land rose. The ruins which we can see today are the lowest ones in the picture.
Koldeway excavated the Ishtar Gate and Procession Street from beneath a massive layer of sand. The exposed ruins exceeded everything in their splendor. What couldn't these walls tell about the splendor and fame of ancient Babylo! What could they not tell about kings, emperors, aristocrats and, on the other hand, the ordinary people: the city's craftsmen, scribes, merchants, thieves and prostitutes, that mass of millions of people, who represented virtually every language, culture, race and faith in the known world of that time.
Wall surfaces of glazed bricks were common. Brown, sunbaked ruins are not the typical Babylonian milieu. With its market squares, parks and fountains, the city was a colorful and gay place.
The bricks used to build temples and palaces traditionally bore a stamp, which told who had bidden the place to be built and the date of construction. These bricks are from the Tower of Babel and the Temple of Mardulc. Tell Harmal, now a suburb of Baghdad, was the site of these finds: clay tablets dating from the second millennium B.C. on which complex mathematical and geometrical problems have been solved.
A tablet containing fragments of the famous Eshunna law texts was found in the same place and dates from the same period. These antedated the Hammurabi laws.
Numerous archives and libraries preserved the rich Babylonian literary tradition. A Babylonian translation of the Sumerians' ancient Gilgamesh epos has even been found.
The Babylonians also had envelopes: a new clay layer was baked around a tablet and it was only by breaking open the 'envelope' that one could read the letter.
Here, a Euclidean theorem is expounded with the aid of similar triangles described by the perpendicular drawn from the right angle at the hypotenuse. The tablet is from Tell Harmal and is over 4,000 years old. A Euclidean theorem, 2,000 years before Euclid!
This copy of a diorite stelel just over two meters high is the famous Hammurabi legal code which is in the Louvre in Paris.
In this picture, the Sun God Shamash is sitting on his throne and handing the symbols of power and justice to King Hammurabi, who is raising his hand in greeting. Hammurabi lived from 1792 to 1750 B.C. Hammurabi says in the prologue to his legal code: "Hammurabi, a noble, godfearing prince, I was made to bring forth the splendor of justice in the land, to destroy evil and wrong, so that the mighty would not oppress the weak. The gods Anum and Enlil invoked my name for the success of people. When the god Marduk sent me to lead the people, I promulgated justice and laws in the language of the country, I furthered the success of the people."
The concluding words of Hammurabi's law are: "Oppressed one, who has had to face trial, step in front of my statue of the law, read my stone inscription, listen to my precious word; let my stone inscription explain your case to you, let your justice be seen." Hammurabi's legal code was not the oldest in Mesopotamia, but it was the most complete. Its significance in world history resides in its lofty ideal of human rights, which emphasizes that "man must be a brother, sister to man", and not, as an Occidental proverb has it, "homo koraini lupus".
The same lofty ideal is enshrined in the teaching of the Prophet of Islam: every human being is equal before God. The sentiment that the more powerful must not oppress the weaker is not so emphatically stressed in later Occidental laws. In Middle Eastern communities, by contrast, the principle of tolerance and respect for human rights has always been reflected by the way in which peoples with different languages and religions live together in peace. Wherever oppression has appeared it has usually come from outside, not infrequently from the West. Unfortunately, however, much that is alien and shameful to Islam has been done in its name. The same is true in the case of Christianity.
This Babylonian aristocrat is believed to be Hammurabi. This relief is certainly one of Hammurabi, as the inscription beside it tells. Unfortunately, the picture is badly weathered.
On the other side of the wall from the Southern Palace is the North Palace. It was built as a summer residence for the Late Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II. Among the ruins, which have already been reclaimed by the desert sand, one finds a massive statue showing a lion which has killed a man. How this stone material was obtained is a mystery; the statue is enormous and this kind of stone is not found anywhere within a radius of hundreds of kilometers. Where did it come from, what period does it date from, what does it represent and what is its message? It exudes power and inspires fear, but perhaps that was the purpose of the Lion of Babylon. The temple of the mother goddess Ninmach is a good example of Late Babylonian architecture: smaller rooms and chambers surrounding a large central courtyard. This type of ground plan remained in use in this part of the world for thousands of years, and can still be seen in both dwellings and mosques. Atrium-type buildings are a characteristic feature of the region all the way to the Mediterranean. Greenish alabaster, found at Hal in the Wasiti district, Akkadian soldiers are escorting naked prisoners and carrying the vanquisheds' weapons. This engraving dates from about 2300 B.C. The Akkadians were early Babylonians and contributed to establishing the Babylonian Empire. A boundary stone decorated with religious mythical creatures. In the middle is the ruler holding the symbols of the Twin Rivers. Another boundary post decorated with a celestial pattern and astrological signs. These plaques made of fired clay bricks depict gods and ceremonial occasions. Puck goats were regarded as symbols of strength and fertility.
Various idols were kept in the home and even carried about as a talisman. Just to be on the safe side, the demons which lived in the bowels of the earth were also worshipped.
A large statue made of clay bricks, which has been said to represent Enkidu, Gilgamesh's friend. It was found in Ur and dates from the second millennium B.C. However, it may also represent the Prince of the Underworld, or the Devil himself. The devil has hooves, a tail, a wolf's ears and possibly horns. The hairy skin was painted red.
A red Enlil god from Nippur. This wall was part of the facade of the Eanna Temple in Warka. It dates from the Kassite period around 1500 B.C. This, therefore, is how the ancient Babylonian aristocracy may have looked.
A brief fashion show: this outfit belonged to a Late Babylonian king about 1000 B.C. Light, elegant costumes were a common fashion. Cotton was a common material. Indeed, the word 'cotton' is of Sumerian origin and is probably one of the oldest words in current use.
Babylon flourished for more than one-and-a-half thousand years. The Greeks, in turn, eagerly absorbed influences from this culture. So powerful was the captivation of Babylon that even Alexander the Great made it his home and lived there until his death in 322 B.C. The small amphitheater was probably built for the Greek garrison.
Excavations in Babylon are still going on. Nowadays under the direction of skillful Iraqi archaeologists. Almost literally daily, the diggers may uncover startling details from beneath the sand. Here, a temple has just been found. In time, patient research will also tell its tale. And when the problem of excavating layers now beneath the water table has been solved, even earlier chapters will be explained. The might of Babylon was shattered by attackers jealous of its wealth. The conquerors did not understand that the real source of wealth was water and skill in maintaining the canals and ditches. Plundered and abandoned, Babylon was gradually claimed by the sand and habitation moved further north.
One of the northern urban centers was Aqarquf. The temple tower here can have been built as early as about 1300 B.C. Its central part is still intact, thanks to an ingenious structural detail: plaited reed mats were laid between the layers of bricks, to enhance elasticity, prevent moisture absorption and allow rainwater to run off. These reeds are over 3,000 years old and still serviceable.
Holy Babylon, which has been called 'The Gate of the Gods' is a monument to the shared cultural heritage of the whole western world. It deserves our respect.
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