Beautiful Babylon: Jewel of the Ancient World

Beautiful Babylon: Jewel of the Ancient World

Ruled by Hammurabi, restored by Nebuchadrezzar, conquered by Cyrus—this city in the heart of Mesopotamia was both desired and despised, placing it at the center stage of the dawn of history.


3 - 12


Anthropology, Archaeology, Sociology, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations

NGS Resource Carousel Loading Logo
Loading ...
Leveled by
Selected text level

Many of the world's first great cities were in Mesopotamia. Babylon was one of the very greatest. It stood between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Today, the area covers Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.

Babylon existed for thousands of years. It was attacked over and over again, but each time it rebuilt itself.

City Of Cities

Babylon first became a great city during the 18th century B.C.E. Remember that B.C.E. dates go backward. The 18th century B.C.E. was around 3,800 years ago.

At that time, Babylon was controlled by a people known as the Amorites. The Amorites made Babylon into the region's most important city. Hammurabi was Babylon's most well-known Amorite king. He is famous for putting together some of the world's first written laws.

After the Amorites, Babylon was ruled by Hittites and then Kassites. Later, Chaldeans and Aramaeans fought over it. Around 3,000 years ago, the Assyrians were in charge. In time, their rule ended too. Babylon continued to fall to one conqueror after another. Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, conquered the city 2,600 years ago. The Greek king Alexander the Great took it 200 years later.

Each group that ruled Babylon left its own mark on the city. Babylon was made by many different cultures and ways of life. These were mixed together over thousands of years.

Babylon's Golden Age

Babylon was at its greatest between 2,700 and 2,600 years ago. During this period, it may have been the largest city in the world. By then, it was controlled by the Chaldeans. They had taken it from the Assyrians around 600 B.C.E.

The second Chaldean ruler of Babylon was King Nebuchadrezzar II. He is also known as Nebuchadnezzar II. He made Babylon even greater and more beautiful. He built new city walls to keep out invaders. He also rebuilt temples and built the Ishtar Gate. The Ishtar Gate was the entrance to the city. It was made of shiny blue bricks and decorated with bulls and dragons. It was both beautiful and breathtaking.

Nebuchadrezzar is written about in the Bible. He attacked the Hebrew city of Jerusalem around 600 B.C.E. The Hebrews were the people who started the Jewish religion. Nebuchadrezzar took many Hebrews as prisoners and sent them to Babylon. They were not allowed to go home.

Nebuchadrezzar also took holy objects from a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He brought them back to Babylon. He put them in the temple of the Babylonian god Marduk.

The Hebrews believed this made God angry. The Bible tells of how God punished the Chaldeans. The story takes place during the time of King Belshazzar. In the Bible, Belshazzar ruled after Nebuchadrezzar. The story says that Belshazzar held a feast once. The king served the food on holy bowls stolen from Jerusalem. During the feast, a ghostly hand suddenly appeared. It wrote strange words on a wall. They were, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." The king could not understand these words. He called on a Jew named Daniel. He asked Daniel to explain the writing on the wall. Daniel told the king it meant the Chaldeans would lose Babylon. It would soon fall to the Persians.

Daniel's words came true. In 539 B.C.E., Babylon fell to the Persian king Cyrus the Great. The Jews were allowed to return home. In 331 B.C.E., the city was conquered by Alexander the Great, a Greek king. Alexander planned to make Babylon the capital of his empire. He died before that could happen. In time, the city got weaker and was abandoned. But its greatness was never forgotten.

Legendary Buildings

There are many other legends about Babylon. One of the most famous stories talks about the Tower of Babel. The Bible says that humans wanted to build a tower that would reach the sky. This made God angry. It seemed like the builders were trying to act like gods. So, God punished them by sending them to every corner of the Earth. He forced them to speak different languages. That way they would no longer understand each other. Experts say the tower may have been real, and it may have been in Babylon.

Another story talks about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is not clear where the gardens were or who built them. Some believe they were a part of the royal palace. Others believe the gardens were in a totally different city.

With or without the Hanging Gardens, Babylon was a truly great city. Its legend continues to this day.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Juan Luis Montero Fenollós
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

January 2, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources