Ba’bel (confusion), Bab’ylon (Greek form of Babel), is properly the capital city of the country which is called in Genesis Shinar, and in the later books Chaldea, or the land of the Chaldeans. The first rise of the Chaldean power was in the region close upon the Persian Gulf; thence the nation spread northward up the course of the rivers, and the seat of government moved in the same direction, being finally fixed at Babylon, perhaps not earlier than b.c. 1700.
I. Topography of Babylon—Ancient descriptions of the city.—All the ancient writers appear to agree in the fact of a district of vast size, more or less inhabited, having been enclosed within lofty walls, and included under the name of Babylon. With respect to the exact extent of the circuit they differ. The estimate of Herodotus and of Pliny is 480 stades (60 Roman miles, 53 of our miles), of Strabo 385, of Q. Curtius 368, of Clitarchus 365, and of Ctesias 360 stades (40 miles). (George Smith, in his “Assyrian Discoveries,” differs entirely from all these estimates, making the circuit of the city but eight miles.) Perhaps Herodotus spoke of the outer wall, which could be traced in his time. Taking the lowest estimate of the extent of the circuit, we shall have for the space within the rampart an area of above 100 square miles—nearly five times the size of London! It is evident that this vast space cannot have been entirely covered with houses. The city was situated on both sides of the river Euphrates, and the two parts were connected together by a stone bridge five stades (above 1000 yards) long and 30 feet broad. At either extremity of the bridge was a royal palace, that in the eastern city being the more magnificent of the two. The two palaces were joined not only by the bridge, but by a tunnel under the river. The houses, which were frequently three or four stories high, were laid out in straight streets crossing each other at right angles.
II. Present state of the ruins.—A portion of the ruins is occupied by the modern town of Hillah. About five miles above Hillah, on the opposite or left bank of the Euphrates, occurs a series of artificial mounds of enormous size. They consist chiefly of three great masses of building,—the high pile of unbaked brickwork which is known to the Arabs as Babil, 600 feet square and 140 feet high; the building denominated the Kasr or palace, nearly 2000 feet square and 70 feet high; and a lofty mound, upon which stands the modern tomb of Amrâm-ibn-˒Alb. Scattered over the country on both sides of the Euphrates are a number of remarkable mounds, usually standing single, which are plainly of the same date with the great mass of ruins upon the river bank. Of these by far the most striking is the vast ruin called the Birs-Nimrûd, which many regard as the tower of Babel, situated about six miles to the southwest of Hillah. [Babel, Tower of.]
III. Identification of sites.—The great mound of Babil is probably the ancient temple of Belus. The mound of the Kasr marks the site of the great palace of Nebuchadnezzar. The mound of Amrâm is thought to represent the “hanging gardens” of Nebuchadnezzar; but most probably it represents the ancient palace, coeval with Babylon itself, of which Nebuchadnezzar speaks in his inscriptions as adjoining his own more magnificent residence.
IV. History of Babylon.—Scripture represents the “beginning of the kingdom” as belonging to the time of Nimrod. Gen. 10:6-10. The early annals of Babylon are filled by Berosus, the native historian, with three dynasties: one of 49 Chaldean kings, who reigned 458 years; another of 9 Arab kings, who reigned 245 years; and a third of 49 Assyrian monarchs, who held dominion for 526 years. The line of Babylonian kings becomes exactly known to us from b.c. 747. The “Canon of Ptolemy” gives us the succession of Babylonian monarchs from b.c. 747 to b.c. 331, when the last Persian king was dethroned by Alexander. On the fall of Nineveh, b.c. 625, Babylon became not only an independent kingdom, but an empire. The city was taken by surprise b.c. 539, as Jeremiah had prophesied, Jer. 51:31, by Cyrus, under Darius, Dan. 5, as intimated 170 years earlier by Isaiah, Isa. 21:1-9, and, as Jeremiah had also foreshown, Jer. 51:39, during a festival. With the conquest of Cyrus commenced the decay of Babylon, which has since been a quarry from which all the tribes in the vicinity have derived the bricks with which they have built their cities. The “great city” has thus emphatically “become heaps.” Jer. 51:37.