Through the centuries of Assyrian domination, Babylonia
enjoyed a prominent status, or revolting at the slightest indication that it did not. However, the Assyrians always managed to restore Babylonian loyalty, whether through granting of increased privileges, or militarily. That finally changed in 627 BC with the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, and Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean the following year. With help from the Medes, Niniveh was sacked in 612, and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia.
Nabopolassar was followed by his son Nebuchadnezzar II, whose reign of 43 years made Babylon once more the mistress of the civilized world. Only a small fragment of his annals has been discovered, relating to his invasion of Egypt in 567 BC, and referring to "Phut of the Ionians".
Of the reign of the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus (Nabu-na'id
), and the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, there is a fair amount of information available. This is chiefly derived from a chronological tablet containing the annals of Nabonidus, supplemented by another inscription of Nabonidus where he recounts his restoration of the temple of the Moon-god at Harran; as well as by a proclamation of Cyrus issued shortly after his formal recognition as king of Babylonia. It was in the sixth year of Nabonidus (549 BC) that Cyrus, the Achaemenid Persian "king of Anshan" in Elam, revolted against his suzerain Astyages, "king of the Manda" or Medes, at Ecbatana. Astyages' army betrayed him to his enemy, and Cyrus established himself at Ecbatana, thus putting an end to the empire of the Medes. Three years later Cyrus had become king of all Persia, and was engaged in a campaign in the north of Mesopotamia
. Meanwhile, Nabonidus had established a camp in the desert, near the southern frontier of his kingdom, leaving his son Belshazzar
) in command of the army.
In 538 BC Cyrus invaded Babylonia. A battle was fought at Opis in the month of June, where the Babylonians were defeated; and immediately afterwards Sippara surrendered to the invader. Nabonidus fled to Babylon, where he was pursued by Gobryas, the governor of Kurdistan, and on the 16th of Tammuz
, two days after the capture of Sippara, "the soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without fighting." Nabonidus was dragged from his hiding-place, and Kurdish guards were placed at the gates of the great temple of Bel, where the services continued without interruption. Cyrus did not arrive until the 3rd of Marchesvan
(October), Gobryas having acted for him in his absence. Gobryas was now made governor of the province of Babylon, and a few days afterwards the son of Nabonidus died. A public mourning followed, lasting six days, and Cambyses accompanied the corpse to the tomb.
Cyrus now claimed to be the legitimate successor of the ancient Babylonian kings and the avenger of Bel-Marduk, who was assumed to be wrathful at the impiety of Nabonidus in removing the images of the local gods from their ancestral shrines, to his capital Babylon. Nabonidus, in fact, had excited a strong feeling against himself by attempting to centralize the religion of Babylonia in the temple of Merodach (Marduk) at Babylon, and while he had thus alienated the local priesthoods, the military party despised him on account of his antiquarian tastes. He seems to have left the defense of his kingdom to others, occupying himself with the more congenial work of excavating the foundation records of the temples and determining the dates of their builders.
The invasion of Babylonia by Cyrus was doubtless facilitated by the existence of a disaffected party in the state, as well as by the presence of foreign exiles like the Jews, who had been planted in the midst of the country. One of the first acts of Cyrus accordingly was to allow these exiles to return to their own homes, carrying with them the images of their gods and their sacred vessels. The permission to do so was embodied in a proclamation, whereby the conqueror endeavored to justify his claim to the Babylonian throne. The feeling was still strong that none had a right to rule over western Asia until he had been consecrated to the office by Bel and his priests; and accordingly, Cyrus henceforth assumed the imperial title of "King of Babylon."
A year before Cyrus' death, in 529 BC, he elevated his son Cambyses II in the government, making him king of Babylon, while he reserved for himself the fuller title of "king of the (other) provinces" of the empire. It was only when Darius Hystaspis ("the Magian") acquired the Persian throne and ruled it as a representative of the Zoroastrian religion, that the old tradition was broken and the claim of Babylon to confer legitimacy on the rulers of western Asia ceased to be acknowledged. Darius, in fact, entered Babylon as a conqueror.
After the murder of Darius, it briefly recovered its independence under Nidinta-Bel, who took the name of Nebuchadnezzar III, and reigned from October 521 BC to August 520 BC, when the Persians took it by storm. A few years later, probably 514 BC, Babylon again revolted under Arakha; on this occasion, after its capture by the Persians, the walls were partly destroyed. E-Saggila, the great temple of Bel, however, still continued to be kept in repair and to be a center of Babylonian patriotism, until at last the foundation of Seleucia diverted the population to the new capital of Babylonia and the ruins of the old city became a quarry for the builders of the new seat of government.
Dynasty XI of Babylon (Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean)
- Nabu-apla-usur (Nabopolassar) 626 - 605 BCE
- Nabu-kudurri-usur (Nebuchadrezzar) II 605 - 562 BCE
- Amel-Marduk 562 - 560 BCE
- Nergal-šar-usur (Nergal-sharezer) 560 - 556 BCE
- Labaši-Marduk 556 BCE
- Nabu-na'id (Nabonidus) 556 - 539 BCE