The Achaemenid Empire
The Conquest of Babylon
Babylon from D.W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance, regarded as
one of the great masterpieces of the silent movie era .
There remained nothing now to hinder him from marching against the Chaldaens ( Babylonians ), and the discord prevailing at Babylon added to his chance of success. Nabonidus's passion for archaeology had in no way lessened since the opening of his reign. The temple restorations prompted by it absorbed the bulk of his revenues. He made excavations in the sub-structures of the most ancient sanctuaries, such as Lagash, Uruk, Ur, Sippar, and Nippur; and when his digging was rewarded by the discovery of cylinders placed there by his predecessors, his delight knew no bounds.
Moon god Sin
Meanwhile, Cyrus started a propaganda campaign against the ruler of the Babylonian Empire, Nabondius. Nabondius was a fanatical devotee of the moon god Sin, raising the ire of the powerful priests of Marduk, the traditional city god of Babylon .
Alike for the people of Babylon and for the exiled Jew, and also doubtless for other stranger-colonies, Cyrus appeared as a deliverer chosen by the gods; his speedy approach was everywhere expected, if not with the same impatience, at least with an almost joyful resignation.
Map of the city of Babylon at the time of Cyrus' conquest .
Click to enlarge .
His plans were carried into action in the early months of 538 B.C. , and his habitual good fortune did not forsake him at this decisive moment of his career. The immense citadel raised by Nebuchadrezzar in the midst of his empire, in anticipation of an attack by the Medes, was as yet intact, and the walls rising one behind another, the moats, and the canals and marshes which protected it, had been so well kept up or restored since his time, that their security was absolutely complete; a besieging army could do little harm? It needed a whole nation in revolt to compass its downfall. A whole nation also was required for its defence, but the Babylonians were not inclined to second the efforts of their sovereign.
Nabonidus concentrated his troops at the point most threatened, in the angle comprised near Opis between the Medic wall and the bend of the Tigris, and waited in inaction the commencement of the attack. It is supposed that Cyrus put two bodies of troops in motion: one leaving Susa under his own command, took the usual route of all Elamite invasions in the direction of the confluence of the Tigris and the Dhala; the other commanded by Gobryas, the satrap of Gutium, followed the course of the Adhem or the Dhala, and brought the northern contingents to the rallying-place.
From what we know of the facts as a whole, it would appear that the besieging force chose the neighbourhood of the present Baghdad to make a breach in the fortifications. Taking advantage of the months when the rivers were at their lowest, they drew off the water from the Dala and the Tigris till they so reduced the level that they were able to cross on foot; they then cut their way through the ramparts on the left bank, and rapidly transported the bulk of their forces into the very centre of the enemy's position. The principal body of the Chaldaen troops were still at Opis, cut off from the capital; Cyrus fell upon them, overcame them on the banks of the Zalzallat in the early days of Tammuz, urging forward his trusted general Gobryas meanwhile upon Babylon itself. On the 14th of Tammuz, Nabonidus evacuated Sippar, which at once fell into the hands of the Persian outposts; on the 16th Gobryas entered Babylon without striking a blow, and Nabonidus surrendered himself and became a prisoner.
Cyrus enters Babylon
Cyrus did not hesitate for a moment to act as Tiglath-pileser III and most of the Assyrians had done; he "took the hands of Bel," and proclaimed himself king of the country, but in order to secure the succession, he associated his son Cambyses with himself as King of Babylon. Mesopotamia having been restored to order, the provinces in their turn transferred their allegiance to Persia; "
In addition to restoring the worship of Marduk, Cyrus allowed the Hebrews who wished to return to Jerusalem to do so as part of his policy to win the support of the local people . Many Hebrews were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar II after his destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. due to rebellion .
Cyrus frees the Jews
The victorious army had received orders to avoid all excesses which would offend the people; they respected the property of the citizens and of the temples, placed a strong detachment around Sagilla to protect it from plunder, and no armed soldier was allowed within the enclosure until the king' had determined on the fate of the vanquished. Cyrus arrived after a fortnight had elapsed, on the 3rd of March, and his first act was one of clemency.
Belshazzar sees the Writting on the wall .
Rembrandt Belshazzar's Feast 1630s
Click to enlarge .
According to the Book of Daniel, Belshazzar holds a last great feast at which hesees a hand writing on a wall with the Aramaic words mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,which Daniel interprets as a judgment from God foretelling the fall of Babylon .
He prohibited all pillage, granted mercy to the inhabitants, and entrusted the government of the city to Gobryas. Belshazzar, the son of Nabonidus, remained to be dealt with, and his energetic nature might have been the cause of serious difficulties had he been allowed an opportunity of rallying the last partisans of the dynasty around him. Gobryas set out to attack him, and on the 11th of March succeeded in surprising and slaying him. With him perished the last hope of the Chaldaens, and the nobles and towns, still hesitating on what course to pursue, now vied with each other in their haste to tender submission.