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The three Jews brought before Nebuchadnezzar (1565), Philip Galle

The Posterity of Neo-Babylonia: The Dramatic Reign of Nebuchadnezzar II

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Born in 634 BC in what is now called Neo-Babylonia, Nebuchadnezzar II would one day become one of the greatest ancient Babylonian kings. The first-born son of his predecessor Nabopolassar, from a young age Nebuchadnezzar showed promise as the future leader of Babylon, defeating the Egyptian armies at Carchemish (605 BC) and thereby subduing both Syria and Phoenicia to Babylonian rule before he had even taken the throne himself.

A Worthy Heir to Nabopolassar

Nebuchadnezzar began his life in the strong and stable city-state of his father, Nabopolassar. A great military man, Nabopolassar rose to power in Babylonia during a period of instability, and was himself an Assyrian official, not a blood-born native.

When Nabopolassar died, he left behind immense stores of wealth and a strong Babylonian city within which his son could thrive. Having freed Babylonia from the rule of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar's father set the groundwork for the impressive Neo-Babylonian Empire, leaving Nebuchadnezzar with ideal circumstances to bring Babylonia to the forefront of ancient society.  And that is exactly what Nebuchadnezzar II did.

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream (1917) W.A. Spicer

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's dream (1917) W.A. Spicer ( Wikimedia Commons )

Nebuchadnezzar Marries the Beautiful Amytis and an Alliance Continues

Prior to his succession to the throne, Nebuchadnezzar married Amytis of Media, the purported daughter or granddaughter of King Cyaxares of Media, Nabopolassar's accomplice in the Babylonian fight against Assyrian rule.  This marriage was intended to ensure that the alliance forged between the Medes and Babylonians would continue strong and unwavering in years to come. Nebuchadnezzar's relationship with the beautiful Amytis would later result in one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

A Great War Leader

Nebuchadnezzar was considered within his time to be one of the greatest war leaders in the known world. In his quest to make Babylon the most powerful city-state in the east, Nebuchadnezzar engaged in numerous wars with the aim of increasing the influence and reach of Babylonia.

It is he who is said to have driven the Jews out of Babylon, later capturing Jerusalem in 597 BC and then destroying the First Temple (also known as Solomon's Temple) and the city itself in 587 BC.

The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army (1630-1660)

The Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army (1630-1660) ( Wikimedia Commons )

He and his armies went up against the Egyptians and the Assyrians once again, defeating both, then successfully managed to control all the trade routes in Mesopotamia, from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, by subduing the Syrians and Palestinians. 

The Unflattering Descriptions of Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible

Although Nebuchadnezzar's military and political accomplishments were great, he was not always portrayed in the good light with which many scholars describe him. The Bible in particular, in the text through which Nebuchadnezzar is quite widely recognized, describes the Babylonian king in a much more barbaric fashion, most evidently in the text's account of Nebuchadnezzar's capture of Jerusalem. 

Furthermore, it is within the Book of Daniel that the mention of Nebuchadnezzar's bout of insanity first arises—a streak of seven years in which the king lives in the wild, having supposedly been driven mad by his greed and pride. 

"He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird" (Daniel 4:33).

Nebuchadnezzar (1795/1805), William Blake

Nebuchadnezzar (1795/1805), William Blake ( Wikimedia Commons )

Though this is another anecdote for which Nebuchadnezzar is highly known, scholars are uncertain whether this tale is genuine or metaphorical, or even if it truly happened to Nebuchadnezzar and not one of his successors. Regardless, this bout of insanity did nothing to quell Nebuchadnezzar's kingship, as after these seven years, Nebuchadnezzar returned to his place as the leader of Neo-Babylonia.

The Death of Nebuchadnezzar  and the Decline of Babylon

Nebuchadnezzar II was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk upon his death in 562 BC, though little of Amel-Marduk's reign remains. It is not until the succession of Nabonius in 555 BCE that Nebuchadnezzar's great empire had a steady leader again, who himself was succeeded by the Persian leader Cyrus the Great in 539 BC.

Cyrus the Great in battle, palace of Versailles, France

Cyrus the Great in battle, palace of Versailles, France ( Wikimedia Commons )

Until Cyrus the Great took control of Babylonia and merged it with his already large Persian Empire, Nebuchadnezzar's empire  was one of the largest empires in the East.

Coming next in Part 2: The Constructive Endeavors of King Nebuchadnezzar II.

Featured Image: The three Jews brought before Nebuchadnezzar (1565), Philip Galle ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Ryan Stone

Bibliography

Clayton, Peter A. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (Routledge: United Kingdom, 1990.)

Henze, Matthias. The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar: The Ancient Near Eastern Origins and Early History of Interpretation of Daniel 4 (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism) (Brill: Leiden, 1999.)

Herodotus. Herodotus (Penguin Classics: NY, 1996.)

Roller, Duane W. The Geography of Strabo: An English Translation, with Introduction and Notes (Cambridge University Publishing: Cambridge, 2014.)

Verbrugghe, Gerald and John Wickersham. Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (University of Michigan Press: Michigan, 2001.)

Wiseman, D.J. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon (Schweich Lectures on Biblical Archaeology) (British Academy: UK, 1991.)

"Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon (605-562 BC)." British Museum . Accessed August 8, 2015. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/article_index/n/nebuchadnezzar_ii.aspx

"Cyaxares." Livius.org. August 4, 2015. Accessed August 13, 2015. http://www.livius.org/articles/person/cyaxares/

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"The Uruk King List." Livius.org. August 6, 2015. Accessed August 10, 2015. http://www.livius.org/sources/content/uruk-king-list/

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