The 'Queen of the Night' Relief

The city of Babylon on the River Euphrates in southern Iraq first came to prominence as the royal city of king Hammurabi (about 1790-1750 BC). He established his control over many other kingdoms stretching from the Persian Gulf to Syria. The British Museum holds one of the iconic artworks of this period, the so-called “Queen of the Night”.

From around 1500 BC a dynasty of Kassite kings took control in Babylon and unified southern Iraq into the kingdom of Babylonia. The Babylonian cities were the centres of great scribal learning and produced writings on divination, astrology, medicine and mathematics. The Kassite kings corresponded with the Egyptian Pharaohs as revealed by cuneiform letters found at Amarna in Egypt, now in the British Museum.

Babylonia had an uneasy relationship with its northern neighbour Assyria and opposed its military expansion. In 689 BC Babylon was sacked by the Assyrians but as the city was highly regarded it was restored to its former status soon after. Other Babylonian cities also flourished; scribes in the city of Sippar probably produced the famous “Map of the World”.

After 612 BC the Babylonian kings Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II were able to claim much of the Assyrian empire and rebuilt Babylon on a grand scale. However, the last Babylonian king Nabonidus (555-539 BC) was defeated by Cyrus II of Persia and the country was incorporated into the vast Achaemenid Persian Empire.

Image caption: The ‘Queen of the Night’ Relief
Old Babylonian, 1800-1750 BC. From southern Iraq.

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