Ancient Civilizations: The Babylonians

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13080

The Splendors of Babylon were famous all over the ancient world. What was so splendid about them? See for yourself with 3D animation! And make a comic strip about the strange end of this great empire.



learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Have you ever wondered why we don't all speak the same language?

The story in the Bible about the Tower of Babel says that men tried to build a tower so high it could reach God, but God wanted to show them how foolish they were. He made the builders speak many different languages. They weren't able to understand each other and couldn't finish the building!

Was the Tower of Babel real? If so, where was it?

The Ancient Babylonian Empire was famous for its capital, Babylon, a city of great splendor and beauty.

A New Empire

In the struggle for power in ancient Mesopotamia, the city of Babylon had been conquered by the mighty Assyrian Empire. But the Babylonians were a proud people who did not take well to being conquered (who would?).

So the Babylonians united under a man named Nabopolassar, who had been the governor of the city of Babylon before it was conquered. They overthrew their harsh Assyrian rulers. King Nabopolassar took over the whole Assyrian Empire, which now became the Babylonian Empire.

While the Assyrians ruled through fear and strict control, the Babylonians decided to try a different way. They brought young students from all over the empire to be educated in the capital. Then the young men, educated in the ways of Babylonian government, were sent back home to help govern their homeland.

  • Can you see the advantage of this kind of system?

Nabopolassar didn't just rely on education to keep his kingdom in order. He also had a large, well-trained army. The army was led by his son, Nebuchadnezzar, a strong and popular military leader.



When Nabopolassar died, Nebuchadnezzar took over as king and then reigned for 43 years! It was a very long and successful reign. Nebuchadnezzar had a reputation for being a "party guy" — he was always calling for celebrations and festivals.

But he was serious about making Babylon a strong city that would be difficult, if not impossible, to conquer. He constructed massive walls around the city, so thick that two chariots could ride side-by-side on top of them.

He was also dedicated to beautifying Babylon and making it known as a place of luxury and splendor. Visitors came from all over the empire to see the wonders of Babylon. The city had great palaces and temples, and a fabulous series of gateways to enter the city. The famous Ishtar Gate, pictured at the beginning of the lesson, was 38 feet high and was decorated with yellow, blue, and brown tiles and was covered with images of bulls, lions, and dragons.

Here's a closer view of one of the dragons.

Ischtar Tor dragon

The Ishtar Gate opened up to the Processional Way, a half-mile long path that was used for religious processions. It was paved with bricks and surrounded by 50-foot-high walls, which were also decorated with colored tiles.

You may have heard of the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon." It's true that Nebuchadnezzar did all he could to beautify his capital, including having many trees and flowers planted, but historians have not found evidence of the "hanging gardens" there. They think that these gardens may actually have been in Nineveh. (Check out the Additional Resources lesson on The Assyrians, in the right-hand sidebar, to learn more about them.)

  • And what about the "Tower of Babel?"
  • Did it really exist, and where was it?

Recently, a discovery was made in Iraq that shows the Tower of Babel did exist, and that it was located in...Babylon, of course!

Watch the Smithsonian Channel's Some Very Compelling Evidence the Tower of Babel Was Real:

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Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian army in many battles, including one against the Egyptians, who wanted to regain control of their conquered lands. The Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, and Egypt became a vassal, meaning it had to pay taxes to the Babylonians and fight along with them if needed.

Babylon had to deal with the Israelites, too. The Kingdom of Judah rebelled against Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem. He destroyed it, burned down Solomon's temple, and took thousands of Israelites captive.

Cyrus Freeing the Jews from Babylonian Captivity

Work by Johann Andreas Thelot in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, via Picryl, is in the public domain.

End of the Babylonian Empire

After Nebuchadnezzar died, everything went wrong for Babylon. His sons were weak and unwise, fighting against each other and even killing each other. Crops died, trade slowed down, and the people rebelled.

The Persians, a tribe from the northeast, attacked Babylon in 539 BC. The last Babylonian king, Belshazzar, thought the massive walls would protect him and even threw a party while the siege was going on! But the Persians knew better than to attack those walls. They dammed up the Euphrates River, which flowed through the city. When the water stopped flowing, they were able to walk right into the city on the dry land and capture it.

  • Thus, another great empire came to an end.

Now, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll examine the great city of Babylon in 3D! And make a comic strip about the end of the empire!

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