Babylon: A Wonder of the Ancient World

– Hello, I’m Joan Aruz,
curator in charge of the Department
of Ancient Near Eastern Art here at The Metropolitan, and it is my distinct pleasure
to welcome you today to the Armand Brunswick Distinguished Lectures
in Archaeology of the Raymond and Beverly
Sackler Foundation. These lectures,
held every three years, were founded by Raymond
and Beverly Sackler, great benefactors
of The Metropolitan Museum and dedicated supporters of the Department
of Ancient Near Eastern Art. And I speak not only
of the grand projects that bear their names, such as the Raymond and Beverly
Sackler Gallery of Assyrian Art, but also the lesser-known
displays of support, such as the Raymond and Beverly
Sackler Long-Term Loan Fund, which has enabled us to bring
such great works of art from the Near East
and Central Asia, as, for instance the Nisa rhyta,
which you might know about. And there are also many other
expressions of their commitment. One most memorable event
being the support that they offered us for the Raymond and Beverly
Sackler symposium, “Beyond Babylon:
Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium BC,” that was a highlight
of the program for our last major exhibition. And I’m happy to mention that the publication of those
papers is underway and will come out next year. Of course, there are
so many other ways that the Sacklers have enriched
the work of our department, and today I’m very happy
to have the opportunity to publicly
thank them for this. The Sacklers established
this lecture series… (applause)
Yeah. The Sacklers established
this lecture series to honor and now memorialize
their friend of 50 years, Armand Brunswick. Armand Brunswick’s
talents in the arts, particularly as
a fashion designer, led him to achieve great success
in the textile industry. And these qualities also led
to a fascination with art history
and archaeology. How interested
he would have been to learn more about the wonders
of Babylon from John Curtis, our speaker today. When I spoke to Raymond
and Beverly Sackler and proposed the idea
to have John Curtis speak, and to dedicate this lecture
also to the memory of Donny George–
a great hero in the struggle to preserve Iraqi antiquities– they could not have been
more enthusiastic. John Curtis
has recently written a moving and also comprehensive
obituary for Donny George in the recent volume
of the journal “IRAQ,” but here I would just like
to say a few words about this extraordinary man, whose quest to recover
the stolen heritage of Iraq and protect what survived is seared into our memory. Donny George Youkhanna was born into a family
of Assyrian Christians whose roots in Mesopotamia
reached back into ancient times. He began his career
at the Iraq Museum in 1976 after receiving
a bachelor’s degree from the University of Baghdad, where he also eventually
got his PhD. He became field director
for the restoration of Babylon in 1966 and 1967, and conducted archaeological
investigations of the east wall of Nineveh
in 1988 and rescue excavations
in the following year. A professor
at Baghdad University and the College of Babylon, he became director general
of research and studies at the Iraq State Board
of Antiquities and Heritage, and eventually its chairman. In 2003,
Donny George was also appointed director general
of the Iraq Museum. But three years later, he was
forced to leave his homeland, and found refuge,
along with his family, at the State University
of New York at Stony Brook, where he became
a visiting professor in the Department
of Anthropology. We were proud
to call him a friend, a friend of our department, and he was an active member
of our visiting committee. We thought that this lecture
would be a fitting tribute both to Donny’s memory
and to Armand Brunswick. We could not have
a better speaker, for John Curtis has been
one of the most active people dedicated to the preserving
the heritage of ancient Iraq, and was a friend to Donny and had the fortune also
to meet Armand Brunswick. John Curtis has been affiliated
with the British Museum since 1971, after completing his doctorate
on late Assyrian metalwork at the Institute of Archaeology,
University of London, and then spending two years
in Baghdad as a fellow of the British
School of Archaeology in Iraq. He was appointed keeper
of Western Asiatic antiquities in 1989, and, since October 2011, has become keeper for
special Middle East projects. Dr. Curtis is chiefly interested in Mesopotamia, Iran,
and the Caucasus in the Iron Age
of the first millennium BC, and he is the author or editor of 17 books
and more than 100 articles on these subjects. He is an active archaeologist,
who, between 1983 and 1989, directed excavations on behalf
of the British Museum at eight different sites
in Iraq, including the Assyrian cities
of Nimrud and Balawat. After he became keeper,
he supervised the installation of six new ancient Near Eastern
galleries at the British Museum, five of them sponsored
by Raymond and Beverly Sackler. He curated
the traveling exhibition “Art and Empire: Treasures From
Assyria in the British Museum” that had been sent to many different venues
around the world after its inauguration right here
at the Metropolitan Museum in 1995. In 2005 and 2006, he organized
the special exhibition “Forgotten Empire:
The World of Ancient Persia” at the British Museum, and then arranged
for the display of the famous Cyrus Cylinder in Tehran. Since 2003, Dr. Curtis
has been much involved in efforts to try and safeguard
Iraqi cultural heritage. He is a member of UNESCO’s
international Iraq committee and its Babylon committee, and UNESCO has published in full his report on damage to Babylon,
prepared in December 2004. To celebrate
his accomplishments, John Curtis was elected a fellow
of the British Academy in 2003 and awarded the Order
of the British Empire in 2006, just a few
of his numerous accolades. We had the pleasure of hearing
John Curtis lecture to us during the Armand Brunswick
Lecture of 1993 on “Excavating in Mesopotamia:
From Alexander to Hulagu Khan.” And now after 18 years,
far too long, we have found the perfect
opportunity to entice him to join us once again
to tell us about Babylon, a wonder of the ancient world. Please welcome
our dear colleague John Curtis. (applause) – Thank you very much indeed,
Joan, for those very kind words. Well, first of all, I’d like,
of course, to thank Joan Aruz and Raymond and Beverly Sackler for inviting me
to give this lecture. It’s a great pleasure
to be here again in New York, and an honor to be giving
this lecture dedicated to Armand Brunswick,
who sadly passed away in 1996. But I did have the privilege
of meeting him in 1993, when, as you heard, I gave
another lecture in this series. Well, my subject this evening
is Babylon. But before launching
into the lecture, I’d like to pay tribute
to Raymond and Beverly Sackler, who’ve done so much
to promote interest in the ancient Near East in many different parts
of the world, particularly,
as far as I’m concerned, in the British Museum, where they’ve sponsored
a Sackler wing of galleries dedicated to
the ancient Near East and Egypt and an annual scholarship. The lecture is also,
as you heard, in honor of my good friend
Dr. Donny George, on the left there, who did so much to promote
the cultural heritage of Iraq. And he’s actually pictured here
at Babylon in 2003. Babylon is one of
the most famous sites in the ancient world, perhaps even the most famous. It’s situated in Southern Iraq–
Southern Mesopotamia, or Iraq, as it now is, just down there, on the banks
of the river Euphrates. Now, Mesopotamia is the home
to three great civilizations: Sumer in the south,
Babylonia in the middle, and Assyria in the north. And Babylon was the most
important city in Babylonia, and, for several thousand years, was an important
political capital, as well as being
a flourishing center of culture and civilization. These are views of the site
as it appears today. Amongst the achievements
of Babylonian civilization are great works of literature,
such as the “Epic of Gilgamesh”; huge advances in mathematics, which gave the world
the sexagesimal system– which is why hours and minutes
are divided into 60ths; detailed astronomical
observations; and a surprising understanding
of medical conditions, which led sometimes
to their successful treatment. There was even
a rudimentary understanding of geography and topography, as witness,
the Babylonian map of the world on a cuneiform clay tablet, which puts Babylon
at the heart of the universe. Babylon continues to intrigue. Small wonder, then,
that in recent years, there have been no fewer
than four major exhibitions about Babylon: one in the Louvre in Paris, one in the Pergamon Museum
in Berlin, one in the British Museum, and a fourth here in
The Metropolitan Museum in 2009, although
The Metropolitan Museum, brilliantly curated
by Joan Aruz, was more wide-ranging
than the others, exploring
Babylonian civilization well beyond the narrow confines
of Babylonia. The first question
we need to address is why Babylon is so famous
in the Western world. There are really two reasons
for this. Firstly, there are
extensive references to Babylon in the Bible, and secondly, there are
the many descriptions of Babylon in the classical authors. To deal first with
the references in the Bible, these are uniformly negative. This is almost certainly
because, in 597 BC, the Babylonian
King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and deposed
the Jewish King Jehoiakim. Ten years later, in 587 BC,
there was a rebellion, after which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city
and the Temple and deported many
of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Babylon. Intriguingly, the accuracy of the biblical account
of these events has been corroborated
by a recent discovery in the British Museum. An Austrian scholar
named Michael Jursa has read on one of
the many cuneiform tablets, clay tablets in
the British Museum collection, the name of one
of the officials who, according
to the Book of Jeremiah, accompanied Nebuchadnezzar
to Babylon. So that’s a rare
and very interesting example of an independent source giving some corroboration
to the biblical account. So it’s
the Babylonian Captivity, then, that led to the jaundiced view
of Babylon in the Bible. The best-known lament
of the deported Jews is, of course, to be found
in Psalm 137. And I’m sure you’re all familiar
with the words, “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.” And it continues,
“If I forget you, O, Jerusalem, may my right hand
forget its skill.” The psalm then predicts
the destruction of Babylon, as do the prophets
Isaiah and Jeremiah. According to Isaiah, “Babylon will be overthrown
by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. “She will never be inhabited
or lived in “through all the generations. “No Arab will pitch
his tent there, “no shepherd will rest
his flocks there, but desert creatures
will lie there.” Jeremiah also prophesied that Babylon would be destroyed
and laid waste, saying, “The Lord has stirred up
the king of the Medes, “because his purpose–
his purpose “is to destroy Babylon. “Babylon will be a heap
of ruins, “a haunt of jackals,
an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives.” We also read
in the Book of Daniel about the terrible fate
that overtakes Nebuchadnezzar, here, in the Book of Daniel,
confused with Nabonidus– the Babylonian King Nabonidus– for failing to praise and exalt
and glorify the king of Heaven. And it says,
“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, his nails
like the claws of a bird.” This was the description
that inspired William Blake to produce his famous image
of Nebuchadnezzar, on the screen now. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Daniel also predicted
the destruction of Babylon. During a banquet hosted
by King Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, the fingers of a human hand
appeared and wrote on the wall. Nobody could understand
the writing except Daniel, who read,
“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” which he interpreted to mean that Belshazzar’s kingdom
was to be divided and given to the Medes
and the Persians. And, interestingly,
my colleague Irving Finkel has recently suggested that this really ought
to be read, “Mina, mina, shekel, upharsin.” And minas and shekels
are different types of coins, and the meaning would be that you go from a large one
to a small one and you divide it up, and you eventually come
to nothing. In Revelation, the apocalyptic book
of the first century A.D., we read of Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and
the Abominations of the Earth. So arose the legend
of the Whore of Babylon and the association with Babylon of everything in the world
that was most wicked. Well, so much
for the biblical accounts. The fullest account of Babylon
in the classical authors is by the Greek author
Herodotus, popularly known
as the Father of History. He describes the topography
of the city in great detail. He says that it was square and that the city wall
was wide enough for a four-horse chariot
to turn on. Within the walls,
there was the royal palace, a shrine where there was
a great golden image of Zeus– presumably the temple
of Marduk– and the sacred enclosure
of Zeus. In the center of the enclosure– this is still the account
of Herodotus– was a solid tower with seven
receding stages or towers above it, giving, in all,
an eight-stepped pyramid. In the last tower,
there was a great shrine containing a couch
and a golden table. And this shrine was inhabited
by just one native woman. Now, this building we know
to have been a ziggurat, a staged temple tower, familiar from other sites
in Mesopotamia and Iran. However, the ziggurat at Babylon
no longer exists. Over many centuries, people have removed the mud
bricks from which it was built. That was for their own local– to build their houses
in the Babylon area and beyond. So that now the ziggurat
is only represented by a depression in the ground. This is an aerial photograph
of the ziggurat site, and you can see that just about
everything has been taken away. But we are incidentally familiar with the bricks
from which it was built. They’re inscribed with the…
with the name of Nebuchadnezzar, and they must have been made
in their millions, and they’re now very common
in museum collections, private collections, and so on. Herodotus’s description
of the ziggurat at Babylon, combined with
biblical references to the Tower of Babel, inspired generations
of European painters to represent the structure. The most famous depiction is by the Flemish artist
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who, in 1536,
painted a Tower of Babel looking rather
like the Colosseum at Rome. Another painting by an artist
of the Flemish school again puts the tower in a thoroughly
European setting. Well, now,
thanks to detailed descriptions of the Etemenanki ziggurat contained
on two cuneiform tablets, which give precise measurements
and other information, it’s possible to attempt
a reconstruction, which is probably quite close
to the original. There have been
several reconstructions, but I particularly like
this one, which was produced for
Professor Donald Wiseman’s book on Nebuchadnezzar. And I think it does give
a particularly good impression of what the Babylon ziggurat would have looked like
originally. Oddly, Herodotus makes
no mention at all of the Hanging Gardens
for which Babylon is so famous. The earliest known
description of them comes from
the Greek historian Ctesias, who was physician to
the Persian King Artaxerxes II. The original works of Ctesias
are now lost, but they’re preserved
in other, later authors, such as Diodorus of Sicily. He describes
how a Babylonian king, presumably Nebuchadnezzar, built the gardens
for a homesick Persian concubine to remind her of the mountains
and sometimes lush vegetation of her homeland. The gardens were terraced,
rising to a considerable height, and there was apparently an
ingenious system of irrigation, in which water was raised
from the river Euphrates to the top of the gardens and then cascaded
down the terraces. There’s been much speculation
about how this system worked, and the general consensus
is that the water was raised by means
of an Archimedes’ screw. Unfortunately,
it’s quite unclear whereabouts the Hanging Gardens
were at Babylon, and there is now
no trace of them. However, they must have been
very impressive, because they were regarded
by later Greek authors as one of the Seven Wonders
of the World, together with
the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis
at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus,
the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse
at Alexandria. We come now
to the real Babylon and its rediscovery
in modern times. The first person to explore
the ruins in a scientific manner was Claudius James Rich, who was the East India Company’s
resident in Baghdad. He visited the site
in 1811 and 1818, and was able to make a quite
accurate plan of the ruins. Rich was
a brilliant orientalist who died from cholera
in Shiraz, in Iran, when he was just 34 years old. His extensive collection of manuscripts, antiquities,
and coins was purchased
by the British Museum, and it was the British Museum
which made itself responsible for much of the excavation
at Babylon during the 19th century. The work of Hormuzd Rassam– seen here– between 1879 and 1882, was a glorified hunt
for tablets. But Rassam did, as we shall see,
find some very important pieces. Rassam had originally been
Henry Layard’s assistant at Nimrud and Nineveh. He was a native of Mosul,
in Northern Iraq, and was born
into a Christian family there. Well, most of what we know
about Babylon derives from the work of the German archaeologist
Robert Koldewey, who worked at the site
all the year round, braving summer temperatures of more than
50 degrees centigrade, for 18 years,
from 1899 until 1917. He’d previously worked
in Sicily. And during his time in Babylon, the Germans lived in
an expedition house on the site, shown here in a watercolor by another brilliant German
archaeologist, Walter Andrae, who went on to dig at Ashur. And the work was finally
only brought to a halt by the First World War. Before that, Koldewey had traced
the lines of the walls and the position of the gates, and showed that there was
an inner town and an outer town. And he excavated
a number of temples dedicated to deities including Ishtar, Ninmah,
and Nabu. He excavated
the so-called Summer Palace and the Southern Palace
of Nebuchadnezzar– which is what you can see now
on the screen, after a certain amount
of restoration in the 1990s. This is a glazed brick panel
from the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, now in the Pergamon Museum
in Berlin, showing lions at the bottom,
palm trees in the middle, and lotus flower designs
around the edge. But Koldewey’s main achievement was the excavation
of the Ishtar Gate, at the beginning
of the processional way, seen here
in this reconstruction painting. The gate had mostly collapsed
in ancient times, so what Koldewey actually found
in the upper levels were thousands of fragments
of glazed brick. These were taken to Berlin
and painstakingly put together so that the Ishtar Gate
could be reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum. This is a view as it appears now
in the museum of Berlin, and of the figures shown in the glazed bricks
on this gate, there are bulls and lions, as well as dragon,
or mushussu, figures, of which I’ll show you
a picture later. The gate also went
below the ancient ground level to a great depth, similarly decorated with bull,
lion, and dragon figures, but here, the figures were made
of plain molded bricks that were unglazed. Well, what do we know
of the early history of Babylon? The first certain mention
of the city is in the reign of the Akkadian
King Shar-Kali-Sharri, in about 2300 BC. But from an archaeological
point of view, nothing is known of Babylon until the time
of the neo-Babylonian kings in the sixth century BC. This is because the water table
at Babylon is very high, owing to the proximity
of the river Euphrates, and it’s proved impossible
to excavate the early levels at the site because they are,
in effect, underwater. But we know
that in the 1,500 years before
the neo-Babylonian period, Babylon was a pre-eminent center
of great importance. So if it was possible
to excavate the early levels, undoubtedly,
important things would be found. For example,
Babylon was the capital city of King Hammurabi, who reigned
from 1792 to 1750 BC, famed for his law code. This famous stela, now in the Louvre Museum
in Paris, was actually found
at Susa, in Iran, where it was taken in antiquity
from a center in Babylonia– possibly even
from Babylon itself. And this stela lists
about 250 laws, mostly following the “eye for an eye,
tooth for a tooth” pattern. Another object of similar date–
that is, around 1750 BC– is a large terra-cotta plaque known as
the “Queen of the Night.” And this shows a naked goddess
with wings and talons for feet who is flanked by owls. She’s a goddess
of the underworld, perhaps Ishtar,
or more likely Ereshkigal. And although un-provenanced,
this is the sort of thing that would have been familiar
to inhabitants of Babylon. Well, we fast-forward now
to the neo-Babylonian period, which may be reckoned
to start in 612 BC. In that year,
a Babylonian army joined… joined forces
with the Medes of Iran to attack and destroy
the powerful state of Assyria in the north part
of Mesopotamia. The main Assyrian cities,
like Nimrud and Nineveh, were sacked and burnt, and the Babylonians took over the western part
of the Assyrian empire, while the Medes took over
the eastern part. This meant that
the Babylonians were now not only in charge
of Southern Mesopotamia, but also, in theory, of the
whole of the ancient Near East extending to
the Mediterranean coast. This brought them into contact
with ancient Israel, as we have seen, and there was also
a lengthy siege of Tyre, in Phoenicia, now in Lebanon. Nebuchadnezzar even waged war
against faraway Egypt. Apart from
his military activities, Nebuchadnezzar also embarked on a massive building program
at Babylon, which we’ve briefly described. Unfortunately
for the Babylonians, the successors of Nebuchadnezzar entirely lacked
his dynamism and vision, and the neo-Babylonian dynasty
held power for less than a hundred years. The last of the
neo-Babylonian kings, Nabonidus, was not of the same caliber
as Nebuchadnezzar. He seems to have alienated
the Babylonians by elevating the moon god Sin
to a higher position than the national god
of Babylon, Marduk, and he spent a long part of
his reign in Tayma, in Arabia. And his incompetence
may have been an element in the disaster that was about
to overtake the Babylonians, but there were probably other economic, political,
and social factors at play. However that may be, the Achaemenid
King Cyrus the Great, who had recently proclaimed
himself king over the united
Medes and Persians, entered Babylon,
apparently without a struggle, in 539 BC, and captured not just the city, but effectively
the neo-Babylonian empire. And his conquest of Babylon
is described in a document known as the Cyrus Cylinder,
now in the British Museum, that’s sometimes called
the First Bill of Human Rights, because it ostensibly differs
from contemporary documents in two ways. First, it says
that the statues of gods belonging to defeated peoples that had been brought to Babylon could be returned to the temples
from which they’d been seized, which is taken to mean that Cyrus was allowing
freedom of religious expression. Secondly, the document says
that deported peoples could return to their homelands. Although the Jews
are not mentioned by name, it is thought to be at this time that the deportees returned
to Jerusalem and started work
on building the Second Temple. This would explain why Cyrus is
so well regarded in the Bible, in the books
of Isaiah and Ezekiel. A recent discovery
in the British Museum of two fragments
of cuneiform tablet, with parts of the same text
as the Cyrus Cylinder, shows that the document
was not unique and may have been
widely promulgated. This is one fragment
on the left, and this is the front and back
of the second fragment. The tablet fragments
with the Cyrus Cylinder were actually exhibited
in the National Museum in Tehran between September 2010
and April 2011, in an effort to maintain
dialogue with Iranian colleagues on a cultural level. Other objects from Babylon
dating from the Persian period are fragments
of a stela of Darius the Great and a glazed brick
from his palace. Then, in due course, Babylon was captured
by Alexander in 331 BC. He built a theater in Babylon, and shortly afterwards
died there. After the Hellenistic period, Babylon continued to be occupied
into Parthian times, but thereafter,
occupation effectively ceased, thus fulfilling
the biblical prophecies. As we’ve seen, in the course
of the German excavations directed by Koldewey, much was discovered
about the topography of ancient Babylon. However, the remains
of mud brick buildings are notoriously difficult
to preserve, and once they’re exposed
to the elements, they rapidly deteriorate. The disintegrating
mud brick buildings, plus the trenches and spoil tips
that are a feature of all major excavations, combined to present a site that was difficult to interpret
and visually unappealing. And this is reflected in these
early views of the ruins. There were, it is true,
some redeeming features. The foundations
of the Ishtar Gate, with unglazed molded bricks, were still visible, and the Lion of Babylon was a well-known
and popular attraction to visitors to the site. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
continued to figure largely
in the public imagination. All of these features, combined with the fame and
notoriety of ancient Babylon, were enough to ensure that after the state of Iraq
came into existence in 1920, Babylon became one of the iconic
symbols of the new state. Thus, the Lion of Babylon
was shown on various Iraqi stamps
from 1941 onwards. In an effort
to improve the quality of the visitor experience
of Babylon in the 1960s, this half-sized replica of the above-ground part
of the Ishtar Gate was built. But in spite of these welcome
innovations at the site itself, Babylon still remained
a disappointment for most visitors. It wasn’t surprising, then,
that Saddam Hussein attempted to turn Babylon
into a symbol in keeping with his
nationalistic ambitions for the Republic of Iraq. Accordingly, the archaeological
restoration of Babylon project started in 1978. And even the Iraq-Iran War,
which began in September 1980, was not allowed
to interfere with or hold up the plans for the reconstruction,
which continued unabated. And as early as 1982,
a set of seven coins was issued, commemorating
the restoration project and bearing images of Babylon. And these show the Ishtar Gate,
the Lion of Babylon, the stela of Hammurabi, and a reconstruction
of the Babylonian ziggurat. Hand in hand
with the restoration project was a large amount
of excavation work undertaken
by Iraqi archaeologists, and this restoration project
was on a vast scale, and included the…
involved the creation of three artificial lakes
on the site– you can see…
some of them here and down there– and the formation of three
gigantic artificial mounds. This is one of the lakes
on the site. And these are aerial views
showing the mounds and the lakes and the reconstructed
Palace of Nebuchadnezzar. On top of one of the mounds,
overlooking the site, a palace was built
for Saddam himself. It was sumptuously decorated. Witness, this painted ceiling. And also, in the course
of the restoration project, the Southern Palace
of Nebuchadnezzar, with five large courtyards
and about 150– 250 rooms, was largely rebuilt. And the main entrance
to the palace was restored to a height of 30 meters, and many of the walls rebuilt
to a height of about 20 meters. And for this reconstruction, new bricks were laid
on top of bricks surviving
from the original structure. Many of the original bricks
had been stamped with inscriptions
in Babylonian cuneiform of Nebuchadnezzar, and Saddam continued
this ancient practice by having many
of the new bricks stamped with his own inscription
in Arabic, reading in translation, “In the era of Saddam,
protector of Iraq, who rebuilt the royal palace.” There was further restoration
work on other buildings, and the Lion of Babylon
was given pride of place in open ground
adjacent to the Southern Palace. Well, the first phase
of this reconstruction project was mostly finished in time for the first
Babylon International Festival in 1987, which was a lavish event
lasting for a month. And in the promotional
literature issued
by the festival committee, Saddam was compared with great figures
from Babylonian history like Hammurabi
and Nebuchadnezzar. And you can see here a picture
of a medal that was issued showing the profiled…
his profiled portrait overlapping that
of Nebuchadnezzar. And after that, festivals
were held nearly every year up until 2002, sometimes accompanied
by an archaeological conference. And as late as 2001, this
25-dinar banknote was issued showing, on the reverse, the Ishtar Gate
and the Lion of Babylon. Well, clearly, much of
the so-called restoration work undertaken at Babylon during
the time of Saddam Hussein went far beyond
what is normally acceptable, and it’s been roundly condemned
by conservation groups. I think we can say
that in the time of Saddam, the treatment of Babylon
was cavalier, to say the least. But unfortunately,
it was not treated with very much greater respect
by coalition troops after 2003. To start with,
there were a few problems with just the gift shop
being looted and burnt out during the war. Problems began on… in September 2003,
when Babylon became Camp Alpha for the multinational division
Central South. And you can see on this slide some of the military
installations here, next to the restored palace
of Nebuchadnezzar. Here are some more views of the military activity
at the site. So, from September onwards,
the camp escalated rapidly so that, at its greatest extent,
it covered 150 hectares in size and was home to 2,000 troops. And this camp was established right in the heart
of ancient Babylon, as you can see here, straddling the north part
of the inner city, and including many
of the famous landmarks of ancient Babylon, like the Ishtar Gate
and the Lion of Babylon, the palace of Nebuchadnezzar,
and so on. This is actually one
of the… a military map, showing the extent of the camp. Well, during the summer of 2004,
as news spread about the scale of the military activity
at Babylon, there was growing unease amongst
the international community, and increasing number
of complaints on the World Wide Web. And foremost amongst those drawing attention
to the damage at Babylon was Professor Zainab Bahrani of the University of Columbia
here in New York. Consequently,
at the end of December 2004, the coalition authorities
took the decision to close down the camp and hand control of Babylon
back to the Iraqi side. And in preparation
for this handover, Polish archaeologists, working with the Polish forces who were then stationed
in Camp, Camp Alpha, prepared a lengthy document,
which is a thorough survey describing the condition
of the site and the surviving
and restored monuments. It’s an extremely useful
piece of work, and an important source
of reference, but what the report doesn’t do
is detail the damage caused between March 2003
and December 2004. Consequently, I was asked by the
then-Iraqi minister of culture to attend the handover ceremony
in December 2004 and prepare
an independent report on damage caused
during the military occupation. And what you can see here
is the people who were assembled there
for that, for that inspection. And I would like to take
this opportunity to say that on this occasion, and every other occasion
that I’ve been in Iraq, American troops have been
unfailingly helpful and cooperative. Well, during the course
of this inspection, we were shown 11 trenches
dug by the military, often through
previously undisturbed archaeological deposits, and the longest of these
you can see on the left, was about 170 meters long. And it was just beyond the line
of barbed wire marking the southern boundary
of the camp, quite close to the site of
the ancient ziggurat Etemenanki. And the purpose of the ditch
was apparently defensive, to prevent vehicles from driving
right up to the wire. And thrown up on the sides
of the trench were piles of earth containing at least
one pottery vessel, bones, and fragments of brick with inscriptions
of Nebuchadnezzar. Then there were
about 14 cuttings, areas where topsoil had been
removed by a shovel, sometimes to a depth
of six meters, and this is one of the largest
of those areas. The next problem was
the so-called fuel farm, an area where there had been
gigantic tanks of fuel. And it was here, of course, that military vehicles
came to refuel, and inevitably,
there was considerable spillage, with the result that the fuel
will have worked its way down into the ground, contaminating the archaeological
deposits beneath. Before the war,
some of the areas of the site had been flattened
and covered with gravel, including an area
for helicopters land, to land, but during the… during the construction
of the camp, the helipad
was greatly enlarged, and there was an increase in the amount
of flattened area elsewhere to provide bases
for the temporary structures needed for the military camp. Then, in many places
around the camp, but particularly
in the vicinity of the gates, there were still,
in December 2004, large numbers
of HESCO containers. These are large wire mesh cages
lined with fabric which are filled with earth. They serve the same purpose
as sandbags, but are much bigger. And the earth in many
of these HESCO containers is mixed with potsherds, bones, and even fragments
of inscribed brick, showing that the earth came
from either undisturbed or redeposited
archaeological contents. Another problem related to the driving
of heavy military vehicles around the site, and in many places, wheel marks and signs
of surface damage were visible. But it’s not usually clear
how much damage this might have caused to the fragile
archaeological deposits beneath. But in one instance,
it was obvious. This was in the north part
of the famous processional way, which you can see on the right, where original paving slabs
had been broken by military vehicles driven… being driven along the street. Arguably, the most serious
damage of all, though, occurred in the Ishtar Gate. By December 2004, nine of the dragon figures
had been damaged, probably by a souvenir hunter
trying to remove molded bricks as, as mementos. I’d like to say, though,
that the news is not all bad, and indeed,
there are grounds for optimism. For example,
it had been reported that there were
more than 100 foxholes, or firing positions, that had been dug
by Iraqi soldiers in the run-up
to the coalition advance. But during a UNESCO visit
in February 2008, I was able to establish
with certainty that there were
actually only nine of these firing holes. At the same time, we visited the so-called Summer
Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, and found the mound
to be in good condition, with no signs
of looting or damage during or after the war. Another encouraging development is that in recognition
of the importance of the site, the U.S. State Department
has made generous grants to the World Monuments Fund
to draw up, in collaboration
with the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, a management and conservation
plan for Babylon. This is an ambitious project
that is being ably directed by Dr. Jeff Allen, and I’d like to thank him for very kindly supplying me
with a variety of images, from which I’ve selected a few, to give you some idea
of the range of the work. In a very responsible fashion, the World Monuments Fund
has recognized that before remedial work
or excavation work can be undertaken, the priority at Babylon is to
produce a site management plan. And as part of this, various
surveys need to be undertaken. This, for example, is a proposed
traffic and circulation plan. And this is a plan
showing land ownership in and around the site. As you might imagine, this is
a very complicated matter, but it’s absolutely essential
to establish who owns what at Babylon before the work
can proceed smoothly. Another study
is of biodiversity, and so on. Well, all this
is very time-consuming but very essential work, particularly if the application to make Babylon
a World Heritage Site is to be successful. The World Monuments Fund
has also started to do conservation work
on some of the ancient buildings which have been reconstructed
in modern times. And in nearly all cases,
there’s a lot of evidence of deterioration
resulting from neglect and lack of maintenance, which, in some cases,
goes back even as far as 1980. This is my photograph of the Ishtar Temple in 2008, and you can see that,
this very bad crack in the wall. And this is conservation work being undertaken
by the World Monuments Fund. These are
very welcome initiatives, but the scale of the problem
shouldn’t be underestimated. In the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar,
for example, restored in the time of Saddam, there’s a problem
with rising damp that is going
to tax the ingenuity of the world’s very best
civil engineers. And you can see
on the right-hand side how the pavement has buckled because of under,
under-floor water. I want to finish, though,
on a positive note. As we’ve seen, the history
of Babylon is long and complex, and the city has gone
through many changes of fortune. Above all, though,
we must remember that it was regarded
by the ancients as one of the Seven Wonders
of the World, or at least
the Hanging Gardens were. Still today, it has
the capacity to fascinate, and it’s one of
the most remarkable sites in the ancient world. Let us hope
that it will soon be inscribed on the list
of World Heritage Sites, and I have no doubt
that in due course, it will become
one of the most visited sites in the Middle East. Thank you very much
for your attention. (applause)

35 Replies to “Babylon: A Wonder of the Ancient World”


  2. Suggesting that only Americans go into countries and destroy things… you obviously have no idea what you're talking about.

  3. MYSTERY BABYLONs the people who follow the traditions and laws of the Babylonian Talmud (which it's spiritual side is the mystical kabbalah)….Jesus was clear in his condemnations regarding the Pharisees who followed man made traditions (Babylonian Talmud). The "G" in freemasonry means GNOSIS or secret knowledge. pathetic that protestants accuse the catholic church of being the whore of Babylon, when this whore , like Scripture tells us, is the Babylonian Talmud and the synagogue of satan

  4. Any person who tried to rebuild Babylon has died. Alexander was struck dead within a week and his project was abandoned. Saddam The Gulf War forced him to give the Babylon a low priority and was executed. If the all mighty Yahweh speaks it will be so. We wonder about the Great Harlot city Babylon? But maybe we are not supposed to wonder about a city birthing forth evil. For Theists who believe the Torah, we look at Babylon as truth in Torah. For Atheists they see an accurate history document.

  5. Christianity Only 2000 Yrs old
    Islam Only 1400 Yrs old
    And My Hinduism is older Than This Earth
    Christians Worship Jesus Christ
    Muslims Worship Allah
    And We Hindus Worship More than Everybody We Hinduism have 330 Million gods and goddesses So Hinduism is Great Religion And Please Everybody Love our Cow
    Don't Eat Cow,In Hinduism Cows Hold a Special Place of Importance and Honor
    Hinduism Said That We Have Three Mother
    The Woman of our Birth
    The Earth and The Cow, So PLZ..Everybody Stop Eating Cows

  6. This was very informative concerning the people & the ancient city of Babylon. For the longest time I've been looking for informaton about ancient Babylon outside of Christianity because they can tend to put a negative spin on this great city. If you have any more information about Babylon please help me out. The Jews were also in Babylon, this is where they developed Kabala Mysticism…..yet I cant find any information on this either.


    Babylon King ,name Lucifer
    now I get it they just depicted him as evil because the truth was they just had wars with eachother there is no such thing as hell or heaven basically jesus fallowers just wrote a book called bible demonizing Babylon as Hell in the bible to trick you into believing ,Lucifer the King of Babylon the guy who ordered to kill jesus for saying he was a son of god and killed him to prove he wasn't haha the bible is just a story book

  8. some ppl say democracy started in Lydia (Asia minor) after resistance and stuff to a claimant sovereign group there.. then info traveeled to hellinsit regions

  9. MIsleading ,that historians do not use original geographical names ,like ( Bab-Ilu ) ,Uru-Solyma (Hiero-Solyma)=Jerusalem-Schytopolis  !! We may find out who where the original inhabitants-this is what they don,t want ,just nice stories ….bla-bla

  10. It takes a special sort of stupid to think it would be a good idea to build a military camp on the ruins of babylon, destruction of history can create animosity for generations.

  11. يسرقون ويدمرون الشعوب
    ويدعون التحضر حراميه ستبقى وصمه عار في جبين الالمان الانذال
    كان الكلام الراءج قديما اللعنه على فرعون والان نحن نقول اللعنه على الالمان
    خرب روحك ابن صبحه اسويت بالعراق ء

  12. No fucks given about this dead modern man. Those 8 minutes blabbing on should have been for the drowning funeral eulogy. Reminds me of those horrible derailing 17 + page introductions that deter a person from wanting to read a books contents. KISS. 1 minute introductions at most. Anything more is dumb as fuck. You’re welcome.

  13. Interesting fact: the bible prophesied the destruction of Babylon and that it would NEVER be rebuilt. T hounds of years later there is still nothing there.

  14. That Sackler affiliation didn't age well. At this point, I'm pretty sure Sackler's body count is higher than Saddam's…

  15. I love listening to lectures about the ancient world. The TTC have some great very long ones that go into great dept.

  16. …From Rothman, he says that All civilization came from The Armenians Highlands. What do other historians say…according to Anthropologist Mitchell S. Rothman regarding the extent  of discoveries and specially on the quality of horse bones proved, According to him, that it was from the Shangavit Armenian 6000 years ago that the culture of that area spread around to the ancient world…
    Professor Jensen also says.  ‘For almost everything that is known in the Hittite language is Old Armenian in form..Historian Sayce (1845-1933) also consider Hittite and Armenian to be one and the same’. and Rothman, quoted earlier, said…''All that was known in Mesopotamia came from Armenia and that Armenia is the absent fragment in the entire mosaic of
    the ancient world's civilization's construction.
    H.V. Hilprecht(1859-1925) a Clark research professor of Assyriology and scientific director Babylonian expedition at the University of Penn. argue that the Hittite tongue is Armenian and the Hittites themselves were of Armenian stock…according to Ellis (1861)  through language analysis we observe that under the names of Phrygians, Thracians, Pelasgians and
    Etruscans spread westward from Armenia to Italy and Elis claimed that the closest affinities of the Aryan element are the Armenians ..other historians that agree are..Hellenthal, Busgy, Brand, Wilson, Myers and Falush…
    Also ..If interested…let me quote Merrick (2012) All religions are descended from and ancient Vedic cosmology described in the Rib – Veda, originating in Armenia near Mt. Ararat at least 6800 ys ago and the basic concepts of a transcendental mountain extending into space and populated planet Star-gods were developed…he further says…This Astrotheology then migrated with Armenian Aryans to found the Sumerian Ethiopian/Egyptian and Indian civilizations and religions…from Language as  a fingerprint Setyan…

  17. If I'm ever worth listening to I will promise I will never let anyone give an introduction that's more than just "here's Dan he's gonna talk now"

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