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Mesopotamia under the Persians



Cyrus II, the founder of the Achaemenian Empire, united Babylonia with his country in a personal union, assuming the title of "King of Babylonia, King of the Lands." His son Cambyses was appointed vice-king and resided in Sippar. The Persians relied on the support of the priests and the business class in the cities. In a Babylonian inscription, Cyrus relates with pride his peaceful, bloodless conquest of the city of Babylon. At the same time, he speaks of Marduk as the king of gods. His moderation and restraint were rewarded: Babylonia became the richest province of his empire. There is no indication of any national rebellion in Babylonia under Cyrus and Cambyses (529-522). That there must have been an accumulation of discontent became clear at the ascension to the throne of Darius I (522-486), when a usurper seized the throne of Babylonia under the name of Nebuchadrezzar III only to lose both the throne and his life after 10 weeks. Darius waived any punitive action. He had to take more drastic measures in 521, when a new Nebuchadrezzar incited another rebellion. This usurper's reign lasted two months. Executions and plundering followed; Darius ordered that the inner walls of Babylon be demolished, and he reformed the organization of the state. Babylon, however, remained the capital of the new satrapy and also became the administrative headquarters for the satrapies of Assyria and Syria. One result was that the palace had to be enlarged.

Babylonia remained a wealthy and prosperous land, in contrast to Assyria, which was still a poor country. At the same time, the administration of the kingdom was more and more in the hands of the Persians, and the tax burdens grew heavier. This produced discontent, centring especially on the large temples in Babylon. Xerxes (486-465) had his residence in Babylon while he was crown prince, and he knew the country very well. When he assumed his kingship, he immediately curtailed the autonomy of the satrapies. This, in turn, gave rise to many rebellions. In Babylonia there were two short interim governments of Babylonian pretenders during 484-482. Xerxes retaliated by desecrating and partially destroying the holy places of the god Marduk and the Tower of Babel in the city of Babylon. Priests were executed, and the statue of Marduk was melted down.

The members of the royal family still resided in the palaces of the city of Babylon, but Aramaic became more and more the language of the official administration. One source of information for this period are the clay-tablet archives of the commercial house of Murashu and Sons of Nippur for the years of 455-403, which tell much about the important role the Iranians played in the country. The state domains were largely in their hands. They controlled many minor feudal tenants, grouped into social classes according to ancestry and occupation. The business people were predominantly Babylonians and Aramaeans, but there were also Jews.

The documents become increasingly sparse after 400. The cultural life of Babylon became concentrated in a few central cities, particularly Babylon and Uruk; Ur and Nippur were also important centres. The work of astronomers continued, as evidenced in records of observations. Nabu-rimanni, living and working around 500, and Kidinnu, 5th or 4th century BC, were known to the Greeks; both astronomers are famous for their methods of calculating the courses of the Moon and the planets. In the field of literature, religious poetic works as well as texts of omens and Sumero-Akkadian word lists were constantly copied, often with commentaries.


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