by John Thomas Lowe
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was a successful leader in terms of military endeavors, building projects, and increasing the prosperity of his kingdom.
• King of Babylon
• King of Sumer and Akkad
• King of the Universe
A portion of the so-called "Tower of Babel stelea" depicting Nebuchadnezzar II on the right and featuring a depiction of Babylon's great ziggurat (the Etemenankib) to his left
King of the Neo-Babylonian Empire
Reign August 605 BC – 7 October 562 BC
Born c. 642 BC
Died 7 October 562 BC (aged c. 80)
Spouse Amytis of Media (?)
• Nitocris (?)
Nebuchadnezzar II (Babylonian cuneiform: Nabû-kudurri-uṣur, meaning "Nabu, watch over my heir." Biblical Hebrew: נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּר Nəḇūḵaḏneʾṣṣar), also spelled Nebuchadrezzar II, was the second king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, ruling from the death of his father Nabopolassar in 605 BC to his death in 562 BC. Historically known as Nebuchadnezzar the Great, he is typically regarded as the empire's greatest king. Nebuchadnezzar remains famous for his military campaigns in the Levant, his construction projects in his capital, Babylon, and for the critical part, he played in Jewish history. Ruling for 43 years, Nebuchadnezzar was the longest-reigning king of the Chaldean dynasty. At the time of his death, Nebuchadnezzar was among the most powerful rulers in the world.
He was possibly named after his grandfather of the same name or after Nebuchadnezzar I (r. c. 1125–1104 BC), one of Babylon's greatest ancient warrior-kings; Nebuchadnezzar II already secured renown for himself during his father's reign, leading armies in the Medo-Babylonian war against the Assyrian Empire. At the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar inflicted a crushing defeat on an Egyptian army led by Pharaoh Necho II. It ensured that the Neo-Babylonian Empire would succeed the Neo-Assyrian Empire as the dominant power in the ancient Near East. Shortly after this victory, Nabopolassar died, and Nebuchadnezzar became king. Despite his successful military career during his father's reign, the first third or so of Nebuchadnezzar's reign saw little to no significant military achievements and notably a disastrous failure in an attempted invasion of Egypt. These years of lackluster military performance saw some of Babylon's vassals, particularly in the Levant, beginning to doubt Babylon's power, viewing the Neo-Babylonian Empire as a "paper tiger" rather than a power indeed on the level of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The situation grew so severe that people in Babylonia began disobeying the king, some going to revolt against Nebuchadnezzar's rule.
After this disappointing early period as king, Nebuchadnezzar's luck turned. In the 580s BC, Nebuchadnezzar engaged in a successful string of military actions in the Levant against the vassal states in rebellion there, likely with the ultimate intent of curbing Egyptian influence in the region. In 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Kingdom of Judah, and its capital, Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem led to the Babylonian captivity as the city's population and people from the surrounding lands were deported to Babylonia. The Jews, after that, referred to Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest enemy they had faced until that point, as a "destroyer of nations." The biblical Book of Jeremiah paints Nebuchadnezzar as a cruel enemy, God's appointed ruler of the world, and a divine instrument to punish disobedience. Through the destruction of Jerusalem, the capture of the rebellious Phoenician city of Tyre, and other campaigns in the Levant, Nebuchadnezzar completed the Neo-Babylonian Empire's transformation into the new great power of the ancient Near East.
In addition to his military campaigns, Nebuchadnezzar is remembered as a great builder-king. The prosperity ensured by his wars allowed Nebuchadnezzar to conduct great building projects in Babylon and elsewhere in Mesopotamia. The modern image of Babylon is significant to the city as it was after Nebuchadnezzar's projects, during which he, among other works, rebuilt many of the city's religious buildings, including the Esagila and Etemenanki, repaired its current palace, and constructed a brand new palace, and beautified its ceremonial center through renovations to the city's Processional Street and the Ishtar Gate. As most of Nebuchadnezzar's inscriptions deal with his building projects rather than military accomplishments, he was for a time seen by historians mainly as a builder rather than a warrior.
There are very few cuneiform sources for the period between 594 BC and 557 BC, covering much of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II and the reigns of his three immediate successors; Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar, and Labashi-Marduk. This lack of sources has the unfortunate effect that even though Nebuchadnezzar had the longest reign of all of them, less is confidently known of Nebuchadnezzar's reign than of the reigns of almost all the other Neo-Babylonian kings. Though the handful of cuneiform sources recovered, notably the Babylonian Chronicle, confirm some events of his reign, such as conflicts with the Kingdom of Judah, other events, such as the 586 BC destruction of Solomon's Temple and other potential military campaigns Nebuchadnezzar conducted, are not covered in any known cuneiform documents.
As such, historical reconstructions of this period generally follow secondary Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to determine what events transpired at the time and contract tablets from Babylonia. Though using the sources written by later authors, many of them created several centuries after Nebuchadnezzar's time and often including their cultural attitudes to the events and figures discussed, present problems in and of themselves, blurring the line between history and tradition, it is the only possible approach to gain insight into Nebuchadnezzar's reign.
Ancestry and early life
The preserved portion of the Eanna temple at Uruk.
Nebuchadnezzar was the high priest of the Eanna temple from 626/625 BC to 617 BC. He was the eldest son of Nabopolassar (r. 626–605 BC), the founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In historiography, r. can be used to designate the ruling period of a person in dynastic power, to distinguish from his or her lifespan. For example, one may write "Charles V (r. 1519–1556)" instead of "Charles V (1500–1558)" if the writer considers the year of enthronement to be more important information for the reader than the year of birth, or occasionally to emphasize when a ruler abdicated before dying.
This is confirmed by Nabopolassar's inscriptions, which explicitly name Nebuchadnezzar as his "eldest son," as well as inscriptions from Nebuchadnezzar's reign, which refer to him as the "first" or "chief son" of Nabopolassar, and as Nabopolassar's "true" or "legitimate heir." The Neo-Babylonian Empire was founded through Nabopolassar's rebellion and later war against the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which liberated Babylonia after nearly a century of Assyrian control. The war destroyed Assyria, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose in its place, was mighty but hastily built and politically unstable.
As Nabopolassar never clarified his ancestry in lineage in any of his inscriptions, his origin is not entirely clear. Subsequent historians have identified Nabopolassar as a Chaldean, an Assyrian, or Babylonian. Although no evidence conclusively confirms him as being of Chaldean origin, the term "Chaldean dynasty" is frequently used by modern historians for the royal family he founded. The term "Chaldean Empire" remains an alternate historiographical name for the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Nebuchadnezzar as crown prince
Though little information survives, Nebuchadnezzar's military career began in his father's reign. Based on a letter sent to the temple administration of the Eanna temple, Nebuchadnezzar participated in his father's campaign to take the city of Harran in 610 BC. Harran was the seat of Ashur-uballit II, who had rallied what remained of the Assyrian army and ruled what was left of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The Babylonian victory in the Harran campaign, and the defeat of Ashur-uballit, in 609 BC marked the end of the ancient Assyrian monarchy, which would never be restored. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar also commanded an army in an unspecified mountainous region for several months in 607 BC.
In the war against the Babylonians and Medes, Assyria had allied with Pharaoh Psamtik I of Egypt, who had been interested in ensuring Assyria's survival so that Assyria could remain as a buffer state between his kingdom and the Babylonian and Median kingdoms. After the fall of Harran, Psamtik's successor, Pharaoh Necho II, personally led a large army into former Assyrian lands to turn the tide of the war and restore the Neo-Assyrian Empire even though it was more or less a lost cause as Assyria had already collapsed. As Nabopolassar was occupied with fighting the Kingdom of Urartu in the north, the Egyptians took control of the Levant largely unopposed, capturing territories as far north as the city of Carchemish in Syria, where Necho established his base of operations.
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