by John Thomas Lowe
Family and children
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon as depicted by Ferdinand Knab in 1886.
According to tradition, the gardens were constructed by Nebuchadnezzar for his wife, Amytis of Media, so that she would feel less homesick.
No surviving contemporary Babylonian documents provide the name of Nebuchadnezzar's wife. According to Berossus, her name was Amytis, daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. Berossus writes that 'Nabopolassar sent troops to the assistance of Astyages, the tribal chieftain and satrap of the Medes to obtain a daughter of Astyages, Amyitis, as a wife for his son Nebuchadnezzar.' Though the ancient Greek historian Ctesias instead wrote that Amytis was the name of a daughter of Astyages who had married Cyrus I of Persia, it seems more likely that a Median princess would marry a member of the Babylonian royal family, considering the good relations established between the two during Nabopolassar's reign. Given that Astyages was still too young during Nabopolassar's reign to already have children and was not yet king, it seems more probable that Amytis was Astyages's sister and thus a daughter of his predecessor, Cyaxares. By marrying his son to a daughter of Cyaxares, Nebuchadnezzar's father, Nabopolassar likely sought to seal the alliance between the Babylonians and the Medes. According to tradition, Nebuchadnezzar constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, featuring exotic shrubs, vines, and trees and artificial hills and watercourses and knolls so that Amytis would feel less homesick for the mountains of Media. No archaeological evidence for these gardens has yet been found.
Nebuchadnezzar had six known sons. With the exceptions of Marduk-Nadin-ahi and Eanna-Sharra-user, most of the sons are attested to very late in their father's reign. It is possible that they might have been the product of a second marriage and that they could have been born relatively late in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, possibly after his known daughters. The known sons of Nebuchadnezzar are:
• Marduk-Nadin-ahi (Akkadian: Marduk-nādin-aḫi) – the earliest attested of Nebuchadnezzar's children, attested in a legal document, probably as an adult as he is described as being in charge of his land, already in Nebuchadnezzar's third year as king (602/601 BC). He is also attested very late in Nebuchadnezzar's reign, named as a "royal prince" in a document recording the purchase of dates by Sin-mār-šarri-uṣur, his servant, in 563 BC.
• Eanna-Sharra-usur (Akkadian: Eanna-šarra-uṣur) – named as a "royal prince" among sixteen people in a document at Uruk from 587 BC recorded as receiving barley "for the sick."
• Amel-Marduk (Akkadian: Amēl-Marduk), named Nabu-Shum-ukin (Nabû-šum-ukīn), initially– succeeded Nebuchadnezzar as king in 562 BC. His reign was marred with intrigues, and he only ruled for two years before being murdered and usurped by his brother-in-law, Neriglissar. Later Babylonian sources mostly speak ill of his reign. Amel-Marduk is first attested, notably as crown prince, in a document 566 BC. Amel-Marduk had an older brother in Marduk-Nadin-ahi, alive as late as 563 BC, so why he was named crown prince is not apparent.
• Marduk-Shum-usur (Akkadian: Marduk-šum-Uṣur or Marduk-Suma-uṣur) – named as a "royal prince" in documents from Nebuchadnezzar's 564 BC and 562 BC years, recording payments by his scribe to the Ebabbar temple in Sippar.
• Mushezib-Marduk (Akkadian: Mušēzib-Marduk) was once named a "royal prince" in a contract tablet from 563 BC.
• Marduk-Nadin-shumi (Akkadian: Marduk-nādin-šumi) was once named a "royal prince" in a contract tablet from 563 BC.
Three of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters are known by name:
• Kashshaya (Akkadian: Kaššaya) – is attested in several financial documents from Nebuchadnezzar's reign as "the king's daughter." Her name is of unclear origin; it might be derived from the word kaššû (kassite). Kashshaya is attested from contemporary texts as a resident of (and landowner in) Uruk. Kashshaya is typical, although speculatively, identified as the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, who married Neriglissar.
• Innin-etirat (Akkadian: Innin-ēṭirat)– attested as "the king's daughter" in a 564 BC document which records her granting mār-banûtu status ("status of a free man") to an enslaved person by the name Nabû-mukkê-elip. The document in question was written in Babylon, but names including the divine prefix Innin are almost unique to Uruk, suggesting that she was a city resident.
• Ba'u-asitu (Akkadian: Ba'u-asītu) – attested as the owner of a piece of real estate is an economic document. The document was written at Uruk, where Ba'u-asitu is presumed to have lived. The precise reading and meaning of her name are somewhat unclear. Paul-Alain Beaulieu, who in 1998 published the translated text which confirms her existence, believes that her name is best interpreted as meaning "Ba'u is a/the physician."
It is possible that one of Nebuchadnezzar's daughters married the high official Nabonidus. Marriage to a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar could explain how Nabonidus could become king and why certain later traditions, such as the Book of Daniel in the Bible, describe Nabonidus's son Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar's son (descendant). Alternatively, these later traditions might instead derive from royal propaganda. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus names the "last great queen" of the Babylonian Empire "Nitocris," though that name (nor any other name) is not attested in contemporary Babylonian sources. Herodotus's description of Nitocris contains a wealth of legendary material that makes it difficult to determine whether he uses the name to refer to Nabonidus's wife or mother. However, William H. Shea proposed in 1982 that Nitocris may tentatively be identified as the name of Nabonidus's wife and Belshazzar's mother.
Assessment by historians
Because of the scarcity of sources, assessments by historians of Nebuchadnezzar's character and the nature of his reign have differed considerably over time. He has typically been regarded as the greatest and most prestigious king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Since the military activity was not a significant issue described in the inscriptions of any Neo-Babylonian king, regardless of their actual military accomplishments, in sharp contrast to the inscriptions of their Neo-Assyrian predecessors, Nebuchadnezzar's inscriptions talk very little about his wars. Out of the king's fifty or so known inscriptions, only one deal with military action, and in this case, only small-scale conflicts in the Lebanon region. Many Assyriologists, such as Wolfram von Soden in 1954, thus initially assumed that Nebuchadnezzar had mainly been a builder-king, devoting his energy and efforts to building and restoring his country. A significant change in evaluations of Nebuchadnezzar came with the publication of the tablets of the Babylonian Chronicle by Donald Wiseman in 1956, which cover the geopolitical events of Nebuchadnezzar's first eleven years as king. From the publication of these tablets onwards, historians have shifted to perceiving Nebuchadnezzar as a great warrior, devoting special attention to the military achievements of his reign.
According to the historian Josette Elayi, writing in 2018, Nebuchadnezzar is somewhat difficult to characterize because of the scarcity of Babylonian source material. Elayi wrote, about Nebuchadnezzar, "He was a conqueror, even though reservations can be had about his military capabilities. There was no lack of statesmanlike qualities, given his success in building the Babylonian Empire. He was a great builder who restored a country devastated by war for a long time. That is roughly all we know about him because the Babylonian Chronicles and other texts say little about his personality."
In Jewish and biblical tradition
The Babylonian captivity initiated by Nebuchadnezzar ended with the fall of Babylon to the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. Within a year of their liberation, the captured Jews returned to their homeland. Their liberation did little to erase the memory of five decades of imprisonment and oppression. Instead, Jewish literary accounts ensured that accounts of the hardship endured by the Jews and the monarch responsible for it would be remembered for all time. The Book of Jeremiah calls Nebuchadnezzar a "lion" and a "destroyer of nations."
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