Scott Abel September 29, 2005 Prof.

Sorrentino Paper #1 The Fall of Babylon

The Greek historian Herodotus wrote “Fall of Babylon” included in his works about the Persian Wars during which the Greek city-states fought the mighty Persian Empire. Herodotus explained how Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered the ancient city of Babylon. Cyrus conquered nation after nation, country after country, and town after town, and now it was Babylon’s turn to face Persia’s mighty army. Herodotus was a Greek historian, who wrote about these events years after they actually happened. Herodotus told us how the Persians rose to power, and eventually came into contact and even conflict with the Greek city-states. The narrative of how Persia attained military and political greatness through ingenuity promoted the Greeks themselves as they defeated their Persian invaders who conquered mighty Babylon. However, Herodotus tells us about the Persians from a Greek perspective and has bias against the empire that almost subjugated Greek Civilization. Herodotus gave us a third perspective aside from Babylon and Persia, though. He lacked the opinions of either of the combating sides. However, due to the fact that both cultures were different from than that of Greece, he neglected in giving the greatest of respect for both nations. His account was more objective than those of either the Babylonian and Persian accounts. Furthermore, Herodotus recorded the battles of the war years after these events happened. Herodotus only wrote these events down after the Persian Wars and the


Greeks forced Persians out of Greece eighty years after the first Persian siege of Babylon. There was no way Herodotus possessed a primary account of the action. Time might have distorted some of the facts into fiction. Herodotus inevitably employed secondary sources. The siege and the fall of Babylon were significant from an engineering perspective. Babylon itself must have been a city with great defensive strength. For example, the Babylonians constructed walls that surrounded the capital. Such achievements included the famous Ishtar Gates. These gates were mostly blue with sculptors’ carved decorations on them. Such decorations included pictures of the dragon form of Marduk, a Babylonian god. Also, there were bulls, to represent Adad, the god of storms. Babylon had one of the Seven Wonders of the World and therefore Babylonian architects and engineers must have been highly skilled in their work. They built wall around the entire city. Even the part of the city that bordered the Euphrates River was walled, too. Also, the city had built enough granaries and storage centers that they could survive a siege for an extremely long time. Some citizens celebrated a festival during the siege, which demonstrated how well-prepared the Babylonians thought they were. Such a feat of engineering must have been overcome by another task which was no less astonishing. Cyrus already defeated the Babylonian army outside the city walls, now Cyrus could just wait. However, he decided not to wait and starve the Babylonians into submission. “Cyrus was now reduced to great perplexity, as time on and he made no progress against the place.”1 Instead, he decided to take action. Cyrus or one of his advisors came up with the idea to lower the Euphrates River so that the Persian Army


Herodotus from Spielvogel, Western Civilization, (Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006), 44.


could cross it and surprise the Babylonians. Then, he could quickly seize the city of Babylon. Cyrus also had some allies within the city of Babylon, itself. Some influential citizens of Babylon did not like the current ruler, Belshazzar. His family isolated themselves by allowing the introduction of the gods of Ur into Babylon, thus allowing Cyrus to gain some support.2 According to Herodotus, one of his supporters, the Queen of Babylon, Nitocris, helped him. The religious divisions within Babylon played into his hands. Cyrus placed his army where the Euphrates entered Babylon, and where the river exited the city. Then, he waited for low tide at night. The night would cover the movement and work of the digging of the canals from the enemy. The Persian sympathizers inside the city under Queen Nitocris dug a canal to a lower plain while Cyrus’s forces dug a canal to some marshes close by. How could this task been completed? What tools were used to be able to dig a large canal? Persian soldiers likely used baskets as tools. The Persians likely used baskets that they were using for supply, or they might have taken them from a local village or town. These baskets would possibly need to move large amounts of sand quite a distance. Also, were shovels used in the process? It would be hard to believe that the Persians and their sympathizers would have dug a large canal in short period of time without some sort of excavation device. Manpower must have been the key to digging two canals at the same time. Much of the Persian Army must have participated in the construction of one of the canals. That could mean 10,000s of men probably worked on the canal. Maybe the canals were not all

Clement Huart, Ancient Persia and Iranian Civilization, (London: Kegan Paul, 1927), 41.


that big, because the river must have deposited soil along of its banks. Perhaps this left a low lying plain close by. So, with a large number of people both inside the city and outside working to build a canal within one night was possible. How long did it take? The task must have taken a maximum of one night to do so, because surely the Babylonians loyal to Belshazaar would have noticed that some citizens were digging at the banks of the Euphrates. Also, the soldiers at the walls would have noticed that the Persians were digging a canal from the Euphrates. Once the Persians entered the city, the Babylonians were completely caught of guard by the presence of Persian troops. So, this demonstrated that they did not know of the Persian plan. If they did, they would have had troops waiting at the river’s edge. However, there remained the possibility that the Babylonians saw the Persians digging in the sand for days and could not have figured out why they were doing so. It is entirely possible that the Babylonians had no clue of the Persian plan. So, the question is which was more likely, Persians building a canal in one night, or the Persians building a canal under the watchful eyes of the Babylonians. Both would have been engineering achievements, especially for their time. Also, how did the Persians manage to communicate with each other? The Persians would have needed to have contact their allies within the walls. How could they have done that? Maybe some people left the city to contact Cyrus and returned back into Babylon. Cyrus must have also been able to coordinate his army well for both forces to move at the same time.


How would the Persians get over the walls the guarded the river’s approach to the city? The plan must have been to carry ladders to the wall, quickly climb up, quietly eliminate the guards and move on into the city. Whatever the case was the plan worked. The Euphrates dropped significantly and it flooded the marshes outside the city. The plan worked so well that the water fell to midway of a man’s thy. The Persian soldiers stealthily snuck into the city, while the Babylonians celebrated. The two groups of soldiers on the upper and lower part of the city attacked at the same time. Babylon fell that night to the Persians. The good engineering and brilliant planning that helped the Babylonians defend their city fell victim to the clever Cyrus and his army. Herodotus’ The Persian Wars wrote a description of the Greek’s military accomplishments, but it also demonstrated how hitherto the Persians were able to build the greatest empire. Herodotus explained how the enemy had become such a great power, thus also helping to embellish Greece. He explained how his homeland had defended itself against the rest of the known world which was ruled Persia. Herodotus helped us gain a better understanding of the Persians and how they were able to take Babylon. The glorification of the Persians, especially in regard to their engineering and diplomatic genius served the Greeks as they defeated the military that conquered Babylon.


Works Cited Huart, Clement. Ancient Persia and Iranian Civilization. London: Kegan Paul, 1927. Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006.


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