Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nabonidus, Babylonian King and Archaeologist

Nabonidus (556 – 539 B. C.) was the last of the Neo-Babylonian Kings. He was the son of a nobleman named Nabu-balatsu-iqbi and a votress of the god Sin from the city of Harran[1]. His predecessor, Labashi-Marduk, was overthrown by a group of conspirators who placed Nabonidus on the throne in his place[2].

Nabonidus spent a large portion of his reign restoring temples and collecting antiquities found during the course of this restoration work. Bertman has called him “the world’s first archaeologist”[3] (although the Egyptian Prince Khaemwaset would probably be a better claimant to that title). Near a wall built at Ur by Nebuchadnezzar, one of Nabonidus’ Neo-Babylonian predecessors, Leonard Woolley found a headless diorite statue from a much earlier period in history. Woolley speculates that this may be one of the antiquities collected at Ur by Nabonidus[4] in the home of his daughter, who was a priestess there.

Woolley also found hidden in the brickwork of Ur’s ziggurat some clay cylinders with inscriptions from the reign of Nabonidus. The inscriptions stated that Nabonidus had completed the Ziggurat, which had been started centuries earlier by Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi[5]. There is also a record of Nabonidus finding the foundation deposit of Naram-Sin while restoring the ziggurat[6]. Another text relates how Nabonidus, while restoring a shrine, found the foundation deposit of Nebuchadnezzar (604 - 562 B. C.)[7].

Nabonidus had the misfortune to rule at the same time as Cyrus II of Persia. Nabonidus allied himself with Cyrus against the Medes and soon found his ally was every bit as dangerous as the Medes. For some reason Nabonidus spent most, if not all of the years three through eleven of his reign outside of Babylon, possibly as far away as what is now Saudi Arabia[8]. During this time Cyrus gathered his strength and Nabonidus soon saw Babylon incorporated into the Persian Empire.

[1] Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq, New York: Penguin Books, 1992, p. 381

[2] Roux, p. 381

[3] Bertman, Stephen. Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, New York: Facts on File, 2003, p. 47

[4] Woolley, Leonard, and E. R. S. Moorey. Ur of the Chaldees, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, revised 2nd
edition, 1982, p. 123

[5] Woolley, p. 142

[6] Woolley, p. 228

[7] Woolley, p. 223

[8] Roux, p. 385

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