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The Neo-Babylonian Empire
By Vickie Chao
1 In the fertile plain of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians and the Babylonians were ancient foes. But after the demise of the 1st dynasty of Babylon in 1595 B.C., the Babylonians were forced to sit on the sidelines. For the next couple of centuries, they were first ruled by the Kassites and then by their northern archrivals, the Assyrians. It wasn't until 627 B.C. that the Babylonians were once again given a chance to be their own masters. That year, the powerful Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, passed away. As the news spread, an ambitious fellow by the name of Nabopolassar jumped at the chance and revolted. The following year, in 626 B.C., he declared himself the first king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire or the Chaldean Dynasty because Chaldea, a region in southern Babylonia, was where he came from originally.
2 In the early days of his reign, Nabopolassar did not have full control of Mesopotamia. But after he steadily built up his armies and made an alliance with the Medes (an ancient people living in present-day Iran), he began to expand northward. His target was the Neo-Assyrian Empire. By then, the Neo-Assyrian Empire was no longer the powerhouse that it used to be. So when Nabopolassar and the Medes came to attack, the Assyrians were having a hard time fending off the coalition forces. In 612 B.C., Nabopolassar and his allies sacked the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, and killed the reigning king, Sinsharishkun. The only thing they failed to accomplish during that assault was to eradicate the Neo-Assyrian Empire completely. That was because the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh Necho II, intervened and installed a new Assyrian king in Harran. From that point on to his death, Nabopolassar did everything in his power to try to conquer the Neo-Assyrian Empire and to subdue Egypt. In 609 B.C., the Babylonians and the Medes teamed up again to plunder Harran. Their success was the last straw for the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Then in the summer of 605 B.C., Nabopolassar's son and the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar II (or Nebuchadrezzar II), had a clash with Necho's forces at Carchemish. In that decisive battle, the brave heir apparent defeated the Egyptians and expelled them from the Middle East. Though the ultimate victory pleased Nabopolassar a great deal, he did not live long enough to enjoy it. Shortly afterwards, on August 15 or 16, 605 B.C., he died. When Nebuchadnezzar learned of the tragedy, he quickly returned to Babylon (the capital of the Chaldean Dynasty) and ascended the throne. In just a few weeks time, he had everything under control and was ready for wars again.
3 Now with the Neo-Assyrian Empire gone and the Egyptians in check, Nebuchadnezzar owned all of Mesopotamia and part of the Middle East. In 601 B.C., this new Babylonian king wanted to invade Egypt. But his plan went horribly wrong. Instead of an all-out victory like he had experienced at Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar suffered a heavy loss this time around. After this humiliating defeat, several vassal states, including Judah, rebelled and broke away from the Neo-Babylonian Empire. At the time, there was not much Nebuchadnezzar could do. But after he raised a new army a year or so later, he decided to take back what was rightfully his. In 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah and laid siege to its capital, Jerusalem. According to the Old Testament, in an attempt to appease the Babylonians, the residents of Jerusalem killed their king, Jehoiakim, and threw his dead body over the wall. They surrendered on March 16, 597 B.C. Upon entering Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar first named Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, the new king of Judah. But after a couple of months, he changed his mind and supported Zedekiah (Jehoiachin's uncle) instead. When he was ready to depart, he took Jehoiachin and thousands of Jews with him back to Babylon. He held them captive there for nearly four decades! Nebuchadnezzar's son and successor, Evil-Merodach or Amel-Marduk, released the disgraced king of Judah after he ascended the throne in 562 B.C.
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