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Ancient Babylonia Essay

This paper is a question-and-answer discussion of some aspects of life in ancient Babylonia. (3+ pages; 4 sources; MLA citation style)

Introduction

This paper answers specific questions about the civilization of ancient Babylonia and is in a question-answer format.

Answers to the Questions

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1. Explain the importance of the topic to someone unfamiliar with it.

Ancient cultures are important because they help us understand who we are, where we came from; and our beliefs, values and behaviour. The ancient Babylonians gave us many things, including the concept of impartial justice; the 24-hour day; the idea that a circle contained 360 degrees; and what is generally believed to be the oldest epic poem in history, “Gilgamesh.” (“Babylonia,” pp. 9-11). Perhaps more importantly today, much of ancient Babylonia lies within modern Iraq.

2. What is the time period involved in the study of ancient Babylonia?

Ancient Babylonia was conquered and re-conquered throughout its history, but “[T]he el-Obeid and Warka periods (about 3600-3000 B.C.) represents the beginning of settled culture in Babylonia proper…” (“Babylonia,” p. 9). Babylon finally fell in 514 B.C., thus the extreme range of dates is 3600-514 B.C.; over 3,000 years.

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3. What are the most important facts students should know about ancient Babylonia at this time?

There were many developments in the ancient world that are important to us today. Perhaps two of the greatest are the idea of government and the codification of the law.
Human civilization arose in the Tigris-Euphrates area: Babylonia, in fact. The first people in the area were known as Sumerians, later Babylonians: “After about 3500 B.C. they established centers of civilizations in towns and cities, called ‘city states’.” (Briquebec, p. 14). Each of these city-states, according to the author, had a royal palace, a temple, and an administrative center. This means that some of the earliest ideas of government as a central authority come from ancient Babylonia.

I’ve already mentioned the idea of equality of justice. It comes to us from the Code of Hammurabi, which is indeed one of the most vital developments in all history. Hammurabi “realized that good government depended upon justice which the people could understand, so he collected together the old laws and customs, improved them and added new ones of his own.” (Unstead, p. 33). Not only did this mean that the law would be applied to all people, in the same way, but it also meant that punishments would “fit the crime.” Much of our thinking about crime and punishment goes back to Hammurabi’s Code.

The Babylonians also developed one of the earliest forms of written communication: cuneiform writing. Characters were carved into clay tablets, some of which can still be found and translated today. The development of writing is a tremendous achievement.

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We also find that the earliest settlers in Babylonia were engineers, as well. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers both flood regularly, but unlike the Nile Valley, where the floods provide water for crops, the Tigris/Euphrates floods brought devastation along with the water. The early settlers in the area built huge “… levees [to] strengthen the banks of the great rivers, and huge canals lead off from them. The canals have a triple function … they give the rivers room for controlled expansion … the water [can be] retained for use in the dry period … the canals lead water to dry areas…” (Bibby, p. 9). This is as sophisticated as anything the Army Corps of Engineers has done on the Mississippi.

Finally, the Babylonians gave us the first great epic poem, “Gilgamesh.” The story of a bad king who is redeemed by his companion, Enkidu, created a form of poetry that is still studied and valued to this day.

Conclusion

The above developments all took place in Babylonia during the period under study, making it one of the richest, most important and most intriguing in human history. As Unstead says, “…the people of the Ancient World invented almost all the processes and arts of civilized living.” (P. 110). Indeed.

References

“Babylonia.” The Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition. 1998. (Pages 9-11).

Bibby, Geoffrey. Four Thousand Years Ago. (Page 9). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Briquebec, John. The Ancient World. (Page 14). New York: Warwick Press, 1990.

Unstead, R.J. Looking at Ancient History. (Pages 33, 110). New York: The Macmillan Company, undated.