From the foot of Saddam Hussein's summer palace a Humvee is seen driving down a road towards the left. Palm trees grow near the road and the ruins of Babylon can be seen in the background.
A partial view of the ruins of Babylon from Saddam Hussein's Summer Palace
Babylon lies in the center of Iraq
Babylon lies in the center of Iraq
Shown within Iraq
Alternative name
LocationHillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq
Coordinates32°32′11″N 44°25′15″E / 32°32′11″N 44°25′15″E / 32.53639; 44.42083
CulturesAkkadian, Amorite, Kassite, Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sasanian
Site notes
ArchaeologistsHormuzd Rassam, Robert Koldewey
Public accessYes
Official nameBabylon
CriteriaCultural: (iii), (vi)
Designated2019 (43rd 278
State Party Iraq
RegionArab States

Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The name-giving capital city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC.

The town became part of a small independent city-state with the rise of the First Babylonian dynasty in the 19th century BC. After the Amorite king Hammurabi created a short-lived empire in the 18th century BC, he built Babylon up into a major city and declared himself its king, and southern Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia and Babylon eclipsed Nippur as its holy city. The empire waned under Hammurabi's son Samsu-iluna and Babylon spent long periods under Assyrian, Kassite and Elamite domination. After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the short-lived Neo-Babylonian Empire from 609 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although a number of scholars believe these were actually in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh.[citation needed] After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city came under the rule of the Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Roman, and Sassanid empires.

It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BC, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000.[2] Estimates for the maximum extent of its area range from 890[3] to 900 hectares (2,200 acres).[4]

The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.

The main sources of information about Babylon—excavation of the site itself, references in cuneiform texts found elsewhere in Mesopotamia, references in the Bible, descriptions in classical writing (especially by Herodotus), and second-hand descriptions (citing the work of Ctesias and Berossus)—present an incomplete and sometimes contradictory picture of the ancient city even at its peak in the sixth century BC.[5]


The spelling Babylon is the Latin representation of Greek Babulṓn (Βαβυλών), derived from the native (Babylonian) Bābilim, meaning "gate of the god(s)". The cuneiform spelling was 𒆍𒀭𒊏𒆠 KA2.DIG̃IR.RAKI.[6][failed verification] This would correspond to the Sumerian phrase kan diĝirak "gate of the god".[7] The 𒆍 KA2 is the ideograph for "gate", 𒀭 DIG̃IR is "god", and the 𒊏 ra is phonetic. The final 𒆠 KI is the determiner for a place name.

Archibald Sayce, writing in the 1870s, postulated that the Semitic name was a loan-translation of the original Sumerian name.[8][9] However, the "gate of god" interpretation is increasingly viewed as a Semitic folk etymology to explain an unknown original non-Semitic placename.[10] I.J. Gelb in 1955 argued that the original name was Babil or Babilla, of unknown meaning and origin, as there were other similarly-named places in Sumer, and there are no other examples of Sumerian place-names being replaced with Akkadian translations. He deduced that it later transformed into Akkadian Bāb-ili(m). The Sumerian name Ka-dig̃irra was loan translation of the Semitic folk etymology, and not the original name.[11][12] The re-translation of the Semitic name into Sumerian would have taken place at the time of the "Neo-Sumerian" Third Dynasty of Ur.[13] (Bab-Il).

In the Hebrew Bible, the name appears as Babel (Hebrew: בָּבֶלBavel, Tib. בָּבֶל Bāḇel; Classical Syriac: ܒܒܠBāwēl, Aramaic: בבלBabel; in Arabic: بَابِلBābil), interpreted in the Book of Genesis to mean "confusion",[14] from the verb bilbél (בלבל, "to confuse").[15] The modern English verb, to babble ("to speak meaningless words"), is popularly thought to derive from this name, but there is no direct connection.[16]

Ancient records in some situations use "Babylon" as a name for other cities, including cities like Borsippa within Babylon's sphere of influence, and Nineveh for a short period after the Assyrian sack of Babylon.[17][18]