Ancient Babylon Illustration

Ancient Mesopotamia for Kids

Babylon was once a small village in ancient Sumer. But village had grown in size and in power. Babylon never really fit in the Sumer civilization. For one thing, they had a different language. As the civilization of Sumer weakened, the Babylonians took over. King Hammurabi declared Babylon to be the capital of Babylonia. King Hammurabi built his new capital in honor of the great god Marduk, and thus it had to be the best city in the world. Indeed, it probably was. To the Sumerians, Marduk was an important god. To the Babylonians, Marduk was the most important god of all.

Three thousand five hundred years ago (
3500 years ago!), ancient Babylon was quite a place! It was a massive walled city, with a network of canals and vivid green crops. There was much to buy, like fresh fruits and vegetables, baked breads and cheese, warm coats, gold jewelry and date wine. Inside the walls, life teemed. Everyone lived inside the walled city.  Farmers did not live on their farms but here in the city.  Merchants, craftsmen, food vendors all made their homes here.  Each family had their own home. The streets were narrow, flanked on each side by the three story houses of the inhabitants. In the center of the city was the great Ziggurat, the religious temple. Visitors could see the top of the 300 foot high ziggurat long before they reached the huge city gates. There was a beautiful palace for the king and the royals. And every family, be they rich or poor, had their own home inside the walled city.

Homes:  Many of the houses of the nobles and common people were designed with three stories of living space, with flat roofs. Even the very poor, who lived in tiny townhouses, typically had three levels of living space. The courtyard, or first floor, in each house was very important. Behind the front door, a visitor might find a tiny garden and domesticated animals such as chickens.  Rooftops were also important. People had easy access to their roofs from inside their homes. Roofs were flat for a reason. Flat roofs provided a fourth living space. Much of their life was spent on the roof. They cooked and slept on their roofs. Remember - Babylon was a walled city. These roofs were inside the city walls. Some of the fancier roofs were designed with four walls for privacy, and some had grape arbors that provided food, privacy, and shelter from the sun. 

City Streets:
Inside the walled city, the streets in ancient Babylon were very narrow. Most streets were unpaved. Streets or alleyways provided access to everyone’s front door. The streets also served as a garage dump. People simply threw their trash out the door. On occasion, the city covered the streets with a new layer of clay. This buried the trash, but made the level of the street higher. It soon became necessary to build steps down to your front door. Most people filled in the area between the road and their door, or punched in a new door and built up.  

Procession Avenue and the Ishtar Gate: One of the most impressive sites was the avenue that led into the city. This avenue was called Procession Street (or Procession Avenue.) Huge pacing brick animals were positioned along both sides of the avenue as decoration. The avenue passed under the elaborate Ishtar Gate, the gate to the walled city, which was designed with dragons and bulls in honor of Marduk. Most mythical dragons have wings. Marduk’s dragon was wingless. (It looked somewhat like a huge dragon dog.)   

Festival of the New Year/The Annual Procession of the Gods: Each New Year, during the New Year Festival, statues of the gods were paraded along Processional Avenue. The statue of Marduk, Chief of all the Gods, led the parade, attended by his caretaker priests. Next in line was Marduk’s goddess wife (statue) attended by her caretaker priests. The third statue in the parade featured the sun god Shamash. More statues followed, in a seemingly endless procession of gods and goddesses, each attended by their respective caretaker priests.  When the parade reached the Euphrates River, each statue was carefully placed into a waiting boat, one statue per boat. As they were loaded, the boats sailed or were rowed in a continuing parade towards the Garden Temple.  When the boats landed at the Garden Temple, each statue was transferred to a waiting chariot, one statue per chariot, and the procession continued. At the end of procession, the statues were returned to their temples.  Each major city in ancient Babylonia celebrated the festival of the New Year in much the same way. Many people braved the terrors of travel to visit the capital city Babylon at festival time because they so wanted to see this famous annual procession. 

Hanging Gardens: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens, may have really have existed. The Hanging Gardens were perhaps the first roof garden. Although the garden had walls, the top of this massive area was left open. The tops of trees could be glimpsed from a great distance. This gave the appearance of a garden hanging in thin air, which is how the garden received its name. The gardens were terraced, and rose about 75 feet high. There were flowers and fruit trees and cascading waterfalls. The gardens were part of the palace, built a gift of love from a king for his queen. 

Babylonian Laws: The government and laws of Babylon were like the government and laws of Sumer. There was a king and other nobles who ruled with the help of an assembly of the people. The laws of Babylon were taken from the laws of Sumer. Everyone was expected to know and obey the laws. To ensure that the laws were followed by everyone, one of the kings of Babylon, King Hammurabi, had the laws written down on stone tablets so that, whether they were rich or poor, everyone would be treated equally under the law. Most of these laws were taken from Sumerian law.

A day as a boss in ancient Babylon (video, animated)

Daily Life in Ancient Babylon

The Story of Aplum and the Extra Month

Astronomers of Babylon

Babylonian Myths

How Marduk Became King of ALL the Gods

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Hammurabi's Code

Plumbing Babylonian Style

The First Cities - The City of Babylon

Architecture of ancient Mesopotamia

Art & Craftsmen

Music and Instruments (hear it!)

Free Presentations about Ancient Babylon