Babylon. The capital of BABYLONIA, situated on the Euphrates River south of Baghdad in modem Iraq. The city was occupied from the 3rd millennium BC but became important early in the 2nd millennium under the kings of Babylon's First Dynasty (see Table 3, page 321 ). The sixth king of this dynasty was Hammurabi ( c1792-1750 Be) who made Babylon the capital of a vast empire, and is best remembered for his code of laws (see SusA). This period was brought to an end by an attack by HITIITES, and the city had a mixed history until the Nco-Babylonian period of 7th-6th centuries BC - it once again achieved preeminence when Nebuchadnezzar extended the Babylonian Empire over most of Western Asia. Babylon fell to Cyrus in 539 Be; occupation continued in the AcHAEMENID period. The city was taken by ALEXANDER in 331 BC; indeed, Alexander died in Babylon in 323. Babylon subsequently declined and was eventually abandoned after the Muslim conquest of AD 641.
Because of the high water table, which has risen in the last few millennia, only buildings of the Nco-Babylonian period were accessible to the German excavators of Babylon in the first decades of this century. The city of this period covered c200 hectares, divided into two by the River Euphrates. Most work was conducted in the part of the Inner City on the east bank, which housed the palace and several important temples. The fortifications consisted of a double line of walls and a moat connected to the Euphrates, allowing boats to enter under the gatehouse bridges. The most impressive surviving monument is the Ishtar Gate on the north side of the city, approached by a pro cessional way, and decorated with glazed bricks bearing relief figures of lions, bulls and dragons. Important buildings excavated include Nebuchadnezzar's palace, close to the Ishtar Gate, a colossal building with many rooms arranged around five different court yards; the vaulted store rooms of this palace were formerly interpreted as the base of the 'Hanging Gardens' of ancient repute. Another huge palace of Nebuchadnezzar's reign (605- 562 BC) - the so-called 'Summer Palace' - was constructed to the northwest of the Inner City and was enclosed by a triangular outer wall. A number of temples were excavated, including the temple and ZIGGURAT of the city's patron deity, Marduk, which was the original 'Tower of Babel'; little of the structure survives today after centuries of brick-robbing by later Mesopotamians.