Following the Money to Babylon: a meditation on irony

…for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.

Ancient Neo-Babylon was to its time exactly what the US has been to the contemporary world:  the predominant ruling military/religious superpower of the ancient world.

Whether one believes in the actual reincarnation of a people (and this would be a most convincing case) or would view it simply as the repetition of pattern, it is a marvel that the modern superpower has chosen to wage war on the site of its ancient likeness.

While ancient Babylon fell and was repeatedly rebuilt, the original Babylon of the Biblical infamy is particularly concerned with the times and reign of Nebuchadnezzar:

The term Neo-Babylonian or Chaldean refers to Babylonia under the rule of the 11th (“Chaldean”) dynasty, from the revolt of Nabopolassar in 626 BC until the invasion of Cyrus the Great in 539 BC, notably including the reign of Nebuchadnezzar   source

For the purposes of this writing, “Babylon” refers to the Neo-Babylonian era incarnation of the great city.  The people of that time were a Semitic tribe unrelated to the current Persian occupants of the region.

“Babylon” means confusion.  And Babylon’s name is confusing, because the name “Babylon” can be interpreted as ‘babilu’ or ‘gate of the gods:’

…in the Old Testament, the name appears as ??? (Babel), interpreted by Genesis 11:9 to mean “confusion”, from the verb balal, “to confuse”.

America, have a look in the mirror

Compare the US to ancient Babylon again in military stature, for the ancient city was to its time what the US is to our contemporary world:  the biggest economic engine on earth.  The Babylonians grew rich on the spoils of war, the wealthiest people on the planet in their day.  To keep the great economic engine alive and in tune, Babylon constantly was at war to bring in steady streams of slaves and spoil.

Ancient NeoBabylon is also the site of the world’s first religious-military-imperial-corporate-capitalist-investment banking complex which coincidentally lies minutes from the war du jour of the world’s current premiere imperialist superpower in decline.

Talk About Walls…

When you’re in business of sending in armies to sack people everywhere, you need a protected compound in which to hide all the stash.  Made of asphalt brick, the great Wall of Babylon was said to be 300 feet (91 m) high [not a typo], 80 feet (24 m) wide, and 60 miles (97 km) in circumference. The wall also extended 35 feet (10.7 m) beneath ground level in order to prevent enemies from burrowing into the city limits.

Herodotus and Ctesias write that the city walls encompassed a square with 14 mile sides straddling the Euphrates river, and was enclosed within a double row of lofty walls (Herodotus), or a triple row according to Ctesias. Ctesias describes the outermost wall as 360 stades (42 miles/68 km) in circumference, while according to Herodotus it measured 480 stades (56 miles/90 km), which would include an area of about 520 kmĀ² (approx. 200 square miles).

Eight enormous masonry gates led into the city, including the yet-preserved Ishtar Gate [link], as well as 100 brass gates. The wall included 250 towers which stood 450 feet tall, and a moat surrounded the city with ferry boats and a half mile long drawbridge which closed at night.

Within the city that was the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, streets were paved with stones three feet square.  Other marvels included the great Tower of Babylon (a zigguat over 350 feet tall), the “Great Temple of Marduk” and hundreds of other temples to serve the ever-growing pantheon of deities and the priest class who administered them.  Adornments included solid gold lions and a solid gold human figure 18 feet tall, and solid gold images of Baal and the Golden Table (both weighing over 50,000 lbs).  

Visitors were amazed by Babylon’s hanging gardens, known as one of the wonders of the world, which were supplied with water hydraulically pumped from the Euphrates.  There are reports that Nebuchadnezzar’s palace was the most magnificently opulent building ever constructed.

As for the rest of the city, welcome home:

“The center or the city, which is full of three- and four-storied buildings, is traversed by dead straight streets not only those that run parallel to the river but also the cross streets which lead down to the water side.”  So Herodotus describes what he himself had seen.  The town plan of Babylon is not so different from the blueprints for an American city… [1]

It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from c.1770 to 1670 BC, and again between c. 612 and 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000.

It is fair to say that the US, as the world’s dominant superpower, is to the modern world what Babylon was to the ancient world – the apogee of capitalism, the biggest economic player in the world, and with the military might to back them up.  The Babylonians grew rich on the spoils of war, the wealthiest people on the planet in their day.  And they were the first to truly play that game called capitalism.  Babylon goes on record as being the first instance of banking as we know it:

…there are records of loans by the temples of Babylon as early as 2,000 B.C

– Encyclopedia Britannica (on origins of banking)

The amassed capital was ever increased by the spoils of warfare. As will be further examined, the “middle class” people of the city of Babylon were, perhaps, the first large, idle leisure class in the world.  Who, by the way, loved the colors red, white and blue:

Babylon at this time was one of the richest cities the world had ever known up till then. Its people were Semitic, with dark hair and features. Most men wore beards. Both sexes had long hair. Both men and women wore perfume. The common dress for both sexes was a white linen tunic reaching to the feet. Women tended to leave one shoulder bare. Men would often wear a mantel and robe with their tunic. As wealth grew, the people developed a taste for color, dying their garments red on blue or blue on red in stripes, circles, checks and dots. Men wore turbans, carried walking sticks, and wore seals to sign their letters and other documents.[source]


During its apogee in ancient history, Babylonian culture was extreme in its thirst for conquest of other peoples.  Babylon went everywhere in the name of war and taxes.  Under her ferocious army, peoples and goods from all throughout ancient Mesopotamia and into Asia were carried away as slaves and booty as official state booty brought to Marduk.  Their practice in sexual slave trade contributed significantly to their Biblical ignominy  concerning prostitution.

Many of the great cities which Babylon conquered were threaded together by rivers meandering throughout the great fertile crescent, allowing for ease of communication and trade between the different cities. The rivers served as Nebuchadnezzar’s venue to the imperialistic invasion which was the very heart and philosophy of the Babylonian nation.

Her streets were no doubt choked with wild, incoming conquest traffic including hordes of slaves amid other commerce:

…Polytheism of this kind, with worship and ritual that extended to public prostitution, must have given the city, in terms of the present day, the appearance of an annual fair. [3]

The Decider of Babylon

The people went out to conquer wherever their Decider (the king and supreme high priest of the NeoBabylonian empire) would dictate:

The god [Marduk] claims universal sway. The king, his representative, goes forth to conquer under his command. The people follow their human and their divine lords whithersoever they lead.

The energizing element of these communities is the ruler.  Already the power of personality has made itself felt. Political organization has crystallized about the individual.  He exercises supreme and unlimited power, as servant of the deity and representative of divine authority.  He is the builder, the general, the judge, the high priest. All the affairs of his people are an object of solicitude to him. His name is perpetuated upon the building-stones of the temple and the palace. His figure is preserved in the image which stands before the god in his temple.  He is sometimes, in literal truth, the life of his people. [source]

No Satisfaction

And the blend of religion and state forged an imperialistic religious superpower:

From these two forces united, religion and the ruler, springs the third element, the impulse to expansion.Neither god nor king is satisfied with local sovereignty. The ambition of the one is sanctified and stimulated by the divine commendation, encouragement, and effectual aid of the other. [source]


Babylon also left her name as a byword of Biblical proportions for careless luxury and above all, hubris:

“…you sensual one, Who dwells securely, Who says in your heart, ‘ I am, and there is no one besides me…”  


Hubris, according to its modern usage, is exaggerated self pride or self-confidence, often resulting in fatal retribution. In Ancient Greek hubris referred to actions taken in order to shame the victim, thereby making oneself seem superior.

Hubris was a crime in classical Athens…

In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance; it is often associated with a lack of knowledge, interest in, and exploration of history, combined with a lack of humility. An accusation of hubris often implies that suffering or punishment will follow, similar to the occasional pairing of hubris and Nemesis in the Greek world. The proverb “pride goes before a fall” is thought to sum up the modern definition of hubris.

A famous modern day example of hubris was George W. Bush’s suggestion to “bring ’em on” in response to the growing insurgency in Iraq.  Bush later conceded this remark was inappropriate, saying it was “kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong message to the people.” [source]

For their hubris, no one welcomed the Chaldean army coming:

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,

That fierce and impetuous people

Who march throughout the earth

To seize dwelling places which are not theirs.

They are dreaded and feared;

Their justice and authority originate with themselves.

“Their horses are swifter than leopards

And keener than wolves in the evening.

Their horsemen come galloping,

Their horsemen come from afar;

They fly like an eagle swooping down to devour.

“All of them come for violence.

Their horde of faces moves forward.

They collect captives like sand.

“They mock at kings

And rulers are a laughing matter to them.

They laugh at every fortress And heap up rubble to capture it.

“Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on.

But they will be held guilty,

They whose strength is their god.

And strong they were, with warfare techniques suggestive of the nuclear age:

Investigation of the stratum that marked the Babylonian work of destruction (of Lachish) produced, to [Lesley] Starkey’s astonishment, ashes.  Ashes in incredible quantities.  Many of the layers are several yards thick and are still – after twenty-five hundred years – higher than the remains of the solid walls of the fortress.  Nebuchadnezzar’s engineers were specialists in the art of incendiarism, past masters at starting conflagrations.

Whatever wood they could lay hands on they dragged to the spot, stripped the whole area around Lachish of its forests and thickets, cleared the hills of timber for miles around, piled the firewood as high as a house outside the walls and set it alight.  Countless olive groves were hacked down for this purpose:  the layer of ashes contains masses of charred olive stones.

Day and night sheets of flame leapt sky high:  a ring of fire licked the walls from top to bottom.  The besieging force piled on more and more wood until the white-hot stones burst and the walls caved in. [4]

A glimpse of the hated conquerors through the eyes of a prophet of one captive people, the Hebrews:

5 “Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, So that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, And he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations And collects to himself all peoples.

6 “Will not all of these take up a taunt-song against him, Even mockery {and} insinuations against him And say, ‘ Woe to him who increases what is not his– For how long– And makes himself rich with loans?’

7 “Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, And those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them.

8 “Because you have looted many nations, All the remainder of the peoples will loot you– Because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, To the town and all its inhabitants.

9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house To put his nest on high, To be delivered from the hand of calamity!

10 “You have devised a shameful thing for your house By cutting off many peoples; So you are sinning against yourself.

11 “Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, And the rafter will answer it from the framework.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed And founds a town with violence!  

– Habakkuk 2:5-12

McBabylon and Economic Bondage:  How State Religion Gave Birth to Capital and Debt Peonage as We Know It

Babylonian society conflated war, commerce and state-mandated religion (Marduk) to an extent that Neocons would envy:

Religion is the inspiring and regulative element of the community. In its representatives government finds its first officials. In the centre of each city is the temple with its ruling and protecting deity. Political growth is indicated by the wider worship of the local god [often meaning sexual servitude – “sacred prostitution” – much of the time].  The citizens and their lords are servants of the god. He is the fount of justice, and his priests are guardians of culture. Industry and commerce have their sanctions in the oaths of the gods, and the temples themselves are centres of mercantile activity; they are the banks, the granaries, and the seats of exchange. All life is founded on religion and permeated by its influence.


Thus the priest class became the first corporate lords.  For although Wikipedia cites Rome as the author of the first known corporations, there are fleeting mentions in several online articles of “temple corporations” in Babylon which owned rented out land and slaves – the priests of the temples were the wealthiest and most powerful of Neo-Babylonian society, and with such assets they formed the first known corporations.  

The temple priests also were the first investment bankers.  Your ancient WalMart:

Religious life and business life were so closely associated in Babylon’s everyday affairs that they often dovetailed into each other as they did in the temples.  What else could the priests do with all the sacrificial animals, all the “tithes” that were presented daily on the alters, many of them quickly perishable, apart from turning them into money as soon as possible.  Just as in Ur, the temple authorities in Babylon ran their own department stores and warehouses.  They also ran their own banks to invest their revenues to the best advantage. [5]

The temple corporations of the priests owned and rented slaves:

Slavery was an accepted institution. Many slaves were prisoners of war, often from neighboring Sumerian cities. Freemen, too, could be reduced to slavery as punishment and parents could sell their children into slavery if they were broke. If a man were in serious debt, he could sell his entire family into slavery, but for no more than three years. Selling one’s children into slavery was not a common practice; remember that this is the very beginning of cities and the people were still very agriculturally-oriented, so children were a form of wealth. A lot of children was a highly valued thing, and people often adopted children as a form of insurance against old age. This is one of the reasons why Inanna, the fertility goddess, is so important. [source]

From this source, we learn that large tracts of land are controlled by temple corporations and rented out to sharecroppers.  This promotes an emergent bureaucratic class among temple corporations and the development of civil government to control urban living.

The wealth of the temples grew from generation to generation, as the rich shared their dividends with the gods. The kings, feeling a special need for divine forgiveness, built temples, equipped them with furniture, food, and slaves, deeded to them great tracts of land, and assigned them an annual income from the state. The concept of separating church and state was not even imagined and would have been dismissed as idiotic if ever broached.

An Early Stock Exchange

…Outside the double walls of the city, which were broad enough “to allow a four-horse chariot to turn on them [Herodotus],” lay the “Chambers of Commerce.”  It was on the riverbank that prices were fixed and exchange rates established for the commodities that arrived by boat… [6]

Private entities also ran investment banks:

…One family that had made the grade has left to posterity its dust-covered business documents on clay:  Marashu and sons – International Bank – Insurance, Conveyancing, Loans – Personal and Real Estate – Head Office:  Nippur; Branches Everywhere – a firm with a reputation throughout the world, the “Lloyd’s” of Mesopotamia. [7]

The Curse of the Litigious Class

Feeling plagued by the tyranny of numbers, information?  Think modern society is the author of the curse of tedium?  Guess again.  You can thank Babylon for enlarging the blizzard of paperwork:

They were, indeed, pre-eminently a practical folk, and were guided in all their activities by the material ends to be gained. Their literary remains will serve as an illustration in point. Writing, in use among them from the earliest times, was primarily employed for business purposes, in contracts and other legal documents.

But what shows most clearly the idea of political organization as established in Babylonia is the legal system. Fragments of law codes are still in existence governing the relations of the family (sect. 73), and, from the abundance of legal documents containing decisions, agreements, penalties, etc., might be drawn up a body of law which bore on such various topics as adoption, exchange, marriage, divorce, stealing, adultery, and other crimes, renting and sale of property, inheritance, loans, partnership, slavery, and interest. No business arrangement seems to have been complete without a written contract, signed by the parties concerned in the presence of witnesses, who also affixed their signatures to the document. Should a difficulty or question in dispute arise, the contestants had several methods of procedure. They could choose an arbitrator by whose decision they agreed to abide; or, sometimes, the complainant appealed to the king, who with his elders heard the complaint and rendered judgment…

The parties to a contract swear by the god, the king, and the city that they will keep their agreements. The abundance of this legal material has led some scholars to the conclusion voiced by Professor Maspero, who declares that these records “reveal to us a people greedy of gain, exacting, litigious, and almost exclusively absorbed by material concerns” (Dawn of Civilization, p. 760). [source]

A dying middle class sank into debt peonage:

Next in the scale [to slaves] stood the free laborer who hired himself out for work like that of the slave, and was his natural competitor. How he could continue to secure higher wages – as seems to be the case – is a problem which Peiser thinks explicable from the fact that his employer was not liable for damages in case of an injury, nor forced to care for him if he were sick.  It is evident, however, that such laborers must have been few in comparison with slaves, and have steadily declined toward the lower position.  


The Beginnings of Skull and Bones?  McBabylon’s Religious Entertainment Industry:  The Sex Slave Trade

To understand “sacred prostitution” the first thing to grasp is that Babylon functioned as a sort of ancient Abu Ghraib for captives as slaves for use in the temples.

Looking at the “market” for sexual slavery, it may be beyond modern comprehension just how sexually loose Babylon was.  Prostitution was a way of life/religion for a majority of people:

“but the most vicious practice of the Babylonians is the following… every woman in the country must take her seat in the shrine of Aphrodite, and once in her life consort with a stranger…  And only when she has been with him, and done her service to the goddess, is she allowed to go home:  and from then on no gift is great enough to tempt her.  All the women who are tall and beautiful are quickly released:  but the unattractive ones have to wait for a long time before they can fulfil the law:  some of them have to wait three or four years.”  – Herodotus

Religious “sacrifices” involved visiting the temple prostitutes.  Bank, whorehouse and temple all in one stop, religion or worship frequently meant alleviating by making “sacrifices” to gods, frequently via the temple prostitutes (frequently male and female juveniles held in sexual slavery)  – for slaves, particularly sex slaves, were a part of the wealth of the priests’ temple corporations.

From Wikipedia:

Religious prostitution is the practice of having sexual intercourse (with a person other than one’s spouse) for a religious purpose. A woman engaged in such practices is sometimes called a temple prostitute or hierodule, …

…pagan priests called qedeshim (the masculine form of “qedsha”) in the Torah regularly engaged in homosexual acts..  Male prostitutes in that time and place usually serviced men, not women.

There were street prostitutes too…

Wikipedia …It was common in Israel too,… it was [also] part of the cults of Canaan, where a significant proportion of prostitutes were male (roughly the same proportion as there were men in society at large, about 50%…

 …it is known that part of Ammonite tradition, a bride would sit at the gates of a town before the wedding, and sleep with whomever came to the city….

Sanctified prostitution constantly enriched the priestly temple/corporate class.  So many sacrifices were commanded by the priest class, as the Babylonians were as detail-oriented in their pantheon management as in their other business practices.  At the heart of all the temple commerce were all the gleanings of sacrifice.  For there were infinite spiritual taxes to pay.  From the Encyclopedia Britannica :

Every tribial phenomenon of nature was seized upon as an indication of future events.  The actions of dogs, horses, serpents, birds and fish, and above all the appearances of misbirths both human and animal, are studied with incredible detail.  In the history of man, there is no such stupendous system of beliefs in manifestation of the divine will in trivial accidents as in Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria.

Which, in those times, amounted to so many taxes to be paid to the supernatural, often enough via sex – hence the origins of banking.  Now you’ve followed the money… back to Babylon.


[1] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956, * p. 298, pp. 5

[2] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,  pp 298-299

[3] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,   p.299, pp.2

[4] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,   p. 290-1, pp 4

[5] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,  p. 301, pp 1

[6] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,   p. 301, pp.2

[7] The Bible as History / Werner Keller / William Morrow and Company 1956,  * p. 295 pp.1



Skip to comment form

    • pfiore8 on January 28, 2008 at 16:08

    and i’m sure they must of had their own version of drugs and rock n roll too

    very interesting piece! thanks!!!

    • Tigana on January 28, 2008 at 23:30

    Thank you, Stonemason.  

    • pico on January 29, 2008 at 07:00

    “The center or the city, which is full of three- and four-storied buildings, is traversed by dead straight streets not only those that run parallel to the river but also the cross streets which lead down to the water side.”  So Herodotus describes what he himself had seen.  The town plan of Babylon is not so different from the blueprints for an American city… [1]

    Maybe I need more of the passage for context, but that sounds like a plan for just about any city, ever.  Am I wrong here?

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