Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let me Babyl on

Mankind’s history – particularly the really ancient stuff – fascinates me. Are Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria fact or fiction? When did our ancestors start domesticating livestock, tilling fields and forming cities?
Of those questions, researching ancient cities is probably the easiest to tackle. So now and again, I pick one that I’ve heard about and look around to see what I can find about it. This time, it’s Babylon.
Babylon was established as a small city in ancient Mesopotamia around 2300 BC. It was built on the banks of the Euphrates River and eventually, these banks were made quite steep, to contain the river’s annual floods. As Babylon grew, so did its importance and influence, until the southern portion of Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia. Its location is now inside Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad.
Despite efforts to contain the river, the Euphrates eventually changed its path, and the western portion of this ancient city is now under that river. It is also difficult to find any traces of the truly ancient portions of the city because; 1) the groundwater table has risen, 2: it underwent several ‘urban renewal’ plans, 3) it was pillaged a few times by invading armies, and 4) it has been mined for building materials.
It is estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from about 1770-1670 BC, and again from 612-320 BC. It may have been the first city to reach a population over 200,000. The area it covered may have reached a maximum of 2,200 acres, which would be about 91 people (or more) per acre. I tried to compare that to modern cities, starting with a couple I’ve lived in, but even when I went up to New York City, my math came up with a density of only 44 people per acre. So either Babylon was almost twice as packed with people as New York City, or my math is off tonight.
Babylon is probably best remembered for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, supposedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) to appease his home-sick wife, and which may or may not have actually existed, or might have been located in another city.
Well, that was kind of disappointing. Most of what I found was ruler’s names, dates of battles, and so on… the kind of stuff one gets from history classes, but which doesn’t tell you anything about the people. What kind of businesses existed in this metropolis? Where did they get their food? What were the houses like? For instance, did the houses have doorways similar to what we use now, or did one enter them through a trap-door in the roof, like the Pueblo Indians? These are the kind of questions I would like answered.
Sometimes, I use bits and pieces from this kind of research to create different habits or a different ‘society’ for my stories. I don’t get that kind of springboard from names and dates, I get it from the daily lives of normal people.

What about you? Do you have anything about Babylon or some other ancient city that you would like to know?

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