Babylon by Joan Oates

Babylon book review

The book Babylon (Ancient Peoples and Places) was written by Joan Oates in the middle of 1980. The size of the book is not quite big, only 216 pages. It was published by Thames & Hudson in 1986 and became very popular among the people, who wanted to know more about the history. The author explains in details about the ancient civilizations. Perhaps, if a person were not interested about life in ancient Babylon, by taking this book in his hand, he would be able to immediately change his/her mind.

Babylon was an ancient city in Mesopotamia, situated on the banks of the Euphrates River. It was one of the most famous places of the pre-Christian era, the center of Mesopotamia, the place of deployment of the world-famous monuments: Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Tower of Babel and the Ishtar Gate. It was the second highly organized state after ancient Egypt.  The highest rise of economic and cultural life of Babylon in the literary tradition associated with the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The writer describes it and much more in her book about this great country.

Jane Oates tells the reader about the difference between ordinary people and the ones who were under these people. Between the heavy work and prayers, the people of ancient Babylon conducted a fairly active life. They traded, speculated and looked for money and slaves. While the servants worked, wealthy gentlemen were puzzled how to spend their leisure time. They had pretty extensive facilities in the city of Babylon. People had public houses and taverns, as well as institutions, which were later renamed to clubs.

Babylon, of course, was not an immoral, and criminal city, but the birthplace of craft and science, the center of the theater and original dialogue. The inhabitants of ancient Babylon were also legislators of the “world” of fashion. There are a lot of useful illustrations of the city and its residents in this book. Clothing in ancient Babylon was different by brightness. One can see from the illustrations that at that time blue and red colors were in vogue. Costumes were richly decorated with embroidery. Among the female population, cosmetics and jewelry such as bracelets, earrings, rings, and necklaces made of gold and precious stones were popular.

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The city of Babylon was famous for its craftsmen, such as sculptors, painters, carvers, goldsmiths and weavers. People of all creative professions were valued very highly. After hard times, they found a refuge in other countries. It was exactly at the period after the fall of ancient Babylon. However, before that, priests, who were conducting astronomical observations and performing ceremonies, had the special power and immunity. Honorable duty of the priests was the conducting of the New Year’s celebration, which was celebrated at the vernal equinox.

Apart from such minor details, the book also narrates about the political life. With garish colors, Oates tells a history of the previously unknown Mesopotamia. First of all, reader learns about its area. In ancient times, lower Mesopotamia was called Sumer, it was divided into two parts: the Sumer and Akkad. By the middle of I millennium BC, the Greeks began to call it Babylonia, and the area to the north of Babylonia (Upper Mesopotamia) – Assyria. Starting with the Sumerian city, the book covers careers of Sargon, Hammurabi and all the kings among them. Oates is also depicting the effect of Kassites and Chaldeans in her book. However, this is not the end because the story about Amorites and Babylonians, Macedonians and Persians, Elamites and Seleucids would not leave the readers’ interest.

Between selected illustrations, the writer tells not only about the historical importance of this location, but also remembers religious views in Babylon. The people of Babylon had a greater need for beliefs, similar to many other nations of the world. They believed in natural forces. They illustrated their gods with images of stars on the paintings and frescoes. Interesting fact for the reader is that every aspect of their ordinary life was related to the stars. Maybe these people were looking for the answers to their questions in space. Some scholars even argue that the Sumerians were aliens. Their achievements in aerospace may be an evidence to prove the mentioned suppose. In ancient mural paintings, it can be seen that they knew about the existence of planets much earlier than modern people. It prompts the reader to think that these people had high intelligence, which did not fit into the picture of ancient times.

By continuing the theme of relationship of Sumerian and Babylonian cultures that were based primarily on the perception features of the world, religious beliefs and mythology residents of Mesopotamia, author emphasizes that people were associated with deification of nature. At the same time, some rituals and worship became more complex. People started to believe in “heaven” and “earth”, gods, and ritual cult’s side acquired more official-public nature. Priests started to form a separate social stratum. By describing those historical facts, the author tells how to understand the meaning of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Bible strongly recommended hating Babylon. In fact, Babylon, along with Sodom and Gomorrah, continues to be perceived as the embodiment of depravity and moral decay by many, even the non-believers.

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Definitely, the author knows a lot of information about Babylon and all aspects of Mesopotamian culture. The history of such big country has not only cultural shock, but also some positive moments. In the first part of the book, Oates tries to explain the period before 1800. She tells the story about the King of Babylon, Hammurabi, and how in the first 5 years on the throne he organized Urban Planning. He also cared about the welfare of his subjects. However, it was Hammurabi, who put an end to the last Sumerian dynasty. Having conquered Sumer and Akkad, he contributed to the history of the ancient world.

According to the scientists, the Babylon held a very big territory. Since Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylon had a population of more that 250,000 people. Probably, nowadays people call “babylon” a huge and uncontrollable crowd of people. In addition to its initial value, it can also mean a very strong hubbub, a bunch of people or a huge building. Consequently, because of its historical significance, it can be said that Babylon has brought not only the historical value, but also enriched our vocabulary.

Author Joan Oates widely reveals the history of Babylonian life. The book embraces not only interesting facts about the development of cultural life, but also the stories about wars, victories and political life. Placing images and illustrations in the story, the author has made the book deeper for perception. If you are a historian, student or a person, who is interested in the history of ancient world, then this book is highly recommended for you.

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