By Army Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 22, 2009 - Multinational Division South's leaders and troops received a tour of Iraq's ancient past here last week in an effort to assess its future. The division's commander, Army Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, along with other U.S. military and civilian advisors, received a special guided tour of the famous high-reaching walls and ancient statues of Babylon on July 18 as part of an assessment for preserving and promoting Babylon as a historic and tourism site for Iraq.
"The mission was to educate those on the command staff and some of the primary staff members on the importance of the religious aspects of this country and what there is to offer," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Julin, the division's senior enlisted leader, said. "Even though we are at war, there are some very important things we have to preserve here and help them preserve as well."
Babylon is recognized by some as one of the first civilizations on Earth.
"Babylon was established as a settlement in 3000 B.C. and was a product of dynasty work which was already old here," said Ahmed Aziz Ibrheme, a Babylon archeologist. "It has a long history of about 5,000 years."
Babylon's story not only is one of great length, but also one of much fame and historical significance.
The earliest of this fame is Hammurabi's legal code, dating to around 1700 B.C. This code was displayed on tablets so everyone could read them. The only known surviving code has almost 300 laws, stands seven feet high and is displayed at Paris' Louvre Museum. The code covers many social and economic relationships, one law stating, "If a free person puts out the eye of a free person, then that person's eye shall be put out."
To archaeologists, the historic significance comes from the age of Nebuchadnezzar II in about 600 B.C. – a time known as The Golden Period.
"Most of the great parts were built during this age -- the Hanging Gardens, which were one of the Seven Wonders of the World and, in addition to that, the construction of Babylon tower and other [structures] here, like the walls, temples and palaces," Ibrheme said.
Whether the Hanging Gardens truly existed is a matter of some doubt. However, a part of the tour featured an area with arched ceilings and indoor wells, where it is believed the gardens may have grown. In early lists of the Seven Wonders, the Walls of Babylon were included. Later lists replaced the walls with the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
The walls are one of Babylon's claims to fame, and among the most famous of these was Ishtar's Gate.
The tour of the site begins by passing through a re-creation of the Ishtar Gate. This gate was built by Nebuchadnezzar II in 575 B.C. and dedicated to Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. It was decorated with glazed blue tiles with alternating rows of dragons and bulls. The dragons were a tribute to Marduk, the god of water, vegetation, judgment and magic. The bulls were dedicated to the rain god, Adad. The re-creation was built in the 1930s with site tiles. The foundation of the original gate remains at the site.
The city also is significant for military history. Alexander the Great conquered Babylon in 331 B.C., and it became the center of his empire for his 12-year campaign against the Persians and India. He died in Babylon in 323 B.C. His generals fought for control of his empire, causing the citizens of Babylon to disperse. Babylon never regained its position as a great world power.
To religious people, Babylon also has a strong significance.
"Babylon is a very important empire and city in the Old Testament. It figures prominently in the development of the Jewish faith as well as the Christian faith," said Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) John Morris, the division's command chaplain. "About two-thirds of the Old Testament mentions Babylon in one form or another. Sometimes it's prior to the Babylonian exile of Jewish people from Israel to Babylon. Sometimes it's in the midst of that exile, and sometimes it's afterwards.
"The prophets particularly talk about Babylon as an instrument of God's wrath," the chaplain continued. "The Book of Daniel centers itself in Babylon, as well as the Book of Ezekiel. So, Babylonian history is very important for people of faith to understand."
Muslims and Christians also are an important part of Babylonian history.
"In addition, Muslims revere many of the prophets who were in Babylon who were mentioned in the Old Testament," Morris said. "Of course, Christians understand Babylon from the New Testament. It's mentioned prominently in the Book of Revelation as a city and as a metaphor for a gigantic civilization in opposition to God. So, that empire and that city are important for people of monotheist faiths to understand the development of their faith."
In recent history, Saddam Hussein had begun reconstruction of the ruins and built a palace on the site. Many bricks of the reconstruction have an inscription in the imitation of Nebuchadnezzar II. Many of them state, "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq."
For Morris, the tour was an exciting prospect and unique opportunity.
"To be there today for me personally, as a person of faith and a Christian, is a sacred privilege," he said.
(Army Sgt. Debralee P. Crankshaw serves in the Multinational Division South public affairs office.)