The Babylonian civilization flourished from approximately 1900 to 539 BC in the central and southern regions of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), predominantly between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Before the rise of the Babylonians, the area was inhabited by the Sumerians in southeast Mesopotamia and the Akkadians in northwest Mesopotamia. Through a series of expansions and conquests undertaken by various dynastic kings, these two cultures were incorporated into the Babylonian empire, which eventually established control over many other kingdoms from ancient Persia to Syria and Palestine. Along with this political and geographical dominance, the cities of the Babylonian empire became rich centers of learning, especially in the areas of astronomy, astrology (including the division of the night sky into a zodiac of constellations), mathematics, and medicine. The most important city was Babylon, which was situated 88 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of modern-day Baghdad. Once famous for its impressive architectural marvels, including massive walls, ziggurats (pyramid-shaped temples built on platforms), and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), few remains of this ancient city can be found today. In addition, it is likely that the biblical story of the Tower of Babel was based on an ancient Babylonian structure. See also: Anthropology; Archeoastronomy; Archeology; Architectural engineering; Astronomy; Mathematics; Medicine; Science; Scientific methods; Zodiac
The ruler who helped to shape the Babylonian empire and consolidate its power was Hammurabi. From 1792 to 1750 BC, this king centralized control over the various city-states in Mesopotamia and instituted one of the first written codes of law, namely the Code of Hammurabi. Inscribed on an upright stone stele (slab or pillar), this legal code consisted of a set of 282 rules of law guiding conduct and justice. Some of the most notable rules were the presumption of innocence, the allowance for both the accused and accuser to provide evidence, and the establishment of a minimum wage for workers. See also: Criminalistics; Forensic evidence
Over the next millennium, the Babylonian empire experienced various periods of ascendancy and decline, sometimes even falling to a number of neighboring invaders, who nonetheless preserved the cultural importance of Babylon. The final period of Babylonian supremacy occurred in the seventh and sixth centuries BC. At this time, the Babylonians extended their control to the Mediterranean Sea and famously destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC, resulting in the Babylonian exile and captivity of the Jews. Finally, the Persians ended the Babylonian empire in 539 BC, and thereafter Babylonia was conquered by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Following Alexander’s death, which took place in the city of Babylon in 323 BC, the city itself was steadily deserted and left to ruin, leading to its eventual dissolution.