|Seal with Worshipper before Symbols
|Iron Age, Neo-Babylonian
|626 – 539 B.C
|17 mm x 13 mm
|Ex Swiss private collection, acquired in 1990’s
|THE WALTERS ART MUSEUM, Accession number 42.801
During the 1st millennium BC, Aramaic alphabetic script written on parchment rather than clay tablets led to the gradual disappearance of the cylinder seal. Stamp seals returned to Mesopotamia for the first time since the 4th millennium BC. Due to the decreased area of the stamp seal, images became less complicated. The most common scene shows a single worshiper standing before divine symbols, in this case including the spade of Nabu, god of wisdom, and the crescent of the moon-god Sin.
The Neo-Babylonian Empire, also known as the Second Babylonian Empire and historically known as the Chaldean Empire, was the last of the Mesopotamian empires to be ruled by monarchs native to Mesopotamia. Beginning with Nabopolassar’s coronation as King of Babylon in 626 BC and being firmly established through the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and its ruling Chaldean dynasty would be short-lived, being conquered after less than a century by the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 539 BC.
The defeat of the Assyrians and the transfer of empire to Babylon marked the first time the city, and southern Mesopotamia in general, had risen to dominate the Ancient Near East since the collapse of Hammurabi’s Old Babylonian Empire nearly a thousand years prior. The period of Neo-Babylonian rule thus saw unprecedented economic and population growth throughout Babylonia and a renaissance of culture and artwork, with the Neo-Babylonian kings conducting massive building projects, especially in Babylon itself, and bringing back many elements from the previous 2,000 or so years of Sumero-Akkadian culture.
The empire retains a position within modern day cultural memory mainly due to the unflattering portrayal of Babylon and its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II, in the Bible, which is owed to Nebuchadnezzar’s 587 BC destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent Babylonian captivity. Babylonian sources describe Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as a golden age which transformed Babylonia into the greatest empire of its time.
Religious policies introduced by the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s final king, Nabonidus, who favored the moon god Sîn over Babylon’s patron deity Marduk, eventually provided a casus belli which allowed the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great to invade Babylonia in 539 BC, portraying himself as a champion of Marduk divinely restoring order to the region. Babylon remained culturally distinct for centuries, with references to individuals with Babylonian names and references to the Babylonian religion being known from as late as the Parthian period in the 1st century BC. Although Babylon would revolt several times during the rule of later empires, it never successfully restored its independence.