Nabopolassar: History, Accomplishments and Facts
Nabopolassar has been referred to as “king of the sea” by some near-contemporary historians. If that were the case, then Nabopolassar’s roots could be traced to south of Babylon. Often times, the Mesopotamian City of Uruk is mentioned as the place of Nabopolassar’s birth. Those who suggest this posit that he was a member of a powerful ruling family in the city. Many of his family members perhaps occupied powerful positions during the reign of King Ashurbanipal (r. 669-631 BCE), the last mighty king of the Assyrians.
Berossus, a Babylonian historian of the Hellenistic era, stated that Nabopolassar was once a general of Assyrian king Sinsharishkun. However, owing to the mistreatment of his family in Uruk, as well as the ill treatment constantly meted out to the Babylonians, Nabopolassar is believed to have gone against Sinsharishkun.
It is therefore likely that many of Nabopolassar’s ancestors were important allies of Assyrian rulers, particular King Ashurbanipal. It has also been theorized that Nabopolassar’s alleged father Kudurru served gallantly under Ashurbanipal, once even going to war against Ashurbanipal’s brother-turned-enemy Shamash-shum-ukin.
The tumultuous relationship between Assyrian rulers and Babylonia
In the decades before the birth of Nabopolassar, the Assyrian Empire was such a large empire that its rule covered the entire Near East. It was aided by the fact that it had a sophisticated administration system, which allowed for relative peace between Assyrian rulers and their vassal states in the region.
However, down south, the Babylonians were experiencing a huge decline as their people were divided and constantly fought amongst each other. In short, they were weaker compared to the Assyrians in the north. The fact that they had very rich cultural and economic heritage made them very good target for the Assyrians. In 729 BCE, Assyria’s conquest of Babylonia was completed by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III.
Out of respect and admiration of the Babylonian very rich culture and religious beliefs, the Assyrian rulers decided to preserve some level of Babylonian autonomy. They hoped that their similar culture and same language (i.e. Akkadian) would help preserve peace between Assyrians and Babylonians.
Unfortunately major Babylonian tribes such as the Arameans and Chaldeans were not too enthusiastic about Babylonia serving as a vassal kingdom. The leaders of those tribes tried many times to upset the status quo by rebelling against the Assyrian rulers in Babylonia.
Following the deaths of the great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (in 627 BCE) and Kandalanu, the vassal ruler of Babylonia, the Chaldeans decided to intensify their campaign to break Babylonia from the rule of Assyrian kings.
Major Achievements of Nabopolassar
During his reign between 626 BCE and 605 BCE, Nabopolassar was able to accomplish a lot of outstanding things. Some of his major accomplishments are as follows:
Nabopolassar’s uprising against Neo-Assyrian King Sinsharishkun
Ashurbanipal was succeeded by his son Ashur-etil-ilani, who lasted less than a year on the throne before dying. The Assyrian throne then passed on to another son of Ashurbanipal, Sinsharishkun.
Back in Babylonia, a former governor and an important member of the Chaldean tribe, Nabopolasssar was army himself to stage an uprising against the city’s rulers.
Driven by his desire to end Assyria’s domination, Nabopolassar’s rebellion is estimated to have begun around 626 BCE. He orchestrated the rebellion by taking full advantage of the political instability following the death of Ashurbanipal. The uprising, which lasted for more than ten years, ended up freeing Babylonia from the rule of Assyrian King Sinsharishkun. During those years, control of many cities like Uruk , Sippar, and Nippur changed hands frequently.
Nabopolassar’s revolt caused many other vassals of Assyria to stop paying tribute to the Assyrians. Those vassals included Elam and the Babylonian city-state of Der. King Sinsharishkun had to deal with revolts after revolts, with some of them even coming from his generals.
Secured the independence of Babylonia
By 619 BCE, Nabopolassar had pushed out almost all Assyrian soldiers from many Babylonian cities. In Assyria, the king and his advisors were not very much worried about this development as they believed it was simply a temporary inconvenience.
Invaded the Assyrian Empire in 615 BCE
By 616 BCE, Nabopolassar, with wind in his sails, had begun taking the fight into Assyrian territories. He sacked Assyrian held places like Hindanu and Gablinu.
Naboplassar’s attacks had also began to frustrate Assyria’s chief ally – Pharoah Psamtik I of Egypt. The Egyptians needed those Assyrian cities to remain so as serve as a buffer between Egypt and and the Babylonians and Medes.
In 615 BCE, Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians at the banks of the Tigris River. That same year, the Babylonians also made incursions into Assur – religious hub of the Assyrians. King Sinsharishkun now had the herculean task of defending his homeland against Nabopolassar.
Allied with Cyaxeres, king of the Medes
In 615, Cyaxeres marched his Medes army into Assyria and took the city of Arrapha. He also attacked Assyrian cities like Nimrud and Nineveh. Cyaxeres carried a brutal sacking of Assur, plundering and killing many people. His attack came as a shock to many people, including the Babylonians who termed it as unnecessary carnage and brutality.
Sensing victory was close, Nabopolassar decided to ally with Cyaxeres after the sacking of Assur. The two monarchs sealed the treaty with Nebuchadnezzar (son of Nabolassar) marrying Amytis (Cyaxares’s daughter).
Defeated the Neo-Assyrian Empire
After Nabopolassar had inflicted several losses on the Assyrians, King Sinsharishkun tried to broker a peace deal, which was blatantly rejected by Nabopolassar. The Babylonian king responded by vowing to obliterate Nineveh, the heartland of the Assyrian Empire.
Keeping to his vow, Nabopolassar marched his army with the army of Cyaxeres straight into Nineveh in 612 BCE. The Medo-Babylonian army besieged Nineveh for a few months before the walls eventually got breached.
The assault that was rained down upon Nineveh became legendary. Primarily championed by Cyaxeres, the soul of Nineveh was completely crushed as deaths, looting and mutilation of Assyrian kings’ statues became the order of the day. The invasion of Nineveh was so brutal that many members of the Assyrian royal family died, including King Sinsharishkun. Those that managed to escape tagged along with Sinsharishkun’s son, Ashur-uballit II, and fled to the Harran.
King Nabopolassar’s march did not abate as he attacked many other Assyrian cities like Nimrud, Dur-Sharrukin, Tarbisu, and Imgur-Enlil. Going against the rules of war of that era, Nabopolassar and his Medes allies desecrated several Assyrian temples. It has been stated by some ancient historians that Cyaxeres was the one to blame for those atrocities.
In any case, the level of destruction suffered in Assyria was so high that it took the region about a century or so to recover. In spite of the hard-fought intervention of Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II (Psamtik I’s successor) in 608 BCE, the Assyrian Empire never came back from that defeat.
Founder the Neo-Babylonian Empire
Although Nabopolassar spent the majority of his reign waging war against the Assyrians, he still had some bit of time to initiate infrastructural projects in his homeland. For example, he worked hard to restore Babylon to its previous glory as the cultural and political hub in Mesopotamia. Prior to his death, he started the construction of a wall around the city. He also built and renovated old temples in the city. Those that could not be completed before his death were completed by Nebuchadnezzar II’s, his eldest son and successor.
By the time of his death, he had successfully laid strong pillars upon which a political stable and economically prosperous Babylonian empire could take shape.
Following the intervention of Necho II, Psamtik I’s successor, in 608 BCE, the city of Carchemish in Syria fell to the Egyptians. However, that all changed in 605 BCE, when Necho’s army was completely defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, heir to Nabopolassar.
Hellenistic-era historians and authors sometimes described Nabopolassar as the “avenger of akkad”. Thus he was seen as a symbol of resistance to foreign control by the Assyrian Empire. He was the subject of a number of epics and stories of that era as well.
During the Hellenistic period, Nabopolassar was known as Belesys or Bupolasaros. He was revered not just as a liberator of his homeland, but also a very pious and just ruler of the Babylonians.
As an act of reverence to the Babylonian god Marduk, who was seen as the true king of Babylon, some Babylonian rulers called themselves “governor of Babylon”.