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The Scriptures mention many different places and nations of the past. It can be good to know at least some basic things regarding the countries or kingdoms that are referred to in the Bible. This article contains a few notes on some of them – Assyria, Babylon or Chaldea, Media and Persia.
The approximate area of the Assyrian empire, as some historians think it to have been around 650 BCE
Please note that on the map above, the borders are approximate. Here, they are presented as they were drawn in Student’s Bible Atlas, 1965. Please also note that Assyria “proper” was much smaller than the Assyrian empire which is marked on this map.
In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, Assyria is called Asshur. In the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX), Asshur is spelled Assuria. The Latin Vulgate version has Assyria, which has then been copied into English bibles.
In its heyday, Asshur or Assyria was a relatively large empire, all the way from the Persian gulf to northern Egypt, including the land of Israel and parts of what today is Turkey. Its core and main area, however, was around Nineveh whose location is shown on the map above.
One could perhaps say that the Assyrian empire was “founded” by Tiglath-pileser I, the king who greatly extended the power of the Assyrians, around 1100 BCE. Some other Assyrian kings: Pul (Tiglath-pileser III) who invaded Israel and put the Israelites under tribute, see 2 Kings 15:19, Shalmaneser who took the northern tribes of Israel to captivity, see 2 Kings 17:3–6 and 18:9–11, Sargon, see Isaiah 20:1, and Esar-haddon who captured Manasseh the king of Judah and took him to Babylon (which was at that time a part of Assyria) and kept him there as a prisoner, see 2 Chronicles 33:10–11.
When Assyria was at its strongest, it swallowed other kingdoms or parts of them. This included Babylon. It was only around 727 BCE or so, that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) became free from Assyria’s power.
The fall of Assyria was the fulfilment of the prophecy where the Lord through Isaiah spoke about “Assyrian, the rod of mine anger”, see Isaiah 10:5 and onward. Later, Assyria was destroyed, just as had been prophesied. The city called Asshur was destroyed by the Medes in 614 BCE, and the city of Nineveh by the Medes and the Babylonians in 612 BCE. Those events marked the end of the Assyrian kingdom. It ceased to exist.
A side-note: Certain writers, perhaps mostly Anglo-Israelist ones, have claimed that the people of Assyria “moved into Europe” (supposedly Germany), but there is no biblical or historical mention or even indication of any such move. It is not known whether the people of Assyria moved anywhere at all. (It appears that the dogma about the Germans as “Assyrians” was invented by the English bank clerk Edward Hine, 1825–1891.)
In our day (early 2000s), there are people who are called “Assyrians”, in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. Those people have been greatly oppressed. Because of this, there are Assyrians as fugitives in many parts of the world. – Please note that it is not clear who the modern-day people who are called “Assyrians” really are, that is, whether they are descendants of the ancient Assyrians, or whether they are, say, descendants of the Israelites who were taken into exile in Assyria. (The article nya010.htm considers what the Bible has to say about the fate of the ten “lost” tribes of Israel.)
The approximate area of the Babylonian empire, as some historians think it to have been around 600 BCE
Please note that on the map above, the borders are approximate. Here, they are presented as they appeared in Student’s Bible Atlas, 1965. Please also note that Babylon “proper” was much smaller than the empire whose borders are shown on this map.
In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the name is always Babel, both for the kingdom as well as for its main city. In the Septuagint version, the Hebrew Babel is spelled as Babulôn. That was then copied into the Latin Vulgate version as Babylon, and from there into English bible-translations.
In the Bible, the kingdom of Babylon is sometimes called by the name “the land of the Chaldeans”. In many ways, the names Babylon (Babel) and Chaldea can be viewed as synonyms. “Chaldea” is Kasdiy in the Hebrew text of the OT, Kasday in Aramaic. In the Greek text of the Septuagint version that became Chaldaia, and in the Latin Vulgate Chaldea which was then copied into English bibles.
Babel’s (Babylon’s) core area was in what the Greek came to call Mesopotamia. (That name comes from the Greek words mesos and potamos, “between” and “rivers”, referring to the area between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, and perhaps even around them, from the Persian gulf all the way to what today is Turkey.)
Some have placed the beginning of the Babylonian kingdom around 1700 BCE, but it is hard to define or pinpoint its beginning. In contrast to this, the date for its end is clear – the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BCE. That was the end of the Babylonian empire.
(The political and military power-situation in that general area changed greatly over time. For some time, Babylon was under the Assyrian empire, but around 612 BCE, the Babylonians freed themselves from the Assyrian yoke. But again, in 539 BCE the kingdom of Babylon came to its end.)
One king of Babylon who is especially mentioned in the Bible, is Nebuchadnezzar, also spelled Nebuchadrezzar (2 Kings 24 through Daniel 5). The last king of Babylon was Belshazzar, the (grand)son of Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar’s fall (see Daniel 5:1–30) was foretold a long time before he became a king. We read:
Isaiah 14:4 That you will take up this bitter song against the king of Babylon, and say, How has the cruel overseer come to an end! He who was lifted up in pride is cut off (BBE)
Indeed, those words were a part of a prophecy which pointed to Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon. (The article nda050.htm has some notes on this.)
A note: Even Cyrus the Mede was called “a king of Babylon”, Ezra 5:13, because he (and Darius with him) conquered Babylon and made it into a part of the Medo-Persian empire.
Before its fall, Babylon apparently grew about as mighty as Assyria once had been, and it covered almost the same area, from the Persian gulf towards what today is Turkey, and also Lebanon and the land of Israel and a part of Arabia.
Babylon attacked the land of Israel, besieged Jerusalem and conquered the Jews. Those Jews who survived, were forcibly taken to Babylon; this was done in several successive transports, around the years 605, 597 and 586 BCE. (A note: The Jewish nation, the kingdom of Judah, consisted mostly of people of the southern part of Israel; the northern tribes of Israel had been taken away at an earlier time, by the Assyrian empire.)
It was in Babylon that the prophet Daniel lived, among other Jewish exiles. He was taken to Babylon circa 605 BCE, and he lived a long life there, apparently at least to the time when a number of Jews returned to the Promised Land in the days of Ezra.
Again, Nebuchadnezzar’s son (grandson) Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon. The book of Daniel records that Belshazzar in his pride defied God, see Daniel 5:1–4 and 22–23, and that he was then killed, Daniel 5:30. The words mene, mene, tekel, upharsin which many may remember, were connected to that event, see Daniel 5:24–28. Those words meant that Belshazzar was “weighed” and “found wanting”, and that his kingdom was “ended” and given to the Pharsi, the Persians. Babylon fell the night those words appeared on a wall, see Daniel 5:30–31 with its context. This was circa 539 BCE. It was invaded and taken over by the Persians and the Medes, who were led by the warlord Darius who then became a ruler over Babylon. (Clarification: It seems that Darius was a ruler at the same time with Cyrus of Persia, perhaps as a vice-king.)
The approximate area of the Median empire, as some historians think it was around 600 BCE
Please note that on the map above, the borders are approximate. Here, they are presented as they were drawn in the Historical Atlas, 1923. Please also note that Media “proper” was much smaller than the empire whose borders are shown of this map.
The approximate area of the Persian empire, as some historians think it was around 450 BCE
Please note that on the map above, the borders are approximate. Here, they are presented as they appeared in Student’s Bible Atlas, 1965. Please also note that Persia “proper” was much smaller than the empire whose borders are shown on this map.
The Median and Persian empires were successive. The latter covered much of the area of the former, and more outside it.
It is hard to define or pinpoint a date for the beginning of the Persian empire. From the tenth century BCE to the late seventh century BCE, the Medes and the Persians were under the domination of the Assyrian empire. Some have defined the establishment of what is called “Median Empire” or “Median Confederation”, to circa year 678 BCE, and the establishment of the “Persian Achaemenid Empire” (by Cyrus the Great) to the year 550 BCE. The end of the latter is sometimes defined as 330 BCE. Later, there were other kingdoms in that area.
It appears that Darius the Mede, who conquered Babylon – Daniel 5:31, “Darius the Median took the kingdom” – was either a warlord of Cyrus of Persia, or a vice king who ruled together with Cyrus. (In the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament, “Darius” is Daryavesh, “Cyrus” is Koresh.)
Apparently, the Medes and the Persians were related people. Media and Persia “proper” were located in what today is northern Iran. However, at times the power of those empires reached to a much wider area. As you can see on the maps above, for instance the Persian empire included Babylon, the land of Israel, parts of Egypt, and much more – all the way from Thrace to the Indus river, from the Black and Caspian seas to the Red Sea and the Persian gulf. Media used to be a separate kingdom, but it was “united” to Persia by Cyrus the Great, in circa 550 BCE.
King Cyrus gave an edict which permitted all Jews who wished, to move from Babylon back to their own land. (At that time, Cyrus controlled both Babylon as well as the land of Israel.) The number of those who returned is in the Bible given as 42360 plus 7337, Ezra 2:64–65, making a total of 49697. It is not clear how that count was made or exactly who was included in it. If only adult males were included in the count, then the total number of returning Jews was much larger. (A note: That returning group consisted mostly of Jews, people of the southern tribes of Israel.)
Some other Persian kings: Cambyses (the Ahasuerus of the book of Ezra, reign probably circa 529–521 BCE), Xerxes, and a few with the names Artaxerxes and Darius.
In the days of Ezra (see his book in the Bible), the Persian kings sometimes resided in Shushan (Susa). That is also the location of many of the events which are recorded in the book of Esther in the Old Testament.
The books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther record a number of things and events which occurred during the Persian empire’s power.
Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated the Persian empire and founded a new, Greek one, but that is another story.
Some writers have caused people to believe that such ancient kingdoms as Assyria and Babylon still exist as nations, somewhere in this world, and that in the future they are going to do this or that, against such-and-such nations. But, most of the prophecies which those writers have referred to in that connection, were fulfilled a long time ago and are now past time, only a matter of history. Point 3 in the article nga020.htm has some notes on this matter.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → nga020.htm
On the words “gentiles”, “pagans” and “heathen” and what they actually mean and refer to. → nga011.htm
Why does God allow evil, sickness, pain, war and suffering? → nwa010.htm
Are the rulers and governments of this world appointed by God? The so-called “divine right of kings” – is there such a thing? → nwa021.htm
What is the Kingdom of God? Where is it located? Does it exist already, or is it only going to be established in the future? Or, is it merely something “in the hearts of men”? → noa010.htm
The Babylon of the book of Revelation, what or where is it? → nwa030.htm
Do Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan, as some claim? → nda050.htm
The lost ten tribes of Israel in prophecy. → nya010.htm
The route of the Exodus, and the location of Mount Sinai. Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez, or by the Gulf of Aqaba? Or, was it some “reed sea” they went over, as some say? And, where did the forty-year desert sojourn take place? → noa061.htm
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