The Chaldeans

The Chaldeans, or Neo-Babylonians, are credited with destroying the Assyrian Empire and establishing a new one in the Near East that was responsible for sacking Jerusalem, razing the Jewish temple located there, and destroying and deporting the kingdom of Judah in 586 b.c.e.

Military Achievement

The Chaldeans, or Neo-Babylonians, are credited with destroying the Assyrian Empire and establishing a new one in the Near East that was responsible for sacking Jerusalem, razing the Jewish temple located there, and destroying and deporting the kingdom of Judah in 586 b.c.e. The Chaldean culture was known not for military innovation but rather for honing previously used policies, weapons, and tactics in campaigns and battles that were fought over most of the ancient Near East.ChaldeansNeo-Babylonia[Neobabylonia]ChaldeansNeo-Babylonia[Neobabylonia]

During the period of AssyriansAssyrian domination in the Near East (1300-700 b.c.e.), a new group of Semitic desert dwellers infiltrated southern Mesopotamia and established a culture that came to be known as Chaldean, named after the dominant tribe, the Kaldu. Discontent within the Assyrian Empire grew steadily during the reign of AshurbanipalAshurbanipal (emperor of Assyria)Ashurbanipal (r. 668-627 b.c.e.), the last great king of ancient Assyria. After his death, an imperial governor named Nabopolassar Nabopolassar NebuchadnezzarNabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar (Chaldean king)Nebuchadnezzar (r. 626-605 b.c.e.), a member of the Kaldu tribe, became leader of the insurrection. In 626 b.c.e., after a year of guerrilla war, Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne of the city-state of BabylonBabylon, inaugurated the Eleventh Babylonian dynasty, and established the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian kingdom, to distinguish it from the Old Babylonian Empire of Hammurabi’s (c. 1810-1750 b.c.e.) day.

For twelve years, from 626 to 614 b.c.e., war between the Chaldean, or Neo-Babylonian, kingdom and the remnants of the Assyrian Empire consisted of a series of battles over control of a network of fortified cities and towns in southern Mesopotamia, in modern-day Iraq. The Assyrians made an alliance with the Egypt;and Assyrians[Assyrians]Egyptians, who had become alarmed at the successes of the Chaldeans and of the Medes in what is now Iran. In 615 b.c.e. the MedesMedes invaded Assyria and one year later captured the important city of Ashur. Significant emphasis was given by the Chaldeans to what might be termed coalition warfare in its early stages of development, and an alliance between the Chaldeans and the Medes was forged when Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar and the Median ruler CyaxaresCyaxares (Median king)Cyaxares (r. 625-585 b.c.e.) met under the walls of Ashur after the Median victory.

In 612 b.c.e. Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar led a final assault against Assyria’s main city, Nineveh. Although it was strongly fortified, the city fell after a two-month siege, and, for all intents and purposes, the empire fell with it. In 610 b.c.e. the Medes and the Neo-Babylonians marched against Harran to the north and took it. The last of the Assyrian pretenders to the throne disappeared. The Medes did not lay claim to any part of the empire they helped to overthrow. Apparently content with their share of the booty, they withdrew to the east and turned their attention toward Armenia and Asia Minor. The Neo-Babylonians built their empire on the ruins of the Assyrian Empire, though they did not repair much of the damage they had inflicted.

After his final victory over the Assyrians, the aging Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar relied increasingly on his son, Nebuchadnezzar Nebuchadnezzar IINebuchadnezzar II (Chaldean king)[Nebuchadnezzar 02]II (c. 630-562 b.c.e.) for the conduct of military operations. In 607 b.c.e. the crown prince attacked the Egyptian stronghold of Carchemish on the northern Euphrates River, routed the Egyptian army under Pharaoh Necho Necho IINecho II (Egyptian Pharaoh)[Necho 02]II (r. 610-595 b.c.e.), and gained military and economic control over areas to the west of Mesopotamia. However, just as all of Syria-Palestine now lay open to the Chaldeans, Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar died and Nebuchadnezzar II had to return to Babylon. He was crowned king in 605 b.c.e. For the next seven years he found himself quelling rebellion after rebellion in both Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine. During the winter of 598 b.c.e. the king of Judah refused to pay tribute, forcing Nebuchadnezzar II to march on the kingdom’s capital, Jerusalem, subjugating the city and installing a new king, Zedekiah.

Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II directs operations against rebellious Jews in 586 b.c.e., capturing and looting the capital of Jerusalem, destroying the Jewish temple, and rounding up and deporting thousands of Jews to Babylon.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

Eleven years later, the kingdom of JudahJudah was again at the center of rebellion against the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar II personally directed operations against the rebellious Jews. In 586 b.c.e., after a siege of eighteen months, Jerusalem was captured, the city looted, the Jewish temple destroyed, and thousands of Jews rounded up and deported to Babylon. Thus, 135 years after thousands of citizens of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were deported by the Assyrians, thousands more Jews were once again carried away out of their lands in one of history’s monumental turning points, the Babylonian Babylonian ExileExile. One of the last actions of Nebuchadnezzar II in Syria was the siege of the coastal town of Tyre, which lasted thirteen years. A fragmentary text now housed in the British Museum alludes to a Neo-Babylonian campaign against Pharaoh AhmoseAhmose IIAhmose II (Egyptian Pharaoh)II (570-526b.c.e.) in 568 b.c.e., but it cannot be determined if the Neo-Babylonians ever actually set foot in the Nile Valley.

The last years of Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign are obscure and seem to have ended amid internal chaos. His son, Evil-MerodachEvil-Merodach[Evil Merodach]Evil-Merodach (died 560 b.c.e.), of Old Testament fame, ruled for only two years (561-560 b.c.e.). After another four years of political instability, the Babylonians installed NabonidusNabonidus (Babylonian king)Nabonidus (r. 556-539 b.c.e.) on the throne. A government official of Aramaean origin, Nabonidus was the last king of an independent Babylon. In 539 b.c.e. the founder of the Achaemenid Achaemenid PersiansDynasty and first king of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Cyrus the GreatCyrus the Great (king of Persia)Great (c. 601 to 590-c. 530 b.c.e.), conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

The Chaldeans do not appear to have been innovators in weapons development; they used the weapons of their immediate predecessors in Mesopotamia, including spears, daggers, and battle-axes. They also employed the composite Bows and arrows;composite bowsComposite bowbow first developed by Akkadian king Sargon theSargon the GreatSargon the Great (Akkadian king)Great (c. 2334-2279b.c.e.) and reintroduced by Hammurabi of the Old Babylonian Empire.

Babylonian Infantry;Babylonianinfantry units are described fighting with metal helmets and carrying lances and wooden clubs. Friezes and reliefs show that the mace, though one of the oldest weapons employed in the Near East, was still being used in the seventh century b.c.e. Weapons used by the Neo-Babylonians were the product of the Iron Age technological revolution. By 900b.c.e. smiths throughout the Near East had learned how to combine carbon with red-hot iron to produce carburized, or steel-like, iron weapons. Biblical as well as Babylonian texts imply the unmatched virtues of such weapons, referring to both their hardness and their sharpness. Other important pieces of equipment used in Neo-Babylonian warfare included scaling ladders, used in siege operations against walled cities, and war chariots.

Military Organization

Neo-Babylonian armies pursued their grand strategy by organizing together troops with different kinds of weapons and different tactical objectives: infantry units armed with spears and clubs, cavalry warriors on horseback, charioteers, and siege units that also included scaling parties composed of archers. Their strategy was to overwhelm the enemy. Although the Greek historian HerodotusHerodotus (Greek historian)Herodotus (c. 484-424 b.c.e.) later indicated that the greatest of the Median kings, CyaxaresCyaxares (Median king)Cyaxares, was the first ruler who divided his troops into companies and distinct bodies of spearmen, archers, and others, all evidence indicates that Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar would have known of this well-coordinated, systematic arrangement of troops long before he formed his alliance with the Median ruler.

The Chaldeans undoubtedly followed the example of their predecessors, the Assyrians, in collecting Horses and horse riding;Chaldeanshorses for their cavalry troops from the many villages specifically cultivated for that purpose in Mesopotamia. Characteristic Chariotschariots of the period were large-wheeled, maneuverable, high-platformed vehicles accommodating three or four persons: a driver, an archer, and one or two shield bearers to protect them. Late seventh century b.c.e. reliefs show chariots being preceded by two archers mounted on horseback, with slingers ahead of them.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Because the major cities and towns in the Near East were Walled citieswalled, strongly fortified complexes by the time the Neo-Babylonians appeared on the scene, siege Siege warfare;Babylonianswarfare was the dominant tactical principle employed in the seventh and sixth centuries b.c.e. The first-attacked cities in a region were usually those that supported the most important city, the capital, because of their strategic military value, their economic importance, and their symbolic value. These cities were usually of religious importance, because they were the home of either a region’s patron deity or priestly class, or both. The capital city of a kingdom or group of people was often reserved for the final siege, because it was the most strongly fortified of the cities, and also because it could be greatly weakened in both supply and morale by the loss of its network of supporting towns.

A specific purpose of the siege was the attempt to starve the holdouts into submission, as in the Siege of Jerusalem (586 Jerusalem, Siege of 586 b.c.e.[Jerusalem, Siege of 01]b.c.e.). Information about an opponent’s troop strength, tactical weaknesses, fortifications, and other areas of possible exploitation was obtained either by spies who infiltrated the enemy camp or by internal informers. Once a city was captured, further resistance was often preempted by razing its walls. The rebuilding of a city’s walls was usually regarded as a symbol of renewed revolt. The Neo-Babylonians also applied the policy of torching conquered cities. Modern archaeological excavations in Jerusalem attest to a great conflagration that swept over the whole city but that was especially prominent in the residential district, data which harmonizes well with the report presented in the Bible’s Book of 2 Kings (25:9).

Campaign plans of the Neo-Babylonian military machine were often based on tradition and long-established patterns of warfare. The Neo-Babylonian conquest of Syria-Palestine followed much the same strategy and order employed by the Assyrians more than a century earlier. Like the Assyrians before them, the Neo-Babylonians also used the policy of deportation of vanquished foes with great effectiveness, especially as a tool of psychological warfare to break the will and ability of opponents to recombine against their oppressors.

Alliance warfare was an important strategy to the Chaldeans, or Neo-Babylonians, in their conquest of Assyria and the establishment of their own empire. Royal Marriages, politicalmarriages during war sometimes sealed coalition agreements, as when Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar II, was wed to Amytis, the daughter of the Median ruler, Cyaxares. From that point on, the Chaldeans and the Medes fought side by side and the fate of the Assyrians was sealed.

Ancient Sources

Perhaps the most valuable resource regarding Neo-Babylonian warfare is a series of ancient texts collectively translated and known in English as The Babylonian Babylonian Chronicle, The Chronicle (1887). Begun in 626 b.c.e. , the same year Nabopolassar Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne of Babylon, this record describes the many wars and campaigns of the Chaldeans and allows military historians to follow, almost day by day, the history of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It includes invaluable accounts of the fall of Nineveh and other Assyrian cities.

The Hebrew BibleBible, or Old Testament, also provides important commentary on the strategy and tactics used by the Neo-Babylonians and reports on their destruction of various cities both in Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia. For example, Nahum (3:1-7) preserves not only the sense of vengeance unleashed during the destruction of Nineveh but also the tools of war in

Cursed be the city of blood, full of lies, full of violence. . . . The sound of the whip is heard, the gallop of horses, the rolling of chariots. An infinity of dead, the dead are everywhere! My anger is on thee, Nineveh, saith Jehovah. . . . I will show thy nakedness to the nations and thy shame to the kingdoms. And then it will be said: Nineveh is destroyed! Who will mourn her?

Other important sources on Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian warfare include the writings of classical authors as well as Flavius Josephus, FlaviusJosephus, FlaviusAntiquities of the Jews, The (Josephus) Josephus’s (c. 37-c. 100 c.e.) Antiquitates Judaicae (93 c.e. ; The Antiquities of the Jews, 1773).ChaldeansNeo-Babylonia[Neobabylonia]

Books and Articles

  • Arnold, Bill T. Who Were the Babylonians? Boston: Brill, 2005.
  • Bahrani, Zainab. Rituals of War: The Body and Violence in Mesopotamia. New York: Zone Books, 2008.
  • Bradford, Alfred S. “The Medes and Chaldeans.” In With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World. Illustrated by Pamela M. Bradford. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.
  • Ferrill, Arther. The Origins of War. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 3d ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
  • Sack, Ronald H. Images of Nebuchadnezzar: The Emergence of a Legend. 2d rev. and expanded ed. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 2004.
  • Smith, Scott S. “Nebuchadnezzar’s Military Achievements Made His Name–and That of His Native Babylon–Legend.” Military History 20, no. 5 (December, 2003): 20.
  • Wiseman, D. J. Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Yadin, Yigael. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Films and Other Media

  • Ancient Mesopotamia. Documentary. Phoenix Learning Group, 2008.

Violence in the Precivilized World

The Hittites

The Assyrians

The Hebrews

The Egyptians

The Persians