Nebuchadnezzar I (1125-1104 BC)

Nebuchadnezzar I (Akk. Nabû-kudurrī-uṣur "O Nabû, protect my offspring"), son of Ninurta-nādin-šumi [], was -- and still is -- by far the most famous ruler of the Second Dynasty of Isin []: On account of a triumphal victory over the Elamites, this king became the focus of an extensive literary tradition (songs, narrative compositions and omens), parts of which continued to be copied throughout the first millennium BC and were still in vogue in the time of the Assyrian Empire []. According to Babylonian King List C [], he sat the throne of Babylonia for twenty-two years and was succeeded by his son, Enlil-nādin-apli [].

Nebuchadnezzar owns his fame mainly to one major achievement, namely, the retrieval of a cult statue of Babylon's city god Marduk [] from the Elamites who had carried it off to their capital (Susa) during one of their raids in Babylonia at the end of the Kassite Period. Nebuchadnezzar's "epic" deed became the subject of several literary treatments in ancient times, which clearly indicates that Marduk's return to Babylon was regarded as being a very important event. However, with only literary accounts presently at our disposal, it is difficult to accurately assess the actual (contemporary and later) impact that it had on the cult of Marduk, and, thus, opinion on this matter is divided in modern scholarship: While W.G. Lambert claimed that the exaltation of Marduk to the position of head of the Babylonian pantheon (which was celebrated by the composition of the famous Epic of Creation, Enūma elîš) had taken place during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, and even praised this period as "a turning point in the history of Ancient Mesopotamian religion" (1964, p. 3), S. Dalley (1997) has pointed out that actually several cult statues of Marduk existed in Babylon, and that the return of one of them from enemy lands was not a singular event. Nevertheless, this particular campaign inspired extensive literary treatment and helped Nebuchadnezzar I to be remembered as one of Babylonia's greatest kings, even centuries after his death.

Apart from his great victory against Elam, Nebuchadnezzar's reign -- despite its considerable length -- remains rather blurry. The Synchronistic History [] reports on two (unsuccessful) raids against Assyrian fortresses, which indicate that tensions with Assyria (under Aššur-rēša-iši I) continued; his relations with other contemporary states are not known to us. As for Babylonia itself, there is evidence (partly from later sources)[1] that he cared for the cities in his realm (in particular Babylon, Nippur, and Ur) and their sanctuaries, but only few objects bearing his own, original inscriptions [] have survived. Some additional information on Nebuchadnezzar's reign is provided by at least three stone kudurrus and two economic texts; also the so-called "Marduk Prophecy" and a further historical-literary text may be related to his reign.

For further information on the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar I, click here or on the "Inscriptions" link to the left.

Browse Nebuchadnezzar I Online Corpus []

Selected Bibliography:

Brinkman, J.A., A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia. 1158-722 B.C. (Analecta Orientalia 43), Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1968 (esp. pp. 41-42, 104-116 and 325-329 no. 4).

Brinkman, J.A., 'Nebukadnezar I.,' in: D.O. Edzard (ed.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie 9, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1998, pp. 192-194.

Dalley, S., 'Statues of Marduk and the Date of Enūma Eliš,' Altorientalische Forschungen 24 (1997), pp. 163-171. [Go back to body text.]

Frame, G., Rulers of Babylonia. From the Second Dynasty of Isin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157-612 BC) (The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia, Babylonian Periods 2), Toronto et al.: University of Toronto Press, 1995 (esp. pp. 11-35).

Lambert, W.G., 'The Reign of Nebuchadnezzar I: A Turning Point in the History of Ancient Mesopotamian Religion,' in: W.S. McCullough (ed.), The Seed of Wisdom: Essays in Honour of T.J. Meek, [Toronto]: University of Toronto Press, 1964, pp. 3–13. [Go back to body text.]

Lambert, W.G., Babylonian Creation Myths (Mesopotamian Civilizations 16), Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2013 (esp. pp. 273-274).


[1] Of particular interest is a statement in an inscription of the later Babylonian ruler Simbar-Šipak [] (no. 1 []), according to which Nebuchadnezzar had made a throne for the god Enlil in the temple Ekurigigal at Nippur. This seems to indicate -- like some bricks of Nebuchadnezzar himself recording construction work at the Unumah, a sanctuary of the Ekur temple, for Enlil (no. 2 []) -- that this god was still regarded as being very important. Nebuchadnezzar's care for the cults of Ur is documented by an inscription of the Neo-Babylonian [] king Nabonidus [] (YOS 1, no. 45) reporting that he found a stele by "Nebuchadnezzar, son of Ninurta-nādin-šumi" depicting the entu-priestess (possibly Nebuchadnezzar's daughter), and by a Neo-Babylonian inventory from Ur (UET 4, no. 143) which lists Nebuchadnezzar among a number of other royal donors of precious objects.

Alexa Bartelmus

Alexa Bartelmus, 'Nebuchadnezzar I (1125-1104 BC)', RIBo, Babylon 2: The Inscriptions of the Second Dynasty of Isin, The RIBo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2016 []

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