Chaldea or Chaldæa (//), from Greek Χαλδαία, Chaldaia; Akkadian: māt Ḫaldu; Hebrew: כשדים, Kaśdim;1 Aramaic: ܟܠܕܘ, Kaldo) was a marshy land located in south eastern Mesopotamia which came to rule Babylon briefly. Tribes of Semitic settlers who arrived in the region from the 10th century BC became known as the Chaldeans or the Chaldees. The Hebrew Bible uses the term כשדים (Kaśdim) and this is translated as Chaldaeans in the Septuagint.
The short-lived 11th dynasty of the Kings of Babylon (6th century BC) is conventionally known to historians as the Chaldean Dynasty, although only the first four rulers of this dynasty were known to be Chaldeans, and the last ruler, Nabonidus (and his son and regent Belshazzar) was known to be from Assyria.2 The region in which the Chaldeans settled was in the southern portion of Babylonia, lying chiefly on the right bank of the Euphrates. Though the name came to be commonly used to refer to the whole of southern Mesopotamia, Chaldea proper was in fact the vast plain in the far south east formed by the deposits of the Euphrates and the Tigris, extending to about four hundred miles along the course of these rivers, and about a hundred miles in average width.
Chaldea as the name of a country is used in two different senses. In the early period it was the name of a small territory in southern Babylonia extending along the northern and probably also the western shores of the Persian Gulf.1 It is called in Assyrian mat Kaldi "land of Chaldea". The expression mat Bit Yakin is also used, apparently synonymously. Bit Yakin was likely the chief or capital city of the land. The king of Chaldea is also called the king of Bit Yakin, just as the kings of Babylonia are regularly styled simply king of Babylon, the capital city. In the same way, the Persian Gulf was sometimes called "the Sea of Bit Yakin, instead of "the Sea of the Land of Chaldea."
The boundaries of the early land of Chaldea are not identified with precision by historians. Chaldea generally referred to the low, marshy, alluvial land around the estuaries of the Tigris and Euphrates, which then discharged their waters through separate mouths into the sea. In a later time, when the Chaldean tribe had burst their narrow bonds and obtained the ascendency over all Babylonia, they gave their name to the whole land of Babylonia, which then was called Chaldea for a short time.
The Chaldeans, like the rest of Mesopotamia and much of the ancient Near East and Asia Minor, from the 10th to late 7th centuries BC, came to be dominated by the Assyrian Empire, based in northern Mesopotamia.
In 626 BC, following the death of Ashurbanipal, a series of bitter wars broke out in the Assyrian Empire over who should rule. These wars greatly weakened the empire. Sensing this weakness, the Chaldeans, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Scythians and Cimmerians formed a coalition and attacked the Assyrian Empire in 616 BC. In 612 BC they destroyed Nineveh, Harran fell in 609 BC, and the last Assyrian army was defeated at Carchemish in 605 BC.
The homeland of the Semitic Chaldean people was in the far south east of Mesopotamia. It is not certain when they migrated at an unknown period into the country of the Mesopotamian sea-lands about the head of the Persian Gulf. They seem to have appeared there at about the same time that other new Semitic peoples, the Arameans and the Sutu appeared in Babylonia, c. 1000 BC. This was a period of weakness in Babylonia, and its ineffectual kings were unable to prevent new waves of peoples invading and settling in the land.4
Though belonging to the same Semitic ethnic group, they are to be differentiated from the Aramean stock; and the Assyrian king Sennacherib, for example, is careful in his inscriptions to distinguish them. When they came to possess the whole of southern Mesopotamia, the name "Chaldean" became synonymous with "Babylonian", particularly to the Greeks and Jews. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Abraham is stated to have originally been from "Ur of the Chaldees" (Ur Kaśdim); if this city is to be identified with the Sumerian Ur, it would be within the original Chaldean homeland south of the Euphrates, although Chaldeans were not extant in Mesopotamia at the time of Abraham. On the other hand, the traditional identification with a site in Assyria would then imply the later sense of "Babylonia", and a few interpreters have additionally tried to identify Abraham's birthplace with Chaldia, a distinct region in Asia Minor on the Black Sea. According to the Book of Jubilees, Ur Kaśdim (and Chaldea) took their name from Ura and Kesed, descendants of Arpachshad.
Though conquerors, the Chaldeans were rapidly and completely assimilated into the dominant Semitic Akkadian Babylonian culture, as the Amorites before them had been, and after the fall of Babylon in 539 BC the term "Chaldean" was no longer used to describe a specific ethnicity, but rather a socio-economic class.
The language used by the Chaldeans was the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, the same Semitic language, save for slight peculiarities in sound and in characters, as Assyrian Akkadian. In late periods both the Babylonian and Assyrian dialects of Akkadian ceased to be spoken, and Aramaic took its place across Mesopotamia, and remains the mother tongue of the Assyrian (also known as Chaldo-Assyrian) Christians of Iraq and its surrounds to this day. One form of this widespread language is used in Daniel and Ezra, but the use of the name "Chaldee" to describe it, first introduced by Jerome, is incorrect and a misnomer.
The Chaldean's homeland was in the relatively poor country in the far south of Mesopotamia, at the head of the Persian Gulf. The Chaldeans first came to prominence in the late 8th Century BC. Marduk-apla-iddina II (the Biblical Merodach-Baladan) of Bit-Yâkin, allied himself with the powerful Elamite kingdom and briefly seized control of Babylon in 721 BC after the death of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V who had ruled Babylon directly from Nineveh. The new king of Assyria Sargon II attacked and deposed Marduk-apla-iddina II in 710 BC. After defeat by the Assyrians he fled to his protectors in Elam. In 703 he briefly regained the throne from a native Akkadian-Babylonian ruler Marduk-zakir-shumi II who had ascended the throne after a revolt in Babylon against the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. He was once more defeated at Kish, and again fled to Elam where he died in exile after one final failed attempt to raise a revolt against Assyria in his homeland, Bit-Yâkin in 700 BC.
Babylon was then ruled by a native Babylonian puppet of the Assyrians Bel-ibni, who was replaced by Ashur-nadin-shumi, an Assyrian prince who was murdered by the Elamites and replaced with a native Babylonian puppet Nergal-ushezib. The Chaldeans briefly regained control of Babylon in 693 BC when the populace deposed Nergal-ushezib, and chose Mushezib-Marduk, a Chaldean prince to replace him. However, this was short lived, and Sennacherib sacked Babylon, destroying the city in 689 BC routing the Babylonians, the Chaldeans of Bit-Yâkin and their Elamite backers in the process. Sennacherib's successor as king of Assyria, Esarhaddon rebuilt Babylon, but for the next 75 years Babylon remained under direct Assyrian control.
It was only after 620 BC under Nabopolassar that the Chaldeans finally gained control over Babylon, founding the Chaldean Dynasty. After the death of Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king in 627 BC, the Assyrian empire descended into a series of bitter dynastic civil wars. A rebellious Assyrian general Sin-shumu-lishir briefly set himself up as king in both Assyria and Babylon, but was ousted by Ashur-etil-ilani, the legitimate king of Assyria and its empire. Further civil war erupted with Sin-shar-ishkun seizing the thrones of Assyria and Babylonia from his brother Ashur-etil-ilani. Nabopolassar took advantage of the chaos gripping Assyria, and seized the city of Babylon in 620 BC with the help of its native inhabitants. Sin-shar-ishkun amassed a powerful army and marched on Babylon to regain control of the region. However, yet another massive rebellion broke out in the capital Nineveh, and the king was forced to turn back in order to quell the revolt. Nabopolassar then seized the city of Nippur in 619 BC, a mainstay of pro-Assyrianism in Babylonia, and thus Babylonia as a whole. Bitter fighting continued in the Babylonian heartlands from 620 to 616 BC, with Assyrian forces encamped in the region in an attempt to eject Nabopolassar. A stalemate ensued with Nabopolassar unable to eject the Assyrians despite their greatly weakened state, and Sin-shar-ishkun unable to unseat Nabopolassar.
Nabopolassar's position, and the fate of Assyria was sealed when he entered into an alliance with another of Assyria's former vassals, the Medes, the now dominant people of what was to become Persia. The Median Cyaxares had also recently taken advantage of the anarchy in the Assyrian Empire to free the Iranian peoples, the Medes and Persians, from Assyrian rule. The Medes, Persians, Chaldean ruled Babylonians, together with the Scythians and Cimmerians attacked Assyria in 616 BC, and by 612 BC, after five years of bitter fighting, the alliance had sacked Nineveh, killing Sin-shar-ishkun in the process. Nabopolassar and his allies were now in possession of much of the huge Neo Assyrian Empire. However, an Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II held out at the Assyrian city of Harran, resisting until 605 BC, when the remnants of the Assyrian Army and an Egyptian force were defeated at Karchemish.
The Chaldeans now ruled all of Mesopotamia, and the former Assyrian possessions of Aram (Syria), Phoenicia, Israel, Cyprus, Edom, Philistia, and parts of Arabia, while the Medes took control of the former Assyrian colonies in Iran, Asia Minor and the Caucasus.
Nabopolassar was succeeded by Nebuchadnezzar II, who became king after the death of his father in 604 BC.
Nebuchadnezzar was a patron of the cities and a spectacular builder. He rebuilt all of Babylonia's major cities on a lavish scale. His building activity at Babylon was what turned it into the immense and beautiful city of legend. His city of Babylon covered more than three square miles, surrounded by moats and ringed by a double circuit of walls. The Euphrates flowed through the center of the city, spanned by a beautiful stone bridge. At the center of the city rose the giant ziggurat called Etemenanki, "House of the Frontier Between Heaven and Earth," which lay next to the Temple of Marduk. He also made The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for his wife from the mountains so that she would feel at home. Now, the garden is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. A capable leader, Nabuchadnezzar II, conducted successful military campaigns in Aramea (Syria) and Phoenicia, forcing tribute from Damascus, Tyre and Sidon. He conducted numerous campaigns in Asia Minor, in the "land of the Hatti". Like the Assyrians, the Babylonians had to campaign yearly in order to control their colonies.
In 601 BC Nebuchadnezzar II was involved in a major, but inconclusive battle, against the Egyptians. In 599 BC he invaded Arabia and routed the Arabs at Qedar. In 597 BC he invaded Judah, captured Jerusalem, and deposed its king Jehoiachin. Egyptian and Babylonian armies fought each other for control of the near east throughout much of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, and this encouraged king Zedekiah of Judah to revolt. After an eighteen-month siege Jerusalem was captured in 587 BC, thousands of Jews were deported to Babylon and Solomon's Temple was razed to the ground.
Nebuchadnezzar successfully fought the Pharaohs Psammetichus II and Apries throughout his reign, and during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis in 568 BC it is rumoured that he may have briefly invaded Egypt itself.
By 572 Nebuchadnezzar was in full control of Mesopotamia, Aramea (Syria), Phonecia, Israel, Judah, Philistia, Samarra, Jordan, northern Arabia and parts of Asia Minor. Nebuchadnezzar died of illness in 562 BC after a one-year co-reign with his son, Amel-Marduk, who was deposed in 560 BC after a reign of only two years.
Neriglissar succeeded Amel-Marduk. It is unclear as to whether he was in fact a Chaldean or a native Babylonian nobleman, as he was not related by blood to Nabopolassar's descendants. He conducted successful military campaigns against the Hellenic inhabitants of Cilicia, which had threatened Babylonian interests. Neriglissar however reigned for only four years, being succeeded by the youthful Labashi-Marduk in 560 BC. Again it is unclear as to whether he was a Chaldean or a native Babylonian.
Labashi-Marduk reigned only for a matter of months, being deposed by Nabonidus in late 560 BC. Nabonidus, was certainly not a Chaldean, ironically he was an Assyrian from Harran, the last capital of Assyria. Nabonidus proved to be the final native Mesopotamian king of Babylon, he and his son, the regent Belshazzar being deposed by the Persians under Cyrus II in 539 BC.
When the Babylonian Empire was absorbed into the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the name "Chaldean" lost its meaning as a particular ethnicity, and came to be applied only to a socioeconomic class. The Persians found the Chaldeans masters of reading and writing, and especially versed in all forms of incantation, in sorcery, witchcraft, and the magical arts. They spoke of astrologists and astronomers as Chaldeans; consequently, Chaldean came to mean astrologist. It is used with this meaning in the Book of Daniel (Dan. i. 4, ii. 2 et seq.) and by classical writers such as Strabo. Cicero refers to "Babylonian astrologers"5 disparagingly, as Horace does to "Babylonian horoscopes"6 in his famous Carpe Diem ode; Cicero views them as holding obscure knowledge, while Horace thinks that they are wasting their time and would be happier "going with the flow", as one may say.
- Sealand Dynasty
- Neo-Babylonian Empire
- Bahrain (historical region)
- Chaldean Catholic Church
- Chaldean Oracles
- Names of Syriac Christians
- Study Light: Kasidy
- Zénaïde A. Ragozin, Chaldea – from the earliest times to the rise of Assyria, 1893, from Project Gutenberg