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Chaldea or Chaldæa (//), from Greek Χαλδαία, Chaldaia; Akkadian: māt Ḫaldu; Hebrew: כשדים, Kaśdim;1 Aramaic: ܟܠܕܘ, Kaldo) was a nation extant between the 10th and 6th centuries BC, located in the marshy land of the far south eastern corner of Mesopotamia which came to rule Babylon briefly.
Tribes of Semitic migrants who arrived in the region from The Levant during 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 positively known to be Chaldeans, and the last ruler, Nabonidus and his son and regent Belshazzar, were known to be from Assyria.2 The region in which the Chaldeans settled was in the south eastern portion of Babylonia, lying chiefly on the right bank of the Euphrates. Though the name later came to be commonly used to refer to the whole of southern Mesopotamia for a time, Chaldea proper was in fact only 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, between circa. 1000 BC and 600 BC, it was the name of a small sporadically independent territory in southern Babylonia extending along the northern and probably also the western shores of the Persian Gulf.1 After the Chaldean tribes settled in the region it was called mat Kaldi "land of Chaldeans" by the native Assyrians and Babylonians. 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 was also called the king of Bit Yakin, just as the kings of Babylonia and Assyria are regularly styled simply king of Babylon or Assur, 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 lands settled by Chaldeans 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 briefly gave their name to the whole land of Babylonia, which then was called Chaldea for a short time.
Chaldea, 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.
Unlike the Akkadian speaking Assyrians and Babylonians, the Chaldeans were certainly not a native Mesopotamian people, but were migrants to the region. They seem to have appeared there c. 1000 BC, not long after other new Semitic peoples, the Arameans and the Sutu appeared in Babylonia, c. 1100 BC. This was a period of weakness in Babylonia, and its ineffectual native kings were unable to prevent new waves of foreign peoples invading and settling in the land.4
Though belonging to the same West Semitic ethnic group, they are to be differentiated from the Arameans; 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" for a short time, particularly to the Greeks and Jews, despite the Chaldeans not being Babylonians.
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 it must be pointed out that the Chaldeans certainly did not exist in Mesopotamia at the time of Abraham, which casts doubt on the historicity of the Abrahamic story. 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, Kassites and Arameans 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 Chaldeans originally spoke a West Semitic language, however they eventually adopted the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian, the same Semitic language, save for slight peculiarities in sound and in characters, as Assyrian Akkadian. During the Assyrian Empire, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III introduced an Akkadian infused Eastern Aramaic as the lingua franca of his empire. In late periods both the Babylonian and Assyrian dialects of Akkadian ceased to be spoken, and Aramaic took its place across Mesopotamia, and the still Akkadian influenced language remains the mother tongue of the Assyrian (also known as Chaldo-Assyrian) Christians of northern 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 term "Chaldean" is still sometimes used to describe those Assyrians who broke from the Assyrian Church of the East in the 16th and 17th centuries AD, and entered communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which then named the church as the Chaldean Catholic Church, after pointedly initially calling it "The Church of Assyria and Mosul". The term Chaldean Catholic should be taken as a denominational rather than an ethnic term, as the modern Chaldean Catholics are in fact Assyrian converts to Catholicism indigenous the north of Mesopotamia, rather than the long extinct Chaldeans who hailed from the far south east of Mesopotamia. However, a minority of Chaldean Catholics have in recent times espoused a separate identity to their Assyrian brethren, despite there being no accepted historical evidence or mainstream academic study which supports this assertion.
The region that the Chaldean's settled in and made their homeland some time after 1000 BC, was in the relatively poor country in the far south east 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 the native Babylonians 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 once again fled to Elam where he died in exile after one final failed attempt to raise a revolt against Assyria, this time in his homeland of 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 because of his subservience to Assyria, 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 coalition of Babylonians, the Chaldeans of Bit-Yâkin and the Elamites in the process. Sennacherib's successor as king of Assyria, Esarhaddon rebuilt Babylon and brought peace to the region, but for the next 75 years Babylon remained under direct Assyrian control. The Chaldeans remained subjugated during this period, and the next major revolt in Babylon against the Assyrian empire was fermented not by a Chaldean, Babylonian or Elamite, but by Shamash-shum-ukin, who was an Assyrian king of Babylon, and elder brother of Ashurbanipal, the ruler of the Assyrian Empire.
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, a previously unknown Chaldean chieftain, took advantage of the violent chaos gripping Assyria, and seized the city of Babylon in 620 BC with the help of its native Babylonian 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 due to constant fighting among his own people.
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, Persians and Parthians, from Assyrian rule. The Medes, Persians, Parthians, Chaldeans and Babylonians, together with the Scythians and Cimmerians to the north, 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. However, the new Assyrian king Ashur-uballit II refused a request to bow in vassalage to the rulers of the alliance, managed to fight his way out of Nineveh, and battle his way to Harran where he founded a new capital. Assyria resisted until 605 BC, when the remnants of the Assyrian Army and an Egyptian force were defeated at Karchemish. Nabopolassar and his Median, Scythian and Cimmerian allies were now in possession of much of the huge Neo Assyrian Empire.
The Chaldean king of Babylon 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, expanding on the earlier rebuilding of Esarhaddon, turned it into the immense and beautiful city of legend. 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 is also believed by many historians to have built The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (although others believe these gardens were in fact built earlier in Nineveh), for his wife, a Median princess from the mountains so that she would feel at home.
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 against the Scythians, Cimmerians and Lydians. Like their Assyrian relations, 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 Assyria, Babylonia, Chaldea, 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, regardless of ethnicity. The actual Chaldean people had long ago became Akkadianized, adopting Mesopotamian culture, religion, language and customs, blending into the majority native population and wholly disappearing as a distinct people, much as other fellow migrant peoples, such as the Amorites, Kassites, Suteans and Arameans of Babylonia had also done.
The Persians found this so-called Chaldean societal class 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 simply astrologist rather than an ethnic Chaldean. It is used with this specific meaning in the Book of Daniel (Dan. i. 4, ii. 2 et seq.) and by classical writers such as Strabo.
By the time of Cicero, the misnomer Chaldean appears to have been disgarded when referring to Babylonian astronomers and astrologers, and Cicero refers to "Babylonian astrologers"5 disparagingly, Horace does the same, referring 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.
The terms Chaldee and Chaldean are hitherto only to be found in Biblical sources, when referring to the period of the Chaldean Dynasty of Babylon.
The name was revived by the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the 1680s AD, as the new name for the Church of Assyria and Mosul, a church populated not by the long disappeared Chaldean tribe, but by a breakaway group of ethnic Assyrians in northern Mesopotamia who had hitherto been members of the Assyrian Church of the East before entering communion with Rome.
- Sealand Dynasty
- Neo-Babylonian Empire
- Eastern Arabia
- Chaldean Catholic Church
- Chaldean Oracles
- Names of Syriac Christians
- Zénaïde A. Ragozin, Chaldea – from the earliest times to the rise of Assyria, 1893, from Project Gutenberg