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Building Inscription of King Nebuchadnezar II at the Ishtar Gate. An abridged excerpt says: "I (Nebuchadnezzar) laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. Upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus I magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendor for all mankind to behold in awe."
Detail of a terracotta cylinder of Nebuchadnezzar II, recording the building and reconstruction works at Babylon. 604-562 BC. From Babylon, Iraq, housed in the British Museum
Nebuchadnezzar was the eldest son and successor of Nabopolassar, an Assyrian official who rebelled against the Assyrian Empire and established himself as the king of Babylon in 620 BC. Nebuchadnezzar is first mentioned in 607 BC, during the destruction of Babylon's arch-enemy Assyria, at which point he was already crown prince. In 605 BC he and his ally Cyaxares, ruler of the Medes, led an army against the Assyrians and Egyptians, who were then occupying Syria, and in the ensuing Battle of Carchemish, Pharaoh Necho II was defeated and Syria and Phoenicia were brought under the control of Babylon.Nabopolassar died in August 605 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to ascend the throne. For the next few years, his attention was devoted to subduing his eastern and northern borders, and in 595/4 BC there was a serious but brief rebellion in Babylon itself. In 594/3 BC, the army was sent again to the west, possibly in reaction to the elevation of Psamtik II to the throne of Egypt. During the Siege of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezar captured King Jehoiachin along with prominent citizens and craftsman and appointed Zedekiah as King of Judah in his place, the latter rebelled and attempted to organize opposition among the small states in the region but his capital, Jerusalem, was taken in 587 BC (the events are described in the Bible's Books of Kings and Book of Jeremiah). In the following years, Nebuchadnezzar incorporated Phoenicia and the former Assyrian provinces of Cilicia (southwestern Anatolia) into his empire and may have campaigned in Egypt. In his last years he seems to have begun behaving irrationally, "pay[ing] no heed to son or daughter," and was deeply suspicious of his sons. The kings who came after him ruled only briefly and Nabonidus, apparently not of the royal family, was overthrown by the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great less than twenty-five years after Nebuchadnezzar's death.
The ruins of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon are spread over two thousand acres, forming the largest archaeological site in the Middle East. He enlarged the royal palace (including in it a public museum, possibly the world's first), built and repaired temples, built a bridge over the Euphrates, and constructed a grand processional boulevard (the Processional Way) and gateway (the Ishtar Gate) lavishly decorated with glazed brick. Each spring equinox (the start of the New Year), the god Marduk would leave his city temple for a temple outside the walls, returning through the Ishtar Gate and down the Processional Way, paved with colored stone and lined with molded lions, amidst rejoicing crowds.
Nebuchadnezzar is an important character in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.Daniel 1 introduces Nebuchadnezzar as the king who takes Daniel and other Hebrew youths into captivity in Babylon, to be trained in "the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans". In Nebuchadnezzar's second year, Daniel interprets the king's dream of a huge image as God's prediction of the rise and fall of world powers, starting with Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom (Daniel 2). Nebuchadnezzar twice admits the power of the God of the Hebrews: first, after God saves three of Daniel's companions from a fiery furnace (Daniel 3); and secondly, after Nebuchadnezzar himself suffers a humiliating period of madness, as Daniel predicted (Daniel 4).
The consensus among critical scholars is that the book of Daniel is historical fiction. Nebuchadnezzar's conversion to Yahweh (Judaism) is an imaginary event. His period of madness is also fictional, historians attributing it to rumors about Nabonidus's stay in Teima (or Tayma), which were subsequently applied to Nebuchadnezzar through conflation.
His name is often recorded in the Bible as "Nebuchadrezzar" (in Ezekiel and parts of Jeremiah[d]), but more commonly as "Nebuchadnezzar". The form Nebuchadrezzar is more consistent with the original Akkadian, and some scholars believe that Nebuchadnezzar may be a derogatory pun used by the Israelites, meaning "Nabu, protect my jackass".