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Teaching Your Child About Ancient Babylon

Updated on June 14, 2012
Ziggurat of Ur (city of Sumer)
Ziggurat of Ur (city of Sumer)

I began gathering information about ancient Babylon because I had recently heard about the classical method of homeschooling or the Trivium. An approach that began with basic memorization before moving into logic and then rhetoric seemed more likely to produce critical thinkers than the standard approach found in public schools. However, the information I gathered on Babylon is presented in more of a unit study method. In other words the various subjects are all addressed through the study of Babylon. Though of course with a little effort the information can easily be adapted to whatever method suits your family.

Brief History of Babylon

Ancient Babylon had it's roots in Sumer, which was not an empire but a collection of city states. Each city was built around a Ziggurat dedicated to that city's god or goddess. These city states were united under the rule of Sargon around 2300 B.C. to create Babylon. However Assyria, which boarder Babylon on the north, was also developing. Many years after Hammurapi became the leader of Babylon and provide the nation with an organized written law - the Code of Hammurapi, the Assyrians became the dominate power in the region. (It is interesting to note at this point that scholars believe many of the battles from these ancient times revolved around trade provided by the rivers between which Babylon nestled.)

After some 700 years the Babylonians again regained prominance under the leadership of Nabopolassar. Under his son Babylon reached it's pinnacle. It was at this time that the famous hanging gardens were constructed - gardens which were known as one of the seven wonders of the world.

If you would like to go into greater depth about Babylonian history it is divided into three time periods:

The Old Babylonain Period from 2000 to 1595 BC

The Middle Babylonian Period from 1595 to 1000 BC

and the Neo-Babylonian Period from 1000 to 539 BC

Babylonian Arts

The Sumerians and later the Babylonians are given much credit for their use of a writing system called Cuneiform. It began as pictographs but developed into a system of wedges and lines which they used to create one of the oldest known stories the Epic of Gilgamesh. (My girls are still to young for this story but if you are interested you can find the full text here.)

But the Babylonians created more than just epics and myths. They also produced prayers and hymns, wisdom literature and historiographies as well as poetry and prose. Babylonian poetry did not use rhyme and scholars don't know if they used metre. What is known is that their poetry was set up most often in couplets and uses parallelism. Parallelism is when the author juxtaposes two different expressions of the same idea.

The use of parallelism can also be seen in more modern poetry like T. S. Eliot. If you have an older learner consider following the use of parallelism through the ages. Or compare and contrast a modern and Babylonian use of parallelism.

However, since my girls are younger we will focus more on Babylonian music. It was largely instrumental using instruments such as the reed flute, lyre, drum, trumpet and harp. Also it was often used as accompaniment to a story or chant. Despite the religious implications of chanting in the modern mind, Babylonian music was used for entertainment in addition to the religious uses.

Though we can not know exactly what their music sounded like Micheal Levy has made a study of ancient music and produced several albums. You can play samples for you children from his site. Of particular interest to this lesson is the song "Echos of Ancient Ur". Choose sample tracks for the links to the left and you will find the song toward the bottom of the page. Press the pause button at the top of the page before starting a new song otherwise they will play on top of one another.

Art Project

Purchase some clay and make or acquire some type of stylist for writing. Then visit the Penn Museum to learn how your child's name would look in cuneiform. Next view the video tutorial about writing on a tablet. Finally allow your child to try her hand at being a scribe.

If she is really enjoying herself consider trying Sumerian numbers. Also try looking into the evolution of cuneiform from the University of Texas or the British Museum.

Writing Cuneiform on a Tablet

Babylonian Science and Math

The Babylonians were able to accurately predict a variety of astronomical events because of their meticulous observations recorded nightly for centuries. Their calendar was based on the lunar year and resulted in the need for a leap month which they called second Elul. Unlike ours, their new year began on spring equinox. Their week, like ours, was seven days. The day was divided into six two hour segments each divided into 30 parts, which they used a water clock to measure.

Should your child be interested a simple science project would be the construction of a water clock. The Babylonians used an outflow system. That is the water was measured and poured into a vessel from which it would slowly pour out. When all the water has run out the amount of time weighed in will have expired. The National Watch and Clock Museum has more detailed information.

The Babylonians were very advanced mathematically. However, they used a sexagesimal numerical system - a base sixty unlike our base ten. But their influences can still be seen in our measurements of time and degrees in a circle. What is even more fascinating is that by the time of Hammurapi their mathematical system had become part decimal (base ten).

Depending on the age and mathematical capabilities of your child this would be a good time to introduce telling time or degrees of angles. The Jefferson County Schools provides a variety of time telling math games on their site. And the Utah Education Network has a good lesson plan for introducing degrees.

Some final cultural tidbits which should prove useful:

  • Hyper History Onlineprovides maps of early civilizations. Click on Sumer for a more detailed map.
  • The University of Chicago provides a detailed map of Mesopotamia.
  • eHistory has an article about marriage in Mesopotamia and Babylon.
  • The Worldwide Treasure Bureau sells Sumerian Shell Money as well as providing historical information about the money.
  • The International World History Project provides a detailed article about Sumerian dress. Unfortunately there are no pictures.
  • Able Media also provides a shorter article about Sumerian dress. It includes one picture with a close-up.
  • The Ezine article "Ancient Sumer - Food Habits" by Christopher Schwebius provides details about the diets of Sumerians.
  • History World International has a detailed article about ancient Sumerians. Of particular note was the mention of types of travel:
    "The oldest sailing boat known is represented by a model found in a Sumerian grave of about 3500 B.C. Soon after this date wheeled vehicles appear in the form of ass-drawn war chariots. For the transport of goods overland, however, people continued to rely on the pack ass."
  • The Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry has an article about Sumerian achievements which includes questions prompts involving reflections on civilizations. It also includes a large number of pictures and the following except about games:
    "A Sumerian game board and playing pieces made of shell, bone, lapis lazuli, and red limestone. They were found in the Royal Cemetery at Ur and date to the twenty-fifth century B.C.E. The game board measures about 10.5 inches long and 4.5 inches wide."
    This text is accompanied by a picture of the game board.

  • The British Museum also includes a list of Sumerian gods and goddess with pictures and details about each god.

  • And finally let your child have a little fun with the build a Ziggurat mini game also provided by the British Museum.

Hopefully this information will provide you with lots of fun learning opportunities. I hope your children enjoy learning with you as much as my girls and I enjoy learning together.


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    • Joy M profile image

      Joy M 5 years ago from Sumner, Washington

      Thank you.

    • prettynutjob30 profile image

      Mary 5 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

      I love stuff like this, great informative hub.

    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 5 years ago from India

      Good history hub, i like it