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Last King of Babylon Depicted in Saudi Arabia Rock Carving

Last King of Babylon
The last king of Babylon is depicted in a rock carving found in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Saudi Press Agency

Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia recently discovered a sixth-century BC rock carving depicting Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. The image has been outlined by the researchers to show its great detail.

Arab News reports that researchers from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage were the first to spot the 2,550-year-old inscription that had been so painstakingly engraved on a basalt massif located in the Al-Hadeed Governorate, in the country’s northern region of Hail.

The spectacular carving contains a total of 26 lines of writing in cuneiform; this is the longest inscription in that writing system ever discovered in Saudi Arabia. Researchers believe that the discovery might be able to shed light on the history of the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula as well as their ties to the neighboring civilization of Mesopotamia.

The discovery, in the town of Al Hait, is the second major finding in the secretive Saudi kingdom. Recently, rock carvings and inscriptions– including Greek writing — were found on cliffs in the area.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The inscription known as “The Dancers” at Bar Hima, Saudi Arabia, part of the new UNESCO site. That site contains writings in Ancient Greek. Credit: Heritage Commission/CC BY-SA 4.0

In July, UNESCO honored the Ḥimā Cultural Area in southwest Saudi Arabia for its rock carvings, which depicts plants and animals, as well as human activities, in its panoply of ancient art and writings. The site is located in a mountainous spot along an ancient caravan route.

The artworks and inscriptions reflect the many cultures of those who traveled through the Arabian Peninsula over the millennia, with messages written in scripts including Musnad, Aramaic-Nabatean, South-Arabian, and Thamudic, as well as Greek and Arabic.

The site is in southwest Saudi Arabia, approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of the city of Najran. An ancient Palaeolithic and Neolithic site, the Bir Hima Complex boasts art and inscriptions spanning from 7000 to 1000 BC.

King depicted with scepter, images of sun, moon, flower

The most recently-discovered rock carving, at Al Hait, shows the Babylonian king standing with a scepter in his left hand. His right hand is elevated in what might be a symbol of blessing or greeting.

Perhaps most intriguingly, four symbols, including a crescent moon, the sun, a snake and a flower, are depicted in front of King Nabonidus.

Researchers say they believe that the images have religious significance, but currently they are still comparing them with similar representations to determine their meaning, according to the Arab News report.

The history website History Blog opines that the markings may represent Mesopotamian deities, including the star of Ishtar, the disc of the sun god Shamash — which appears to have wings on the sides — and the moon deity called “Sin.”

The inscriptions were found on a stone located in the Saudi town of Al Hait. According to the history website Live Science, the area was known as Fadak in ancient times. The town has ruins of ancient fortresses and other rock art as well.

The discovery has “great … significance,” considering its early history that goes back to  the first millennium BC through the beginning of the Islamic era, the commission noted in a post on Twitter.

There have been previous discoveries revolving around the last King of Babylon, including other inscriptions and even obelisks. Nabonidus ruled Babylonia from 556 to 539 BC, at which time the ancient kingdom fell to Cyrus of Persia.

At the time of its greatest flourishing, the Babylonian Empire ruled all the lands from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. Nabonidus is known to have conquered portions of what is now Saudi Arabia.

Just four years after he came to power, the king named his son Belshazzar as co-regent; he then went into exile in Tayma, a city located approximately 160 miles north of Al Hait. He remained in exile there there until approximately 543 BC.

It is still unknown why the last king of the Babylonians went into exile, but according to Arkeonews, his “self-imposed exile from political and religious authority” could have been the result of a coup. It is also unknown why he would have been allowed to remain alive if that indeed had taken place.

The entire dispute may have been related — as the rock carvings seem to show — to religion.

According to researchers at the History Blog, Nabonidus may have attempted to alter the hierarchy of his peoples’ religion by declaring that the god of the the moon was superior to all other deities. This may have upset the officials in the religious power structure at the time.

Intriguingly, so much about this last Babylonian king remains unknown, including how and why he was forced to leave his city, the nexus of Middle Eastern civilization at that time.

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