Dating Babylon’s Ishtar Gate

Was this gate built with the Jerusalem Temple treasure?

Ishtar Gate

The Ishtar Gate, housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Courtesy Rictor Norton, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Babylon’s famous Ishtar Gate was commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II, but was it completed during his lifetime? More interestingly, was the gate built to commemorate Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, much as the Arch of Titus commemorated Rome’s sacking of the Second Temple more than six and a half centuries later? To answer these questions, an international team used archaeomagnetism to date several mudbricks used in the various stages of the gate’s construction, publishing their findings in the journal PLOS One.

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Dating a Gate

Glazed blue and covered with depictions of animals and deities, the Ishtar Gate is one of ancient Babylon’s most famous monuments. Constructed in three distinct architectural phases, the gate stands roughly 50 feet tall, with another 45 feet of foundation buried beneath. The first phase consisted of unglazed molded bricks, the second had flat glazed bricks, and the third was made up of glazed and molded bricks.

Although a royal inscription and several inscribed bricks state the gate was commissioned by Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605–562 BCE), the tripartite construction left open the question of how long it took to build the gate, and if it could have been completed by one of Nebuchadnezzar’s descendants. Carrying out archaeomagnetic dating on five bricks from the three phases, the team discovered they had all been created at roughly the same time, indicating that all three phases of the gate were therefore likely completed in rapid succession.

Ishtar Gate

A Mushkhusshu depicted on Babylon’s Ishtar Gate. Courtesy Raffaele pagani, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, the team concluded the gate was probably constructed in 569 BCE, over a decade and a half after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem. While this date does not preclude the possibility that treasures taken from the First Temple were used to fund the gate’s construction—as was done with the Roman Colosseum following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE—it is unlikely the Ishtar Gate was built to commemorate that event.

Read more in the Bible History Daily:

Where Are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

The Arch of Titus’s Menorah Panel in Color

Dating Biblical Wars through Magnetic Fields

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

How Bad Was the Babylonian Exile?

Biblical Archaeology 101: Dating in the Archaeological World

Nebuchadnezzar & Solomon

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