Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder Goes for $605,000!

As published in Strata in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

Courtesy Doyle New York
Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder

While the Cyrus Cylinder has been making its rounds on an international exhibition circuit,a another cylinder of a famous Mesopotamian emperor has recently been brought to the public eye. One of Nebuchadnezzar’s cuneiform cylinders was auctioned off on April 9, 2014, by Doyle New York, Auctioneers and Appraisers for $605,000. The purchaser of the cylinder has requested to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, his anonymity may make it difficult for further scholarly study of the text.

BAR readers are familiar with the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (technically, the neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II), who infamously destroyed the First Temple and carried the Judahites in exile to Babylon. In the Book of Daniel, the Jewish seer Daniel interprets the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2; 4:1–27), and it is this same Nebuchadnezzar who throws Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the golden statue that he set up (Daniel 3).

The 8.25-by-3.25-inch cylinder that was recently auctioned details how Nebuchadnezzar restored and rebuilt several temples in the city of Sippar, 37 miles north of Babylon. One was the temple of Sippar’s patron deity, the sun god Shamash who was the god of justice. The other was the temple of Ninkarrak, the goddess of healing.

Do museums and educational organizations have the right to sell antiquities from their collections? This was the question the AIA-St. Louis Society faced when artifacts from its Egyptian collection were put up for auction. Learn more >>

Nebuchadnezzar describes how he searched among the ruins of Shamash’s temple, which was named E-barra (also E-babbara), and found the old cornerstone, over which he constructed the new temple:

E-barra, the radiant abode of the gods, the dwelling place of Shamash, the Judge, which had long ago fallen into disrepair in Sippar; which no previous king had built, Shamash the Lord ordered me, the Ruler, His favorite, to rebuild. I found its old cornerstone and took notice of it. Over its old cornerstone I laid its foundation. I erected E-barra as it was of yore and completed it. I caused it to shine like the bright day.

Sippar was an old city with a long history; it had been occupied as early as the Uruk period in the fourth millennium B.C.E.—more than 2,000 years before Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne in Babylon! It was revered as a cult center— one of the oldest and most important in all Mesopotamia.

To show their loyalty to Sumerian—and then Babylonian—culture and religion, kings would improve and rebuild the sacred temples of Sippar.

Why was it important for Nebuchadnezzar to show loyalty to Babylonian culture and religion? He was Babylonian after all, wasn’t he?

Although he was a king of the neo-Babylonian empire, Nebuchadnezzar II was actually Chaldean. Even in the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar is identified as “the Chaldean” (Ezra 5:12).

As Bill T. Arnold explains,b in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, southern Babylonia was not a single, homogenous ethnicity but rather was composed, in addition to the native Babylonians, of Arameans and Chaldeans. The native Babylonians (or Akkadians) were “native only in that they had not recently migrated to southern Mesopotamia,” whereas both the Arameans and the Chaldeans were newer transplants. Both the Arameans and Chaldeans were West Semitic peoples who had moved into southern Babylonia only at the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E.

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© Erich Lessing
A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate.

In the ninth century B.C.E., the Neo-Assyrian empire led by Shalmaneser III conquered Babylonia. In the eighth century, a Chaldean came to the throne in Babylonia in resistance to Assyrian rule. While his reign was short-lived, it set the stage for the Neo-Babylonian empire (also called the Chaldean Dynasty), which was established by Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, in the seventh century. Under Nabopolassar’s leadership, the Babylonians successfully toppled Assyrian rule.

Nebuchadnezzar’s reign was marked by extensive construction projects—as was his father’s reign—primarily in the public realm: fortifications, streets, temples, etc. He is especially famous for constructing the Ishtar Gate and for building a bridge that spanned the Euphrates, connecting both sides of Babylon. As the cylinder indicates, he also spent considerable resources to rebuild cult centers in Babylonia, like Sippar.

By doing this, not only was Nebuchadnezzar proving himself a Babylonian king, but he was also building a united Babylonian empire. Arnold explains, “Without doubt, the early motivation for such rebuilding was the need to unify all Babylonia administratively and religiously.” These elaborate construction projects would bring the Chaldeans, Arameans and native Babylonians together into a cohesive empire.

“Strata: Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder Goes for $605,000!” originally appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.



a. Strata: Exhibit Watch: “Cyrus Cylinder Begins American Tour,” BAR, May/June 2013; “The First Declaration of Human Rights: The Cyrus Cylinder,” sidebar to David Ussishkin, “Big City, Few People,” BAR, July/August 2005.

b. See Bill T. Arnold, “Nebuchadnezzar & Solomon: Parallel Lives Illuminate History,” BAR, January/February 2007.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Hanging Gardens of Babylon … in Assyrian Nineveh

The Decline of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

The Tel Dan Inscription


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  • Kurt says

    A clay cylinder covered in Akkadian cuneiform script, damaged and broken, the Cyrus Cylinder is a powerful symbol of religious tolerance and multi-culturalism. In this enthralling talk Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, traces 2600 years of Middle Eastern history through this single object.Play video and and find transcript of the talk
    Neil MacGregor: 2600 years of history in one object
    The Hebrew writers in the Old Testament, you will not be surprised to learn, take a rather different view of this. For them, of course, it can’t possibly by Marduk that made all this happen. It can only be Jehovah. And so in Isaiah, we have the wonderful texts giving all the credit of this, not to Marduk but to the Lord God of Israel — the Lord God of Israel who also called Cyrus by name, also takes Cyrus by the hand and talks of him shepherding his people. It’s a remarkable example of two different priestly appropriations of the same event, two different religious takeovers of a political fact.
    God, we know, is usually on the side of the big battalions. The question is, which god was it? And the debate unsettles everybody in the 19th century to realize that the Hebrew scriptures are part of a much wider world of religion. And it’s quite clear the cylinder is older than the text of Isaiah, and yet, Jehovah is speaking in words very similar to those used by Marduk. And there’s a slight sense that Isaiah knows this, because he says, this is God speaking, of course, “I have called thee by thy name though thou hast not known me.” I think it’s recognized that Cyrus doesn’t realize that he’s acting under orders from Jehovah. And equally, he’d have been surprised that he was acting under orders from Marduk. Because interestingly, of course, Cyrus is a good Iranian with a totally different set of gods who are not mentioned in any of these texts.

  • Michael says

    Antiquities such as these were not intended to be put into private collections. Woe comes to those who buy,sell or otherwise profit from hiding the information contained therein. These cylinders belong not only to the people of Iraq but to humanity as a whole. They should be kept in safekeeping with access to the information freely available to all scholars and researchers. Money is not a consideration for forces in question Secrecy is. Nebuchadnezzar is known in the book of Daniel, but did you know he was the grandson of Nebu who was the flesh and blood son of the flesh and blood Marduk who called himself Ra. Many of these cylinders contain the antics and power struggles of this family of beings and their manipulation of humanity. It’s plain to see what has caused the human condition, once you realize the truth. In much the same way a well known religious sect has secreted away the Dead Sea Scrolls for 4 decades until a savvy scholar put himself in the position to photograph them , then publish and distribute this invaluable information. Every secret shall be revealed, but don’t look for the creator of all to come in on a chariot and change things. He comes through your heart and mind, we must have the courage to make the changes internally and externally to bring about these changes. Selling these antiquities to private parties to be secreted must end.

  • Kurt says

    The Bible identifies Nebuchadnezzar II as being the king of Babylon about the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. Archaeological evidence supports the Bible’s testimony about his existence. A cameo made of onyx stone is on display in Florence, Italy. It bears an inscription that says in part: “In honour of Merodach, his lord, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in his life-time had this made.” Nebuchadnezzar ruled from 624 to 582 B.C.E.
    BABYLON (Empire)

  • Eric says

    A little technical question about cylinders.
    It has been mentioned before that the cylindars served as a kind of printing press to make copies for a wider distribution. If this is the case then the copy would be a mirror image. Or was it that the original though not found produced the cylinder. Or was this even the case.

  • Les says

    0.4 Talents of gold.

    Was this cylinder stolen during the 2003 invasion of Iraq? If not, what was the source?

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