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Nabonidus, King of Babylon
reign556–539 BC
successorCyaxares II (=“Darius the Mede”)
birthunknown; probably well before 607 BC based on age of mother
deathsometime after 539 BC
spouse Nitocris?[3]

Nabonidus (Akkadian: 𒀭𒀝𒉎𒌇 dNabu-Na’id; Ancient Greek: Λαβυνήτου, Labynetus) was the last ruler of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He is also sometimes called the first archaeologist because, in his restoration of temples, he dug to find their foundation deposits in order to learn about the past history of kings and times. He came to power in a coup that killed his predecessor, Labashi-Marduk. He lost his kingdom to the forces of Media, Persia, and their allies under the command of Cyrus the Great in 539 BC but was dealt with mercifully by Cyrus and spent his last days, according to Berossus, in Carmania, a province in what is now Iran.

The early years of Nabonidus

In an inscription from early in his reign, Nabonidus relates “I am Nabonidus, the only son, who has nobody. In my mind there was no thought of kingship.”[4] Yet he came to the throne by being part of the conspiracy against the child king Labashi-Marduk, after which he was then chosen and installed by the conspirators to be the next king (556 BC).

Nothing is known for certain about his father except his name. An inscription of his mother tells of her being born in the twentieth year of Ashurbannipal, 648/47 BC. She died in April of 547, at an age of 101 or 102. During her life she was devoted to the worship of the moon-god Sin, so much so that some have thought she was a priestess of Sin.

This background helps explain what is regarded as the chief mistake of Nabonidus’s career: his apparent abandonment of the worship of Babylon’s chief god, Marduk, choosing instead to spend most of his years as king in the desert of Arabia, worshipping Sin. Cyrus was able to use this neglect of worship of Marduk to claim that Marduk, displeased with Nabonidus, rejected him and chose Cyrus to rule over Babylon in his place, a narrative that Cyrus realized would appeal to the people of Babylon and which he greatly exploited in the propaganda texts that he produced after his conquest of Babylon.

If Nabonidus’s mother bore him before the age of 40 his birth year would be 607 BC or earlier, making him 51 years of age or older when he became king in 556 BC. He went to the oasis of Tema, nestled amidst the sands of Arabia in his third year (553 BC) and spent most of his time there from that point on. In that same third year he appointed his son Belshazzar as king to reign in Akkad (in effect Babylon) .[5].

Last years of Nabonidus

The Nabonidus Chronicle relates that in the final battles with the forces under Cyrus, Nabonidus, who apparently was defending Sippar, fled from the forces of Cyrus.[6] Neither Nabonidus nor Cyrus were present at Babylon when Cyrus’s generals Gadatas and Gobryas (Ugbaru) took the city, Cyrus entering seventeen days later.[7] Nabonidus therefore was not killed when the city fell, but his son Belshazzar was slain on the very night the city was captured, according to Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (7.5.26–30) and Daniel 5:31. Xenophon (7.5.15) and Herodotus (Histories 1.191.6) also mention that it was at a time of festival that the city was taken, again in agreement with the book of Daniel (Daniel 5:1).

Josephus, citing Berossus, relates that after he was defeated by the forces of Cyrus, Nabonidus “was humanely treated by Cyrus, who dismissed him from Babylonia, but gave him Carmania for his residence.”[8] Carmania was a province in Iran, roughly equivalent to the modern province of Kerman. An extract from Eusebius that has survived only in an Armenian translation also cites the same passage in Berossus, but adds to it: “(But) Darius the king took away some of his province for himself.”[9] The timeframe is the time of the defeat of Nabonidus, not the time of Darius I Hystapses (522–486 BC), so that the eminent nineteenth-century commentators Hengstenberg, Keil, and Zökler used this to show that there was a Darius before Darius Hystapses, namely Daniel’s “Darius the Mede”.[10][11][12]


  • [1] Paul-Alain Beaulieu, The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon 556–539 B.C. (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1989).
  • [2]Xenophon, Cyropaedia: the education of Cyrus, translated by Henry Graham Dakyns and revised by F.M. Stawell.
  • [3]The Nabonidus Chronicle.
  • J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed.; Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969). Abbreviated as ANET.


  1. Beaulieu, Reign of Nabonidus, 68.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Herodotus, "Histories" 1.188.1
  4. Beaulieu, Reign of Nabonidus, 67.
  5. ANET, 313b
  6. ANET, 306b.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Josephus, Against Apion 1.153).
  9. Josef Karst, ed., Die Chronik aus dem Armenischen übersetzt mit textkritischem Commentar, vol. 5 of Eusebius Werke (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911), 246.
  10. E. W. Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Genuineness of Daniel and the Integrity of Zechariah (trans. B. P. Pratten; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1848), 40–43.
  11. C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, in Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (trans. M. G. Easton; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1872; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 198.
  12. Otto Zöckler, The Book of the Prophet Daniel: Theologically and Homiletically Expounded, trans. and ed. by James Strong, in John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical (12 vols.; ed. & trans. Philip Schaff; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1960), 7.35–36.