Skip to main content



NABONIDUS (Nabû-naʾid ), last king of Babylon (556–539 b.c.e.), son of a governor, Nabû-balaṭsu-iqbi, and a votaress of Sin. A native of *Haran, Nabonidus was a military commander in his sixties when he ascended the throne of Babylon.

The principal cuneiform sources concerning his reign are: the Nabonidus Chronicle (Pritchard, Texts, 305–7); a basalt stela, which relates his rise to power (ibid., 308–11); a memorial inscription from Haran, which tells the story of his mother (ibid., 311–2); the so-called "Verse Account of Nabonidus," a libel which accuses Nabonidus of mendacity, madness, and of impiety (ibid., 312–5); and foundation documents relating the rebuilding of sanctuaries.

The same period is recorded also by Herodotus, Xenophon, and Josephus. His religious activities were multiple. He restored the ziggurat of Ur and its various temples, e.g., Esagila – the great temple of Marduk in Babylon. One of his dreams was to reconstruct the temple of Sin in Haran. This important city commanding the highways from northern Mesopotamia to Syria and Asia Minor had been in the hands of the Medes since 610. To expel the Medes, Nabonidus sought the help of the young Persian king *Cyrus. In the battle that followed, Cyrus captured the Median king Astyages – his grandfather – and annexed the Median kingdom, thus initiating the building of a great empire which was to include Babylonia as well. In the third year of his reign, Nabonidus went to Syria to raise troops for his campaign in Arabia. He took Hamath, rebuilt the temple of Sin in Haran, stayed during a brief illness in the Anti-Lebanon, and started for Arabia. He took Adummu (al-Jauf) and destroyed *Tema, which he rebuilt and made his residence for several years. His son Bêl-šar-uṣur (*Belshazzar, cf. Dan. 5) stayed in Babylon as regent during Nabonidus' long absence. His stay in Tema still puzzles historians, and various explanations have been put forward, the most accepted being that his major aim was the resurrection of the ancient moon religion of Sin.

In the fall of 539 Cyrus, with the approval and perhaps even on the initiative of the priesthoods of Babylon and the other cities of southern Mesopotamia, invaded the Babylonian empire. By that time Nabonidus was back in the capital. During Cyrus' siege of Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants revolted against Nabonidus, who massacred them. On the 15th of Tashritu (September–October), Sippar surrendered to Cyrus without battle. Nabonidus fled. The next day Babylon – whose priests, especially the priest of Marduk, opposed him – opened its gates to Cyrus and his allies (the Gutians). Nabonidus was later arrested upon his return to Babylon. On the third day of the following month Cyrus made his triumphal entrance into Babylon. "Great twigs were spread before him. The state of 'peace' was imposed on the city." Nabonidus' end is obscure; according to Josephus, however, he was treated humanely by the conqueror, who assigned Carmania (Central Iran) for his residence (Jos., Apion 1:153). Aramaic fragments from Qumran in which Nabonidus (Nbny) relates that while in Teman (so!) he was afflicted with an inflammation of the skin (sheḥin) for seven years until an unnamed Jewish soothsayer (gazar, a word which also appears in the Aramaic of *Daniel) advised him to pray to the God of Heaven instead of to the idols, show what sort of speculations the king's prolonged residence in remote Tema gave rise to. This suggests that the story about the seven years' lycanthropy of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 goes back ultimately to such malicious speculations about Nabonidus on the part of disaffected Babylonians.


S. Smith, Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of Babylon (1924) 27ff., 98ff.; R.P. Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar (1929); J. Lewy, in: huca, 19 (1946), 405–89; J.T. Milik, in: rb, 62 (1956), 407ff.; J. Roux, Ancient Iraq (1966), 346ff.; Pritchard, Texts, 305–15; E. Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible (1967), 74–7.

[Laurentino Jose Afonso]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nabonidus." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 25 Jun. 2019 <>.

"Nabonidus." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (June 25, 2019).

"Nabonidus." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved June 25, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.