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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]