The most famous lunatic leader in antiquity has always been the Babylonian ruler
Nebuchadnezzar II (†562 BC). He has become famous for the hanging gardens and the terraced
temple tower, but in the bible Nebuchadnezzar received bad press for destroying the temple
of Jerusalem and carrying off the Jews into the "Babylonian captivity". Both the
bible and Herodotus portray him near the end of his reign as an infirm and senile monarch,
suggesting severe mental derangement and physical illness: "He imagined he was
a goat" and "ate grass with the cattle". The Dead Sea
Scrolls, however, suggest that the last ruler of the dynasty, Nabonidus (†539 BC),
was the afflicted old monarch, not Nebuchadnezzar.
The deranged Nabonidus was most likely married to Nebuchadnezzar's daughter. He became king of Babylon in 555 BC. He had always been a scholar and a recluse. He neglected the festivities in honour of the god Marduk. Instead, he had a temple build for the cult of the moon god Sin, and his mother and daughter were its priestesses. This worship of the moon god in favour of the traditional Babylonian deity made Nabonidus' rule disputed. Five years after his succession, his son Belshazzar was named co-regent and thus became the actual ruler of Babylon. In 539 BC Cyrus the Great of Persia invaded Babylon and the city fell without resistance.
Copyright © 1997, 2000, 2008 by J.N.W. Bos.
All rights reserved.