Bible Narratives Wiki
Co-regent king of Babylon
reign 550-539 BCE[1]
predecessor Nabonidus
successor Cyrus the Great
father Nabonidus
mother poss. Nitocris[2]
death_date 539 BCE[3]
death_place Babylonia
further {{{further}}}

Belshazzar (Template:IPAc-en; Biblical Hebrew בלשאצר; Akkadian: Bēl-šarra-uṣur; Greek: Balthazar Template:IPAc-en,[4] from Akkadian, meaning "Protect His Life"; or, possibly, "[May] Bel Protect the King";[5] d. c. 539 BCE) was Coregent of Babylon. Though he is referred to in the book of Daniel as the son of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylonian inscriptions suggest that he was the eldest son of King Nabonidus. When the king went into exile in 550 BCE, the kingdom and most of its army were entrusted to Belshazzar. In the biblical story, Belshazzar holds a last great feast at which he sees a hand writing on a wall with the Aramaic words mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, which Daniel interprets as a judgment from God foretelling the fall of Babylon. Belshazzar died after Babylon fell to the Persians in 539 BCE.[6]

Book of Daniel[]

Belshazzar's feast[]

Main: Belshazzar's feast

The book of Daniel chapter 5 is the story of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall. Belshazzar celebrated a great feast for a thousand of his grandees (Dan. 5:1). Babylon was then menaced by the besieging forces of Cyrus the Great and his ally Darius the Mede.[7] Belshazzar was the acting king of Babylon. The holding of a feast, when the city is in state of siege, is not so unusual since the Babylonians confidently regarded the city’s walls as impregnable.[8] During the feast and under the influence of wine, Belshazzar called for the [vessels from the temple of Jerusalem] to be brought so that he and his guests and his wives and concubines might drink from them while praising the Babylonian gods. Obviously, this request was due to no shortage of drinking vessels, but, rather, it constituted a deliberate act of contempt by the pagan king to reproach the God of the Israelites, Jehovah (Da 5:2-4). He thereby expressed defiance to Yahweh, who had inspired the prophecies foretelling Babylon’s downfall. While Belshazzar seemed lighthearted about the siege set by the enemy forces, he was now severely shaken when a hand suddenly appeared and began writing on the palace wall. His knees knocking, he called upon all his wise men to provide an interpretation of the written message, but to no avail. The record shows that the queen now gave him sound counsel, recommending Daniel as the one able to give the interpretation (Dan. 5:5-12).[9] Daniel, by inspiration, revealed the meaning of the miraculous message, predicting the fall of Babylon to the Medes and the Persians. Though the aged prophet condemned Belshazzar’s blasphemous act in using vessels of Jehovah’s worship in praising see-nothing, hear-nothing, know-nothing gods, Belshazzar held to his offer and proceeded to invest Daniel with the position of third ruler in the doomed kingdom (Da 5:17-29). Belshazzar did not live out the night, being killed as the city fell during the night of October 5, 539 B.C.E.[10] With the death of Belshazzar and the apparent surrender of Nabonidus to Cyrus, the Neo-Babylonian Empire came to a close (Dan. 5:30).[11]


File:Nabonidus cylinder sippar bm1.jpg

The Nabonidus Cylinder

Nabonidus cylinder[]

Main: [Cylinders of Nabonidus]

A cuneiform tablet dated as from the accession year of Neriglissar, who followed Amel-Marduk (Evil-merodach) on the Babylonian throne, refers to a certain "Belshazzar, the chief officer of the king", in connection with a money transaction. It is possible, though not proved, that this refers to the Belshazzar of the Bible. In 1924 publication was made of the decipherment of an ancient cuneiform text described as the "Cylinders of Nabonidus Verse Account of Nabonidus",[12] and through it valuable information was brought to light clearly corroborating Belshazzar’s kingly position at Babylon and explaining the manner of his becoming coregent with Nabonidus. Concerning Nabonidus’ conquest of Tema in his third year of rule, a portion of the text says: "He entrusted the ‘Camp’ to his oldest (son), the firstborn [Belshazzar], the troops everywhere in the country he ordered under his (command). He let (everything) go, entrusted the kingship to him and, himself, he [Nabonidus] started out for a long journey, the (military) forces of Akkad marching with him; he turned towards Tema (deep) in the west." [13] Thus, Belshazzar definitely exercised royal authority from Nabonidus’ third year on, and this event likely corresponds with Daniel’s reference to "the first year of Belshazzar the king of Babylon" (Dan. 7:1).[14]

File:Nabonidus chronicle.jpg

The Nabonidus Chronicle

Nabonidus chronicle[]

Main: [[Nabonidus Chronicle]]

In another document, the Nabonidus Chronicle, a statement is found with regard to Nabonidus’ seventh, ninth, tenth, and eleventh regnal years. It reads: "The king (was) in Tema (while) the prince, the officers, and his army (were) in Akkad [Babylonia]."[15] Apparently Nabonidus spent much of his reign away from Babylon, and while not relinquishing his position as supreme ruler, he entrusted administrative authority to his son Belshazzar to act during his absence. This is evident from a number of texts recovered from the ancient archives proving that Belshazzar exercised royal prerogatives, that he issued orders and commands. Matters handled by Belshazzar in certain documents and orders were those that would normally have been handled by Nabonidus, as supreme ruler, had he been present. However, Belshazzar remained only second ruler of the empire, and thus he could offer to make Daniel only "the third one in the kingdom" (Dan. 5:16).[16]


Relationship to Nebuchadnezzar[]

At Daniel 5:2, 11, 18, 22, Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the "father" of Belshazzar, and Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar’s "son." It is probable that Belshazzar’s mother was Nitocris and that she was a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar II.[17] If so, Nebuchadnezzar could have been the grandfather of Belshazzar.[18] However, not all scholars find the evidence for such a relationship completely satisfying. It may be that Nebuchadnezzar was simply the "father" of Belshazzar as to the throne, Nebuchadnezzar being a royal predecessor. In a similar manner, the Assyrians used the expression "son of Omri" to denote a successor of Omri.[19][20]

King of Babylon[]

The inscriptions of the Edict of Balshazzar (YBT 6 103) gives Belshazzar the title "crown prince".[21] The Aramaic Qumran scroll 4Q243 fragment 2; Lines 1-2 names Belshazzar as vice-regent in Babylon during the absence of Nabonidus, while the book of Daniel gives Belshazzar's title as "king" (Dan. 5:1-30).[22]

Since the 19th century, some historians such as Robert Dick Wilson and W. H. Stevenson have disputed Belshazzar's reign as a king. Both Wilson[23] and Stevenson do, however, acknowledge Belshazzar as a legitimate historic figure.[24] In the Babylonian chronicles, Belshazzar is commanding the armies in the North while Nabonidus remains in Babylon. Later, after a break in the inscription, Nabonidus is with the army. John H. Raven suggests that while Nabonidus was with the Army, Belshazzar could have been placed in authority at the Capitol. Thus, it would support Daniel's position as being "third ruler of the kingdom" (Daniel 5:29) since Belshazzar was second only to his father. For as much overwhelming evidence that Robert D. Wilson had uncovered concerning Belshazzar's subordinate functions to Nabonidus, John H. Raven argues that Belshazzar would have been addressed as king and spoken of as such.[25]

In 1979, an archaeological discovery was unearthed in northern Syria, that of a life-sized statue of a ruler of ancient Gozan. On its skirt were two inscriptions, one in Assyrian and the other in Aramaic—the language of the Belshazzar account in Daniel. The two almost identical inscriptions had one outstanding difference. The text in the imperial Assyrian language says that the statue was of "the governor of Gozan". The text in Aramaic, the language of the local people, describes him as "king".[26] Archaeologist and language scholar Alan Millard writes: "In the light of the Babylonian sources and of the new texts on this statue, it may have been considered quite in order for such unofficial records as the Book of Daniel to call Belshazzar ‘king.’ He acted as king, his father’s agent, although he may not have been legally king. The precise distinction would have been irrelevant and confusing in the story as related in Daniel."[27]

Those who wielded sovereign power in Babylonia were expected to be exemplars in reverencing the gods. There are six cuneiform texts concerning events from the 5th to the 13th year of Nabonidus’ reign that demonstrate Belshazzar’s devotion to Babylonian deities. As acting king in Nabonidus’ absence, Belshazzar is shown in the documents to have offered gold, silver, and animals to the temples in Erech and Sippar, thereby comporting himself in a manner consistent with his royal position.[28]

In Cyropaedia (4.6.3), Xenophon refers to a son of the Babylonian king whom he also calls a king, and this son/king was reigning in Babylon when Cyrus was preparing his army to advance against the city. Xenophon, without giving his name, also repeatedly refers to the "king" that was slain when Babylon fell to the army of Cyrus.

Achaemenid invasion[]

Main: Fall of Babylon#Achaemenid invasion

Cyropaedia is a historical romance written in the early 4th century BCE by Xenophon and it is considered to be a partly fictional biography of Cyrus the Great. In Cyropaedia (4.6.3), but not in Herodotus, it describes two kings reigning over the Babylonian kingdom when the city fell, father and son, and it was the younger king, who was reigning when the city was taken and who was killed that night. Cyropaedia does not name either king.

Cyropaedia (7.5.20-33), in agreement with Herodotus (I.292), says that the combined Median and Persian army entered the city via the channel of the Euphrates river, the river having been diverted into trenches that Cyrus had dug for the invasion, and that the city was unprepared because of a great festival that was being observed. Cyropaedia (7.5.26-35) describes the capture of Babylon by Gobryas,[29] who led a detachment of men to the capital and slew the king of Babylon. In 7.5.25, Gobryas remarks that "this night the whole city is given over to revelry", including to some extent the guards. Those who opposed the forces under Gobryas were struck down, including those outside the banquet hall. The capture of the city, and the slaying of the son king of the king (4.6.3), is described in Cyropaedia (7:5.26-30) as follows:

(26) Thereupon they entered; and of those they met some were struck down and slain, and others fled into their houses, and some raised the hue and cry, but Gobryas and his friends covered the cry with their shouts, as though they were revellers themselves. And thus, making their way by the quickest route, they soon found themselves before the king’s palace. (27) Here the detachment under Gobryas and Gadatas found the gates closed, but the men appointed to attack the guards rushed on them as they lay drinking round a blazing fire, and closed with them then and there. (28) As the din grew louder and louder, those within became aware of the tumult, till, the king bidding them see what it meant, some of them opened the gates and ran out. (29) Gadatas and his men, seeing the gates swing wide, darted in, hard on the heels of the others who fled back again, and they chased them at the sword’s point into the presence of the king. (30) They found him on his feet, with his drawn scimitar in his hand. By sheer weight of numbers they overwhelmed him: and not one of his retinue escaped, they were all cut down, some flying, others snatching up anything to serve as a shield and defending themselves as best they could.[30]

Both Xenophon and Daniel 5 describe the demise of Belshazzar as occurring on the night that the city was taken.[31] Xenophon, Herodotus, and Daniel agree that the city was taken by surprise, suddenly, at the time of a festival, and with some (but apparently not much) loss of life. Since Cyropaedia, the silence of other classical sources regarding Belshazzar led to the denial of the historicity of Daniel’s naming Belshazzar as the king who was slain, until cuneiform evidence was found corroborating the existence of Belshazzar as the king reigning in Babylon.

See also[]

  • Fall of Babylon


  1. Britannica (2006) p.{{{p}}}.
  2. Dougherty (1929) p.43.
  3. Britannica (2006) p.{{{p}}}.
  4. Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (2015)
  5. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  6. Britannica (2006) p.{{{p}}}.
  7. Josephus. Against Apion I (c.100) p.150-152; Josephus quoted the Babylonian Berossus who said that Nabonidus had holed up in Borsippa after having been defeated by the Medo-Persian forces in battle.
  8. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  9. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  10. Grayson (1975) p.{{{p}}}.
  11. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  12. Jona Lendering. The Verse Account of Nabonidus (2014-07-09)
  13. Pritchard (1961) p.{{{p}}}.
  14. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  15. Grayson (1975) p.{{{p}}}.
  16. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  17. Dougherty (1929) p.{{{p}}}.
  18. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  19. Raven (1922) p.{{{p}}}.
  20. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  21. {{{last1}}}, {{{first1}}}. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} {{{title}}}], {{{publisher}}}, {{{location}}} ({{{date}}}) {{{edition}}} ed. p.{{{page}}}
  22. {{{last1}}}, {{{first1}}}. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} {{{title}}}], {{{publisher}}}, {{{location}}} ({{{date}}}) {{{edition}}} ed. p.{{{page}}}
  23. Raven (1922) p.{{{p}}}.
  24. {{{last1}}}, {{{first1}}}. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} {{{title}}}], {{{publisher}}}, {{{location}}} ({{{date}}}) {{{edition}}} ed. p.{{{page}}}
  25. Raven (1922) p.{{{p}}}.
  26. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  27. . Biblical Archaeology Review (May/June 1985) p. 77
  28. Insight (1988) p.{{{p}}}.
  29. In Cyropaedia 7, Xenophon says that Gobryas (Greek: Ugbaru) was a governor of Gutium. This captor is not found in Herodotus, however the name was verified when the Cyrus Cylinder was translated, naming Gubaru as the leader of the forces that captured Babylon.
  30. Translation by Henry Graham Dakyns. available online ' ()
  31. {{{last1}}}, {{{first1}}}. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} Historical Issues in the Book of Daniel], Taanathshiloh, Oxford ({{{date}}}) {{{edition}}} ed. p.{{{page}}}


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  • Grayson, Albert Kirk. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles], Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, IN (1975) {{{edition}}} ed. p.108-110
  • Insight, {{{first1}}}. {{{pub}}}: Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania (1988) {{{edition}}} ed. p.282-284
  • Pritchard, James B.; foreword by Daniel E. Fleming;. {{{pub}}}: [{{{url}}} Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament], Princeton University Press, Princeton (1969) annotator W. F. Albright ed. p.{{{page}}}
  • Raven, John H.. {{{pub}}}: The Biblical Review, Volume 7. "The Review: Bible and Spade", Wilbert Webster White, New York Theological Seminary, New York (1922) {{{edition}}} ed. p.628-633

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