Chaldea is the land bordering the Persian Gulf that gave its name to the ruling dynasty and thus became a synonym for Babylonia itself. The tribal territory covering the southern marshes and coastal plains of ancient Iraq bordering the Persian Gulf was called by outsiders “Chaldean land” after the name of the tribes inhabiting the area. This Babylonian name was followed by the Greek, while the Hebrew followed an old dialect form.
The land origin of the Chaldeans is often mixed, but scholars suspect the tribe may well be in the west, or else branches of the tribal family moved there (cf. Job 1:17). The general name for the area is unknown, since Chaldean tribes were part of Sumer (SHINAR). Qualification of Abraham’s home city UR as “of the Chaldeans” (Gen. 11:28, 31; 15:7; as later Neh. 9:7; cf. Acts 7:4) was used as a description to distinguish the city from other places with a similar name, Ur`.
In the 2nd millennium the area where Chaldeans resided was designated “the Sea-Lands” and was described as adjacent to Elam on the east, the “west land” (Amorite or western desert) to the west, and Dilmun, the islands and coastal regions of Bahrain, to the south. First-millennium texts name the tribes of the Kaldu under chiefs. Assyrian kings claimed the capture of at least seventy-five walled Chaldean towns or villages and 420 hamlets from these tribes.
The later rulers of the 1st Dynasty of Babylon (ca 1740-1590 B.C.) referred to the “Sea-Land” as ruled by independent chiefs, of whom Gulkišar was the most renowned, Another, Ea-gamil, was the contemporary of Samsu-ditana of Babylon (1625–1595), while the later Babylonian king list A records a second Sea-Land dynasty of three kings who reigned over most of Babylonia for twenty years and three months, ca 1010-980 B.C. It is likely that these were “Chaldeans,” though not so named in these texts, since Ashurnasirpal II in his annals for the year 860 mentions the Kaldu as strong in this same area.
The expansionist aims of the Sargonid Assyrian kings brought them into direct clash with the independent tribes of the south in their need to control the trade routes to Elam and the Gulf. Shalmaneser III in 851 sacked the town of Baqani, which then belonged to Adini of the Dakkuru tribe. When his capital Enzudi fell Adini paid the Assyrian tribute, as did Mušallim-Marduk of Amukkani and BIt-Yakin; the latter is called “of the land of the Sea,” thus identifying the earlier description of “Sea-Lands” with the now more frequently used “land of the Chaldeans.” Adadnirari III (805) lists the Amukkani and BIt-Yakin among his Chaldean vassals.
In 734 the Amukkani seized Babylon, on the death of Nabunas'ir. Tiglath-pileser III immediately responded by sending his Assyrian army, who plundered Amukkani, Šilani, and Sa’alli while the Chaldean chief UkIn-zer was engaged at Sapia.
His rivals Balassu of Dakkuru and Marduk-apla-iddina (the biblical Merodach-baladan) of BIt-Yakin made a treaty with the Assyrians, and their lands were spared, Merodach-baladan even dominated Babylon itself from 721 to 710 B.C.
Sargon II of Assyria set out to win over the Li’tau and various Aramean groups. He sealed the border with Elam from which the rebels were supplied, eventually regaining control of Babylon. Marduk-apla-iddina II withdrew to Yatburu in Elam; and though the Assyrians captured Dur-Yakin, his main city, he retained the chieftainship.
However, on Sargon’s death in 705 Merodach-baladan took the title “King of Babylon” (so 2 K. 20:12) following the disappearance of the little-known Marduk-zakir-šumi II. It is probably at this time, rather than at the earlier rule in Babylon, that Merodach-baladan sent his embassy to Hezekiah of Judah to enlist his support against the expected Assyrian countermeasures (Isa. 39; 2 K. 20:12–19). Thus here too, “Chaldean” is rightly used as synonymous with “Babylonian” (Isa. 13:19; 47:1, 5; 48:14, 20).
For a while another Chaldean, Šuzubu (Mušezib-Marduk), gained power when Merodach-baladan withdrew on the approach of Sennacherib’s army. Sennacherib, who defeated the Chaldean tribesmen at Kish, gave Babylon into the hands of his nominee Bel-ibni. Resistance continued for a time under a son of Merodach-baladan, who was betrayed by the Elamites.
Merodach-baladan himself died in exile before Sennacherib in 695 could mount an amphibious operation to punish the supporting elements living across the gulf. When Ashurbanipal raided the south ca 652 B.C. he captured Merodach-baladan’s grandson Palia. This act forced the Chaldean tribes to side with Šamaš-šum-ukIn of Babylon, and their combined hostility was the prime cause of the sack of that city by the Assyrians in 648.
Mannu-kI-Babili of the Dakkuri and Ea-šum-iqIša of the Amukkani were punished for their complicity, and Nabû-bel-šumati, another grandson of the renowned chief of the Bit-Yakin, committed suicide when betrayed by the Elamites to whom he, like his grandfather Merodach-baladan, had fled.
After Ashurbanipal’s death and the increasing weakness of his regime the Chaldeans rose in revolt and recaptured Babylon, putting their leader Nabopolassar on the throne there in 627. He inaugurated a period of remarkable political and economic recovery, allying with the Medes to sack Asshur (614) and Nineveh (612).
His son Nebuchadrezzar II (605–562), while crown prince, confronted the Egyptians, defeating them at Carchemish in 605 B.C. before campaigning in Syria and Palestine (2 K. 24:7; Josephus Ant. x.6.86).
The Babylonian Chronicle for this reign records his operations resulting in Jehoiakim’s submission to the Chaldean king (2 K. 24:1; Jer. 25:1) and his defection three years later when the Chaldeans had been routed by the Egyptians in 601 (Jer. 26:1–11), In revenge the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, March 16, 597 B.C.; and when their nominee Mattaniah-Zedekiah broke his vassal’s oath, they sacked the city and took the Judeans into exile (587).
Nebuchadrezzar much embellished Babylon and strengthened its defenses (Dnl. 4:30). His son Amel-Marduk (Evil-merodach of 2 K. 25:27–30) showed compassion on the exiled Jews, but under his successors Neriglissar (560–558) and Labaši-Marduk (557), their lot deteriorated with the mounting pressure on Babylon by the powerful Medes.
Nabonidus (556–539) set up a provincial administration in the Jewish diaspora area of Teima in north Arabia, leaving his son and co-regent Bel-šar-us?ur (Belshazzar, “king of the Chaldeans,” Dnl. 5:30) to withstand the final assault of the Persians under Cyrus in October 539. Nabonidus himself died in exile, and with the fall of Babylon the Chaldean Dynasty ended.
Chaldeans as Learned Men
The Chaldeans maintained the traditional Babylonian schools at Babylon, Borsippa, Sippar, Uruk, and Ur. Here the “learning of the Chaldeans” (Dnl. 1:4; 2:2; 4:7; 5:7, 11) comprised the study of Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic (formerly called “Chaldee”), and other languages, as well as the extensive literature written in them.
Historiography as well as the sciences of astronomy, mathematics, and medicine formed a large part of the specialist work. Associated religious texts, both omina and astrology (horoscopes were not introduced until the 4th cent B.C.) played a large part.
In one sense Daniel uses “Chaldean” as a synonym for “Babylonian” as elsewhere is the case in the Old Testament.
With the increasing introduction of Aramaic, “Chaldean” became a term for “magicians, magi, enchanters, and soothsayers,” since these aspects of Babylonian religious texts were the longest to survive in the popular imagination (as ca 450 B.C. Herodotus i.181–83).