(from Greek Χαλδαία, Chaldaia
māt Kaldu, Hebrew
, "the Chaldees" of the KJV Old Testament
, was a Hellenistic
designation for a part of Babylonia
, mainly around Sumerian Ur
, which became an independent kingdom
under the Chaldees. It pursued military campaigns against the foreign ruling dynasties ruling southern Mesopotamia, mainly the Akkadians
and the Babylonians. It became a Babylonian colony in the early days of Hammurabi
, but retained special status in relation to other cities ruled by Babylon in the region. One early such reference is to the impending of Jerusalem
by Nebuchadnezzar II
The 11th dynasty of the Kings of Babylon (6th century BC) is conventionally known to historians as the Chaldean Dynasty. Their kingdom in the southern portion of Babylonia lay chiefly on the right bank of the Euphrates. Though the name came to be commonly used to refer to the whole of Mesopotamia, Chaldea proper was the vast plain in the south formed by the deposits of the Euphrates and the Tigris, extending to about four hundred miles along the course of these rivers, and about a hundred miles in average width.
Chaldea as the name of a country is used in two different senses. In the early period it was the name of a small territory in southern Babylonia
extending along the northern and probably also the western shores of the Persian gulf
. It is called in Assyrian mat Kaldi
—that is, "land of Chaldea"—but there is also used, apparently synonymously, the expression mât Bit Yakin.
It would appear that Bit Yakin was of the land; and the king of Chaldea is also called the king of Bit Yakin, just as the kings of Bab the estuaries of the Tigris
, which then discharged their waters through narrow bonds and obtained the ascendency over all Babylonia, they gave their name to the whole land of Babylonia, which under the Chaldean dynasty
was called Chaldea.
The Chaldeans were a Semitic
people who appear in the country of the sea-lands around the head of the Persian Gulf
at about the same time that the Arameans
and the Sutu
appeared in Babylonia. Though belonging to the same Semitic race, they are to be differentiated from the Aramean stock; and Sennacherib, for example, is careful in his inscriptions to distinguish them. When they came to possess the whole land their name became synonymous with Babylonian, and, though conquerors, they were speedily assimilated to Babylonian culture.
The language of the Kaldu was Babylonian, the same, save for slight peculiarities in sound and in characters, as the Assyrian language of Niniveh. In the late Assyrian Empire, Babylonian ceased to be spoken, and Aramaic took its place. One form of this widespread language is used in Daniel and Ezra.
The Chaldeans were traditional allies of the Elamites and Persians in their struggle against the Assyrians.
Important Kaldu cities were Bit-Yâkin
(the original homeland at the Persian Gulf), Bit-Dakuri, Bit-Adini, Bit-Amukkani
, and Bit-Shilani
. King Ukinzir
) conquered Babylonia, ruling 731-729, but was again defeated by Tiglath-Pileser III
. During the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727), Babylonia saw a significant influx of Kaldu settlers.
Merodach-Baladan of Bit-Yâkin gained the support of the Elamites and was king of Babylonia several times between 721 and 710, being deposed by the Assyrians, but always succeeding in seizing the reins of power again. In 702, he once more campaigned against Sennacherib before being finally defeated at Kish. King Mushezib-Marduk was king just before Sennacherib's sack of Babylon in 689 BC.
It was only under Nabopolassar in 625 that the Kaldu attained lasting control over Babylon, after having defeated Assyria and Egypt at Karchemish, founding the Chaldean dynasty, which lasted until 539 and the rise of the Achaemenid Empire.
When the Chaldean empire was absorbed into the Achaemenid, the name Chaldean lost its meaning as the name of an ethnic group, and came to be applied to a class. The Persians found the Chaldeans masters of reading and writing, and especially versed in all forms of incantation, in sorcery, witchcraft, and the magical arts. Thus, in Greek, "Chaldean" came to acquire the meaning of "astrologer" (e.g. in Strabo). In this sense it is also used in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 1:4, 2:2ff.).