The Chaldeans are an interesting group from the age of Antiquity who left behind a great knowledge and culture that is similar to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. However, we know quite a bit less about the Chaldeans because much of their original culture is lost or untranslated and their civilization fell out of place before other groups.
The Chaldeans were part of the wider civilization known as Babylon. However, they came to dominate Babylon and bring about the period known as the Chaldean dynasty, Babylon’s strongest age as an empire of the ancient world.
You may recognize the name Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar is famous for being the longest reigning king of the Chaldean dynasty and for leading Babylon to greatness, including being one of the most powerful rulers and civilizations of its time.
Nebuchadnezzar expanded the Babylonian Empire to a size even greater than the empires of any Assyrian kings from before him. He also created a massive amount of infrastructure across the Middle East that would be used by many civilizations after the Babylonians.
If you would like to learn a bit more about Nebuchadnezzar personally, as well as information about how he and Babylon as a whole came to power in the region, then watch this great video that I found here:
Where Did The Chaldeans Come From
The Chaldeans are believed to have come to the region of Babylon in a time of great turmoil for the Babylonians. The Babylonians were one of the main powers in the Eastern Semitic lands, but that power had grown rather weak around the 11th century BC.
Due to the weakness of Babylon in this period, multiple Western Semitic groups arrived from the Levant and those groups included the Chaldeans. These people settled into Babylon and attempted to settle into Assyria as well, but Assyria usually killed anyone that tried to migrate there so Babylon was the much more suitable option.
What Is The Chaldean Language
No one really knows a whole lot about the original language of the Chaldeans. They came from the Levant and most likely spoke a language similar to Aramaic, but beyond that not much is truly known.
The Assyrian and Babylonian empires both had the dialect of Eastern Aramaic introduced to serve as the common tongue for the people of the region. Because of this change, that came in around the 8th century BC, Aramaic essentially overtook and outlasted all the other languages in Mesopotamia including the language of the Chaldeans.
Several of the books of the Hebrew Bible used the Eastern Aramaic dialect, and for some time this was misunderstood to be the Chaldean language. Scholars have long since corrected this mistake though.
One last important thing to note is that the Chaldean name actually comes from the Latin word Chaldaea which is from the Greek word Khaldaia, and this in turn from the Akkadian word Kaldu. The Hebrews used the words Kesed or Kasdim and Aramaic calls them Kaldo.
What Is The Chaldean Religion
The Chaldean religious beliefs, to as far as an extent as we are aware, line up with the overall Babylonian religious beliefs. The primary deity of worship being Marduk.
Marduk was seen as the god of the city of Babylon itself, however this was a role that used to belong to a deity named Enlil. Enlil was regarded as the lord of the land, which put him in direct contrast with another deity named Anu, the lord of the heaven.
Anu and Enlil were joined by another deity, named Ea, who was the ruler of the waters. Anu, Enlil, and Ea made up a triad that stood at the top of the Babylonian religion.
However, most of the things that were usually believed to be acts of Enlil and responsibilities of Enlil were passed on to Marduk by later generations of Babylonians. Marduk was also the son of Ea, and his cult seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from the cult of Ea.
One thing that was original to Marduk is that his most important festival is the New Year festival, which the Babylonians celebrated on the spring equinox. This built an association between Marduk and the changing of the seasons as well as with life itself.
Speaking of the spring equinox, the Chaldeans had very extensive connections with astrology and astronomy. Even as far ahead as the time of the Romans, many classical writers were praising the Chaldeans for their very high level of knowledge on these subjects.
According to Horace, a poet in the time of Augustus, the practice of horoscopes came from “Babylonian calculations.” Those Babylonian calculations being a method from the Chaldeans to determine the future using things found through astrology.
The Chaldean Legacy
In addition to their contributions to astrology, the term Chaldean is sometimes used to describe the inhabitants of Mesopotamia ethnically. However, these people are in fact actually Assyrians.
The first usage of the term to refer to them as such came from the Catholic Church when they had entered into a union with Assyrians living in Cyprus. Chaldean came to refer to their language, their ethnicity, and their new church.
However, the Aramaic speaking peoples of Mesopotamia, as well as all of their neighbors, have always more properly either called them Assyrian or Syrian. The documentation that these are in fact the descendants of the Assyrians is actually very well recorded.
So what happened to the Chaldeans themselves? Well, throughout their time as part of the Babylonian Empire they largely assimilated. By the time the Babylonians would fall to the Persians in the rise of the Achaemenid Empire, they had lost practically all meaning as a separate group from Babylon proper and were not retained by the Persians as any province or ethnicity.
However, the Persians did retain them as a class of people. This specific class of people being known as those with a great knowledge in reading, writing, sorcery, witchcraft, magic, astrology, and astronomy.
The dissolution and assimilation of the Chaldeans as a people seems to be true even when looking at the records of other nearby groups at the time and groups who came after the Achaemenid Empire, where one can find that they are absent from any mention beyond the Persian intellectual class meaning.