The events recorded in Daniel 1-4 pertained to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who expanded and united the Babylonian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. after ruling 43 years. The ensuing years of Babylonian history till its overthrow by Cyrus in 539 B.C. were marked by progressive deterioration, intrigue, and murder. Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach who ruled for two years (562-560 B.C., 2 Kings 25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34). Evil-Merodach was murdered in August 560 by Neriglissar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law and Evil-Merodach’s own brother-in-law. Neriglissar then ruled four years (560-556 B.C.). He is the Nergal-Sharezer mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3, 13. At his death, he was succeeded by his young son Labashi-Marduk, who ruled only two months (May and June 556) before he was assassinated and succeeded by Nabonidus, who reigned 17 years (556-539 B.C.)
Nabonidus did much to restore the glory that had belonged to Babylon under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Nabonidus’ mother was the highpriestess of the moon god at Haran. Perhaps because of her influence, he had great interest in restoring and expanding the Babylonian religion and did much to restore abandoned temples. He was absent from Babylon for 10 of his 17 years, from 554 through 545. In Haran he restored the temple of the moon god Sin, and then he attacked Edom and conquered parts of Arabia where he then lived for some time.
Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ eldest son and was appointed by his father as his coregent. (Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar’s father [Dan. 5:2, 11, 13, 18; cf. v. 22] in the sense that he was his ancestor or predecessor.) This coregency explains why Belshazzar was called king (v. 1) and why he exercised kingly authority even though Nabonidus actually held the throne.
Nabonidus, who ruled the empire of Babylon
from 555-538 B.C., mentions his firstborn son
Belshazzar on an inscription found in the city of Ur in
The inscription reads: "May it be that I,
Nabonidus, king of Babylon, never fail you. And may
my firtstborn, Bel-shazzar, worship you with all his
Another piece of evidence for Belshazzar's
reign in the city of Babylon comes from an inscription
where he is referred to as the son of Nabonidus and
is given authority to rule.
"Putting the camp under the rule of his
oldest son, the firstborn. The army of the empire
he placed under his command. His hands
were now free; He entrusted the authority of
the royal throne to him. "
Yet even another piece of evidence comes from
a tablet dating back to the seventh year of the rule of
Nabonidus, where he is mentioned in the same light
as his father:
“In regards to the bright star which has
appeared, I will undertake to interpret its
meaning for the glory of my lord Nabonidus,
Babylon’s king, and also for the crown prince,
What is interesting to note is that on this oath,
the man swore by both Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
While on oaths dating back to other times, generally
only the king is mentioned. This seems to indicate
that Belshazzar had a co-reigning authority that was
second only to his father throughout all the Empire.
Babylon was being besieged by the Persian army, led by Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, while Belshazzar, inside the city, was giving a great banquet for 1,000 of his nobles. Belshazzar’s name means “Bel (another name for the god Marduk) has protected the king.” Perhaps the banquet was given to show Belshazzar’s contempt for the Persians and to allay his people’s fears. Archeologists have excavated a large hall in Babylon 55 feet wide and 165 feet long that had plastered walls. Such a room would have been sufficient to house a gathering of this size. Belshazzar considered his city secure from assault because of its massive walls. Within the city were supplies that would sustain it for 20 years. Therefore the king felt he had little cause for concern.
5:2-4. The banquet itself showed Belshazzar’s contempt for the power of men. Then, to show his contempt for the power of the true God, he ordered that the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar … had taken from the temple in Jerusalem (cf. 1:1-2) be brought to the banquet hall so the assembled revelers might drink from them. In drinking, the people honored the gods of Babylon-idols made of gold … silver … bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Nabonidus, Belshazzar’s father, had attempted to strengthen the Babylonian religion. In keeping with that, this act by his son may have been an attempt to undo the influence of Nebuchadnezzar’s honoring the God of Israel (4:34-35). The polygamous king’s wives and concubines were there too.
5:25. As God had judged Nebuchadnezzar’s pride by removing him from the throne, so He would judge Belshazzar’s pride by taking the kingdom from him and giving it to another people. This judgment was written in the words that appeared on the plaster. First Daniel read the inscription which the wise men were unable to read. It was brief, containing only three words with the first word repeated. MENE (menē’) is an Aramaic noun referring to a weight of 50 shekels (a mina, equal to 1 1/4 pounds). It is from the verb menâh, “to number, to reckon.” TEKEL (teqēl) is a noun referring to a shekel (2/5 of an ounce). It is from the verb teqāl, “to weigh.” PARSIN (parsîn) is a noun meaning a half-mina (25 shekels, or about 2/3 of a pound). It is from the verb peras, “to break in two, to divide.” The word on the wall was actually Ūp̱arsîn, which means “and Parsin” (NIV marg.).
Even if the wise men could have read the words (which they couldn’t), they could not have interpreted them for they had no point of reference as to what had been numbered, weighed, and divided.
5:26-27. Then Daniel proceeded to interpret the meaning of these words. He explained that MENE meant that God had numbered (menâh) the duration of the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and was about to bring it to an end. TEKEL meant that Belshazzar had been evaluated by God, weighed (teqîltâh, from teqāl) in a balance and had been found wanting, that is, he was too light. A balance was the normal device used in weighing payments. A payment was to meet a certain standard so if it did not meet that standard, it was rejected as unacceptable. Belshazzar’s moral and spiritual character did not measure up to the standard of God’s righteousness so he was rejected. “By Him [God] deeds are weighed (1 Sam. 2:3).
5:28. In interpreting the third word Daniel changed the plural parsîn (v. 25) to the singular PERES (perēs). Belshazzar’s kingdom was to be broken up (divided, perîsaṯ) and given to the Medes and Persians. Apparently Daniel intended a play on words for a change in the vowels in perēs gives the word “Persian” (Pāras). Thus the message was that because of the moral and spiritual degradation of the king and his kingdom, God would terminate the Babylonian Empire and give it to the Medes and Persians.
By the year 540 BC, Cyrus captured Elam (Susiana) and its capital, Susa. The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battle(s), Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict had begun possibly in the winter of 540 BC. Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought the Battle of Opis in or near the strategic riverside city of Opis on the Tigris, north of Babylon. The Babylonian army was routed, and on October 10, Sippar was seized without a battle, with little to no resistance from the populace. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years.
Two days later, on October 7 (Gregorian calendar), Gubaru's troops entered Babylon, again without any resistance from the Babylonian armies, and detained Nabonidus. Herodotus explains that to accomplish this feat, the Persians diverted the Euphrates river into a canal so that the water level dropped "to the height of the middle of a man's thigh," which allowed the invading forces to march directly through the river bed to enter at night. On October 29, Cyrus himself entered the city of Babylon and detained Nabonidus.
Persian Tablet on Nabonidas/Belshazzar: In ref to Nabonidas taking statues
Following the death of Nebuchadnezzar/Hattusilis, Nabonidus (556-538) and Belshazzar (coreign 550/549-538) were kings in Babylon up to the day when the Persians and Medes under Cyrus diverted the flow of the Euphrates River to gain entry through the city gates of Babylon, slew Belshazzar as he was feasting in his palace and established the Persian Empire.  From this time we have a 4 inch long clay cylinder covered with cuneiform writing recording Cyrus' defeat of Nabonidus and the capture of Babylon. In this cylinder Cyrus describes a morally bankrupt Belshazzar. We read:
"A weakling has been installed as the [ruler] of his country ... He interrupted in a fiendish way the regular offerings ... The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [chang]ed into abomination. ... I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations."
A brief history of Cyrus and the Medes:
A Brief History of the Destruction of Babylon
In the 1st year of Neriglissar , only 2 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, war broke out between the Babylonians and the Medes. Cyaxares, king of the Medes, who is called "Darius" in the Bible, summoned to his aid his nephew Cyrus of the Persian line, which included his grandfather Astyages of Ecbatana (also known as Achmetha) in Media. When in 539 BC Cyrus marched against Babylon, Nabonidus met him with his army at Opis on the Tigris, in order to prevent Cyrus from crossing the river. But the forces of Cyrus pushed through and proceeded to Sippar which they captured without a fight. Nabonidus fled south while Belshazar, trusting in the mighty fortified defenses of Babylon feasted the time away.
The war was carried on with uninterrupted success by the Medes and the Persians, until in the 18th year of Nabonidus (the 3rd year of Belshazar, about 538 BC), Cyrus laid siege to Babylon. The defenses of Babylon, of which Nebukadnezzar inscribed, "Thus I completely made strong the defenses of Babylon. May it last forever." , were soon to be put to the test. The walls of Babylon were constructed, according to Herodotus, on the guidance of the Queen of Nebuchadnezzar, Nitocris. With the arrival of the armies of the Medo-Persian King Cyrus and the careless sense of security of the king within the city, a fatal combination of circumstances came together. They counted on their supplies calculated to last them 20 years and enough arable land to augment their sources for food within the city walls. They scoffed at Cyrus from the walls of their city but in years past already Jewish prophets had seen the destruction of this great city coming and even presented the name of the king who would carry it out, `Cyrus'. [Isaiah 13: 19-22] In their sense of security lay the source of danger. They thought of their wall as "Ina irat kigalli išidšu lû ušaršid e-bi-ih dan-num ebirti sît Samši lû ušashir", (`A mountain as big as) strong Ebih I made go all the way around the east bank'. Noticing the difficulties in taking the city by force, Cyrus resolved to try stratagem.
Knowing of the approach of an annual Babylonian festival in which the whole city would be given to careless mirth and revelry he decided to carry out his purposes on that day. There was no entrance into the city unless he could find it underneath the gates where the Euphrates entered and exited the city. He divided up his army into three bodies the first of which diverted the water of the river into numerous channels creating a lake. The other two divisions were posted at the entrance and exit of the river by the city wall. As soon as they noticed the water level going down they got ready to find their way inside the exposed city. On each side of the river inside the city along its entire length were great walls equal in dimensions to the outer city wall. These river side walls had huge gates of brass, which, when closed and guarded, barred all entrance within. Had the gates been closed that night, the Persian soldiers would have marched in on the river bed and marched out the other side. But as Isaiah (ca. 740-690) wrote, these gates had been left open that fateful night (Isa. 13:1,2). According to the Book of Daniel, that night the mysterious words, "MN MN TQL PRSN" appeared on the wall. Calling in the wise men, they might have read at first, `Mina, mina, a shekel, and a half shekel', which did not make any sense, where `mene' means weight. However, the prophet Daniel knew what was meant. He read, "Mene, mene, tekel upharsin", `numbered, numbered, weighed and divided'. The play on words has to do with the word `PRSN' which means `divided' and comes mighty close to the Hebrew word for `Persians (paras)'. God had numbered or added up the crimes of the king and completed their tally, The period of Babylon's political might was coming to its end. According to the Babylonian Chronicles, it was the 16th day of the month of Tishri, October 12th, 539 BC.
Persian military first attacked the royal guards stationed in the vestibule of the palace of the king. Belshazzar soon became aware of the cause of the disturbance and died fighting for his life. According to a Greek report, Cyrus spared the life of Nabonidus after his surrender and gave him a residence in Carmania, a Persian province located along the north shore of the Persian Gulf. All in all the Babylonian Empire lasted from about 606-538 BC.
Fall of Babylon:
One might have expected Belshazzar’s wrath to fall on Daniel because of the message he brought. But instead the king, faithful to his word (cf. v. 16), rewarded Daniel. However, Daniel’s enjoyment of those honors and the position to which he had been promoted was short-lived for that very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom. (On the identity of Darius the Mede see comments on 6:1.)
The city had been under assault by Cyrus. In anticipation of a long siege the city had stored supplies to last for 20 years. The Euphrates River ran through the city from north to south, so the residents had an ample water supply. Belshazzar had a false sense of security, because the Persian army, led by Ugbaru, was outside Babylon’s city walls. Their army was divided; part was stationed where the river entered the city at the north and the other part was positioned where the river exited from the city at the south. The army diverted the water north of the city by digging a canal from the river to a nearby lake.
With the water diverted, its level receded and the soldiers were able to enter the city by going under the sluice gate. Since the walls were unguarded the Persians, once inside the city, were able to conquer it without a fight. Significantly the defeat of Babylon fulfilled not only the prophecy Daniel made earlier that same night (5:28) but also a prophecy by Isaiah (Isa. 47:1-5). The overthrow of Babylon took place the night of the 16th of Tishri (October 12, 539 B.C.).
The rule of the Medes and Persians was the second phase of the times of the Gentiles (the silver chest and arms of the image in Dan. 2). The events in chapter 5 illustrate that God is sovereign and moves according to His predetermined plans. Those events also anticipate the final overthrow of all Gentile world powers that rebel against God and are characterized by moral and spiritual corruption. Such a judgment, anticipated in Psalm 2:4-6 and Revelation 19:15-16, will be fulfilled at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ to this earth.
Nabobidas Chronicle on Fall of Baylon:
This is a part of the Babylonian Chronicles, which are terse, factual accounts of historical events, and are therefore considered to be very reliable, although not very informative. This text has the following to say on the taking of Babylon by Cyrus:
"In the month of Tašrîtu, when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis [i.e., Baghdad] on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he [Cyrus or Nabonidus?] massacred the confused inhabitants. The fifteenth day [12 October], Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The sixteenth day, Gobryas [litt: Ugbaru], the governor of Gutium, and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards, Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned there. Till the end of the month, the shield carrying Gutians were staying within Esagila but nobody carried arms in Esagila and its buildings. The correct time for a ceremony was not missed.
In the month of Arahsamna, the third day [29 October], Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him - the state of peace was imposed upon the city. Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon. Gobryas, his governor, installed subgovernors in Babylon."
Additionally, a building inscription has been found that mentions the restoration of the Enlil Gate of Babylon shortly after its capture. Through these data, the following reconstruction has been proposed: When Cyrus attempted to march into southern Mesopotamia, he was met by the Babylonians near Opis. In the ensuing battle, the Persians were victorious. This in turn caused the nearby city of Sippar to surrender. Meanwhile, the Babylonians had withdrawn south to establish a line of defense near the Euphrates that should prevent Cyrus from advancing too far. However, Cyrus did not try the Babylonian army, but sent a small division south along the Tigris to try to take the capital by surprise. This plan worked: the division could reach Babylon undetected and caught it unawares, meeting only minor resistance near one of its gates. Thus, they were not only able to capture Babylon, but also King Nabonidus, who briefly afterwards left his army to return to Babylon, not knowing that the city had already been taken.
This left the Babylonian army in a precarious position, and it soon surrendered. In the meantime, Ugbaru, the commander of the division that had captured Babylon, had taken good care that his men would not plunder or otherwise harm the city; he had even made sure that the temple rites continued to be observed. Nonetheless, it still took Cyrus almost a month before he proceeded towards the city. As many Babylonian officials as well as the Babylonian administrative system stayed in place after the transition of power, it has been surmised that this time was spent on negotiations with representatives from the city; this is similar to what happened when the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II and later Alexander the Great took the city. Finally then, Cyrus went to Babylon, where he could now have his triumphant entry to the cheers of the people.