Babylonia was located in the Mesopotamian region (present-day Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) and was where communities first evolved into towns and cities. As the settlements grew so did the social structures, as well as the cultural and religious beliefs of the people — all of which came to unify the people and bolster a political system.
When the Babylonians first settled in Mesopotamia (after the third millennium BCE), they imbibed the beliefs, mythologies, and culture of the Sumerian people who were living in the area before them. The Sumerian people believed in a pantheon of gods of whom they worshiped. The Babylonians incorporated Sumerian belief and mythology into their own empire, and the powerful Babylonian leaders used it as a means to reinforce their dominance and the hierarchy they established. For the Babylonians, religion provided them with a coherent mythology. It was important for it not only served social functions but also explained the natural world.
Foundational to Babylonian religion is the well-known creation myth of the Enuma Elish. The story is very old dating somewhere between 1894-1595 BCE and receives its information from earlier Sumerian mythology. In total, the Enuma Elish is recorded on several clay tablets and speaks of a before time in which only Tiamat (the saltwater ocean) and Apsu (the freshwater ocean) existed. Tiamat and Apsu give birth to the primal gods, including Anshar and Kishu, the horizons of the sky, and the Earth. The sky and the Earth then create Anu (the god of the sky) and Ea (the god of the Earth and water). The shouts of the young gods disturb the peace and also disturb Tiamat and Apsu. Apsu attempts to destroy the young gods but is killed by Ea. Ea creates a temple for himself that he names Apsu (named after his father) and where his son, Marduk, is born. In an attempt to avenge the death of her husband, Tiamat wages war against Marduk and puts her son Qingu in command of her forces. However, Marduk fights Tiamat’s army killing both Qingu and Tiamat. Through these events, order is brought back to the universe. From Qingu’s blood, Marduk creates mankind to serve the gods.
In the Enuma Elish, the Babylonians reworked the Sumerian story but to have it feature Babylonian deities. In particular to feature are the gods Marduk and Enki. Marduk is the leader of the hierarchy of gods and whose victory over the older gods, including the creator god Tiamat, gave him the power to create and organize the universe he ruled from Babylon. This story of Marduk ordering the universe and his victory over the other gods is a metaphor for the power, authority, and supremacy of Babylonian rulers and kings, and their right to enforce laws.
King Hammurabi (d. 1750 BCE), whom many believed was a god, claimed divine authority for his rule and introduced a code of laws known as the Code of Hammurabi. From his wealthy and powerful city base of Babylon, King Hammurabi spread his empire, conquered new territories, and forced the people to pay respect to the god Marduk. Babylon not only acted as an administrative center for Babylonia but was also its religious center in which Marduk and Hammurabi asserted their supremacy over others. Around 691 BCE, Babylon fell to the Assyrians and the myths of Marduk were reassigned to the Assyrian god Assur.
Ambalu, S. et al. 2013. The Religions Book. p. 56-67
Encyclopedia Britannica. Babylon: Ancient City, Mesopotamia, Asia. Available.