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(Or, as found in the Septuagint Baltasár.)

Baltasar is the Greek and Latin name for Belshazzar, which is the Hebrew equivalent for Bel-sarra-usur, i.e., "May Bel protect the king". Bel was the chief and titular god of Babylon. In Daniel, v, Baltasar is described as the son of Nabuchodonosor (A. V., Nebuchadnezzar) and the last King of Babylon. It is there narrated how the town was invaded—by the Medes under Darius, as would seem from Daniel 5:18-19—whilst the king was giving a sumptuous feast to his nobles. The king himself was slain. The narrator further informs us that the sacred vessels which Nabuchodonosor had carried with him from Jerusalem were defiled on that occasion. By order of king Baltasar they were used during the banquet, and his wives and concubines drank out of them. In the midst of the revelry a hand is seen writing on the wall the mysterious words Mane, Thecel, Phares (A. V., Mene, Tekel, Peres). The king's counsellors and magicians are summoned to explain the writing, but they fail to do so. The Queen then enters the banquet hall and suggests that Daniel should be called for. Daniel reads and explains the words: the days of the kingdom had been numbered; the king had been weighed in the balance and had been found wanting; his kingdom would be given to the Medes and the Persians.

In the account given by Herodotus of the capture of Babylon by the Persians under Cyrus, Labynitus II, son of Labynitus I and Nicotris, is named as the last King of Babylon. Labynitus is commonly held to be a corruption of Nabomidus. Herodotus further mentions that Cyrus, after laying siege to the town, entered it by the bed of the Euphrates, having drained off its waters, and that the capture took place whilst the Babylonians were feasting (Herod., I, 188-191). Xenophon also mentions the siege, the draining of the Euphrates, and the feast. He does not state the name of the king, but fastens on him the epithet "impious", ànódios. According to him, the king made a brave stand, defending himself with his sword, but was overpowered and slain by Gobryas and Gadatas, the two generals of Cyrus (Cyrop., vii, 5). The Chaldean priest Berosus names Nabonidus as the last King of Babylon and says that the city was taken in the seventeenth year of his reign. We are further informed by him that Nabonidus went forth at the head of an army to oppose Cyrus, that he gave battle, lost, and fled to Borsippa. In this town he was besieged and forced to surrender. His life was spared, and an abode assigned to him in Karmania. (Prof. C. P. Tiele, Babylonisch-Assyrische Gesch., 479; Euseb., Præp Ev., ix, 41; Idem, Chron., i, 10, 3.) Josephus follows the Biblical account. He remarks that Baltasar was called by the Babylonians Naboandelus, evidently a corruption of Nabonidus, and calls the queen, grandmother (è mámme) of the king. He adheres to the Septuagint rendering in making the reward held out to Daniel to have been a third portion of the kingdom instead of the title, third ruler in the kingdom. Rabbinical tradition has preserved nothing of historical value.

The cuneiform inscriptions have thrown a new light on the person of Baltasar and the capture of Babylon. There is in the first place the inscription of Nabonidus containing a prayer for his son: "And as for Bel-sarra-asur my eldest son, the offspring of my body, the awe of thy great divinity fix thou firmly in his heart that he may never fall into sin" (Records of the Past, V, 148). It is commonly admitted that Bel-sarra-usur is the same as Belshazzar, or Baltasar. Dr. Strassmaier has published three inscriptions which mention certain business transactions of Bel-sarra-usur. They are the leasing of a house, the purchase of wool, and the loan of a sum of money. They are dated respectively the fifth, eleventh, and twelfth year of Nabonidus. Of greater importance is the analytical tablet on which is engraved an inscription by Cyrus summarizing the more memorable events of the reign of Nabonidus and the causes leading up to the conquest of Babylon. The first portion of the tablet states that in the sixth year of Nabonidus, Astyages (Istuvegu) was defeated by Cyrus, and that from the seventh till the eleventh year Nabonidus resided in Tema (a western suburb of Babylon) whilst the king's son was with the army in Accad, or Northern Babylonia. After this a lacuna occurs, owing to the tablet being broken. In the second portion of the inscription we find Nabonidus himself at the head of his army in Accad near Sippar. The events narrated occur in the seventeenth, or last, year of the king's reign.—"In the month of Tammuz [June] Cyrus gave battle to the army of Accad. The men of Accad broke into revolt. On the 14th day the garrison of Sippar was taken without fighting. Nabonidus flies. On the 16th day Gobryas the governor of Gutium [Kurdistan] and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without a battle. Afterwards he takes Nabonidus and puts him into fetters in Babylon. On the 3rd day of Marchesvan [October] Cyrus entered Babylon" (Sayce, Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments; Pinches, Capture of Babylon). In addition to this tablet we have the Cyrus cylinder published by Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1880. Cyrus pronounces a eulogy upon his military exploits and assigns his triumph to the intervention of the gods. Nabonidus had incurred their wrath by removing their images from the local shrines and bringing them to Babylon.

On comparing the inscriptions with the other accounts we find that they substantially agree with the statement by Berosus, but that they considerably differ from what is recorded by Herodotus, Xenophon, and in the Book of Daniel. (1) The inscriptions do not mention the siege of Babylon recorded by Herodotus and Xenophon. Cyrus says Gobryas his general took the town "without fighting". (2) Nabonidus (555-538 B.C.), and not Baltasar, as is stated in Daniel, was the last King of Babylon. Baltasar, or Bel-sarra-usur, was the son of Nabonidus. Nor was Nabonidus or Baltasar a son or descendant of Nabuchodonosor. Nabonidus was the son of Nebo-baladhsu-ik-bi, and was a usurper of the throne. The family of Nabuchodonosor had come to an end in the person of Evil-Merodach, who had been murdered by Nergal-sharezer, his sister's husband. The controversy occasioned by these differences between the conservative and modern schools of thought has not yet reached a conclusion. Scholars of the former school still maintain the historical accuracy of the Book of Daniel, and explain the alleged discrepancies with great ingenuity. They assume that Baltasar had been associated with his father in the government, and that as prince-regent, or co-regent, he could be described in authority and rank as king. For this conjecture they seek support in the promise of Baltasar to make Daniel "third ruler" (Douay Version, "third prince") in the kingdom, from which they infer that he himself was the second. Professor R. D. Wilson, of Princeton, claims that the bearing of the title "King" by Baltasar was in harmony with the usage of the time (Princeton Theol. Rev., 1904, April, July; 1905, January, April). The other discrepancy, namely, that Nabuchodonosor is called the father of Baltasar (Daniel 5:2, 11, 18) they account for either by taking the word "father" in the wider sense of predecessor, or by the conjecture that Baltasar was his descendant on the mother's side.

On the other hand, the school of critics declines to accept these explanations. They argue that Baltasar not less than Nabuchodonosor appears in Daniel as sole and supreme ruler of the State. While fully admitting the possibility that Baltasar acted as prince-regent, they can find no proof for this either in the classical authors or in the inscriptions. The inference drawn from the promise of Baltasar to raise Daniel to the rank of a "third ruler" in the kingdom they regard as doubtful and uncertain. The Hebrew phrase may be rendered "ruler of a third part of the kingdom". Thus the phrase would be parallel to the Greek term "tetrarch", i.e. ruler of a fourth part, or of a small portion of territory. For this rendering they have the authority of the Septuagint, Josephus, and, as Dr. Adler informs us, of Jewish commentators of repute (see Daniel in the Critics' Den, p. 26). Furthermore, they argue that the emphatic way in which Nabuchodonosor is designated as father of the king leads the reader to infer that the writer meant his words to be understood in the literal and obvious sense. Thus the queen, addressing Baltasar, thrice repeats the designation "the king thy father", meaning Nabuchodonosor: "And in the days of thy father light, knowledge and wisdom were found in him [Daniel]: for King Nabuchodonosor thy father appointed him prince of the wise men, enchanters, Chaldeans, soothsayers, thy father, O King."


SAYCE, The Higher Criticism and the Monuments (London, 1894); KENNEDY, The Book of Daniel from the Christian Standpoint (London, 1898); FARRAR, Daniel (London); ANDERSON, Daniel in the Critics' Den (London); ORR, The Problem of the O. T. (London, 1906); GIGOT, Special Introduction to the Study of the O. T., pt. II, 366, 367, 369; ROGERS, A History of Babylonia and Assyria (New York, 1902); TIELE, Babylonisch­Assyrische Gesch., (Gotha, 1886).

About this page

APA citation. Van den Biesen, C. (1907). Baltasar. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Van den Biesen, Christian. "Baltasar." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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