Babylonia was an ancient Semitic nation state and cultural region based in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). It emerged as an independent state in ca. 1894 BC, the city of Babylon being its capital. Babylonia became the major power in the region after Hammurabi (fl. ca. 1792- 1752 BC middle chronology, or ca. 1696 – 1654 BC, short chronology) created an empire out of the territories of the former Akkadian Empire.
Babylonia retained the written Semitic Akkadian language for official use (the language of its native populace), despite its Amorite founders and Kassite successors not being native Akkadians. It retained the Sumerian language for religious use, but by the time Babylon was founded this was no longer a spoken language. The earlier Akkadian and Sumerian traditions played a major role in Babylonian (and Assyrian) culture, and the region would remain an important cultural center, even under protracted periods of outside rule.
The earliest mention of the city of Babylon can be found in a tablet from the reign of Sargon of Akkad (2334- 2279 BC), dating back to the 23rd century BC. Babylon was merely a religious and cultural centre at this point and not an independent state; like the rest of Mesopotamia, it was subject to the Akkadian Empire which united all the Akkadian and Sumerian speakers under one rule. After the collapse of the Akkadian empire, the south Mesopotamian region was dominated by the Gutians for a few decades before the rise of the Sumerian third dynasty of Ur, which encompassed the whole of Mesopotamia, including Babylon.
Following the collapse of this "Ur-III" dynasty at the hands of the Elamites (2002 BC traditional, 1940 BC short), the Amorites, another Semitic people, gradually gained control over most of southern Mesopotamia, where they formed a series of small kingdoms, while the Assyrians reasserted their independence in the north. During the first centuries of what is called the "Amorite period", the most powerful city states in the south were Isin and Larsa, although Shamshi-Adad I usurped the throne of Assyria and formed a short lived empire in the north. Another of these Amorite dynasties founded the city-state of Babylon, which would ultimately take over the others and form the short-lived first Babylonian empire, also called the Old Babylonian Period.