Mesopotamia (from the Greek Μεσοποταμία "[land] between the rivers", Assyrian called "Bet-Nahrain", rendered in Arabic as بلاد الرافدين bilād al-rāfidayn) is a toponym for the area of the Tigris-Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, as well as some parts of northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran.
Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. In the Iron Age, it was ruled by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires. The indigenous Sumerians and Akkadians (including Assyrians & Babylonians) dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history (c. 3100 BC) to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire. It fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC and after his death it became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire.
Around 150 BC, Mesopotamia was under the control of the Parthians. Mesopotamia became a battleground between the Romans and Parthians, with parts of Mesopotamia (particularly Assyria) coming under periodic Roman control. In 226 AD, it fell to the Sassanid Persians, and remained under Persian rule until the 7th century Arab Islamic conquest of the Sassanid Empire. A number of primarily Christian native Mesopotamian states existed between the 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, including Adiabene, Oshroene and Hatra.
The regional toponym Mesopotamia (from the root words "meso" < μέσος = middle and "potamia" < ποταμός = river, literally "between rivers") was coined in the Hellenistic period to refer to a broad geographical area without definite boundaries, and was probably used by the Seleucids. The term biritum/birit narim corresponded to a similar geographical concept and was coined during the Aramaicization of the region, in the 10th century BC.
It is widely accepted, however, that early Mesopotamian societies simply referred to the entire alluvium by the Sumerian term kalam ("land"). More recently, terms like "Greater Mesopotamia" or "Syro-Mesopotamia" have been adopted to refer to wider geographies corresponding to the Near East or Middle East. These later euphemisms are Eurocentric terms attributed to the region in the midst of various 19th century Western encroachments.
Main article: History of Mesopotamia
Further information: History of Iraq and History of the Middle East
Further information: Chronology of the Ancient Near East
Overview map of ancient Mesopotamia
The history of ancient Mesopotamia begins with the emergence of urban societies during the Ubaid period (ca. 5300 BC). The history of the Ancient Near East is taken to end with either the arrival of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC, or with the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia and the establishment of the Caliphate, from which point the region came to be known as Iraq.
Mesopotamia housed some of the world's most ancient highly developed and socially complex states. The region was famous as one of the four riverine civilizations where writing was first invented, along with the Nile valley in Egypt, the Indus Valley in the Indian subcontinent, and Yellow River valley in China (Although writing is also known to have arisen independently in Mesoamerica).
Mesopotamia housed historically important cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Nineveh, and Babylon, as well as major territorial states such as the city of Ma-asesblu, the Akkadian kingdom, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and the Assyrian empire. Some of the important historical Mesopotamian leaders were Ur-Nammu (king of Ur), Sargon (who established the Akkadian Kingdom), Hammurabi (who established the Old Babylonian state), and Tiglath-Pileser I (who established the Assyrian Empire).
"Ancient Mesopotamia" begins in the late 6th millennium BC, and ends with either the rise of the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BC or the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century CE. This long period may be divided as follows:
Trends in Mesopotamian History
* Pre-Pottery Neolithic:
o Jarmo (ca. 7000 bc–ca. 6000 bc)
* Pottery Neolithic:
o Hassuna (ca. 6000 bc–? bc), Samarra (ca. 5700 bc–4900 bc) and Halaf (ca. 6000 bc–5300 bc) "cultures"
* Chalcolithic or Copper age:
o Ubaid period (ca. 5900 BC–4400 BC)
o Uruk period (ca. 4400 BC–3200 BC)
o Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3100 BC–2900 BC)
* Early Bronze Age
o Early Dynastic Sumerian city-states (ca. 2900 BC–2350 BC)
o Akkadian Empire (ca. 2350 BC–2193 BC).
o Third Dynasty of Ur ("Sumerian Renaissance" or "Neo-Sumerian Period") (ca. 2119 BC–2004 BC)
* Middle Bronze Age
o Early Babylonia (20th to 18th c. BC)
o Early Assyrian kingdom (20th to 18th c. BC)
o First Babylonian Dynasty (18th to 17th c. BC)
* Late Bronze Age
o Kassite dynasty, Middle Assyrian period (16th to 12th c. BC)
o Bronze Age collapse (12th to 11th c. BC)
* Iron Age
o Neo-Hittite or Syro-Hittite regional states (11th to 7th c. BC)
o Neo-Assyrian Empire (10th to 7th c. BC)
o Chaldea, Neo-Babylonian Empire (7th to 6th c. BC)
* Classical Antiquity
o Persian Babylonia, Achaemenid Assyria (6th to 4th c. BC)
o Seleucid Mesopotamia (4th to 3rd c. BC)
o Parthian Asuristan (3rd c. BC to 3rd c. AD)
o Osroene (2nd c. BC to 3rd c. AD)
o Adiabene (1st to 2nd c. CE)
o Roman Mesopotamia, Roman Assyria (2nd c. CE)
* Late Antiquity
o Sassanid Asuristan (3rd to 7th c. CE)
o Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia (7th c. CE)
Further information: Geography of Sumer and Geography of Iraq
Mesopotamia encompasses the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which have their headwaters in the mountains of Armenia in modern-day Turkey. Both rivers are fed by numerous tributaries, and the entire river system drains a vast mountainous region. Overland routes in Mesopotamia usually follow the Euphrates because the banks of the Tigris are frequently steep and difficult. The climate of the region is semi-arid with a vast desert expanse in the north which gives way to a 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi) region of marshes, lagoons, mud flats, and reed banks in the south. In the extreme south, the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf.
The arid environment which ranges from the northern areas of rain-fed agriculture to the south where irrigation of agriculture is essential if a surplus energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is to be obtained. This irrigation is aided by a high water table and by melting snows from the high peaks of the Zagros Mountains and from the Armenian cordillera, the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that give the region its name. The usefulness of irrigation depends upon the ability to mobilize sufficient labor for the construction and maintenance of canals, and this, from the earliest period, has assisted the development of urban settlements and centralized systems of political authority.
Agriculture throughout the region has been supplemented by nomadic pastoralism, where tent-dwelling nomads herded sheep and goats (and later camels) from the river pastures in the dry summer months, out into seasonal grazing lands on the desert fringe in the wet winter season. The area is generally lacking in building stone, precious metals and timber, and so historically has relied upon long distance trade of agricultural products to secure these items from outlying areas. In the marshlands to the south of the area, a complex water-borne fishing culture has existed since prehistoric times, and has added to the cultural mix.
Periodic breakdowns in the cultural system have occurred for a number of reasons. The demands for labor has from time to time led to population increases that push the limits of the ecological carrying capacity, and should a period of climatic instability ensue, collapsing central government and declining populations can occur. Alternatively, military vulnerability to invasion from marginal hill tribes or nomadic pastoralists have led to periods of trade collapse and neglect of irrigation systems. Equally, centripetal tendencies amongst city states has meant that central authority over the whole region, when imposed, has tended to be ephemeral, and localism has fragmented power into tribal or smaller regional units. These trends have continued to the present day in Iraq.
Language and writing
The earliest language written in Mesopotamia was Sumerian, an agglutinative language isolate. Along with Sumerian, Semitic dialects were also spoken in early Mesopotamia. Akkadian, came to be the dominant language during their rule, but Sumerian was retained for administration, religious, literary, and scientific purposes. Different varieties of Akkadian were used until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. Aramaic, which had already become common in Mesopotamia, then became the official provincial administration language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Akkadian fell into disuse, but both it and Sumerian were still used in temples for some centuries.
Early in Mesopotamia's history (around the mid-4th millennium BC) cuneiform script was invented. Cuneiform literally means "wedge-shaped", due to the triangular tip of the stylus used for impressing signs on wet clay. The standardized form of each cuneiform sign appears to have been developed from pictograms. The earliest texts (7 archaic tablets) come from the E Temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna at Uruk, from a building labeled as Temple C by its excavators.
The early logographic system of cuneiform script took many years to master. Thus, only a limited number of individuals were hired as scribes to be trained in its use. It was not until the widespread use of a syllabic script was adopted under Sargon's rule that significant portions of Mesopotamian population became literate. Massive archives of texts were recovered from the archaeological contexts of Old Babylonian scribal schools, through which literacy was disseminated.
During the third millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians, which included widespread bilingualism. The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium as a sprachbund. Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary, and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the first century CE.
Literature and mythology
Main articles: Babylonian literature and Mesopotamian mythology
Libraries were extant in towns and temples during the Babylonian Empire. An old Sumerian proverb averred that "he who would excel in the school of the scribes must rise with the dawn." Women as well as men learned to read and write, and for the Semitic Babylonians, this involved knowledge of the extinct Sumerian language, and a complicated and extensive syllabary.
A considerable amount of Babylonian literature was translated from Sumerian originals, and the language of religion and law long continued to be the old agglutinative language of Sumer. Vocabularies, grammars, and interlinear translations were compiled for the use of students, as well as commentaries on the older texts and explanations of obscure words and phrases. The characters of the syllabary were all arranged and named, and elaborate lists were drawn up.
Many Babylonian literary works are still studied today. One of the most famous of these was the Epic of Gilgamesh, in twelve books, translated from the original Sumerian by a certain Sin-liqe-unninni, and arranged upon an astronomical principle. Each division contains the story of a single adventure in the career of Gilgamesh. The whole story is a composite product, although it is probable that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central figure.
Further information: Babylonian literature: Philosophy
The origins of philosophy can be traced back to early Mesopotamian wisdom, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose works, and proverbs. Babylonian reasoning and rationality developed beyond empirical observation.
The earliest form of logic was developed by the Babylonians, notably in the rigorous nonergodic nature of their social systems. Babylonian thought was axiomatic and is comparable to the "ordinary logic" described by John Maynard Keynes. Babylonian thought was also based on an open-systems ontology which is compatible with ergodic axioms. Logic was employed to some extent in Babylonian astronomy and medicine.
Babylonian thought had a considerable influence on early Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. In particular, the Babylonian text Dialog of Pessimism contains similarities to the agonistic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialectic and dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic method of Socrates. The Ionian philosopher Thales was influenced by Babylonian cosmological ideas.
Science and technology
Main article: Babylonian mathematics
Further information: Babylonian calendar
Mesopotamian mathematics and science was based on a sexagesimal (base 60) numeral system. This is the source of the 60-minute hour, the 24-hour day, and the 360-degree circle. The Sumerian calendar was based on the seven-day week. This form of mathematics was instrumental in early map-making.
The Babylonians also had theorems on how to measure the area of several shapes and solids. They measured the circumference of a circle as three times the diameter and the area as one-twelfth the square of the circumference, which would be correct if pi were fixed at 3. The volume of a cylinder was taken as the product of the area of the base and the height; however, the volume of the frustum of a cone or a square pyramid was incorrectly taken as the product of the height and half the sum of the bases. Also, there was a recent discovery in which a tablet used pi as 25/8 (3.125 instead of 3.14159~). The Babylonians are also known for the Babylonian mile, which was a measure of distance equal to about seven modern miles (11 km). This measurement for distances eventually was converted to a time-mile used for measuring the travel of the Sun, therefore, representing time.
Main article: Babylonian astronomy
Further information: Babylonian astrology and Babylonian calendar
The Babylonian astronomers were very adept at mathematics and could predict eclipses and solstices. Scholars thought that everything had some purpose in astronomy. Most of these related to religion and omens. Mesopotamian astronomers worked out a 12-month calendar based on the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into two seasons: summer and winter. The origins of astronomy as well as astrology date from this time.
During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the early universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science and some scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution. This new approach to astronomy was adopted and further developed in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy.
In Seleucid and Parthian times, the astronomical reports were thoroughly scientific; how much earlier their advanced knowledge and methods were developed is uncertain. The Babylonian development of methods for predicting the motions of the planets is considered to be a major episode in the history of astronomy.
The only Greek Babylonian astronomer known to have supported a heliocentric model of planetary motion was Seleucus of Seleucia (b. 190 BC). Seleucus is known from the writings of Plutarch. He supported Aristarchus of Samos' heliocentric theory where the Earth rotated around its own axis which in turn revolved around the Sun. According to Plutarch, Seleucus even proved the heliocentric system, but it is not known what arguments he used (except that he correctly theorized on tides as a result of Moon's attraction).
Babylonian astronomy served as the basis for much of Greek, classical Indian, Sassanian, Byzantine, Syrian, medieval Islamic, Central Asian, and Western European astronomy.
The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the Old Babylonian period in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. The most extensive Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the physician Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa, during the reign of the Babylonian king Adad-apla-iddina (1069-1046 BC).
Along with contemporary Egyptian medicine, the Babylonians introduced the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, and prescriptions. In addition, the Diagnostic Handbook introduced the methods of therapy and aetiology and the use of empiricism, logic, and rationality in diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. The text contains a list of medical symptoms and often detailed empirical observations along with logical rules used in combining observed symptoms on the body of a patient with its diagnosis and prognosis.
The symptoms and diseases of a patient were treated through therapeutic means such as bandages, creams and pills. If a patient could not be cured physically, the Babylonian physicians often relied on exorcism to cleanse the patient from any curses. Esagil-kin-apli's Diagnostic Handbook was based on a logical set of axioms and assumptions, including the modern view that through the examination and inspection of the symptoms of a patient, it is possible to determine the patient's disease, its aetiology, its future development, and the chances of the patient's recovery.
Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of illnesses and diseases and described their symptoms in his Diagnostic Handbook. These include the symptoms for many varieties of epilepsy and related ailments along with their diagnosis and prognosis.
Mesopotamian people invented many technologies including metal and copper-working, glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and irrigation. They were also one of the first Bronze age people in the world. They developed from copper, bronze, and gold on to iron. Palaces were decorated with hundreds of kilograms of these very expensive metals. Also, copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor as well as for different weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, and maces.
According to a recent hypothesis, the Archimedes screw may have been used by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, for the water systems at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Nineveh in the 7th century BC, although mainstream scholarship holds it to be a Greek invention of later times. Later during the Parthian or Sassanid periods, the Baghdad Battery, which may have been the world's first battery, was created in Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamian religion was the first to be recorded. Mesopotamians believed that the world was a flat disc, surrounded by a huge, holed space, and above that, heaven. They also believed that water was everywhere, the top, bottom and sides, and that the universe was born from this enormous sea. In addition, Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic.
Although the beliefs described above were held in common among Mesopotamians, there were also regional variations. The Sumerian word for universe is an-ki, which refers to the god An and the goddess Ki. Their son was Enlil, the air god. They believed that Enlil was the most powerful god. He was the chief god of the Pantheon, equivalent to the Greek god Zeus and the Roman god Jupiter. The Sumerians also posed philosophical questions, such as: Who are we?, Where are we?, How did we get here?. They attributed answers to these questions to explanations provided by their gods.
Gods and goddesses
* Anu-Sumerian god of the sky. He was married to Ki, but in some other Mesopotamian religions he has a wife called Uraš. Though he was considered the most important god in the pantheon, he took a mostly passive role in epics, allowing Enlil to claim the position as most powerful god.
* Enlil-the most powerful god in Mesopotamian religion. His wife was Ninlil, and his children were Iškur (sometimes), Nanna, Suen, Nergal, Nisaba, Namtar, Ninurta (sometimes), Pabilsag, Nushu, Enbilulu, Uraš Zababa and Ennugi. His position at the top of the pantheon was later usurped by Marduk and then by Ashur.
* Enki (or Ea)-Eridu god of rain.
* Marduk-the principal god of Babylon. When Babylon rose to power, the mythologies raised Marduk from his original position as an agricultural god to the principal god in the pantheon.
* Ashur-god of the Assyrian empire. When the Assyrians rose to power their myths raised Ashur to a position of importance.
* Gula, Utu (in Sumerian), or Shamash (in Akkadian)-god of the sun and justice.
* Ereshkigal-goddess of the Netherworld.
* Nabu-Mesopotamian god of writing. He was very wise, and was praised for his writing ability. In some places he was believed to be in control of heaven and earth. His importance was increased considerably in the later periods.
* Ninurta-Sumerian god of war and heroes.
* Iškur (or Adad)-god of storms.
* Erra-the god of drought. He is often mentioned in conjunction with Adad and Nergal in laying waste to the land.
* Nergal-a plague god. He was also spouse of Ereshkigal.
* Pazuzu or Zu-an evil god, who stole the tablets of Enlil’s destiny, and is killed because of this. He also brought diseases which had no known cure.
Ancient Mesopotamians had ceremonies each month. The theme of the rituals and festivals for each month is determined by six important factors:
1. The phase of the Moon (a waxing moon meant abundance and growth, while a waning moon was associated with decline, conservation, and festivals of the Underworld)
2. The phase of the annual agricultural cycle
3. Equinoxes and solstices
4. The local mythos and its divine Patrons
5. The success of the reigning Monarch
6. Commemoration of specific historical events (founding, military victories, temple holidays, etc.)
Some songs were written for the gods but many were written to describe important events. Although music and songs amused kings, they were also enjoyed by ordinary people who liked to sing and dance in their homes or in the marketplaces. Songs were sung to children who passed them on to their children. Thus songs were passed on through many generations as an oral tradition until writing was more universal. These songs provided a means of passing on through the centuries highly important information about historical events.
The Oud (Arabic:العود) is a small, stringed musical instrument used by the Mesopotamians. The oldest pictorial record of the Oud dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago. It is on a cylinder seal currently housed at the British Museum and acquired by Dr. Dominique Collon. The image depicts a female crouching with her instruments upon a boat, playing right-handed. This instrument appears hundreds of times throughout Mesopotamian history and again in ancient Egypt from the 18th dynasty onwards in long- and short-neck varieties. The oud is regarded as a precursor to the European lute. Its name is derived from the Arabic word العود al-‘ūd 'the wood', which is probably the name of the tree from which the oud was made. (The Arabic name, with the definite article, is the source of the word 'lute'.)
Hunting was popular among Assyrian kings. Boxing and wrestling feature frequently in art, and some form of polo was probably popular, with men sitting on the shoulders of other men rather than on horses. They also played majore, a game similar to the sport rugby, but played with a ball made of wood. They also played a board game similar to senet and backgammon, now known as the "Royal Game of Ma-asesblu."
The Babylonian marriage market, in the Royal Holloway College.
Mesopotamia across its history became more and more a patriarchal society, one in which the men were far more powerful than the women. Thorkild Jacobsen, as well as many others, has suggested that early Mesopotamian society was ruled by a "council of elders" in which men and women were equally represented, but that over time, as the status of women fell, that of men increased. As for schooling, only royal offspring and sons of the rich and professionals, such as scribes, physicians, temple administrators, went to school. Most boys were taught their father's trade or were apprenticed out to learn a trade. Girls had to stay home with their mothers to learn housekeeping and cooking, and to look after the younger children. Some children would help with crushing grain or cleaning birds. Unusual for that time in history, women in Mesopotamia had rights. They could own property and, if they had good reason, get a divorce.
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Hundreds of graves have been excavated in parts of Mesopotamia, revealing information about Mesopotamian burial habits. In the city of Ur, most people were buried in family graves under their houses (as in Catalhuyuk), along with some possessions. A few have been found wrapped in mats and carpets. Deceased children were put in big "jars" which were placed in the family chapel. Other remains have been found buried in common city graveyards. 17 graves have been found with very precious objects in them. It is assumed that these were royal graves.
Mining areas of the ancient Middle East. Boxes colors: arsenic is in brown, copper in red, tin in grey, iron in reddish brown, gold in yellow, silver in white and lead in black. Yellow area stands for arsenic bronze, while grey area stands for tin bronze.
Sumer developed the first economy, but the Babylonians developed the earliest system of economics. It was comparable to modern post-Keynesian economics, but with a more "anything goes" approach.
The geography of Mesopotamia is such that agriculture is possible only with irrigation and good drainage, a fact which has had a profound effect on the evolution of Mesopotamian civilization. The need for irrigation led the Sumerians, and later the Akkadians, to build their cities along the Tigris and Euphrates and the branches of these rivers. Major cities, such as Ur and Uruk, took root on tributaries of the Euphrates, while others, notably Lagash, were built on branches of the Tigris. The rivers provided the further benefits of fish (used both for food and fertilizer), reeds, and clay (for building materials).
With irrigation, the food supply in Mesopotamia was quite rich. The Tigris and Euphrates River valleys form the northeastern portion of the Fertile Crescent, which also included the Jordan River valley and that of the Nile. Although land nearer to the rivers was fertile and good for crops, portions of land farther from the water were dry and largely uninhabitable. This is why the development of irrigation was very important for settlers of Mesopotamia.
Other Mesopotamian innovations include the control of water by dams and the use of aqueducts. Early settlers of fertile land in Mesopotamia used wooden plows to soften the soil before planting crops such as barley, onions, grapes, turnips, and apples. Mesopotamian settlers were some of the first people to make beer and wine. As a result of the skill involved in farming in the Mesopotamian, farmers did not depend on slaves to complete farm work for them, but there were some exceptions. There were too many risks involved to make slavery practical (i.e. the escape/mutiny of the slave).
Although the rivers sustained life, they also destroyed it by frequent floods that ravaged entire cities. The unpredictable Mesopotamian weather was often hard on farmers; crops were often ruined so backup sources of food such as cows and lambs were also kept.
The geography of Mesopotamia had a profound impact on the political development of the region. Among the rivers and streams, the Sumerian people built the first cities along with irrigation canals which were separated by vast stretches of open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and, at times, dangerous. Thus, each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence.
At times one city would try to conquer and unify the region, but such efforts were resisted and failed for centuries. As a result, the political history of Sumer is one of almost constant warfare. Eventually Sumer was unified by Eannatum, but the unification was tenuous and failed to last as the Akkadians conquered Sumeria in 2331 BC only a generation later.
The Akkadian Empire was the first successful empire to last beyond a generation and see the peaceful succession of kings. The empire was relatively short-lived, as the Babylonians conquered them within only a few generations.
Further information: Sumerian king list, List of Kings of Babylon, and Kings of Assyria
The Mesopotamians believed their kings and queens were descended from the City of Gods, but, unlike the ancient Egyptians, they never believed their kings were real gods. Most kings named themselves "king of the universe" or "great king". Another common name was "shepherd", as kings had to look after their people.
Notable Mesopotamian kings include:
* Eannatum of Lagash-founder of the first (short-lived) empire.
* Sargon of Akkad-conqueror of Mesopotamia and creator of the first empire that outlived its founder.
* Hammurabi-founder of the first Babylonian empire.
* Tiglath-Pileser III-founder of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
* Nebuchadnezzar-the most powerful king in the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He was thought to be the son of the god Nabu. He married the daughter of Cyaxeres, so the Median and the Babylonian dynasties had a familial connection. Nebuchadnezzar’s name translates into "Nabo, protect the crown!"
* Belshedezzar-the last king of Babylonia. He was the son of Nabonidus, husband of Nictoris, the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.
When Assyria grew into an empire, it was divided into smaller parts, called provinces. Each of these were named after their main cities, like Nineveh, Samaria, Damascus, and Arpad. They all had their own governor who had to make sure everyone paid their taxes. Governors also had to call up soldiers to war and supply workers when a temple was built. He was also responsible for enforcing the laws. In this way, it was easier to keep control of a large empire.
Although Babylon was quite a small state in the Sumerian, it grew tremendously throughout the time of Hammurabi's rule. He was known as "the law maker", and soon Babylon became one of the main cities in Mesopotamia. It was later called Babylonia, which meant "the gateway of the gods." It also became one of history's greatest centers of learning.
Assyrian soldiers, from a plate in THE HISTORY OF COSTUME by Braun & Schneider (ca. 1860).
As city-states began to grow, their spheres of influence overlapped, creating arguments between other city-states, especially over land and canals. These arguments were recorded in tablets several hundreds of years before any major war-the first recording of a war occurred around 3200 BC but was not common until about 2500 BC. At this point, warfare was incorporated into the Mesopotamian political system, where a neutral city may act as an arbitrator for the two rival cities. This helped to form unions between cities, leading to regional states.
When empires were created, they went to war more with foreign countries. King Sargon, for example, conquered all the cities of Sumer, some cities in Mari, and then went to war with northern Syria.
Many Babylonian palace walls were decorated with the pictures of the successful fights and the enemy either desperately escaping or hiding amongst reeds. A king in Sumer, Gilgamesh, was thought to be two-thirds god and only one-third human. His exploits were recorded in many poems and songs of the time.
King Hammurabi, as mentioned above, was famous for his set of laws, The Code of Hammurabi (created ca. 1780 BC), which is one of the earliest sets of laws found and one of the best preserved examples of this type of document from ancient Mesopotamia. He codified over 200 laws for Mesopotamia.
The study of ancient Mesopotamian architecture is based on available archaeological evidence, pictorial representation of buildings, and texts on building practices. Scholarly literature usually concentrates on temples, palaces, city walls and gates, and other monumental buildings, but occasionally one finds works on residential architecture as well. Archaeological surface surveys also allowed for the study of urban form in early Mesopotamian cities.
The most notable architectural remains from early Mesopotamia are the temple complexes at Uruk from the 4th millennium BC, temples and palaces from the Early Dynastic period sites in the Diyala River valley such as Khafajah and Tell Asmar, the Third Dynasty of Ur remains at Nippur (Sanctuary of Enlil) and Ur (Sanctuary of Nanna), Middle Bronze Age remains at Syrian-Turkish sites of Ebla, Mari, Alalakh, Aleppo and Kultepe, Late Bronze Age palaces at Bogazkoy (Hattusha), Ugarit, Ashur and Nuzi, Iron Age palaces and temples at Assyrian (Kalhu/Nimrud, Khorsabad, Nineveh), Babylonian (Babylon), Urartian (Tushpa/Van Kalesi, Cavustepe, Ayanis, Armavir, Erebuni, Bastam) and Neo-Hittite sites (Karkamis, Tell Halaf, Karatepe). Houses are mostly known from Old Babylonian remains at Nippur and Ur. Among the textual sources on building construction and associated rituals are Gudea's cylinders from the late 3rd millennium are notable, as well as the Assyrian and Babylonian royal inscriptions from the Iron Age.
The materials used to build a Mesopotamian house were the same as those used today: mud brick, mud plaster and wooden doors, which were all naturally available around the city, although wood could not be naturally made very well during the particular time period described. Most houses had a square center room with other rooms attached to it, but a great variation in the size and materials used to build the houses suggest they were built by the inhabitants themselves. The smallest rooms may not have coincided with the poorest people; in fact, it could be that the poorest people built houses out of perishable materials such as reeds on the outside of the city, but there is very little direct evidence for this.
The palaces of the early Mesopotamian elites were large-scale complexes, and were often lavishly decorated. Earliest known examples are from the Diyala River valley sites such as Khafajah and Tell Asmar. These third millennium BC palaces functioned as a large-scale socio-economic institutions, and therefore, along with residential and private function, they housed craftsmen workshops, food storehouses, ceremonial courtyards, and are often associated with shrines. For instance, the so-called "giparu" (or Gig-Par-Ku in Sumerian) at Ur where the Moon god Nanna's priestesses resided was a major complex with multiple courtyards, a number of sanctuaries, burial chambers for dead priestesses, and a ceremonial banquet hall. A similarly complex example of a Mesopotamian palace was excavated at Mari in Syria, dating from the Old Babylonian period.
Assyrian palaces of the Iron Age, especially at Kalhu/Nimrud, Dur Sharrukin/Khorsabad and Ninuwa/Nineveh, have become famous due to the pictorial and textual narrative programs on their walls, all carved on stone slabs known as orthostats. These pictorial programs either incorporated cultic scenes or the narrative accounts of the kings' military and civic accomplishments. Gates and important passageways were flanked with massive stone sculptures of apotropaic mythological figures. The architectural arrangement of these Iron Age palaces were also organized around large and small courtyards. Usually the king's throne room opened to a massive ceremonial courtyard where important state councils met and state ceremonies were performed.
Massive amounts of ivory furniture pieces were found in many Assyrian palaces pointing to an intense trade relationship with North Syrian Neo-Hittite states at the time. There is also good evidence that bronze repousse bands decorated the wooden gates.
Main article: Ziggurat
Ziggurats were huge pyramidal temple towers built in the ancient Mesopotamian valley and western Iranian plateau, having the form of a terraced step pyramid of successively receding stories or levels. There are 32 ziggurats known at, or near, Mesopotamia-28 in Iraq and 4 in Iran. Notable ziggurats include the Great Ziggurat of Ur near Nasiriyah, Iraq, the Ziggurat of Aqar Quf near Baghdad, Iraq, Chogha Zanbil in Khūzestān, Iran (the most recent to be discovered), and the Sialk near Kashan, Iran. Ziggurats were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians, Elamites, and Assyrians as monuments to local religions. The earliest examples of the ziggurat were raised platforms that date from the Ubaid period during the fourth millennium BC, and the latest date from the 6th century BC. The top of the ziggurat was flat, unlike many pyramids. The step pyramid style began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period.
Built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the ziggurat was a pyramidal structure. Sun-baked bricks made up the core of the ziggurat with facings of fired bricks on the outside. The facings were often glazed in different colors and may have had astrological significance. Kings sometimes had their names engraved on these glazed bricks. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven, with a shrine or temple at the summit. Access to the shrine was provided by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit. It has been suggested that ziggurats were built to resemble mountains, but there is little textual or archaeological evidence to support that hypothesis.
Ur-Nammu's ziggurat at Ur was designed as a three-stage construction, but today only two of these survive. This entire mudbrick core structure was originally given a facing of baked brick envelope set in bitumen, 2.5 m on the first lowest stage, and 1.15 m on the second. Each of these baked bricks were stamped with the name of the king. The sloping walls of the stages were buttressed. The access to the top was by means of a triple monumental staircase, which all converges at a portal that opened on a landing between the first and second stages. The height of the first stage was about 11 m while the second stage rose some 5.7 m. Usually, a third stage is reconstructed by the excavator of the ziggurat (Leonard Woolley), and crowned by a temple. At the Tschoga Zanbil ziggurat, archaeologists have found massive reed ropes that ran across the core of the ziggurat structure and tied together the mudbrick mass.