Mesopotamia is a Southwest Asian region in the Tigris and Euphrates river system that benefited from its climate and geography to host the beginnings of human civilization. Many significant inventions that impacted the globe occurred during its history. This also includes the concepts of time, math, the wheel, sailboats, maps, and writing. Mesopotamia is also characterized by a changing order of ruling entities that seized control throughout thousands of years from various territories and towns.
Where is Mesopotamia?
Mesopotamia is in the Middle East, which includes sections of southwest Asia and the areas around the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It is part of the Fertile Crescent, commonly known as the “Cradle of Civilization.” It is because of the number of innovations that developed from the early communities in this region. They are now among the earliest known human civilizations on the planet.
The term “Mesopotamia” is derived from the ancient terms “meso,” which means “between or in the middle of,” and “potamos,” which means “river.” The region is now home to modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria. It is located in the rich valleys between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The Paleolithic epoch saw the arrival of humans in Mesopotamia. People in the region lived in tiny villages with round homes by 14,000 B.C.
Following the domestication of animals and the development of agriculture, most notably irrigation techniques that took use of the vicinity of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, these homes formed farming communities five thousand years later.
The dominating Ubaid culture, which had absorbed the Halaf culture before it, was responsible for agricultural advancement.
These scattered agrarian villages began in the northern section of ancient Mesopotamia and migrated south, growing for several thousand years before establishing what contemporary humans would know as cities, which were considered the Sumer people’s work.
Uruk, the first of these cities, dates from circa 3200 B.C. It was a mud-brick city founded on the wealth of trade and conquest, with public art, massive columns, and temples. It had a population of around 50,000 people at its peak.
Sumerians also invented the first written language, cuneiform, with which they preserved precise clerical records.
Mesopotamia was solidly under the Sumerian people’s power by 3000 B.C. Summer was home to various dispersed city-states. This also includes Eridu, Nippur, Lagash, Uruk, Kish, and Ur.
Etana of Kish was the first ruler of a united Sumer. It is unknown whether Etana lived, as he and many of the rulers named in the Sumerian King List, which was created circa 2100 B.C., are all mentioned in Sumerian mythology.
Meskiaggasher, the monarch of the city-state Uruk, came after Etana. Around 2750 B.C., a warrior named Lugalbanda took authority.
The legendary subject of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh, is said to be Lugalbanda’s son. Gilgamesh is thought to have been born in Uruk around 2700 B.C.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is thought to be the first great work of literature, and it inspired some of the stories in the Bible. Gilgamesh goes on a journey with a friend to the Cedar Forest, the land of the Gods in Mesopotamian mythology, in the epic poem. When his companion is killed, Gilgamesh embarks on a mission to seek the secret of eternal life. He then discovers: “You will never find life if you look for it. For when the gods created man, they gave him death and withheld life from him.”
King Lugalzagesi was Sumer’s final ruler, succumbing to Sargon of Akkad, a Semitic people, in 2334 B.C. They were partners for a short time, conquering Kish jointly, but Lugalzagesi’s mercenary Akkadian army was eventually loyal to Sargon.
Sargon and the Akkadians
The Akkadian Empire existed from 2234 to 2154 B.C., commanded by the now-titled Sargon the Great. It was thought to be the world’s first multicultural empire with a centralized administration.
Little is known about Sargon’s origins, but stories link him to the Biblical story of Moses. He was once an officer working for the king of Kish, and Akkadia was a city founded by Sargon himself. When Uruk invaded Kish, Sargon took it from them and was motivated to continue his conquest.
Sargon expanded his dominion militarily, conquering Sumer and expanding into what is now Syria. Under Sargon, trade expanded beyond Mesopotamian borders, and architecture advanced, with the advent of ziggurats, flat-topped buildings with a pyramid shape and stairs.
Shar-kali-sharri, the final monarch of the Akkadian Empire, died in 2193 B.C., and Mesopotamia experienced a century of upheaval as various tribes fought for dominance.
Among these groups were the Gutians, Zagros Mountains barbarians. The Gutian rule is regarded as chaotic, resulting in a dramatic decline in the empire’s prospects.
Ur attempted to build a dynasty for a new empire around 2100 B.C. After Utu-hengal, the leader of the city of Uruk, beat the Gutians, the ruler of Ur-Namma, the king of Ur, restored Sumerian control.
The Code of Ur-Nammu, the first code of law in recorded history, appeared under Ur-Namma. Ur-Namma was attacked and defeated by both the Elamites and the Amorites in 2004 B.C.
The Amorites took power and formed Babylonia after choosing Babylon as their capital.
The most famous of these deities was Hammurabi, who ruled between 1792-1750 B.C. The Babylonians were nearly constantly at war as Hammurabi attempted to expand the empire.
Hammurabi’s most notable contribution is his list of laws, known as the Code of Hammurabi. Then which he drafted in 1772 B.C.
Not only did Hammurabi innovate by writing down the rules for all to see. However, he also ensured that everyone throughout the empire obeyed the same legal codes and that governors in various districts did not establish their own. The set of legislation also included suggested sanctions to ensure that every citizen had the equal access to justice.
The Elamites seized the city of Ur in 1750 B.C. This conquest, together with the hegemony of the Amorites, heralded the end of Sumerian culture.
Around 1595 B.C., the Hittites, who were concentrated in Anatolia and Syria, defeated the Babylonians.
Smelting was a key contribution of the Hittites, enabling for more advanced weaponry, which led to the empire’s subsequent expansion. Their efforts to keep the technology to themselves eventually failed, and other empires surpassed them.
The Hittites withdrew soon after sacking Babylon, and the Kassites took control. Hailing from the mountains east of Mesopotamia, their period of dominance saw the arrival of immigrants from India and Europe, and transport was facilitated by the employment of horses with chariots and carts.
After a few generations of rule, the Kassites abandoned their distinct culture, allowing themselves to be incorporated into Babylonian civilization.
Under the reign of Ashur-uballit I, the Assyrian Empire arose around 1365 B.C. in the territories between the lands ruled by the Hittites and the Kassites.
King Tukulti-Ninurta I desired to dominate all of Mesopotamia and took Babylon around 1220 B.C. Over the next two centuries, the Assyrian Empire expanded into modern-day Palestine and Syria.
In 884 B.C., the empire established a new capital, Nimrud. They used the spoils of conquest and ruthlessness that had made Ashurnasirpal II a despised figure.
Shalmaneser, his son, spent the most of his reign battling off an alliance of Syria, Babylon, and Egypt and conquering Israel. When one of his sons revolted, Shalmaneser dispatched another son, Shamshi-Adad, to fight for him. Shamshi-Adad governed three years later.
Sargon II acquired control in 722 B.C., ushering in a new dynasty. He organized the empire into provinces and upheld the peace, like Sargon the Great.
Sargon II’s downfall came when the Chaldeans attempted to invade and he sought an alliance with them. The Chaldeans formed an alliance with the Elamites and together they conquered Babylonia.
Sargon II defeated the Chaldeans but then attacked Syria, sections of Egypt, and Gaza, starting on a conquest binge before dying in combat against the Cimmerians from Russia.
Esarhaddon, Sargon II’s grandson, ruled from 681 to 669 B.C. and led a catastrophic conquering drive across Ethiopia, Palestine, and Egypt, burning cities after robbing them. Esarhaddon struggled to govern his vast realm. As a paranoid leader, he suspected several members of his court of plotting against him and had them murdered.
His son Ashurbanipal is regarded as the Assyrian empire’s penultimate great monarch. He ruled from 669 to 627 B.C., and faced rebellions in Egypt and from his brother, the king of Babylonia, whom he conquered. Ashurbanipal is most known for establishing Mesopotamia’s first library in Nineveh, Iraq. It is the world’s oldest known library, dating back several hundred years before the Library of Alexandria.
Nabopolassar, a Babylonian public official, usurped the throne in 626 B.C., ushering in the rule of the Semitic dynasty from Chaldea. Nabopolassar attempted but failed to conquer Assyria in 616 B.C.
Following an invading expedition by King Cyaxares of Media in 614 B.C. that pushed the Assyrians further away, his son Nebuchadnezzar reigned over the Babylonian Empire.
Nebuchadnezzar is remembered for his beautiful architecture, particularly the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Babylon Walls, and the Ishtar Gate. Women and men had equal rights under his leadership.
Nebuchadnezzar is also responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., bringing its population into captivity. Because of this action, he is mentioned in the Old Testament.
The Persian Empire
Cyrus II, the Persian Emperor, took power during Nabonidus’ reign in 539 B.C. Because Nabonidus was unpopular, the Mesopotamians did not rally to protect him during the invasion.
Babylonian culture is thought to have ceased during Persian domination, following a gradual fall in cuneiform and other cultural characteristics.
By the time Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 331 B.C.. Much of Mesopotamia’s great cities had vanished, and the civilization had been long absorbed. The territory was eventually conquered by the Romans in 116 A.D., and then by Arabic Muslims in 651 A.D.
Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic, with followers worshiping a number of major gods as well as hundreds of minor gods. Ea (Sumerian: Enki), the god of wisdom and magic, Anu (Sumerian: An), the sky god, and Enlil (Ellil), the god of earth, storms, agriculture, and fate, were the three primary gods. In both the Epic of Gilgamesh and the narrative of the Great Flood, Ea is the creator and defender of humanity.
In the latter tale, Ea created humans out of clay. However, the God Enlil attempted to annihilate humanity by causing a flood. Ea had the humans construct an ark, and mankind was saved. This account should sound familiar; core Mesopotamian religious stories like the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, and the Creation of the Tower of Babel made their way into the Bible. Honestly, Mesopotamian religion impacted both Christianity and Islam.
Each Mesopotamian city had its own patron god or goddess, and most of what we know about them has been carried down through clay tablets depicting Mesopotamian religious beliefs and customs. A painted terracotta plaque from 1775 B.C. depicts either the goddess Ishtar or her sister Ereshkigal, accompanied by nocturnal monsters.
While art predates civilization in Mesopotamia, the developments there include larger-scale art. They’re often in the setting of their grandiose and sophisticated building, and the frequent use of metallurgy.
A silver figurine of a kneeling bull from 3000 B.C. is one of the earliest examples of metallurgy in art, coming from southern Mesopotamia. Prior to this, the most common art mediums were painted ceramics and limestone.
Another metal-based piece, a goat standing on its hind legs and resting on the branches of a tree, dating to 2500 B.C., was discovered in the Great Death Pit at Ur and features gold and copper among other elements.
Mesopotamian art frequently depicted its monarchs and their glories. The elaborate Standard of Ur, a shell and limestone monument displays an early example of complex graphic narrative. It shows a history of conflict and peace, and was also created around 2500 B.C. in Ur.
Akkadian King Naram-Sin was the subject of a magnificent work in limestone depicting a military triumph in the Zagros Mountains and portraying Naram-Sin as divine around 2230 B.C.
The reliefs of the Assyrian monarchs in their palaces. Particularly during Ashurbanipal’s reign around 635 B.C., are among the most vibrant types of Mesopotamian art. One renowned relief in his Nimrud palace depicts him leading an army into battle, escorted by the winged god Assur.
Ashurbanipal is also depicted in several reliefs depicting his frequent lion-hunting hobby. In 585 B.C., during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, a spectacular lion image was also incorporated into the Ishtar Gate, which was made of glazed bricks.
Mesopotamian art was rediscovered in the twenty-first century after museums in Iraq were looted during the country’s conflicts. A 4,300-year-old bronze mask of an Akkadian king, jewels from Ur. Also, a solid gold Sumerian harp, 80,000 cuneiform tablets, and several other valuable treasures went gone.