Sumerian period Widely regarded as the “cradle of civilization,”Mesopotamia was not only the source of Mediterranean and Middle East civilization but was the foundational for much of Western civilization and a great deal of Eastern civilization too. Mesopotamia is the name Greeks gave the region. Locals called it Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia and Assyria depending on the age they lived in and the area they were talking about.
Mesopotamia is Greek for “land between two rivers.” The great cultures of Mesopotamia consisted of the Sumerians (3500 to 2300 B.C.), the developers of writing; Babylon (1792-1595), led by Hammurapi, who developed the eye-for-an-eye legal code; and Assyria (883-612 B.C.), the masters of warfare and the first people to effectively use chariots. The culture of Mesopotamia spread to Palestine, Greece and Rome and became components of our culture today.
Nancy Demand of Indiana University wrote: “The name Mesopotamia (meaning "the land between the rivers") refers to the geographic region which lies near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and not to any particular civilization. In fact, over the course of several millennia, many civilizations developed, collapsed, and were replaced in this fertile region. The land of Mesopotamia is made fertile by the irregular and often violent flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. While these floods aided agricultural endeavors by adding rich silt to the soil every year, it took a tremendous amount of human labor to successfully irrigate the land and to protect the young plants from the surging flood waters. Given the combination of fertile soil and the need for organized human labor, perhaps it is not surprising that the first civilization developed in Mesopotamia.” [Source: The Asclepion, Prof.Nancy Demand, Indiana University - Bloomington]
Deborah Solomon wrote in the New York Times, “The ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia, which flourished in the region that became Iraq, is what textbooks like to call the birthplace of urban civilization. The Mesopotamians were the first to record their thoughts in writing, the first to divide the day into 24 hours, the first to eat off ceramic plates. Iraq is home to some of the most important landmarks of the Judeo-Christian tradition, including the reputed Garden of Eden and Ur, the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham. The area had a second flowering in the Middle Ages, when it became a capital of the Islamic world and mosques sprang up everywhere. With war in Iraq looming, many in the art historical world are worried about what might be damaged or destroyed. Below, a map of some of the country's most significant sites. [Source: Deborah Solomon, New York Times, January 05, 2003]
Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org
Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory
Fertile Crescent, the Cradle of Civilization and the Levant
Akkadian Period The Fertile Crescent is region of fertile irrigated land that stretched across Mesopotamia and reached down the Mediterranean coast and included present-day Iran, Syria, southeastern Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. The Fertile Crescent gave birth to the Judaism and Christianity and shaped Muslims-Arab culture. The Levant is the “land flowing with milk and honey.” It usually referred to an area occupied by Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, western Syria and northern Arabia.
The fertile land around the Tigris and the Euphrates was the product of alluvial material and silt deposited by the rivers when they flooded in the spring. So fertile was the land it gave birth to story of the Garden of Eden. The fertile land was greatly coveted by the nomadic tribes that lived around it in Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Periodically they sweep down out of their homelands and try to claim parts it.
Mesopotamia is also referred to as the Cradle of Civilization. Most of the early Sumerian city-states in were near the mouth of the Euphrates in the southeastern Iraq and spread northward. The Babylonians were based near where the Tigris and Euphrates approach and diverge in central Iraq. The Assyrians were based around the Tigris in northern Iraq.
Mesopotamia, the World’s Oldest Civilization
Although ancient 9,500-year old towns and fortified cities have been discovered, Mesopotamia is often considered to be the oldest civilization in the world because of its size, organization and its contributions to world culture. It was founded in present-day Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers during the forth millennia B.C. It was originally thought that the heart of Mesopotamia was in southern Iraq. But this view is now been challenged as a number of large cities, dated to the same period, have been discovered further to the north.
Mesopotamian civilization existed for well over 3,000 years, from the formation of the first cities at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. to the early years of the Roman empire. Anthropologist say there are three definite first Pristine States: Mesopotamia (3300 B.C.); Peru (around the time of Christ), and MesoAmerica (about 100 A.D.). Probable Pristine States include: Egypt (3100 B.C.), Indus Valley (shortly before 2000 B.C.) and Yellow River Basin in northern China (shortly after 2000 B.C.).
Today, many of the oldest Mesopotamia sites are little more than dirt mounds because mud brick, the primary building material, doesn’t last long. In many cases archaeologists can’t even figure what the buildings were because when mud brick deteriorates it becomes dirt that is difficult to distinguish from the dirt that surrounds it. The few buildings that have survived were made of baked brick and have been heavily renovated.
Mesopotamian Advancements and Firsts
early writing Writing, irrigation agriculture, large scale trade, the upper class, the wheel, the centralized state, mathematics, astronomy, the sail, government bureaucracy, the 60-second minute and the 60-minute hour, large-scale beer production, written laws, state-sponsored warfare, imperialism, organized religion, the concept of kingship, monumental architecture, cities, organized religion, and the organized production of handcrafted goods were all developed and pioneered in Mesopotamia.
The jump from stone-age man (primitive man, early modern man or Cro-Magnon Man, whatever you want to call him) to modern man (or civilized man) is defined by some as taking place with the invention of agriculture around 10,000 to 8000 B.C., and by others with the development of writing around 3200 B.C. In Mesopotamia. Yet others say it took place with the invention of metals tools (beginning with copper ones) around 4500 B.C.
Mesopotamia also gave the world the zodiac, the 12-month year, the 360-degree circle, imperialism, state-sponsored warfare, urban living, labor specialization, political empires, the potter's wheel, sailboats, wheeled vehicles, kiln-fired bricks, large scale beer production, maps dating back to 2300 B.C., and the first written code of law.
Population of Mesopotamia
One of the most astonishing revelations of the tablets recovered from Ebla was how densely populated Mesopotamia, Syria and the Middle east were. More than 5,000 geographical names are mentioned, including names mentioned in the bible. Italian archaeologist Giovanni Pettinato told National Geographic, “We encounter a swarm of small states even in the immediate vicinity of Ebla...The enormous number of cities and villages presents an entirely new picture of the urbanization of Syria and Palestine in the third millennium B.C.
Large cities in the Near East in the third millennium B.C. had only around 20,000 or 30,000 people.
Mesopotamia vs. Egypt
Egyptian Hieroglyphs The civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia existed pretty much at the same time. Sumer in Mesopotamia is often credited with being the oldest civilization in the world because it came up with a writing system first. Although the two empires were only about 600 miles apart they developed as empires pretty much on their own. This is partly explained by the fact that there was a big desert between them. [Source: H.W. Janson,, History of Art Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.]
For much of its early history Mesopotamia was occupied by rival kingdoms. Few of them were able to exert much influence beyond the borders of their realm. Sumer were not a unified kingdom.. Rather it was like ancient Greece, a composite of often feuding city-states. Babylon was a kingdom that did not control a very large area and did not rule terribly long. With the exception of the brief and unstable Akkadian empire around 2300 B.C. there was no kingdom that ruled over what would qualify as an empire until the Assyrians arrived on the scene in the 9th century B.C.
Another difference between the two cultures is that, at a given time, Egypt flourished under the leadership of one ruler and was relatively peaceful while Mesopotamia was often divided into several kingdoms and city-states and was racked by wars. This too is partly explained by geography. Mesopotamian kingdoms were spread out between two rivers and its many tributaries, and could be easily attacked from any direction, while ancient Egypt was located primarily within one river valley and was removed from the outside world by deserts. Attacks usually only came from the northeast---and to a lesser extent in the south---which meant defenses could be concentrated there. The fact that Mesopotamia was composed of many different kingdoms and city-states that rose, dominated, declined and battled each other also explains why it was never produced a single unified tradition of culture like Egypt. [Janson, Op. Cit]
See First Writing
Mesopotamia and the Bible
Middle Ages view of the
Babylonian siege of Jerusalem The first 11 chapters of Genesis are largely set in Mesopotamia. Eden is a Sumerian word meaning “steppe,” and was a district in Sumer. The Tower of Babel was in Babylon. The Hanging Gardens may have inspired the story of the Garden of Eden. According to Genesis Abraham and Cain and Abel and numerous other Biblical figures were born in Mesopotamia and the first cities founded after the flood were Babel (Babylon), Erech (Uruk), and Accad (Akkad) there.
Cuneiform tablets found in Ebla mention the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and contain the name of David. They also mention Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau) and Sa-u-lum (Saul) as well as a knight named Ebrium who ruled around 2300 B.C. and bears an uncanny resemblance to Eber from the Book of Genesis who was the great-great grandson of Noah and the great-great-great-great grandfather of Abraham. Some scholars suggest that Biblical reference are overstated because the divine name yahweh (Jehovah) is not mentioned once in the tablets.
The Babylonians also had myths also that bore of striking resemblance to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib and the story of Noah's Ark. See Literature.
Abraham was born under the name Abram in the Sumer city of Ur in Mesopotamia (in present day Iraq). According to Genesis, Abraham was the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson of Noah and was married to Sarah.Genesis 11:17-28, reads “Terah Begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran begot Lot. And Haran died in the lifetime of Terah his Father in the land of his birth, Ur of Chaldees.”
Towns and Cities of Mesopotamia and References to Them in the Bible
Babylonia is often used to describe the region around the Euphrates River, which occupies a large chunk of Mesopotamia, and includes city-states frpm the Sumerian and Assyrian periods as well as the Babylonian period. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:“The towns of ancient Babylonia were the following: southernmost: 1) “Eridu, Semitic corruption of the old name of Eri-dugga, "good city", at present the mounds of Abu-Sharain; 2) Ur, Abraham's birthplace, about twenty-five miles northeast of Eridu, at present Mughair. Both of the above towns lay west of the Euphrates. 3) East of the Euphrates, the southernmost town was Larsa, the Biblical Ellasar (Gen., xiv; in Vulg. and D.V. unfortunately rendered Pontus), at present Senkere; 4) Erech, the Biblical Arach (Gen., x, 10), fifteen miles northwest of Larsa, is at present Warka; |=|
“5) eight miles northeast from the modern Shatra was Shirpurla, or Lagash, now Tello. Shirpurla was one of Babylon's most ancient cities, though not mentioned in the Bible; probably "Raventown" (shirpur-raven), from the sacred emblem of its goddess and sanctuary, Nin-Girsu, or Nin-Sungir, which for a score of centuries was an important political centre, and probably gave its name to Southern Babylonia -- Sungir, Shumer, or, in Gen., x, 10, Sennaar. Gishban (read also Gish-ukh), a small city a little north of Shirpurla, at present the mounds of Iskha, is of importance only in the very earliest history of Babylonia. |=|
“6) The site of the important city of Isin (read also Nisin) has not yet been determined, but it was probably situated a little north of Erech. 7) Calneh, or Nippur (in D.V., Gen., x, 10, Calanne), at present Nuffar, was a great religious centre, with its Bel Temple, unrivaled in antiquity and sanctity, a sort of Mecca for the Semitic Babylonians. Recent American excavations have made its name as famous as French excavations made that of Tello or Shirpurla. |=|
“7) In North Babylonia we have again, southernmost, the city of Kish, probably the Biblical Cush (Gen., x, 8); its ruins are under the present mound El-Ohemir, eight miles east of Hilla. 8) A little distance to the northwest lay Kutha, the present Telli Ibrahim, the city whence the Babylonian colonists of Samaria were taken (IV Kings, xvii, 30), and which played a great role in Northern Babylonia before the Amorite dynasty. 9) The site of Agade, i.e. Akkad (Gen., x, 10), the name of whose kings was dreaded in Cyprus and in Sinai in 3800 B.C., is unfortunately unknown, but it must have been not far from Sippara; it has even been suggested that this was one of the quarters of that city, which was scarcely thirty miles north of Babylon and which, as early as 1881, was identified, through British excavations, with the present Abu-Habba. |=|
“10) Lastly, Babylon, with its twin-city Borsippa, though probably founded as early as 3800 B.C., played an insignificant role in the country's history until, under Hammurabi, about 2300 B.C., it entered on that career of empire which it maintained for almost 2000 years, so that its name now stands for a country and a civilization which was of hoary antiquity before Babylon rose to power and even before a brick of Babylon was laid.” |=|
List of Rulers of Mesopotamia
Early Dynastic period:
Gilgamesh of Uruk (legendary): 2700 B.C.
Mesanepada of Ur: 2450 B.C.
Eannatum of Lagash: 2400 B.C.
Enannatum of Lagash: 2430 B.C.
Uruinimgina of Lagash: 2350 B.C.
Lugalzagesi of Uruk: 2350 B.C.
Dynasty of Akkad (Agade)
Sargon: 2340–2285 B.C.
Rimush: 2284–2275 B.C.
Manishtushu: 2275–2260 B.C.
Naram-Sin: 2260–2223 B.C.
Shar-kali-sharri: 2223–2198 B.C.
Dynasty of Lagash
Gudea(1): 2150–2125 B.C.
Third Dynasty of Ur
Ur-Nammu: 2112–2095 B.C.
Shulgi: 2095–2047 B.C.
Amar-Sin: 2046–2038 B.C.
Shu-Sin: 2037–2029 B.C.
Ibbi-Sin: 2028–2004 B.C.
Dynasty of Isin
Ishbi-Erra: 2017–1985 B.C.
Shu-ilishu: 1984–1975 B.C.
Iddin-Dagan: 1974–1954 B.C.
Lipit-Ishtar: 1934–1924 B.C.
Dynasty of Larsa
Rim-Sin: 1822–1763 B.C.
Old Babylonian dynasty
Sin-muballit: 1812–1793 B.C.
Hammurabi: 1792–1750 B.C.
Kadashman-Enlil I: 1374–1360 B.C.
Burnaburiash II: 1359–1333 B.C.
Kurigalzu II: 1332–1308 B.C.
Nabu-mukin-zeri: 731–729 B.C.
Marduk-apla-iddina II: 721–710 B.C.
Shamash-shum-ukin: 667–648 B.C.
Nabopolassar: 625–605 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar II: 604–562 B.C.
Amel-Marduk: 561–560 B.C.
Neriglissar: 559–556 B.C.
Labashi-Marduk: 556 B.C.
Nabonidus: 555–539 B.C.
Old Assyrian dynasty
Shamshi-Adad: 1813–1781 B.C.
Dynasty of Mari
Zimri-Lim: 1775 B.C.
Middle Assyrian dynasty
Ashur-uballit I: 1365–1330 B.C.
Enlil-nirari: 1329–1320 B.C.
Adad-nirari I: 1307–1275 B.C.
Tukulti-Ninurta I: 1244–1208 B.C.
Ashur-dan I: 1179–1134 B.C.
Tiglath-pileser I: 1114–1076 B.C.
Ashur-bel-kala: 1073–1056 B.C.
Ashurnasirpal II: 883–859 B.C.
Shalmaneser III: 858–824 B.C.
Shamshi-Adad V: 823–811 B.C.
Adad-nirari III: 810–783 B.C.
Shalmaneser IV: 782–773 B.C.
Ashur-dan III: 772–755 B.C.
Ashur-nirari V: 754–745 B.C.
Tiglath-pileser III: 745–727 B.C.
Shalmaneser V: 726–722 B.C.
Sargon II: 721–705 B.C.
Sennacherib: 704–681 B.C.
Esarhaddon: 680–669 B.C.
Ashurbanipal: 668–627 B.C.
Ashur-etel-ilani: 626–623 B.C.
Sin-shar-ishkun: 622–612 B.C.
Ashur-uballit II: 611–609 B.C.
Achaemenid Persian dynasty
Cyrus II the Great: 559–530 B.C.
Cambyses II: 530–522 B.C.
Darius I: 521–486 B.C.
Xerxes: 486–465 B.C.
Artaxerxes I: 465–424 B.C.
Darius II: 423–405 B.C.
Artaxerxes II: 405–359 B.C.
Artaxerxes III: 358–338 B.C.
Artaxerxes IV: 338–336 B.C.
Darius III: 336–330 B.C.
[Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "List of Rulers of Mesopotamia", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/meru/hd_meru.htm (October 2004)
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018