This frieze is native the royal royal residence of Ashurbanipal, exhibited in the brother Museum London / photograph by january van der Crabben, Wikimedia Commons

The ‘two rivers’ the the name described the Tigris and also the Euphrates rivers and also the soil was well-known as ‘Al-Jazirah’.

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By Dr. Joshua J. MarkProfessor the PhilosophyMarist College


Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning ‘between two rivers’) to be an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and also in the south east by the Arabian Plateau, equivalent to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of contemporary Iran, Syria and also Turkey. The ‘two rivers’ of the name referred to the Tigris and also the Euphrates rivers and the land was known as ‘Al-Jazirah’ (the island) by the Arabs referencing what Egyptologist J.H. Breasted would certainly later call the abundant Crescent, where Mesopotamian civilization began.

The Cradle of Civilization

Unlike the much more unified people of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a repertoire of varied cultures whose just real binding were your script, your gods, and also their attitude toward women. The society customs, laws, and also even language that Akkad, for example, can not be assumed to correspond to those of Babylon; that does seem, however, that the legal rights of women, the prominence of literacy, and the pantheon that the gods were indeed shared transparent the an ar (though the god had various names in assorted regions and also periods). Together a result of this, Mesopotamia need to be much more properly taken as a region that produced multiple empires and also civilizations rather than any single civilization. Also so, Mesopotamia is well-known as the “cradle that civilization” primarily because of two breakthroughs that arisen there, in the region of Sumer, in the 4thmillenium BCE:

the rise of the city together we acknowledge that reality today.the development of composing (although composing is likewise known to have occurred in Egypt, in the Indus Valley, in China, and also to have taken type independently in Mesoamerica).

The development of the wheel is likewise credited to the Mesopotamians and, in 1922 CE, the excavator Sir Leonard Woolley discovered “the stays of two four-wheeled wagons, the earliest wheeled vehicles in history ever found, in addition to their animal leather tires” (Bertman, 35). Various other important breakthroughs or inventions attributed to the Mesopotamians include, however are by no means minimal to, domestication of animals, agriculture, common tools, innovative weaponry and warfare, the chariot, wine, beer, demarcation the time right into hours, minutes, and seconds, spiritual rites, the sail (sailboats), and irrigation. Orientalist Samuel noah Kramer, in fact, has detailed 39 `firsts’ in human people that source in Sumer. These include:

The very first Schools, The an initial Case that `Apple Polishing’, The very first Case of juvenile Delinquency, The first `Warof Nerves’, The an initial Bicameral Congress, The first Historian, The first Case of taxes Reduction, The very first `Moses’, The an initial Legal Precedent, The an initial Pharmacopoeia, The very first `Farmer’s Almanac’, The first Experiment in Shade-Tree Gardening, Man’s very first Cosmogony and also Cosmology, The first Moral Ideals, The very first `Job’, The first Proverbs and also Sayings, The first Animal Fables, The very first Literary Debates, The very first Biblical Parallels, The first `Noah’, The very first Tale of Resurrection, The first `St. George’, The an initial Case of literature Borrowing, Man’s an initial Heroic Age, The first Love Song, The an initial Library Catalogue, Man’s very first Golden Age, The an initial `Sick’ Society, The first Liturgic Laments, The very first Messiahs, The an initial Long-Distance Champion, The very first Literary Imagery, The very first Sex Symbolism, The first Mater Dolorosa, The an initial Lullaby, The an initial Literary Portrait, The very first Elegies, Labor’s an initial Victory, The an initial Aquarium.

Ancient glazed tiles native the entrances of ancient Babylon (Iraq) depict a lion. / picture by oversnap, Wikimedia Commons

Archaeological excavations starting in the 1840s CE have actually revealed human settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia that show that the fertile conditions of the land between two rivers allowed an ancient hunter-gatherer world to work out in the land, domesticate animals, and also turn their attention to agriculture. Trade quickly followed, and also with prosperity came urbanization and also the birth of the city. The is normally thought that composing was invented due to trade, out of the requirement for long-distance communication, and also for keeping an ext careful monitor of accounts.

Learning and also Religion

Mesopotamia was recognized in classical times as a seat of learning, and it is thought that Thales of Miletus (c. 585 BCE, well-known as the ‘first philosopher’) studied there. Together the Babylonians believed that water to be the ‘first principle’ indigenous which every else flowed, and as Thales is famed for that very claim, it appears probable he learned in the region.

Intellectual quests were extremely valued across Mesopotamia, and the schools (devoted primarily to the priestly class) were stated to be as countless as temples and taught reading, writing, religion, law, medicine, and also astrology. There were over 1,000 divine beings in the pantheon that the god of the Mesopotamian cultures and also many stories worrying the gods (among them, the development myth, the Enuma Elish). It is generally welcomed that biblical tales such together the loss of Man and the flood of boy name (among numerous others) source in Mesopotamian lore, as they an initial appear in Mesopotamian functions such together The legend of Adapa and the Epic that Gilgamesh, the earliest written story in the world. The Mesopotamians believed that they were co-workers v the gods and that the land to be infused v spirits and demons (though `demons’ need to not be understood in the modern, Christian, sense).

The beginning of the world, they believed, to be a win by the gods over the pressures of chaos but, also though the gods had actually won, this walk not mean chaos can not come again. Through everyday rituals, attention to the deities, ideal funeral practices, and simple civic duty, the civilization of Mesopotamia feeling they aided maintain balance in the world and also kept the forces of chaos and also destruction at bay. In addition to expectations the one would honor one’s elders and treat people with respect, the citizens of the floor were also to honor the gods v the tasks they perform every day.

A basic map of Mesopotamia and also its adjoining territories which approximately covers the period from 2000-1600 BCE reveals the concentration of city states in Sumer, in the south. / p L Kessler, HistoryFiles


Men and women both worked, and also “because ancient Mesopotamia was basically an agrarian society, the principal occupations were farming crops and also raising livestock” (Bertman, 274). Other occupations had those the the scribe, the healer, artisan, weaver, potter, shoemaker, fisherman, teacher, and priest or priestess. Bertman writes:

At the head of culture were the kings and also priests served by the populated staff of palace and temple. V the college of was standing armies and also the spread of imperialism, military officers and professional soldiers took their location in Mesopotamia’s expanding and also diverse workforce. (274)

Women enjoyed virtually equal rights and also could very own land, document for divorce, own their very own businesses, and also make contract in trade. The at an early stage brewers of beer and wine, and the healers in the community, were initially women. This trades were later on taken over by men, the seems, as soon as it became evident they were financially rewarding occupations. The occupational one did, however, to be never thought about simply a `job’ yet one’s donation to the neighborhood and, by extension, come the gods’ initiatives in maintaining the civilization at peace and in harmony.

Buildings and Government

The temple, in ~ the center of every city (often top top a elevated platform), symbolized the importance of the city’s patron divine being who would likewise be worshipped by whatever neighborhoods that city presided over. Mesopotamia provided birth to the world’s very first cities which were largely constructed of sun-dried brick. In the native of Bertman:

The domestic design of Mesopotamia prospered out the the floor upon which the stood. Uneven Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– was barren of stone that can be quarried for construction.” The land to be equally there is no of trees for timber, therefore the human being “turned come other organic resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay the its riverbanks and the rushes and reeds that grew in your marshes. V them, the Mesopotamians developed the world’s an initial columns, arches, and also roofed structures. (285)

Simple residences were created from majority of reeds lashed together and also inserted in the ground, if more complex homes were built of sun-driedclay brick (a practice followed later through the Egyptians). Cities and also temple complexes, through their famous ziggurats (the step-pyramid structures indigenous to the region), were all constructed using oven-bakedbricks of clay i beg your pardon were climate painted.

The gods were assumed to be present in the planning and also execution of any kind of building project and also very specific prayers, recited in a set order to the ideal deity, were considered of utmost importance in the success of the project and the prosperity of the inhabitants of the home.

Whichever kingdom or empire held sway throughout Mesopotamia, in everything historical period, the critical role of the gods in the stays of the civilization remained undiminished. This reverence because that the divine characterized the lives of both the field worker and also the king. The historian Helen Chapin Metz writes:

The precariousness of existence in southerly Mesopotamia resulted in a highly developed sense of religion. Cult centers such together Eridu, dating ago to 5000 BCE, offered as necessary centers of pilgrimage and also devotion even before the rise of Sumer. Many of the most essential Mesopotamian cities arised in locations surrounding the pre-Sumerian cult centers, for this reason reinforcing the close relationship between religion and government. (2)

The role of the king was created at some allude after 3600 BCE and, unlike the priest-rulers who came before, the king dealt directly with the people and made his will clear through laws of his own devising. Before the principle of a king, the priestly rulers are thought to have dictated the regulation according to religious precepts and also received magnificent messages with signs and omens; the king, while still honoring and placating the gods, was considered a an effective enough representative that those god to have the ability to speak your will with his own dictates, making use of his own voice.

Detail indigenous a statue the Shalmaneser III (859 BC – 824 BC) in ~ Istanbul Archaeology museum / photo by Ali Kalamchi, Wikimedia Commons

This is most plainly seen in the renowned laws that Hammurabi of Babylon (r. 1792-1750 BCE), but a ruler claiming direct contact with the gods to be quite usual throughout Mesopotamian history, many notably in the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. 2261-2224 BCE) who went therefore far as to proclaim self a god incarnate. The king to be responsible because that the welfare the his people and a good king, that ruled in accordance with magnificent will, was known by the prosperity the the region he reigned over.

Still, even an extremely efficient rulers, such together Sargon of Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE), had actually to resolve perpetual uprisings and also revolts by factions, or totality regions, contesting his legitimacy. Together Mesopotamia was so substantial a region, with so numerous different cultures and ethnicities within its borders, a solitary ruler attempting to enforce the legislations of a main government would certainly invariably be met v resistance from part quarter.

The history of Mesopotamia

The background of the region, and also the advancement of the people which flourished there, is many easily understood by dividing it into periods:

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age

Also known as The stone Age (c. 10,000 BCE despite evidence says human habitation much earlier). Over there is archaeological confirmation of rudely settlements and early indicators of warfare in between tribes, most most likely over fertile land because that crops and fields for grazing livestock. Pet husbandry was significantly practiced throughout this time v a change from a hunter-gatherer culture to an agrarian one. Even so, the historian Marc valve De Mieroop notes:

There was not a sudden readjust from hunting-gathering to farming, but rather a slow process during which world increased their reliance on resources they regulated directly, yet still supplemented their diets by searching wild animals. Farming enabled boost in consistent settlement by people(12).

As an ext settlements grew, architectural breakthroughs slowly became an ext sophisticated in the building and construction of irreversible dwellings.

Pottery Neolithic Age(c. 7,000 BCE)

In this duration there to be a widespread usage of tools and also clay pots and a specific culture begins to emerge in the productive Crescent. Scholar Stephen Bertman writes, “during this era, the just advanced modern technology was accurate ‘cutting edge’” as stone tools and also weapons became much more sophisticated. Bertman additional notes that “the Neolithic economic climate was primarily based on food production through farming and animal husbandry” (55) and also was more settled, as opposed to the stone Age in which communities were more mobile. Architectural breakthroughs naturally complied with in the wake of permanent settlements together did developments in the manufacture of ceramics and rock tools.

Copper period (5,900 – 3,200 BCE)

A 3D repair of the an excellent Ziggurat that Ur, based upon a 1939 illustration by Leonard Woolley, Ur Excavations, Volume V. The Ziggurat and also its Surroundings, number 1.4 / Wikimedia Commons

Also known as The Chalcolithic duration owing to the shift from stone tools and weapons to ones do of copper. This era includes the so-called Ubaid duration (c. 5000-4100 BCE, named for call al-`Ubaid, the place in Iraq wherein the greatest variety of artifacts were found) during which the very first temples in Mesopotamia were built and also unwalled villages occurred from sporadic negotiations of single dwellings. These towns then provided rise come the urbanization procedure during the Uruk duration (4100-2900 BCE) when cities rose, many notably in the region of Sumer, consisting of Eridu, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Nuzi, Lagash, Nippur, and Ngirsu, and also in Elam v its city of Susa.

The more quickly city is often cited together Uruk, although Eridu and Ur have likewise been suggested. Van De Mieroop writes, “Mesopotamia to be the most densely urbanized an ar in the old world” (as quote in Bertman, 201), and also the urban which prospered up follow me the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and those established further away, established systems of profession which result in good prosperity.

This duration saw the development of the wheel (c. 3500 BCE) and also writing (c. 3000 BCE), bothby the Sumerians, the facility of kingships to change priestly rule, and also the an initial war in the human being recorded in between the kingdoms of Sumer and Elam (2700 BCE) v Sumer as the victor. During the beforehand Dynastic period (2900-2334 BCE), all of the developments of the Uruk period were developed and also the cities, and also government in general, stabilized. Raised prosperity in the region gave increase to ornate temples and also statuary, innovative pottery and figurines, toys for children (including dolls for girls and wheeled carts for boys), and also the usage of personal seals (known together Cylinder Seals) to signify ownership the property and to was standing for one individual’s signature. Cylinder Seals would certainly be similar to one’s modern identification card or driver’s license and, in fact, the ns or theft of one’s seal would have been as far-reaching as modern-day identity theft or shedding one’s credit cards.

Early Bronze age (3,000 – 2119 BCE)

During this period, copper supplanted copper together the product from i beg your pardon tools and weapons to be made. The climb of the city-state set the structure for economic and political stability which would eventually lead to the increase of the Akkadian empire (2334-2218 BCE) and also the rapid expansion of the urban of Akkad and Mari, two of the many prosperous city centers the the time. The social stability vital for the production of arts in the an ar resulted in an ext intricate designs in architecture and sculpture, and the adhering to inventions or improvements:

a number of specific and momentous inventions: the plough and the wheel, the chariot and also the sailboat, and also the cylinder-seal, the solitary most distinctive art type of ancient Mesopotamia and also a pervasive show of the importance of home ownership and also business in the country’s day-to-day life. (Bertman, 55-56)

The Akkadian realm of Sargon the an excellent was the very first multi-national kingdom in the world and Sargon’s daughter, Enheduanna (l.2285-2250 BCE), the very first author of literature works well-known by name. The library at Mari consisted of over 20,000 cuneiform tablets (books) and also the royal residence there was thought about one of the finest in the region.

Middle Bronze age (2119-1700 BCE)

The expansion of the Assyrian Kingdoms (Assur, Nimrud, Sharrukin, Dur, and Nineveh) and the increase of the Babylonian empire (centered in Babylon and Chaldea) produced an atmosphere conducive to trade and, v it, enhanced warfare. The Guti Tribe, fierce nomads who succeeded in toppling the Akkadian Empire, overcame the politics of Mesopotamia until they were beat by the allied forces of the monarchs of Sumer.

Hammurabi, King the Babylon, climbed from family member obscurity to overcome the an ar and reign for 43 years. Among his many success was his well known code that laws, inscribed on the stele the the gods. Babylon ended up being a top centre right now for pundit pursuit and high achievement in arts and letters. This social centre was no to last, however, and also was sacked and also looted by the Hittites that were then succeeded by the Kassites.

Late Bronze period (1700-1100 BCE)

The increase of the Kassite empire (a tribe who come from the Zagros mountains in the north and are thought to have originated in modern Iran) leads to a shift in power and an development of society and finding out after the Kassites conquered Babylon. The please of the Bronze period followed the discovery of just how to mine ore and make usage of iron, a modern technology which the Kassites and, earlier, the Hittites do singular usage of in warfare.

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The duration also observed the beginning of the decline of Babylonian culture due to the climb in power of the Kassites till they were beat by the Elamites and driven out. After the Elamites gave means to the Aramaeans, the tiny Kingdom that Assyria started a collection of successful campaigns, and also the Assyrian empire was steady established and also prospered under the preeminence of Tiglath-Pileser i (r. 1115-1076 BCE) and, ~ him, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884-859 BCE) consolidated the empire further. Many Mesopotamian states were either damaged or dilute followingthe Bronze age Collapse c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, bring about a quick “dark age”.