Ancient Mesopotamia was settled and conquered by numerous ancient civilizations. Dates for events in ancient Mesopotamia are still controversial, and several different methods and standards of dating exist for the Chronology of the ancient Near East; therefore, all dates in this article are only estimates. The "short chronology" is used in this article for consistency. Mesopotamia has been home to some of the oldest major civilizations, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Mesopotamia as a distinct and self-determining cultural region began with the rise of the first cities in southern Mesopotmia ca. 5300 BC, and ended with the Persian conquest in 539 BC.
The Fertile Crescent was inhabited with several distinct, flourishing cultures between the end of the last ice age (c. 10,000 BC) and the beginning of history. One of the oldest known Neolithic sites in Mesopotamia is Jarmo, settled around 7000 BC and broadly contemporary with Jericho (in the Levant) and Çatal Hüyük (in Anatolia). It as well as other early Neolithic sites, such as Samarra and Tell Halaf were in northern Mesopotamia; later settlements in southern Mesopotamia required complicated irrigation methods. The first of these was Eridu, settled during the Ubaid period culture by farmers who bought with them the Samarran culture from the north. This was followed by the Uruk period and the emergence of the Sumerians.
It is hard to tell where the Sumerians might have come from because the Sumerian language is a language isolate, unrelated to any other known language. Their mythology includes many references to the area of Mesopotamia but little clue regarding their place of origin, perhaps indicating that they had been there for a long time. The Sumerian language is identifiable from its initially logographic script which arose last half of the 4th millennium BC. Sumer is known as the Cradle of civilization.
By the 3rd millennium BC, these urban centers had developed into increasingly complex societies. Irrigation and other means of exploiting food sources were being used to amass large surpluses, huge building projects were being undertaken by rulers, and political organization was becoming evermore sophisticated.
Throughout the millennium , the various city-states Kish, Uruk, Ur and Lagash vied for power and gained hegemony at various times. Nippur and Ngirsu were important religious centers, as was Eridu at this point. This was also the time of Gilgamesh, a semi-historical king of Uruk, and the subject of the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.
The chronology of this era is particularly uncertain, as it was early in the history of writing. Also, the multitude of city-states made for a confusing situation, as each had its own history. The Sumerian king list is one record of the political history of the period. It starts with mythological figures with improbably long reigns, but later rulers have been authenticated with archaeological evidence. The first of these is Enmebaragesi of Kish, ca. 2600 BC, said by the king list to have subjected neighboring Elam. However, one complication of the Sumerian king list is that although dynasties are listed in sequential order, some of them actually ruled at the same time over different areas.
Enshakushanna of Uruk conquered all of Sumer, Akkad, and Hamazi, followed by Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab creating the first, if short-lived empire. Some time later Eannatum of Lagash also conquered Sumer. His methods were force and intimidation (see the Stele of the Vultures ), and soon after his death, the cities rebelled and the empire again fell apart. The last native Sumerian to rule over most of Sumer before Sargon of Akkad established Semitic supremacy was Lugal-Zage-Si.
The Akkadian Empire lost power after the reign of Naram-Sin, and eventually was invaded by the Guti from the Zagros Mountains. For a century the Guti controlled Mesopotamia, especially the north, but they left few inscriptions, so they are not well understood.
The Guti had less of a hold on southern Mesopotamia, where the second dynasty of Lagash came into prominence. Its most famous ruler was Gudea, who left many statues of himself in temples across Sumer.
By ca. 2000 BC, the power of Ur waned, and the Amorites, Semitic nomads from the desert west of Mesopotamia, came to occupy much of the area, although it was Sumer's long-standing rivals to the east, the Elamites, who finally overthrew Ur. This marked the end of city-states ruling empires in Mesopotamia, and the end of Sumerian dominance, but the succeeding rulers adopted much of Sumerian civilization as their own.
After the death of Hammurabi, the Babylonian dynasty lasted for another century, but many of the lands conquered by Hammurabi became independent and Mesopotamia was again a patchwork of competing principalities. The dynasty ended in 1531 BC, when Babylonia fell to the Hittites.
Although the Mesopotamian region maintained its independence through this period, it was not a power in the Near East, and mostly sat out the large wars fought over the Levant between Egypt, the Hittite Empire, and Mitanni (see below), as well as independent peoples in the region. Assyria participated in these wars toward the end of the period, but the Kassites in Babylon did not. They did, however, fight against their longstanding rival to the east, Elam (related by some linguists to the Dravidian languages in modern India). In the end, the Elamites conquered Babylon, bringing this period to an end.
After two centuries of Achaemenid rule, Mesopotamia fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC, and remained under Hellenistic rule for another two centuries, with Seleucia as capital from 305 BC. In the 1st century BC, Mesopotamia was in constant turmoil as the Seleucid Empire was weakened by Parthia on one hand and the Mithridatic Wars on the other. The Parthian Empire lasted for five centuries, into the 3rd century AD, when it was succeeded by the Sassanids. The Sassanid Empire finally fell to the Rashidun army under Khalid ibn al-Walid in the 630s.
Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, John Curtis, Harriet Martin, Augusta McMahon, Joan Oates & Julian Reade (ed.). Of pots and plans: papers on the archaeology & history of Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David Oates in honour of his 75th birthday. (book review)
Sep 01, 2002; xi+401 pages, 347 figures, 9 tables. 2002. London: Nabu; 1-897750-62-5 hardback 48 [pounds sterling]. Thirty-seven articles and...
Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC.(Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History)(Book review)
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