Mesopotamia (from the Greek meaning "land between the rivers") is an area geographically located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, largely corresponding to modern Iraq, as well as northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and the Khūzestān Province of southwestern Iran.
Commonly known as 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 Empire and Neo-Babylonian Empire, and later conquered by the Achaemenid Empire. It mostly remained under Persian rule until the 7th century Islamic conquest of the Sassanid Empire. Under the Caliphate, the region came to be known as Iraq.
The history of Mesopotamia begins with the emergence of urban societies in southern Iraq in 5000 BCE, and ends with either the arrival of the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE, when Mesopotamia began being colonized by foreign powers, or with the arrival of the Islamic Caliphate, when the region came to be known as Iraq.
A cultural continuity and spatial homogeneity for this entire historical geography ("the Great Tradition") is popularly assumed, though the assumption is problematic. Mesopotamia housed some of the world's most ancient states with highly developed social complexity. 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 and the Andes).
Mesopotamia housed historically important cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Nineveh, and Babylon as well as major territorial states such as the Akkadian kingdom, Third Dynasty of Ur, and 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 BCE or the Islamic conquest of Persian Mesopotamia in the 7th century CE. This long period may be divided as follows:
Dates are approximate for the second and third millennia BCE; compare Chronology of the Ancient Near East.
Periodic breakdowns in the cultural system have occurred for a number of reasons. The demands for labour 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.
The earliest language written in Mesopotamia was Sumerian, an agglutinative language isolate. Scholars agree that other languages were also spoken in early Mesopotamia along with Sumerian. Later a Semitic language, Akkadian, came to be the dominant language, although Sumerian was retained for administration, religious, literary, and scientific purposes. Different varieties of Akkadian were used until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. Then Aramaic, which had already become common in Mesopotamia, 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.
In Early Mesopotamia (around 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 appear to have been developed from pictograms. The earliest texts (7 archaic tablets) come from the E-anna super sacred precinct dedicated to the goddess Inanna at Uruk, Level III, 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 reading and writing. It was not until the widespread use of a syllabic script was adopted under Sargon's rule that significant portions of Mesopotamian population became learned in literacy. Massive archives of texts were recovered from the archaeological contexts of Old Babylonian scribal schools, through which literacy was disseminated.
In Babylonian colonies times there were libraries in most towns and temples also homes which is a curifouins 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 of them were drawn up.
There are many Babylonian literary works whose titles have come down to us. 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, and it is probable that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central figure.
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, 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 philosophy 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 Socratic method of Socrates. The Phoenician philosopher Thales is also
The Babylonian astronomers were very interested in studying the stars and sky, and most could already predict eclipses and solstices. People 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 of a thoroughly scientific character; 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 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 the 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.
Babylonian astronomy was the basis for much of what was done in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy, in classical Indian astronomy, in Sassanian, Byzantine and Syrian astronomy, in medieval Islamic astronomy, and in Central Asian and Western European astronomy.
The Mesopotamians used a sexagesimal (base 60) numeral system. This is the source of the current 60-minute hours and 24-hour days, as well as the 360 degree circle. The Sumerian calendar also measured weeks of seven days each. This mathematical knowledge was used in mapmaking.
The Babylonians might have been familiar with the general rules for measuring the areas. 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 estimated as 3. The volume of a cylinder was taken as the product 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 3 and 1/8 (3.125 for 3.14159~). The Babylonians are also known for the Babylonian mile, which was a measure of distance equal to about seven miles (11 km) today. This measurement for distances eventually was converted to a time-mile used for measuring the travel of the Sun, therefore, representing time.
Along with contemporary ancient 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 and 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.
They were also one of the first Bronze age people in the world. Early on they used copper, bronze and gold, and later they used 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.
The earliest type of pump was the Archimedes screw, first used by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, for the water systems at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Nineveh in the 7th century BC, and later described in more detail by Archimedes in the 3rd century BC. Later during the Parthian or Sassanid periods, the Baghdad Battery, which may have been the first batteries, were 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, as the Greeks had Zeus and the Romans had 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.
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;
waxing Moon = abundance and growth;
waning Moon = decline, conservation, and festivals of the Underworld;
2) the phase of the annual agricultural cycle;
3) equinoces and solstices of the solar year;
4) the mythos of the City and its divine Patrons;
5) the success of the reigning Monarch;
6) commemoration of specific historical events (founding, military victories, temple holidays, etc.)
The Oud (Arabic:العود) is a small, stringed musical instrument. 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'.)
Mesopotamia across its history became more and more a patriarchal society, in which the men were far more powerful than the women. Thorkild Jacobsen, and others have 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, and so on, 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.
Food supply in Mesopotamia was quite rich due to the location of the two rivers from which its name is derived, Tigris and Euphrates. The Tigris and Euphrates River valleys formed the northeastern portion of the Fertile Crescent, which also included the Jordan River valley & 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. 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. As a result of the skill involved in farming in the Mesopotamian, farmers did not depend on slaves to complete farm work for them, with some exceptions. There were too many risks involved to make slavery practical (i.e. the escape/mutiny of the slave).
Notable Mesopotamian kings include:
Nebuchadnezzar was 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 means: Nabo, protect the crown!
Belshedezzar was the last king of Babylonia. He was the son of Nabonidus whose wife was 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; he had to call up soldiers to war, and supply workers when a temple was built. He was also responsible for the laws being enforced. In this way it was easier to keep control of an empire like Assyria. 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.
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. Most notably known 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, 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 examples are known 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, therefore, along with residential and private function, they housed craftsmen workshops, food storehouses, ceremonial courtyards, and 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, a ceremonial banquet hall, etc. 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 sculpture of apotropaic mythological figures. The architectural arrangement of these Iron Age palaces were also organized around large and small courtyards. Usually the king's throneroom opened to a massive ceremonial courtyard where important state councils met, state ceremonies performed.
Massive amounts of ivory furniture pieces were found in many Assyrian palaces pointing out 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.
Ziggurats (Akkadian ziqquratu from the verb zaqāru) were massive stepped cult platforms found in certain Mesopotamian sanctuaries. The idea seems to have originated in early Mesopotamian temples which were built successively, one building over another on the same site over centuries, creating a massive mound that raised the new temples over the rest of the city. A good example of such structure was the temple dedicated to Ea at Eridu (Tell Abu Shahrain) excavated by Fuad Safar and Seton Lloyd in 1940s, or the "White" Temple dedicated to Anu at Uruk in the Late Uruk period. Ur-Nammu's ziggurat, built at the height the Third Dynasty of Ur, at the site of Ur (Tell al Mugayyar) in the sanctuary of the Moon God Nanna, is also believed to be encasing earlier temples of the Early Dynastic Period. Ur-Nammu's ziggurat is considered one of the earliest of all planned ziggurats. After that time Kassites and Elamites of the Late Bronze Age, and Assyrians and Babylonians of the Iron age continued to build artificially erected ziggurats. Examples of such structures were found in Dur Kurigalzu (Aqar Quf), Dur-Untash (Tschoga Zanbil), Kalhu (Nimrud), Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad) and Babylon among others.
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, today only two of these survive. This entire mudbrick core structure was originally given a facing of baked brick envelope set in bitumen, circa 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.
Weekend: Books - Beneath A Waning Moon, Diaries, 1985-87; Beneath A Waning Moon, Diaries, 1985-87 by James Lees-Milne, John Murray, pounds 22.50.(Features)
Nov 15, 2003; Byline: Reviewed by Katherine Haddon Halfway through these diaries, James Lees-Milne bumps into Alan Clark -a diarist of some...