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MESOPOTAMIA RISE AND FALL

Ancient Mesopotamia is considered the birthplace of writing and with it, recorded history. Its people also built the world's first cities mostly centred in what is now Iraq.




Mesopotamia is a fascinating place and one of the first civilizations in the world. If you've ever read the Epic of Gilgamesh or wondered how the alphabet came to be, this land of Sumer or Mesopotamia has all the answers! The Sumerians were farmers and herders and built huts on raised floors like crawl spaces. Although Agriculture was a primary source for settling down and building the first cities, it gave humankind much more. Mesopotamia extended from Syria to the Persian Gulf. They had developed metallurgy and a written language. They built huge cities, up to 10 square miles each. These cities had an intricate transportation system, including canals, gates, and walls. They, of course, invented the wheel in 3500 BC.


Ancient Mesopotamia is considered the birthplace of writing and with it, recorded history. Its people also built the world's first cities and developed the oldest known political and administrative systems, mostly centred in what is now Iraq.

Before we begin, let's give ourselves a quick history lesson. The Mesopotamian people were the first to develop irrigation systems, which allowed them to grow crops and farm animals on land where rain was scarce or non-existent. In addition to farming, they also invented cuneiform writing—the oldest known form of written language in the world—and used it to create literature and record their history. Amazingly, we could never decode it even though it still survives. Mesopotamia was, in essence, the source of the first civilizations in the world.




The area we now refer to as Mesopotamia was located between two rivers: The Tigris River ran south from Armenia down into modern-day Iraq, while the Euphrates ran through Syria before joining with the Tigris at Babylon (modern-day Baghdad). These waterways enabled these early civilizations to thrive by providing water for irrigation and transportation routes for trade goods such as spices from India or materials like copper from Cyprus.


The Sumerians were the first farmers and herders, and they built huts on raised floors much like crawl spaces. They were made with mud-brick walls between twenty and thirty feet high (6–9 meters), with steps leading up to them from below. If you were a Sumerian, your hut was built on a raised platform. If you were poor and lived in the marshlands, it may have been made of reeds; if you were wealthy and had land that was good for building huts, it might have been brick or mud brick. The site of Ur is famous because its ziggurats were built above all else: they rose into the heavens like monuments to gods.


There are several theories about why these temples were constructed so high off the ground: some say that it was an attempt by early civilizations to gain elevation over their enemies; others indicate that the greater height made them more visible during religious ceremonies or festivals; still others think that perhaps people just liked getting up there after they'd finished working all day collecting grain or tending sheep in their fields down below! No matter what their purpose may have been, these massive structures today remain as reminders of how far our ancestors came before us—and how far we've come since then too!





The Sumerians grew wheat, barley, dates, and some vegetables. The most important crop was barley because they used it to make beer. They also raised cattle, sheep, and goats, providing meat for their meals. Hunting was another source of food for the people of Mesopotamia. The Mesopotamian region extended from Syria to the Persian Gulf. It is also commonly referred to as the Fertile Crescent because of its fertile land, agriculture flourished, and abundant crops. The area stretched between two rivers—the Tigris and Euphrates—and included other rivers such as the Gezirah, the Habur, and many others. To the north were mountains that separated it from Anatolia (modern Turkey). To its East was an arid desert known as Arabia Deserta; westward lay more mountains separating it from Lebanon and Syria; southward lay yet another mountain range separating it from the Arabian Peninsula.


The Mesopotamians had developed metallurgy, a written language, and the wheel. They used their metal tools to make weapons and farming tools. Their earliest form of writing was cuneiform. Cuneiform writing was invented by the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago; it involved pressing a reed stylus into clay tablets that were then baked at high temperatures to harden them. The Sumerians used cuneiform for business transactions and storytelling; later on, laws and treaties were recorded on clay tablets using this method. The Sumerian people built large cities, up to 10 square miles each. They had an intricate transportation system that included canals, gates, and walls. Unsurprisingly, the Mesopotamian cities had an intricate transportation system that included canals, gates, and walls. Canals were used for transporting goods, irrigation, and sometimes as transportation. Gates were used to defend against invaders, while walls helped protect against enemies.


A wall was made using mud bricks; these bricks were made from clay which was dried in the sun before being baked in a kiln at high temperature. You'll remember that the wheel is a significant innovation that allows transportation and agriculture to be more efficient and effective. With the wheel, you can easily carry things from one place to another, which means that people could transport food or other goods long distances without using animals or human power alone. It also allowed agricultural produce to be transported easily without much effort, which wasn't possible until then because carts were difficult to pull over rough terrain using humans or animals alone.




The wheel was also used in warfare: chariots with wheels were used by kings during battles to move quickly around battlefields while still getting close enough so their archers could shoot arrows at enemies' heads. They were also used in construction projects at temples; when building massive structures like these, having something easy-to-maneuver like chariot wheels made things easier for workers who would otherwise have had trouble moving heavy stones into place without them falling off scaffolding platforms or tipping over because their base wasn't secure enough. Mesopotamia was a hub of trade, and the ancient people of Mesopotamia traded with each other. They traded everything from spices to bricks to gold jewelry. The city-states would send barges down the Euphrates River, loaded with goods they had made or grown. Other city-states would pick up the cargo along their journey and were able to sell it at markets in their own cities or even further away from home.


You're probably wondering what the cuneiform writing system was like. Well, it was the first written language used by the Sumerians, who were the first people to settle in Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago. The cuneiform script was used for over 3,000 years, so you can imagine how many tablets they had to write on! Cuneiform was a phonetic alphabet (not pictorial) that developed from simple baskets into more complicated shapes called signs (sometimes called "logograms"). These signs represented sounds such as "ba-ba-ba" or "puh-puh-puh" and could be combined to form words representing objects or ideas that had no earthly equivalent at that period; for example, ku=to create something out of nothing; gal=to create something out of nothing in a specific location on earth; sam=to create something out of nothing but with divine intervention; etc. Cuneiform was used by the Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians for over 3000 years!



Chapter one -

A Legacy of culture


The most famous legacies of Mesopotamia are its human-headed, winged bulls and wedge-shaped writing system. Even though these objects offer a glimpse into an ancient culture's grandeur and mystery, the region's influence extends far beyond them. One of the first civilizations in the world, Mesopotamia is often called the "cradle of civilization." The civilization contributed to the development of written language, economics, law, and religion. The pages of this book discuss many of these contributions. In Mesopotamia, for example, the lunar calendar was divided into two seasons, and the year was divided into 12 months. There were seven days in a week in the Sumerian calendar. Sexagesimal, or base 60, mathematics survives to this day based on 60-minute hours and 24-hour days in Mesopotamia.


The term Mesopotamia is typically used by historians to refer to the region in southwest Asia that includes modern-day Iraq and parts of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Hellenistic Greeks used Mesopotamos to refer to the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Fertile soil and water provided by these rivers enabled humankind to abandon its nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle and become sedentary and agrarian. The agricultural revolution was born in Mesopotamia because of this feature. Almost 2,000 years ago, Mesopotamia had little information about itself. The history and culture of the region are revealed in the Hebrew Bible. During the fifth century BC, Herodotus described the area for the first time. Anabasis ("Upcountry March"), a Greek mercenary, historian, and philosopher's account of his experiences crossing Anatolia and traveling along the Tigris and Euphrates, was written over 100 years later. A Chaldean priest of Bel who migrated to Greece left behind some of the region's most detailed and reliable accounts, even though his writings are only extant in fragments.


On the island of Cos, Berosus wrote the Babyloniaka in the 3rd century BC, consisting of three books. In the first of these, Babylonia and its creation myth are described. In addition, it defined Oannes, a half-man, half-fish who taught early humans law, the arts, and agriculture, thus bringing civilization from the sea. The second and third books depict the Tower of Babel's chronology and history. The narrative of the tower may have been influenced by the Babylonian tower temple Bab-ilu ("Gate of God"), or in Hebrew Babel or Bavel, located north of the Marduk temple.


Berosus lived in Babylonia and Assyria from prehistory to the time of King Nabonassar (Nabu-Nasir). The early sixth millennium BC saw the emergence of large urban areas in Mesopotamia. Uruk, Nineveh, and Babylon were essential settlements in the region. Smaller payments were centered around these social and cultural life centers, which featured shrines to major deities and extensive granaries. Ancient Mesopotamian cities were centered around ziggurats or temple complexes. They had receding tiers and were topped with shrines, as their name implies. Every city had a patron god or goddess, and each shrine was dedicated to a single deity. The war between cities was often considered a reflection of battles between the gods and goddesses due to the close relationship between town and god.


Besides the ruler's palace, the other main structure in Mesopotamian cities was the palace complex, which included private residences, sanctuaries, courtyards, and storage buildings. Inscriptions and bas-reliefs embellished the ziggurat and court, depicting civic and military achievements. Monumental sculptures of mythological guardian figures flanked gates and critical passageways, usually embodied by winged bulls or lions with a human head.


A vast stretch of desert or swamp separated Mesopotamian cities. Due to this circumstance, city-states developed autonomous entities whose territory consisted of a single town and its surroundings. Conflicts over land and dominion often broke out between neighboring city-states. After Sumer was conquered by the Akkadian empire in 2331 BC, which was subsequently dominated by the Babylonians a few generations later, the first successful forced unification of city-states occurred. Mesopotamian culture cannot be unified because conquering civilizations either adopted, co-opted, or superseded the traditions and beliefs of vanquished city-states.


The political center of Mesopotamia shifted from city-state to city-state with each successive conquest. One of the best examples is the Sumerian King List, which provides a record of the kings of Sumer, where each dynasty is listed by its "official" seat of power. Some claims in King List have been questioned, notably where the regnal periods of individual monarchs have spanned hundreds, even thousands, of years. It still provides a valuable window into Mesopotamian history when viewed as a part official record and part embellishment. Aside from a simple chronology of rulers, it offers a fascinating look at the nature of war, justice, and religion as practiced by the citizens of different cities.


Symbols, pictures, or logograms represent whole words in King List. Sumerians created one of the oldest forms of written language by refining logograms and adding phonetic signs. The cuneiform script was written on wet clay tablets using wedge-shaped symbols with blunt reeds. Several variants of the Old Akkadian cuneiform have been discovered in Babylon and northern Mesopotamia after the Akkadians entered Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. Cuneiform migrated quickly from Sumer throughout the region, as evidenced by archaeological excavations, and the language evolved along the way.


Through trade and laws, Mesopotamia's civilizations could document the receipt of imported and exported commodities. Temples were frequently used to store and catalog these commercial documents. In the palace library built by the Babylonian ruler Ashurbanipal, cuneiform writings were discovered as an exception to the general rule.


Cuneiform also provided an early example of how the oral tradition was transformed into written practice. Additionally, a set of incomplete tablets containing The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest known works of literature, were found in the Nineveh palace library.

Art and architecture from Mesopotamia reveal much about the region's history in addition to cuneiform. Several decades of excavation and examination of ruins have led experts to postulate that temples of this period were characterized by buttresses and recessed walls with mosaics inside. The most popular and standard building mode was on a raised platform, while ground-level temples were less common. In secular architecture, flat roofs were supported by palm tree trunks or brick columns made from dried riverbank clay.


As identification stamps, cylinder seals have become some of the region's most outstanding artworks. Most artworks consisted of clay pottery, wood carvings, and metal sculptures. A temple sculpture depicts supplicants rather than gods and goddesses, revealing physical characteristics of the inhabitants, such as bearded men and women with upswept hair. Building with stone was considered an extravagance in Mesopotamia due to its scarcity. There are many examples of ornate stone decorations and sculptures among the ruins of temples. The significance of the places of worship within the region is evident from this statement. Mesopotamia was a religious society. Mesopotamian worship was centered on a pantheon of gods, around which elaborate myths were constructed to explain natural occurrences (such as floods and droughts). Politics and religion are often intertwined.


In addition to overseeing the administration of temples within their domain, kings were crowned during sacred festivals. Mesopotamian civilizations have done much work in economics, law, and government. The Babylonians developed the first known economic system. Codes of Ur-Nammu and Eshnunna, as well as the Code of Hammurabi, were among the early laws created by the ancient Mesopotamians. Over 200 laws were drafted by Hammurabi (c. 1728- 1686 BC), the first king of the Babylonian empire, covering various subjects, such as family, commercial, and criminal matters. The criminal laws of the Code are often based on the "an eye for an eye" principle, but its commercial rules are entirely different. Hammurabi's Code of Hammurabi codified a series of commercial laws to firmly establish the new economic system. In addition to property rights, inheritance laws, fair trade, taxation, and statutory wages, the Code also addressed debt management.


Before the first excavations in the mid-19th century, little was known about the region's cultural significance. As the Roman Empire declined and the European Renaissance began, Europeans occasionally ventured into the area. Between 1160 and 1173 AD, Benjamin of Tudela, a Spanish rabbi, visited the Middle East. During the early part of the 17th century, however, Pietro Della Valle rediscovered Babylonian ruins in Iraq (about 60 miles south of present-day Baghdad).


The first cuneiform writing specimens were brought back to Europe by Della Valle. As the European interest in Mesopotamia grew, such travelers as Carsten Niebuhr (1733–1815), Claudius James Rich (1787–1820), and Sir Robert Ker Porter (1777–1842) visited it. In Mesopotamia, modern archaeological research began with the French excavations at Nineveh (1842) and Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad; 1843–55), along with the English expeditions at Nineveh (1846–55) and Calah (modern Nimrud). Other important cities, such as Babylon, Ashur, Erech (Uruk), and Ur, were soon excavated. When American scientists began excavations at Nuzu (modern Yorgan Tepe, about 140 miles north of Baghdad) in 1925, the second phase of research focused on "provinces" and outlying areas, as well as capital cities. Our understanding of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations has been enriched by these excavations.

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