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Mesopotamia (Ancient Greek: Μεσοποταμία “[land] between rivers”) situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, is considered one of the cradles of Western world civilization. Mesopotamia included Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires, all native to the territory of modern-day Iraq. These populations dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history (c. 3100 BC) to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, conquered  Achaemenid Empire.

mesopotamia, iraq – sumerian figure- Standing male worshiper, 2750-2600 B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.

Image source: by Xuan Che

Sumerian Cuneiform Clay Tablet- Ancient Near East Gallery, Louvre Museum, France.

Image source: by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D.

The Ishtar Gate of Babylon– An Auroch symbol of Adad (Hadad) storm and rain god of ancient Mesopotamian religions on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon reconstructed with original bricks at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin 575 BCE

Image source: by mharrsch

Why were the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers so important to ancient civilizations?

The small tribes living in the hills were forced to move to the fertile plains, due to agricultural and water shortages. There was not enough land for farming and very little rain for the tribes to grow crops. The plains were unoccupied and provided both land and water making life much easier for the tribes to live at. In the spring the rivers flooded spreading water. This was a good spot for farming. More people moved to this region and became known as Sumer. People from this land were known as Sumerians.

kneeling man bull sumerian

Image source: by Jennifer Mei

Sumerian Cylinder Seal

Image source: by swh

Differences Between Assyrians and Babylonians

  • Assyria was located on the plateau to the north of Babylonia, which gave it a better climate.
  • While Babylonians became merchants and agriculturalists, Assyrians formed a military dynasty.
  • In Assyria the supreme ruler was an autocratic king while the priesthood was the highest authority in Babylonia.
  • The animistic cult and idolatry were typical for Assyrians, while for Babylonians there was a Supreme God.
Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Basalt, 1792-1750 BC

Image source: by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D.

What was the most famous city in Mesopotamia?

The name of Babylon in the Akkadian language of the time, is thought to derive from bav-il or bav-ilim, which meant ‘Gate of God’ and `Babylon’ coming from Greek. It is considered the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia.

The Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon reconstructed with original bricks at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany

Image source: by mharrsch

Lions along the processional way leading to the Ishtar Gate of Babylon reconstructed from original bricks at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany 575 BCE

Image source: by mharrsch

Tower of Babel (1928) – Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972)

Image source: by pedrosimoes7

The fame of the city is due to the many unfavourable references from the Bible. Babylon is known for its impressive walls and buildings described in the Book of Genesis, in the story of The Tower of Babel. Despite its reputation, the city has been a great seat of learning and culture, the formation of a code of law, and for the man-made terraces of flora and fauna which were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, watered by machinery.

Tower of Babel

Image source: by TonyHall

What is a Ziggurat?

Ziggurat is the name given to the templar towers during the civilizations of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, which where common in Mesopotamia, the actual Iraq. The shape of these towers remember the Egyptian pyramids, althought not so symmetrical, precise or architecturally pleasing.

Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, which where made in mansory, the Ziggurats were made with small mud bricks sun-baked. Ziggurats are religious structures, like the pyramids they have shrines function, in which the top is the holiest site. The Ziggurat of Ur is the most known and famous.

Ziggurat of Ur

Image source: by The U.S. Army

Ziggarut of Ur

Image source: by Michael Lubinski from Green Bay, WI, USA

The Invention of Writing

The origin and spread of writing are more complex than one thinks. In the mid-fourth millenium B.C. in Syria and Turkey may have existed complex state systems with proto-cuneiform writing on clay and wood. Initially to draw pictographs an signs, a reed or stick was used into moistened clay.

School Days fragment, Sumerian tale – Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago

Image source: by Daderot

Some earliest pictographs can be recognizable and decipherable, but for many it is not possible to find a match with known objects. Over time, the rapresentation of pictogram was replaced with wedge-shaped signs. This type of writing was called by modern scholars cuneiform derived from the Latin term cuneus, due to the impression of the surface of a clay tablet with a reed or wood stylus.

A popular theory identifies the Uruk tablets, considered the first signature of the history, with the Sumerians.

Sumerian Cuneiform Stone Tablet- Ancient Near East Gallery, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

Image source: by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D.

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