Mesopotamia is a region centered around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Southwest Asia. It is an area renowned for being the cradle of civilization and an archaeological hotspot.
Mesopotamia is accepted historically, as the first place in the world to give birth to complex human society. It is where Humans first successfully transitioned from being hunter-gatherers to agriculturists. It is believed that this is where humanity began to take enormous leaps forward with the invention of the wheel, development of written language and the conceptualization of minutes, hours and days. By settling down and having food more widely available, humans in Mesopotamia were now able to develop the complexities of civilization such as private property, government, law enforcement and religion.
It began at about 12,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence suggests that around 10,000 BC, humans of the fertile crescent began settling down, building circular mud houses, domesticating animals and begin to farm grains and legumes. Things began to snowball and a few thousand years later, the first Mesopotamia civilization of Sumer was founded.
Sumer is believed to have arisen around 5000 BC, and is the first major Mesopotamian civilization on record. Sumer is known for its complex cities and city states, with the most notable one being Uruk. Uruk was a first of it’s kind trading hub that had over six miles of defensive walls surrounding it. At its height in 2800 BC, it was believed to be the largest city in the world with a population of possibly 80,000. Later during the reign of the Akkadians, Uruk would serve as the setting for the oldest story of all time; The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh, the central character in the story, was a young, arrogant and half divine King of Uruk who during the course of the tale, finds friendship, experiences a deep loss and then is forced by the Gods, to accept the reality of his own mortality. The story conveys many important themes central to the human experience across time periods and also gives us an important analysis of the culture in Mesopotamia.
Sumerian cities and city states, were characterized by having pyramid styled buildings called Ziggurats, placed at the center. Ziggurats were central to Sumerian religion and while made of mud bricks, they served as locations where Sumerian people could connect with heaven.
Other major Sumerian city states were Eridu, Ur, Nippur, Lgash and Kush. The Sumerians are credited with inventing one of the first writing systems on Earth, called Cuneiform writing.
The Akkadian Empire comes into records at around 3000 BC and become the first united empire of the Fertile Crescent. It is also thought to be the first empire in the world to be ruled and succeeded by Dynasties. The first ruler was called Sargon, was known for his empire building ambitions. He became a God like figure in Akkadian society after his death and his sons and grandsons would go on to rule the Empire until around 2100 BC.
The Akkadians adopted the Sumerian use of Cuneiform writing but spoke a slightly different language.
The Assyrian Empire
During the rise and fall of The Akkadians, The Assyrian Empire in Northern Mesopotamia began developing. Of all the cultures in ancient Mesopotamia, many historians consider Assyria to be the greatest. For over 1400 years, Assyria had control over parts of Egypt, Turkey and Modern day Iraq.
The Assyrians developed advanced military and bureaucratic systems which enabled them to expand and control much of the ancient world.
One of their most notable kings was, Shamshi-Adad, and under his rule Assyria grew powerful and wealthy. Following his death in 1781 BC, The Assyrians experienced a decline and soon fell to the Babylonians from the South.
The greatest period for Assyria was likely in it’s twilight years from 744 BC to 612 BC. Thanks to rulers like, Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal, Assyria expanded across most of the Middle East and even into Egypt. Though once again, it was its sibling, Babylon who brought down Assyria permanently.
Babylon is one of the most famous and lore inspiring civilizations in the world. Referenced throughout the Bible and thought to be home to the Biblical tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, Babylon was established as a port city way back during the reign of Sargon of Akkadia in 3000 BC. It’s most powerful and well known ruler was without a doubt, King Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). King Hammurabi is known for recording the renowned Code of Hammurabi, in which the laws inscribed on this famous tablet, governed and regulated the kingdom. The code went beyond the old Sumerian and tribal laws such as, an eye for an eye, and also recognized a forbiddance of blood feuds, marriages by capture or engaging in private retributions.
Babylon’s power and influence lasted thousands of years and after defeating its rival, The Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, it became the most powerful empire in the Ancient world.
Though unfortunately this status was short lived and Babylon dissolved after being conquered by Cyrus the Great in 539 BC. Babylon has been an archeological hotspot for centuries but due to the rising waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, it’s oldest structures and artifacts have been washed away.
Today in the Twenty-first century, most of Mesopotamia resides in the country of Iraq, along with some parts of Iran, Turkey and Syria. Despite this area of Earth once being the Cradle of Civilization, it is now a region ripe with economic disparity and violence. The region is a rich source for oil and fossil fuels, and this has made it a target for exploitation among Western Nations. The current conflict involving the United States, Iran and Iraq has the potential to worsen the situation and along with the threat of Islamic extremism, there is a possibility of further endangering important cultural heritage sites of the region that are not only important for the local people, but for Humanity as a whole.