Ancient Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilizations ; to know its history is to discover cultures, cities, kings, wars and an infinity of events. Everything that the peoples of Mesopotamia developed, their culture and technical advances, influenced the rest of Western Europe and are the essence of how we think and how we live today. Mesopotamian civilization summary
Its privileged geographical location and the influx of two important rivers were essential aspects that favored the development of agricultural activities, allowing the sedentarization of man and the formation of cities . Various ancient peoples inhabited this region, including: the Sumerians , Assyrians, and Chaldeans .
Learn about the most important details about the history of Mesopotamia in this article: where it is located, what were the first civilizations, what their culture, economy and religion were like.
Meaning of Mesopotamia
The word Mesopotamia in Greek means “Land between Rivers” , an ideal name for this spectacular region where two important rivers were strategically located: Tigris and Euphrates.
The history of Mesopotamia refers to the civilization that occupied the geographical territory of Mesopotamia , from prehistoric times to the collapse of the last empire in the region, the Chaldean empire . At this stage, this area maintained common characteristics that allow it to be defined as a historical unit.
It was in Mesopotamia that the first permanent human settlements developed and the first city-states and empires were also erected. Although there are vestiges of older cultures, it is in Mesopotamia where the oldest architectural works from around the world are found, with the exception of Egypt that grew in parallel.
On the other hand, it is in this region where the most remote evidences of agricultural development are found. His writing is also one of the oldest, on a par with the Egyptian that developed almost at the same stage. Mesopotamian civilization summary
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Where was Mesopotamia located?
It is a geographical space located in the Middle East , north of the Arabian Peninsula (in what is currently Iraq, Iran and Syria), between two rivers: Tigris and Euphrates . It extends to the areas contiguous to the strip of both rivers and that more or less coincides with the non-desert areas of present-day Iraq.
The natural conditions, especially the fertility of the soil due to the irrigation of the rivers, allowed small villages to be formed in that territory. The cycle of floods in the rivers allowed the soil to absorb organic material and thus animal husbandry and agriculture could be developed.
Civilizations that developed in Mesopotamia
The main empires, peoples or cultures that developed in Mesopotamia were:
Sumerians Mesopotamian civilization summary
The first of the civilizations to settle in a sedentary way in Mesopotamia was that of the Sumerians. It is believed that they arrived in the region approximately 5,000 years before Christ.
It was the Sumerians who founded the first cities , among the most important we can mention: Uruk, Ur and Nipur. These cities were considered city-states, this means that they had a totally independent organization from each other.
The Sumerian civilization was of great importance for the development of the human being, in it techniques were developed for important constructions that allowed man to control nature. For example, they built dams that prevented the advance of water coming from the rivers in the flood season, they also created reservoirs and even irrigation canals. Mesopotamian civilization summary
As if that weren’t enough, the Sumerians are also credited with the first manifestation of human writing : cuneiform writing . This writing method was created to keep an accounting control of the royal palaces. It was made on blocks of clay using a wedge, which was nothing more than a pointed instrument.
The domination of the region by the Sumerians comes to an end when the Akkadians conquer the cities and found their own empire. The conquest occurred in 2340 BC by King Sargon I of Akkad.
The Akkadian domain expands throughout the Mesopotamian region and lasts for a period of 141 years . This led to a change in culture, due to the diffusion of the Akkadian language in both spoken and written language.
Amorites | First Babylonian Empire
After a dark period the Sumerians reappear for a time and later the Amorite dynasties arrive . The Amorites were also known as Babylonians and settled in that region around 2000 BC.
They occupied Babylon , a city that was founded by the Akkadians but was of little importance until that time. It was the Amorites who transformed this city into an important urban and commercial center . It became the capital of the Babylonian Empire.
The Amorites then established the First Babylonian Empire , they had a strong influence from the Sumerians, their most important king was Hammurabi, he developed a code that gathered a set of ancient Mesopotamian laws and that became known as the Code of Hammurabi .
Babylon was a metropolis where political power condensed and culture flourished. Testimony of this exceptional city were its temples, palaces and various architectural works. The Hanging Gardens, part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were located in Babylon. They also built a bridge over the Euphrates, combining stone pylons and using adobe. Mesopotamian civilization summary
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Assyrians Mesopotamian civilization summary
The Babylonian empire founded by the Amorites was weakening after the death of Hammurabi, being succeeded by the Assyrians. These formed a militarized society at the end of the second millennium BC. They began their expansion and conquest in approximately 1200 BC they conquered all of Mesopotamia, also Palestine, Egypt and part of Persia.
The Assyrians became famous for their greed for war , they were cruel to their enemies to intimidate them and make their hegemony clear. They used violent combat techniques and treated prisoners with extreme brutality.
The towns that were conquered were ruled with cruelty and tyranny , they were also forced to pay high tributes. Assyrian violence was the reason, according to many historians, that started innumerable revolts that sought to weaken this empire by the 7th century BC.
The most important Assyrian king was Assurbanipal , he was known to appreciate scholarship . He had the Library of Nineveh built; which brought together thousands of texts on various subjects, in cuneiform script. Much of what is known today about Mesopotamia is from what is found in this Library. Mesopotamian civilization summary
Chaldean | Second Babylonian Empire Mesopotamian civilization summary
Eventually the Assyrians grew weak and were replaced by the Chaldeans. It was these who founded the Second Babylonian Empire in 612 BC and its main king was Nebuchadnezzar II. Under the mandate of this king the reconquest of Palestine and the entire region of Mesopotamia was achieved. He is also awarded the construction of the Hanging Gardens.
The duration of this empire was short and the last that developed under the power of a Mesopotamian people. After Nebuchadnezzar II died, the empire weakened and was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire (Persians) in 539 BC, with Cyrus II as its leader. The Persians came from Persia, a region that is now Iran.
The economy and emergence of writing
The agriculture is developed on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers . The diet of this region was based on cereals, such as barley and wheat. Cotton and flax were also planted. Thanks to the hydraulic works, it was possible to take the agricultural surplus as a livelihood for the king, his family and a growing number of public officials.
Exchange-based trade also flourished , as this region was and remains poor in metals, wood, and precious / semi-precious stones. As agricultural production increased, the kings were in a position to go to distant lands to exchange products.
The nomadic people living from breeding animals like sheep, goats and pigs . This not only complemented food but also trade with the other cities. All this economic exchange raises the need to account for income. Mesopotamian civilization summary
So writing is developed to keep track of productivity . The first clay bales with cuneiform writing clearly show that they served that purpose. They are among the oldest written inscriptions in human history.
Development in science
Mathematics and other related disciplines flourished among Mesopotamian civilizations. They used a decimal and a sexagesimal system to make calculations applied to commerce. They also used addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even third-degree equations.
They used more complex calculations such as potency and root in later centuries. Surfaces and volumes were calculated using geometry and mathematics . Astronomy allowed them to distinguish planets from stars and even to foresee astronomical events. It was they who developed the lunar and solar calendar.
Religion in Mesopotamia Mesopotamian civilization summary
The Mesopotamians had various gods to whom actions both good and bad were attributed. These gods were considered all powerful and immortal. Each of the cities had its own god and if one of them gained political dominance, then its god became more cultured.
The god Marduk was the Babylonian god at the time Hammurabi ruled and all the people worshiped them. The most important goddess was Ishtar , mistress of fertility and nature. The worship of the gods was of vital importance in Mesopotamia. When they interrupted their prayers, on their behalf, they left stone statuettes in front of the altar to pray on their behalf.
Contributions of Mesopotamian civilizations
Some of the advances that we owe to the Mesopotamian peoples and civilizations are:
- Use of currency.
- Wheel manufacturing .
- Elementary notions of Astrology and Astronomy.
- Creation of the sexagesimal system.
- Development of the first legal code , written by Hammurabi.
- They worked out the mail system.
- They were the first to implement artificial agricultural irrigation.
- Use of the plow.
- The boat and the sail.
- Use of harnesses for animals.
- They delved into Bronze and Copper Metallurgy . Mesopotamian civilization summary