Mesopotamia is the denomination to identify the territory between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which is currently occupied by the countries of Syria and Iraq, and parts of other territories such as Iran.
Therefore, we cannot speak of a single Mesopotamian civilization, but of several cultures that were occupying some parts of this area over the years. In this article, we talk about the characteristics of the great civilizations that were located in Mesopotamia.
Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.
- 1 Sumerians
- 2 Akkadian Empire
- 3 Babylonian Empire
- 4 Assyrians
- 5 Persian
The Sumerian civilization is considered the first in history. His advances in various fields passed to the rest of cultures and have come to the present.
The Sumerians were located in southern Mesopotamia for thousands of years. Its history can be summarized in the following stages:
- El Obeid Period (6,500 – 4,100 B.C.)
- the first settlements begin to form, which were pioneers in irrigated agriculture.
- Uruk Period (4,100-2,900 B.C.)
- the great cities arise, formed by thousands of people. The largest was Uruk, which exceeded 50,000 inhabitants. At the end of this period, the weather went from being humid and warm to dry.
- Archaic dynastic period (2,900-2,270 BC)
- from the center of their culture, the south, they began to expand to the surrounding territories.
- Akkadian domain (2,270-2,083 B.C.)
- The Akkadian Empire dominated the Sumerians. Therefore, the languages of both civilizations coexisted, although Sumerian continued to be used in administrative texts.
- Period crawling (2,083-2,046 B.C.)
- The Akkadian empire fell into the hands of some tribes, among which the one of the Guteos stood out.
- Sumerian Renaissance (2,046-1940 BC)
- the Sumerians manage to regain power, although they no longer have as much supremacy as in the past.
- Decadence (1,940-1,225 BC)
- there is a strong immigration to the north due to the decrease in agricultural productivity. Different invasions began to occur before which the Sumerians ended up falling.
The Sumerian religion inspired the rest of the beliefs of Mesopotamian civilizations, since the Akkadians and Babylonians worshiped the same gods.
In addition, some myths inspired great religions of today, because certain Old Testament passages of the Bible are given in Sumer, where it is said that the humanity's origin.
Their religion was polytheistic and anthropomorphic, because they believed in a large number of deities, whom they represented in human form. Also, in each city they had different gods.
It was thought that they had created people to meet their needs, so the cult was important on a daily basis, since everything depended on the divine will, including the formation of new cities.
A key part of the Sumerian religion was cosmology. They thought the world was a flat disk that was enclosed in a dome. In addition, after death, it became eternally a ghost or gidim.
Social and political organization
The society was hierarchized, so it was divided into different social groups. He king He was the most powerful person. Behind him were the priests, the military chiefs and some officials.
On the third level were the merchants and most of the officials, followed by peasants and artisans. Finally there were the slaves, who used to be prisoners of war, although they were not numerous.
Each city was built around a temple and was governed by a supreme priest known as patesi. Despite belonging to the same civilization, there were several wars between the cities that made it up. At present, there are hardly any remains of them because the most used material was mud.
Some of the most important inventions in history are attributed to the Sumerians. One of them is writing, which they began to use in 3,300 BC. They created the cuneiform type, that is, composed of wedge-shaped characters or nails that shaped clay boards.
Also, the oldest representation that indicates the use of the wheel It is also Sumerian, specifically from 3,500 BC. They used this object to make vehicles, such as the car.
They were also pioneers in the construction of large cities and their social, political and economic organization, since they carried out an organized production. One of the most important was Ur.
Another of his great advances was the sexagesimal number system. Thanks to him, they developed a division of time in which each hour was formed for 60 minutes and each of them for 60 seconds.
The Akkadians lived simultaneously to the Sumerians, although their history is shorter. They settled in the north of Mesopotamia, from where they carried out important conquests.
The first Akkadian peoples arose in northern Mesopotamia in 2,350 BC, specifically in an area known as Akkad, of which the exact location is unknown. The most important city was Agadé.
The Akkadian is considered the first empire of history, because it unified different peoples and cultures under the mandate of the same king.
This empire remained until 2,200 B.C. and a total of five governors passed through it. The most important was the first, Sargon I, who remained in power 56 years.
They came to conquer territories of Upper and Lower Mesopotamia (where the Sumerians were located), the east coast of the Mediterranean and Anatolia, in present-day Turkey.
The most important economic activity of the Akkadians was the farming, base of your diet. The land was quite fertile and, in addition, thanks to the rivers of that territory, they were able to develop irrigation. In the following map we can observe the different water currents in the area:
Likewise, the populations that dominated had to pay tribute to the empire. In this way, they obtained various materials and products such as wood, metal, cereals, etc.
The Babylonian Empire raised the ancient city of Babylon to its maximum splendor. Hammurabi was the person who achieved this milestone, among others.
Babylon It is the most famous city of Mesopotamia, as several mentions are made to it in the Bible. It was located about 95 kilometers from present-day Baghdad, in Iraq. In the Akkadian language, Babylon it means bridge of the gods.
This was founded by King Akkadian Sargon, although he did not give it much importance. It was with the arrival of King Hammurabi, of Amorite origin, in 1782 BC, when the city became one of the most important.
Hammurabi got Babylon to be the largest city in the world. In addition, in 1,755 B.C. He unified all of Mesopotamia under his kingdom. After his death, the empire declined, as he was sacked by the Hittites, the little houses and the Assyrians.
He Hammurabi Code It is the most important contribution of the Babylonian Empire. It is a set of 282 laws that talk about behavior in everyday life and the punishments that must be suffered for breaking them.
These rules were written in stone and had an unchanging character, since neither kings could change them, since they were considered of divine origin.
The code was written in the Acadian language on a 2.25 meter high basalt stand. On its top you can see a sculpture of Hammurabi and Shamash, the sun god. In addition, Hammurabi ordered that copies be placed in the cities so that all the people knew him.
The basic principle of this set of laws is known as Talion Law, which is summarized in the sentence eye by eye, tooth by tooth. That is to say, one should receive a punishment comparable to the damage that has been done. These are three of the laws that can be found in the code:
- If one's house caught fire, and another that went to extinguish it has taken possession of some good of the house owner, it will be thrown into the same fire.
- If a man has accused another man, attributed a murder and he has not been proven against him, his accuser will be put to death.
- If a child has hit his father, his hand will be cut off.
The Assyrian empire began its development in the southwest of the territory, specifically in the Tigris river valley. It is a civilization that remained for more than a thousand years.
The Assyrian civilization had three different empires, which were separated by times of crisis and wars:
- Old Empire (2,050-1,750 BC)
- in 1,900 B.C. The city of Assur was founded, which was key in Assyrian culture. The first king was Tudiya. They tried to dominate Babylon, but Hammurabi prevented it.
- Middle Kingdom (1,392-934 B.C.)
- After several crises, King Ashur-Uballit I began the expansion, which continued Adad-Nirari I. To avoid riots, he deported a part of the population of the conquered cities. One of the areas submitted was Mitani, in present-day Syria.
- New Empire (745-727 B.C.)
- They came to have a military presence compared to that of the Roman Empire. The capital became Nineveh, in which important constructions were taken, such as the well-known Gardens of Babylon.
Due to their cruel and destructive character, the subjugated peoples tried to end Assyrian rule. It was in the year 612 BC. when the Babylonians and the Medes joined together and managed to destroy Nineveh, ending this great civilization of Mesopotamia.
Art and architecture
During the Assyrian history numerous constructions were carried out. Like the Sumerians, they built a large temple in each city, known as ziggurat. It was a kind of pyramid with several platforms. In the following image we can observe the ruins of ziggurat from Nimrud:
They also built smaller temples for local gods, as well as large palaces, including those of Nimrud, Korsabad and Nineveh I. These were surrounded by walls and accompanied by impressive gardens.
The buildings used to be colorful and decorated with reliefs, thanks to which it has been possible to know more about this civilization. The materials used were marble, brick and adobe.
Although there are no remains of private houses, thanks to the engravings it is known that they only had one door and no windows. In the sculpture, the lamassu, a kind of winged sphinx.
The Persians were characterized as an ancient civilization that managed to dominate an extensive territory, not only of Mesopotamia, but of the main parts of Asia. His first empire is known as Achaemenid and separates from the second for more than 500 years.
The Persians were a group of villages located south of present-day Iran (east of Mesopotamia), which, after the fall of Asia, were subject to the Medes. In 550 B.C., the Persian king Cyrus II gained independence from this culture and conquered the Medes.
It also gained territory in Central Asia, Asia Minor and the kingdom of Lidia. It is in the year 539 B.C. when he attacks Babylon and takes full Mesopotamia.
The son of Cyrus II, Cambises, managed to conquer Egypt in 525 BC. Years later, his successors tried to do the same with Greece, but they failed.
On the other hand, in 350 B.C. The king of Macedonia, Philip II, did manage to conquer some areas of Greece and subdue the entire territory, with the exception of Sparta. His son, Alexander the Great, attacked the Persians in the territories they had previously dominated and managed to defeat them.
It is in the year 331 B.C. when the Greeks entered Mesopotamia and managed to defeat the first Persian empire, as well as take the city of Babylon.
Form of government
The Persians, unlike the Assyrians, were not characterized by their cruelty. On the contrary, they carried out conciliatory acts. For example, when they conquered Babylon, they freed the Hebrews who remained prisoners for fifty years and let them return to Jerusalem instead of turning them into slaves.
As for the territorial organization, the empire was divided into 20 provinces and in charge of each was a governor. They imposed fees on religious institutions and agriculture, although the Persians did not have to pay taxes.
They also promulgated trade throughout the kingdom, thanks to the standardization of weights and measures, the development of a official coin and the implementation of universal laws.
A mail and communication system was also deployed, and a road was built that covered much of the territory: the Royal Persian Road, which was over 2,500 kilometers long.
The Persians developed their own religion: Mazdeism. This one was monotheistic, that is, they believed in only one god, named Ahura Mazda. It was created by the preacher Zarathustra, who wrote the poems or Gathas that start the holy book, known as Avesta.
He mazdeism He believed that people trained for a future life. On Earth, humans had to choose between good and evil, and, on the Day of Judgment, they would be valued for their actions.
Despite being the official religion of this civilization, there was a remarkable tolerance for the rest of beliefs. On the other hand, there are still believers in Mazdeism in countries like Iran and India.
If the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia have been interesting to you, you can learn about the rest of the world in the following article: Ancient civilizations of the world: from Europe to America.
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