Mesopotamia (Ancient Greek: Μεσοποταμία - "land between rivers") is a historical region in the Middle East. It included most of today’s Iraq, and parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey. The 'two rivers' of the name referred to the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
The land was called 'Al-Jazirah' ("the island") by the Arabs, and Egyptologist J.H. Breasted later included it in the "Fertile Crescent". The region is bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and in the southeast by the Arabian Plateau.
The area is often called the "cradle of civilization". The ancient writing called cuneiform was first used around 3000 BC by the Sumerians. Historically important cities in Mesopotamia included Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Nineveh, and Babylon.
Major territorial states were the Akkadian kingdom, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and the Assyrian Empire. Some of the important historical Mesopotamian leaders were Ur-Nammu (king of Ur), Sargon of Akkad (the founder of the Akkadian kingdom), Hammurabi (who established the Old Babylonian state), and Tiglath-Pileser I (who started the Assyrian Empire).
Many advances in technology were made by the ancient Sumerians, such as irrigation, trade by river, and flood control. Sumerians had agriculture and domesticated animals, or livestock, from the earliest records. Babylon is likely the first city built by settled people. Mesopotamia was also the place where the wheel was first used. First it was a potter's wheel that was used to make clay pots, then Sumerians adapted it for transport.
Geography[change | change source]
Mesopotamia is made up of different regions. Northern Mesopotamia is made up of hills and plains. The land is quite fertile due to seasonal rains, and the rivers and streams that come from the mountains. Early settlers farmed the land and used timber, metals, and stone. Southern Mesopotamia is made up of marshy areas and wide, flat, plains. Cities developed along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers which flow through the region. Early settlers had to irrigate the land along the banks of the rivers in order for their crops to grow.
People of Mesopotamia[change | change source]
Mesopotamia has been conquered many times by many different people. It was the heartland of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. As each new group moved into the region they adopted some of the culture, traditions, and beliefs of the people who had come before. It was conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BC), the Parthians (150 BC), the Romans, the Persian Empire, and the Arabs (7th century). It is still one of the most fertile (and therefore valuable) parts of the Middle East.
Ancient Mesopotamia begins in the late 6th millennium BC, and ends with either the rise of the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BC or the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century CE. This long period may be divided as follows:
- Pre-Pottery Neolithic:
- Pottery Neolithic:
- Chalcolithic or Copper Age:
- Early Bronze Age
- Middle Bronze Age
- Late Bronze Age
- Iron Age
- Classical Antiquity
- Late Antiquity
Epic of Gilgamesh[change | change source]
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient story about a relationship between Gilgamesh and his close companion, Enkidu. Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods as Gilgamesh's equal to distract him from oppressing the citizens of Uruk. Together they undertake dangerous quests that incur the displeasure of the gods. Firstly, they journey to the Cedar Mountain to defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven that the goddess Ishtar has sent to punish Gilgamesh for turning down her advances.
The second part of the epic is about Gilgamesh's distressed reaction to Enkidu's death, which takes the form of a quest for immortality. Gilgamesh attempts to learn the secret of eternal life by undertaking a long and perilous journey to meet the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. The words addressed to Gilgamesh in the midst of his quest foreshadow the end result:
- "The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping".