Mesopotamia is the designation 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 will 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.
The Sumerian civilization is considered the first in history. His advances in various fields passed to other cultures and have reached the present day.
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 BC)
- the first settlements begin to form, which were pioneers in irrigated agriculture.
- Uruk period (4.100-2.900 BC)
- large cities emerge, made up of thousands of people. The largest was Uruk, which exceeded 50.000 inhabitants. At the end of this period, the climate went from being humid and hot 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 rule (2.270-2.083 BC)
- the Akkadian empire dominated the Sumerians. Therefore, the languages of both civilizations coexisted, although Sumerian continued to be used in administrative texts.
- Gutian period (2.083-2.046 BC)
- the Akkadian empire fell into the hands of some tribes, among which the Ghettoes 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.
- Decline (1.940-1.225 BC)
- there is a strong immigration to the north due to the decrease in the productivity of agriculture. Different invasions began to take place before which the Sumerians ended up falling.
The religion of the Sumerians inspired the rest of the beliefs of the Mesopotamian civilizations, since the Akkadians and Babylonians worshiped the same gods.
In addition, some myths inspired great religions of today, since certain passages of the Old Testament of the Bible occur in Sumeria, where it is said that the origin of humanity.
Their religion was polytheistic and anthropomorphic, as they believed in a large number of deities, which they represented in human form. Also, in each city they had different gods.
These were thought to have created people to meet their needs, so worship was important on a day-to-day basis, as 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
Society was hierarchical, so it was divided into different social groups. He the king he was the most powerful person. Behind him were the priests, the military leaders and some officials.
At the third level remained the merchants and most of the officials, followed by the 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 ruled by a high priest known as patesi. Despite belonging to the same civilization, several wars took place between the cities that made it up. Currently, there are hardly any remains of them because the most used material was clay.
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, the one composed of characters in the shape of wedges or nails that they shaped on clay tablets.
Likewise, 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 by 60 minutes and each of these by 60 seconds.
The Akkadians lived simultaneously with the Sumerians, although their history is shorter. They settled in northern 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 not known. The most important city was Agadé.
Akkadian is considered the first empire history, as it unified different peoples and cultures under the rule of the same king.
This empire remained until 2.200 BC and a total of five governors passed through it. The most important was the first, Sargon I, who remained in power for 56 years.
They came to conquer territories in 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 farming, the basis of their diet. The land was quite fertile and, in addition, thanks to the rivers in that territory, they were able to develop irrigation. In the following map we can see the different water currents in the area:
Likewise, the populations that dominated had to pay a 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 peak. Hammurabi was the person who achieved this milestone, among others.
Babylon It is the most famous city in Mesopotamia, as several mentions are made of it in the Bible. It was located about 95 kilometers from present-day Baghdad, in Iraq. In Akkadian language, Babylon means bridge of the gods.
This was founded by the Akkadian king Sargon, although he did not give it too much importance. It was with the arrival of King Hammurabi, of Amorite origin, in 1.782 BC, when the city became one of the most important.
Hammurabi made Babylon the largest city in the world. Furthermore, in 1.755 BC he unified all of Mesopotamia under his kingdom. After his death, the empire declined, as it was sacked by the Hittites, the Casites, and the Assyrians.
El 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 should be suffered for breaking them.
These rules were written in stone and had an unalterable character, since not even kings could change them, since they were considered of divine origin.
The code was written in the Akkadian language on a basalt support 2,25 meters high. At 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 would know him.
The basic principle of this set of laws is known as Talion Law, which is summarized in the phrase eye by eye, tooth by tooth. That is, you must 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 who went to extinguish it has seized some good from the owner of the house, he will be thrown into the same fire.
- If a man has accused another man, has attributed a murder to him and it has not been proven against him, his accuser will be sentenced to death.
- If a son has beaten his father, his hand will be cut off.
The Assyrian empire began its development in the southwest of the territory, specifically in the valley of the Tigris River. It is a civilization that lasted for over a thousand years.
The Assyrian civilization had three different empires, which were separated by times of crisis and war:
- Old Kingdom (2.050-1.750 BC)
- in 1.900 BC 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 them.
- Middle Kingdom (1.392-934 BC)
- After several crises, King Ashur-Uballit I began the expansion, which Adad-Nirari I continued. To avoid riots, he deported a part of the population of the conquered cities. One of the subdued areas was Mitani, in present-day Syria.
- New Kingdom (745-727 BC)
- they came to have a military presence compared to that of the Roman Empire. The capital became Nineveh, where important constructions were carried out, such as the well-known Gardens of Babylon.
Due to its cruel and destructive character, the subject peoples tried to end the Assyrian rule. It was in the year 612 BC when the Babylonians and the Medes united and managed to destroy Nineveh, ending this great civilization of Mesopotamia.
Art and architecture
During Assyrian history numerous constructions were carried out. Like the Sumerians, they built a great temple in each city, known as ziggurat. It was a kind of pyramid with several platforms. In the following image we can see the ruins of the ziggurat from Nimrud:
They also built smaller temples for the local gods, as well as large palaces, notably 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 learn 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 did not have windows. In 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 in Mesopotamia, but also in the main parts of Asia. His first empire is known as Achaemenid and it is separated from the second by more than 500 years.
The Persians were a group of peoples located to the south of present-day Iran (east of Mesopotamia), which, after the fall of Asia, were subject to the Medes. In 550 BC, the Persian king Cyrus II achieved independence from this culture and conquered the Medes.
Likewise, it was gaining territories in Central Asia, Asia Minor and the kingdom of Lydia. It is in the year 539 BC when it attacks Babylon and takes over Mesopotamia in its entirety.
The son of Cyrus II, Cambyses, managed to conquer Egypt in 525 BC Years later, his successors tried to do the same with Greece, but they did not succeed.
On the other hand, in 350 BC the Macedonian king, Philip II, did manage to conquer some areas of Greece and subdue the entire territory, except for 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 BC 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 acts of conciliation. For example, when they conquered Babylon, they freed the Hebrews who had been prisoners for fifty years and allowed them to return to Jerusalem instead of making them slaves.
Regarding the territorial organization, the empire was divided into 20 provinces and in charge of each one was a governor. They imposed taxes 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 highway was built that ran through much of the territory: the Camino Real Persa, which was more than 2.500 kilometers long.
The Persians developed their own religion: Mazdeism. This was monotheistic, that is, they believed in a single god, called Ahura Mazda. It was created by the preacher Zarathustra, who wrote the poems o gathas that start the holy book, known as Avesta.
El mazdeism He considered that people were training for an afterlife. On Earth, humans had to choose between good and evil, and on Judgment Day they would be valued for their actions.
Despite being the official religion of this civilization, there was a notable tolerance regarding the rest of beliefs. On the other hand, today there are still believers of Mazdeism in countries like Iran and India.
If the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia have been interesting to you, you can know those of the rest of the world in the following article: Ancient civilizations of the world: from Europe to America.
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