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|History of Iraq|
Mesopotamia[a] is a historical region of West Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent. Today, Mesopotamia occupies modern Iraq. In the broader sense, the historical region included present-day Iraq and parts of present-day Iran, Kuwait, Syria and Turkey.
Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC. It has been identified as having "inspired some of the most important developments in human history, including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops, and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy, and agriculture". It is recognised as the cradle of some of the world's earliest civilizations.
Around 150 BC, Mesopotamia was under the control of the Parthian Empire. It became a battleground between the Romans and Parthians, with western parts of the region coming under ephemeral Roman control. In 226 AD, the eastern regions of Mesopotamia fell to the Sassanid Persians. The division of the region between the Roman (Byzantine Empire from 395 AD) and Sassanid Empires lasted until the 7th century Muslim conquest of Persia of the Sasanian Empire and Muslim conquest of the Levant from Byzantines. A number of primarily neo-Assyrian and Christian native Mesopotamian states existed between the 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, including Adiabene, Osroene, and Hatra.
The regional toponym Mesopotamia (
The Akkadian term biritum/birit narim corresponded to a similar geographical concept. Later, the term Mesopotamia was more generally applied to all the lands between the Euphrates and the Tigris, thereby incorporating not only parts of Syria but also almost all of Iraq and southeastern Turkey. The neighbouring steppes to the west of the Euphrates and the western part of the Zagros Mountains are also often included under the wider term Mesopotamia.
A further distinction is usually made between Northern or
In modern academic usage, the term Mesopotamia often also has a chronological connotation. It is usually used to designate the area until the Muslim conquests, with names like Syria, Jazira, and Iraq being used to describe the region after that date. It has been argued that these later euphemisms[clarification needed] are Eurocentric terms attributed to the region in the midst of various 19th-century Western encroachments.
Mesopotamia encompasses the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which have their headwaters in the neighboring Armenian highlands. Both rivers are fed by numerous tributaries, and the entire river system drains a vast mountainous region. Overland routes in Mesopotamia usually follow the Euphrates because the banks of the Tigris are frequently steep and difficult. The climate of the region is semi-arid with a vast desert expanse in the north which gives way to a 15,000-square-kilometre (5,800 sq mi) region of marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and reed banks in the south. In the extreme south, the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf.
The arid environment ranges from the northern areas of rain-fed agriculture to the south where irrigation of agriculture is essential if a surplus
Agriculture throughout the region has been supplemented by nomadic pastoralism, where tent-dwelling nomads herded sheep and goats (and later camels) from the river pastures in the dry summer months, out into seasonal grazing lands on the desert fringe in the wet winter season. The area is generally lacking in building stone, precious metals, and timber, and so historically has relied upon long-distance trade of agricultural products to secure these items from outlying areas. In the marshlands to the south of the area, a complex water-borne fishing culture has existed since prehistoric times and has added to the cultural mix.
Periodic breakdowns in the cultural system have occurred for a number of reasons. The demands for labor has from time to time led to population increases that push the limits of the ecological carrying capacity, and should a period of climatic instability ensue, collapsing central government and declining populations can occur. Alternatively, military vulnerability to invasion from marginal hill tribes or nomadic pastoralists has led to periods of trade collapse and neglect of irrigation systems. Equally, centripetal tendencies amongst city-states have meant that central authority over the whole region, when imposed, has tended to be ephemeral, and localism has fragmented power into tribal or smaller regional units. These trends have continued to the present day in Iraq.
The prehistory of the Ancient Near East begins in the Lower Paleolithic period. Therein, writing emerged with a pictographic script, Proto-cuneiform, in the Uruk IV period (c. late 4th millennium BC). The documented record of actual historical events — and the ancient history of lower Mesopotamia — commenced in the early-third millennium BC with cuneiform records of early dynastic kings. This entire history ends with either the arrival of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 6th century BC or with the Muslim conquest and the establishment of the Caliphate in the late 7th century AD, from which point the region came to be known as Iraq. In the long span of this period, Mesopotamia housed some of the world's most ancient highly developed, and socially complex states.
The region was one of the
Scientists analysed DNA from the 8,000-year-old remains of early farmers found at an ancient graveyard in Germany. They compared the genetic signatures to those of modern populations and found similarities with the DNA of people living in today's Turkey and Iraq.
- Pre- and protohistory
- Early Bronze Age
- Middle Bronze Age
- Late Bronze Age
- Iron Age
- Classical antiquity
- Fall of Babylon (6th century BC)
- Achaemenid Babylonia, Achaemenid Assyria(6th to 4th century BC)
- Seleucid Mesopotamia (4th to 3rd century BC)
- Parthian Babylonia (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD)
- Osroene (2nd century BC to 3rd century AD)
- Adiabene (1st to 2nd century AD)
- Hatra (1st to 2nd century AD)
- Roman Mesopotamia (2nd to 7th centuries AD), Roman Assyria (2nd century AD)
- Late Antiquity
- Asōristān(3rd to 7th century AD)
- Muslim conquest (mid-7th century AD)
Language and writing
The earliest language written in Mesopotamia was
Early in Mesopotamia's history (around the mid-4th millennium BC) cuneiform was invented for the Sumerian language. Cuneiform literally means "wedge-shaped", due to the triangular tip of the stylus used for impressing signs on wet clay. The standardized form of each cuneiform sign appears to have been developed from pictograms. The earliest texts (7 archaic tablets) come from the É, a temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna at Uruk, from a building labeled as Temple C by its excavators.
The early logographic system of cuneiform script took many years to master. Thus, only a limited number of individuals were hired as scribes to be trained in its use. It was not until the widespread use of a syllabic script was adopted under Sargon's rule that significant portions of the Mesopotamian population became literate. Massive archives of texts were recovered from the archaeological contexts of Old Babylonian scribal schools, through which literacy was disseminated.
Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate), but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary, and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD.
Libraries were extant in towns and temples during the Babylonian Empire. An old Sumerian proverb averred that "he who would excel in the school of the scribes must rise with the dawn." Women as well as men learned to read and write, and for the Semitic Babylonians, this involved knowledge of the extinct Sumerian language, and a complicated and extensive syllabary.
A considerable amount of Babylonian literature was translated from Sumerian originals, and the language of religion and law long continued to be the old agglutinative language of Sumer. Vocabularies, grammars, and interlinear translations were compiled for the use of students, as well as commentaries on the older texts and explanations of obscure words and phrases. The characters of the syllabary were all arranged and named, and elaborate lists were drawn up.
Many Babylonian literary works are still studied today. One of the most famous of these was the Epic of Gilgamesh, in twelve books, translated from the original Sumerian by a certain Sîn-lēqi-unninni, and arranged upon an astronomical principle. Each division contains the story of a single adventure in the career of Gilgamesh. The whole story is a composite product, although it is probable that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central figure.
Science and technology
Mesopotamian mathematics and science was based on a
The Babylonian clay tablet YBC 7289 (c. 1800–1600 BC) gives an approximation of √ in four sexagesimal figures, 1 24 51 10, which is accurate to about six decimal digits, and is the closest possible three-place sexagesimal representation of √:
The Babylonians were not interested in exact solutions, but rather approximations, and so they would commonly use
From Sumerian times, temple priesthoods had attempted to associate current events with certain positions of the planets and stars. This continued to Assyrian times, when Limmu lists were created as a year by year association of events with planetary positions, which, when they have survived to the present day, allow accurate associations of relative with absolute dating for establishing the history of Mesopotamia.
The Babylonian astronomers were very adept at mathematics and could predict eclipses and solstices. Scholars thought that everything had some purpose in astronomy. Most of these related to religion and omens. Mesopotamian astronomers worked out a 12-month calendar based on the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into two seasons: summer and winter. The origins of astronomy as well as astrology date from this time.
During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the early universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science and some scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution. This new approach to astronomy was adopted and further developed in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy.
The only Greek-Babylonian astronomer known to have supported a heliocentric model of planetary motion was Seleucus of Seleucia (b. 190 BC). Seleucus is known from the writings of Plutarch. He supported Aristarchus of Samos' heliocentric theory where the Earth rotated around its own axis which in turn revolved around the Sun. According to Plutarch, Seleucus even proved the heliocentric system, but it is not known what arguments he used (except that he correctly theorized on tides as a result of Moon's attraction).
The oldest Babylonian texts on
Along with contemporary
The symptoms and diseases of a patient were treated through therapeutic means such as
Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of
Mesopotamian people invented many technologies including metal and copper-working, glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and irrigation. They were also one of the first Bronze Age societies in the world. They developed from copper, bronze, and gold on to iron. Palaces were decorated with hundreds of kilograms of these very expensive metals. Also, copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor as well as for different weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, and maces.
According to a recent hypothesis, the Archimedes' screw may have been used by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, for the water systems at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Nineveh in the 7th century BC, although mainstream scholarship holds it to be a Greek invention of later times. Later, during the Parthian or Sasanian periods, the Baghdad Battery, which may have been the world's first battery, was created in Mesopotamia.
Religion and philosophy
The Ancient Mesopotamian religion was the first recorded. Mesopotamians believed that the world was a flat disc, surrounded by a huge, holed space, and above that, heaven. They also believed that water was everywhere, the top, bottom and sides, and that the universe was born from this enormous sea. In addition, Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic. Although the beliefs described above were held in common among Mesopotamians, there were also regional variations. The Sumerian word for universe is an-ki, which refers to the god An and the goddess Ki. Their son was Enlil, the air god. They believed that Enlil was the most powerful god. He was the chief god of the pantheon.
Giorgio Buccellati believes that the origins of philosophy can be traced back to early Mesopotamian wisdom, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogues, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose works, and proverbs. Babylonian reason and rationality developed beyond empirical observation.
Babylonian thought was also based on an
Babylonian thought had a considerable influence on early
Ancient Mesopotamians had ceremonies each month. The theme of the rituals and festivals for each month was determined by at least six important factors:
- The Lunar phase (a waxing moon meant abundance and growth, while a waning moon was associated with decline, conservation, and festivals of the Underworld)
- The phase of the annual agricultural cycle
- The local mythos and its divine Patrons
- The success of the reigning Monarch
- The Akitu, or New Year Festival (first full moon after spring equinox)
- Commemoration of specific historical events (founding, military victories, temple holidays, etc.)
Some songs were written for the gods but many were written to describe important events. Although music and songs amused kings, they were also enjoyed by ordinary people who liked to sing and dance in their homes or in the marketplaces.
Songs were sung to children who passed them on to their children. Thus songs were passed on through many generations as an oral tradition until writing was more universal. These songs provided a means of passing on through the centuries highly important information about historical events.
Hunting was popular among Assyrian kings. Boxing and wrestling feature frequently in art, and some form of polo was probably popular, with men sitting on the shoulders of other men rather than on horses.
Mesopotamia, as shown by successive law codes, those of
Sumerian temples functioned as banks and developed the first large-scale
Irrigated agriculture spread southwards from the Zagros foothills with the Samara and Hadji Muhammed culture, from about 5,000 BC.
In the early period down to
The geography of southern Mesopotamia is such that agriculture is possible only with irrigation and with good drainage, a fact which had a profound effect on the evolution of early Mesopotamian civilization. The need for irrigation led the Sumerians, and later the Akkadians, to build their cities along the Tigris and Euphrates and the branches of these rivers. Major cities, such as Ur and Uruk, took root on tributaries of the Euphrates, while others, notably Lagash, were built on branches of the Tigris. The rivers provided the further benefits of fish (used both for food and fertilizer), reeds, and clay (for building materials). With irrigation, the
The Tigris and Euphrates River valleys form the northeastern portion of the
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Mesopotamian trade with the
For much of history, Mesopotamia served as a trade nexus – east-west between Central Asia and the Mediterranean world (part of the Silk Road), as well as north–south between the Eastern Europe and Baghdad (Volga trade route). Vasco da Gama's pioneering (1497–1499) of the sea route between India and Europe and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 impacted on this nexus.
The geography of Mesopotamia had a profound impact on the political development of the region. Among the rivers and streams, the Sumerian people built the first cities along with irrigation canals which were separated by vast stretches of open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and, at times, dangerous. Thus, each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence. At times one city would try to conquer and unify the region, but such efforts were resisted and failed for centuries. As a result, the political history of Sumer is one of almost constant warfare. Eventually Sumer was unified by Eannatum, but the unification was tenuous and failed to last as the Akkadians conquered Sumer in 2331 BC only a generation later. The Akkadian Empire was the first successful empire to last beyond a generation and see the peaceful succession of kings. The empire was relatively short-lived, as the Babylonians conquered them within only a few generations.
The Mesopotamians believed their kings and queens were descended from the city
When Assyria grew into an empire, it was divided into smaller parts, called
With the end of the
The Neo-Babylonian kings used deportation as a means of control, like their predecessors, the Assyrians. For the Neo-Babylonian kings, war was a means to obtain tribute, plunder, sought after materials such as various metals and quality wood) and prisoners of war which could be put to work as slaves in the temples which they built. The Assyrians had displaced populations throughout their vast empire, however, this particular practice under the Babylonian kings would appear to have been more limited, only being used to establish new populations in Babylonia itself. Though royal inscriptions from the Neo-Babylonian period don't speak of acts of destruction and deportation in the same boastful way royal inscriptions from the Neo-Assyrian period do, this however, does not prove that the practice ceased or that the Babylonians were less brutal than the Assyrians, since there is evidence that the city Ascalon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II in 604 BC.
City-states of Mesopotamia created the first law codes, drawn from legal precedence and decisions made by kings. The codes of
The art of Mesopotamia rivalled
From the many subsequent periods before the ascendency of the Neo-Assyrian Empire Mesopotamian art survives in a number of forms: cylinder seals, relatively small figures in the round, and reliefs of various sizes, including cheap plaques of moulded pottery for the home, some religious and some apparently not.
The conquest of the whole of Mesopotamia and much surrounding territory by the Assyrians created a larger and wealthier state than the region had known before, and very grandiose art in palaces and public places, no doubt partly intended to match the splendour of the art of the neighbouring Egyptian empire. The Assyrians developed a style of extremely large schemes of very finely detailed narrative low reliefs in stone for palaces, with scenes of war or hunting; the British Museum has an outstanding collection. They produced very little sculpture in the round, except for colossal guardian figures, often the human-headed lamassu, which are sculpted in high relief on two sides of a rectangular block, with the heads effectively in the round (and also five legs, so that both views seem complete). Even before dominating the region they had continued the cylinder seal tradition with designs which are often exceptionally energetic and refined.
Striding lions from the Processional Street of Babylon.
Assyrian ornaments and patterns, illustrated in a book from 1920
Detail of Nebuchadnezzar II's Building Inscription plaque of the Ishtar Gate, from Babylon
Artist's impression of a hall in an Assyrian palace from The Monuments of Nineveh by Austen Henry Layard, 1853
Afeather robed archerholding a bow instead of a ring (9th-8th century BC)
Contemporary artwork depicting Babylon at the height of its stature.
The study of ancient Mesopotamian architecture is based on available
Brick is the dominant material, as the material was freely available locally, whereas building stone had to be brought a considerable distance to most cities. The ziggurat is the most distinctive form, and cities often had large gateways, of which the Ishtar Gate from Neo-Babylonian Babylon, decorated with beasts in polychrome brick, is the most famous, now largely in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
The most notable architectural remains from early Mesopotamia are the temple complexes at
The walls of Babylon, in Babylon
Ziggurat of Ur
Ziggurat of Dur-kuriagalzu in 2010
A suggested reconstruction of the appearance of a Sumerian ziggurat
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