The story of writing, astronomy, and law begins in one place, the Mesopotamian Civilization.
Mesopotamia came from the Greek for middle—mesos—and river—potamos—and literally means a “country between two rivers.” Humans first settled in Mesopotamia in the Paleolithic era in 14,000 B.C. The first civilizations in Mesopotamia lived in humble communities with government that can be described as a combination of monarchy and democracy.
The first people inhabited Mesopotamia for more than 12,000 years thanks to Mesopotamia’s stable climate, rich soil and a steady supply of fresh water.
Mesopotamians lived through agriculture, fishing, and livestock. Different ancient Mesopotamian civilizations thrived in Mesopotamia including the Summerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persian Empires.
These empires shaped the culture of Mesopotamia and brought different achievements that helped us at present.
What Were the Populations of Mesopotamia?
Sumerians were the first people who lived in southern Mesopotamia. They are considered by many historians as the first Mesopotamian civilization. Sumerians created ships that allowed them to travel into the Persian Gulf and trade with other early civilizations, such as the Harappans in northern India.
They traded textiles, leather goods, and jewelry for Harappan semi-precious stones, copper, pearls, and ivory. One of the remarkable works of literature is the Sumerian poem called the “Epic of Gilgamesh” It described the heroic adventures of the Sumerian king. This inspired many cultures to create stories of their own.
Sumerians invented significant technologies such as Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, the plow, wheel, sailboats, lunar calendar, irrigation, farming equipment, sandals, and beer.
After Mesopotamia was occupied by the Babylonians and Amorites in the second millennium B.C., they gradually lost their cultural identity and slowly perished. However, despite being invaded and conquered by the Amorites and Babylonians, Sumerian’s cultural legacy continued.
The Sumerians had an important cultural switch with a group in northern Mesopotamia known as the Akkadians. It is named after the city-state of Akkad. Around 2334 BCE, Sargon of Akkad came to power and established what might have been the world’s first dynastic empire. Akkadian and Summerian have the same structure of government but spoke in different languages.
Around 2300 BC Sargon the Great became the ruler. When Uruk (the powerful Sumerian City) attacked Akkad, Sargon the Great fought back and eventually conquered Uruk.
Sargon the Great conquered all of the Sumerian cities and combined northern and southern Mesopotamia under one ruler.One of the kings that are considered as the peak of the Akkadian empire was Naram- Sin. He ruled for 50 years and expanded the Akkadian empire.
When the Akkadian empire fell, the Assyrian empire took over. The traditional town of Ašur is additionally called Ashur—in the northern geographical region. Ashur was originally one in a variety of Semitic-speaking town states dominated by Sargon and his descendants throughout the Akkadian Empire. among the hundred years of the collapse of the Semitic Empire, the geographical area had become a serious empire.
From the late 21st century BCE till the late seventh century BCE, the Akkadian-speaking Assyrians were the dominant power in the Mesopotamian region. One of the strongest leaders was King Shamshi Adad. During King Shamshi Addad’s reign, Assyrians became wealthy and trained great warriors.
Assyrians were very famous for having brave soldiers, fighting is their way of survival. Assyrians were known as cruel and ruthless warriors. Assyrian fighters also made sure that their iron weapons were of high quality that made their weapons stronger than copper.
Assyrian reign in Mesopotamia fell right after King Shamshi Adad’s death which the Babylonian Empire started to dominate the whole Assyrian empire.
The Babylonians were the first empire that would cover all of Mesopotamia. Babylon was a minor city-state in central Mesopotamia for a century after it was established in 1894 BCE. The reign of Hammurabi was from 1792 to 1750 BCE. He was described as an efficient ruler, establishing a good bureaucracy with taxation. Hammurabi conquered the whole of southern Mesopotamia, bringing stability and the name of Babylonia to the region.
One of the most important works of this First Dynasty of Babylon was the Code of Hammurabi. It was the compilation code of laws that were written down in clay tablets. Hammurabi’s code of law has 282 laws that cover rental rates, wages, criminal behaviors penalties, adoption, marriage, and divorce.
When Hammurabi died, his sons took over the leadership. However, the governance of his sons was not as good as Hammurabi. Babylonians became weak. Kassites saw the opportunity to colonize Babylonians.
They ruled for 400 years until the Assyrians took over once again. Around 616 BC King Nabopolassar took advantage of the fall of the Assyrian Empire. King Nabopolassar established the Neo- Babylonian Empire. Nabopolassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar II took over and brought back the former glory of Babylon. Babylon was restored following the governance of Hammurabi. After Nebuchadnezzar II died, Neo Babylonian fell again.
The Persians conquered Babylon and transformed it into Persian Empire.
After the fall of the Babylonian Empire, Persian Empire took over the whole of Mesopotamia. In 539 B.C the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon filled his control of the entire Mesopotamia. For centuries it became the territory of a foreign empire. The Persian Empire was also known as Achaemenid Empire was created by Cyrus the Great.
Cyrus the Great allowed different cultures and previous practices as long as people pay their taxes and obey the Persian rulers. Cyrus’s way of governance was different from how the earliest conquerors like the Assyrians ruled back then.
To maintain the empire in Mesopotamia, each area had a “satrap” ; it was the acting governor of the area. Mesopotamia is known for having wide locations and it became the opportunity for the Persians to own their land properties. The fall of the Persian Empire ended when King Darius attacked the Greeks.
Greeks led by Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. When Alexander the Great won, Mesopotamian cities vanished with the ancient Mesopotamian cultures and people.
With the rise of Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, the people’s daily life changed dramatically. From being nomads, they started to build communities and reside in mud-brick homes. The mud-brick was effective regardless of the weather. Women were responsible for their homes. Not keeping a well-ordered house was seen as a reason for divorce. Women did not have equal rights with men.
For entertainment, Mesopotamians enjoyed the music at festivals and they enjoyed different instruments such as drums, lyres, flutes, and harps. Mesopotamians liked sports as well such as boxing and wrestling and board games. Clothing was made of wool. The men wore kilt-like skirts and the women wore long dresses.
They enjoyed wearing jewelry, especially rings. The women braided their long hair, while the men had long hair and beards. Both men and women wore makeup.Pieces of jewelry were a status symbol in Ancient Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamians worshipped more than one God. Each empire signifies different beliefs. Mesopotamians believed in genies and evil spirits. Beliefs evolved in each empire.
Most of their beliefs were passed down through clay tablets elaborating their beliefs and practices. Mesopotamians described their religion as Polytheism. Greek mythology adopted many ideas from the Mesopotamian Gods.
The principal languages of ancient Mesopotamia were Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian (together sometimes known as ‘Akkadian’), Amorite, and – later – Aramaic. The subject which studies Mesopotamian languages and the sources written in them is called Assyriology.
Art and craftsmanship
Art and poetry were a big part of the wealthier cities in early Mesopotamian civilization. The king of the city honored the artist. Most of the poetry and art had a religious theme. Stories were adopted by different generations. Popular stories eventually were written down on clay tablets. Artisans contributed a lot to the culture of the Mesopotamian people. They made functional items such as dishes, pots, clothing, baskets, boats, and weapons.
They also created works of art meant to glorify the gods and the king. The most common material for Mesopotamian artists was clay. Clay made an important role; it was used for pottery, monumental buildings, and tablets used to record history and legends. The Mesopotamians developed their skills in pottery over thousands of years.
Soon their pottery turned into works of art. Fine jewelry was a status symbol in Ancient Mesopotamia. Both men and women wore jewelry. Jewelers used fine gemstones, silver, and gold to make beautiful designs.
Mesopotamians created jewelry including necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Metalsmiths who played an important Mesopotamia learned how to make bronze by mixing tin and copper. Their innovativeness allowed them to create metalwork through creative ways. They started melting the metal at very high temperatures so the lower class of the society can also create all sorts of items including tools, weapons, and sculptures.
Carpenters were notable craftsmen in Ancient Mesopotamia. The significant contribution of carpenters was made with imported wood from Lebanon. They built palaces for the kings using cedar. They also constructed chariots for war and ships to travel on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Intricate designs were made from wooden craftsmanship. They invented a lot of items made out of different pieces like glass, gems, shells, and metal to make outstanding items like furniture, religious pieces, and musical instruments.
Stone Masons created high-quality Mesopotamian art. The details were crafted smoothly; they carved large sculptures to small detailed Gods or the King. The craftsmanship has a sense of originality and uniqueness to it.
Achievements of Mesopotamian Civilization
Clay is the most exclusive way for Mesopotamians to express themselves through architecture, figurines, and pottery artifacts. Clay was also a vehicle for writing which became the avenue for cuneiform civilization, cuneiform literature, and cuneiform law can apply only an intellectual achievement that amounted to nothing less than the invention of writing.
The notable law that was published was called Hammurabi’s Code. It is composed of 282 laws that covered: rental rates, wages, criminal behaviors penalties, adoption, marriage, and divorce. The Epic Tale of Gilgamesh was derived from the Sumerian King, it is composed of written epic which includes: tales and different legends. It was a way to teach the reader about the values of society.
Babylonians tablet used to solve mathematical problems, Sumerians invented
Sumerian mathematics was based on a sexagesimal (base 60) numeric system.
Akkadians invented the abacus.
Mesopotamians had a wide knowledge of mathematics including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, quadratic and cubic equations, and fractions.
People of Mesopotamia had ways of figuring out the importance of circumference and different geometric shapes such as circles, rectangles, and triangles. Mesopotamians knew the Pythagorean Theorem long before Pythagoras officially launched it.
By knowing in mathematics, and a scientific process. Mesopotamians were able to follow the movements of the stars, planets, and the Moon. One major achievement was the ability to describe the movements of several planets. Mesopotamians invented the first calendar. Composed of 12 lunar months and was the prototype for the Jewish and Greek calendars.
With the influence of the Barbarians, Mesopotamians used logic and recorded medical history to diagnose and treat illnesses with various creams and pills.
The oldest wheel discovered was found in Mesopotamia. It is the Sumerians who first used the wheel in making pottery in 3500BC and then used it for their carriages in 3200 BC.
The Mesopotamians created several technological discoveries such as the use of the wheel to create smart quality pottery, The Persian empire influenced the use of a water management system used for irrigation called “Qanat”. Persians developed the first batteries which were either medicinally used for electroplating it was called “Mirrazavi”.
They used irrigation to induce water to their crops, they used bronze metal and iron metal to create tools and used looms to weave textile from wool.
What Happened to the Mesopotamian Civilization?
Researchers compared the ancient coral fossils to modern coral samples, along with meteorological information. Studies found out that the ancient coral contained evidence of strong winds that are associated with dust storms.
Evidence shows the Ancient Mesopotamian empire collapsed because disastrous dust storms were like a domino effect that affected the inability to grow crops, which caused hunger and destruction to Mesopotamians.
Mesopotamian civilizations include constellations of competing states such as the Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian, and Babylonian civilizations At present they are called Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkey. The previous empires foster innovations that would change the world forever. The achievements of Mesopotamia shaped our modern world.
Writing, mathematics, astronomy, art, literature, law, and technology were the discoveries in the past that would not exist today if it wasn’t because of Mesopotamia. The inventions served as important guidelines as we entered the digital age.
Today, Mesopotamia is located in the region now known as the Middle East. The Middle East which has a rich history that is composed of several ancient Mesopotamian civilizations. They are currently known for vast oil reserves. The Middle East has also become home of three religion major world religion: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Timeline of Mesopotamia Civilizations:
- Sumerians (5000 – 2370 BC)
- Akkadians (2370 – 2230 BC)
- Old Babylonians (1792 – 1595 BC)
- Hittites (1450 – 1200 BC)
- Assyrians (1305 – 609 BC)
- New Babylonians (626 – 539 BC)
- Persians (559 – 330 BC)
- Mesopotamian empires existed 4000 years before Christ.
- Sumerians lived near Bagdad, Iraq Ancient city of Uruk.
- Sumerians invented significant technologies such as Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, the plow, wheel, sailboats, lunar calendar, irrigation, farming equipment, sandals, and beer.
- Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Sumerian. The name of the famous written epic was derived from the King’s name.
- Sumerians created the “Epic of Gilgamesh” ; it was the first written epic that includes tales and different legends. It was a way to teach the reader about the values of society.
- Sargon of Akkad came to power and established what might have been the world’s first dynastic empire.
- One of the kings that are considered as the peak of the Akkadian empire was Naram- Sin. He ruled for 50 years and expanded the Akkadian empire.
- The Assyrians lived in the area now called Turkey. They were valiant and aggressive warriors.
- King Hammurabi united and strengthened his people. They were called Babylonians.
- Hammurabi’s code of law has 282 laws that cover rental rates, wages, criminal behaviors penalties, adoption, marriage, and divorce.
- Assyrians took over once again. After Kassites colonized the Old Babylonians for 400 years.
- Neo- Babylonian Empire was established and Nebuchadnezzar II took over and brought back the former glory of Babylon. Babylon was restored following the governance of Hammurabi.