Mesopotamia: “The Land Between Two Rivers”
Part of the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia (“the land between the rivers” in Greek), was by its geographical location and development influential in the region from at least 2500 BCE to the fall of Babylon in 539 BCE.
The Elamites of southeastern Iran and the Semites of Ebla in Syria both borrowed their script and, in part, their languages from Mesopotamia in the third millennium; as did the Semites, the Hurrians of Syria-Palestine and the Indo-Europeans of Anatolia, known as the Hittites, in the second. The courts of the Near East in the fifteenth century BCE were in Egypt at el-Amarna, but they wrote in cuneiform script in the Akkadian language, which was the regional language of diplomacy. Over 300 tablets, known as “the Amarna Letters” have been found which include correspondence from both Amenhotep III’s and Akhenaten’s reign that have helped to establish the history and chronology of the period.
The oldest city found to date is Uruk (ca 3900 BCE), located near the Euphrates River about 155 miles south of Baghdad. Uruk was a capital city for the Akkadian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Seleucid civilizations, and was abandoned only after 100 CE. In the late fourth millennium it was the largest city in the Sumerian civilization, and by 2900 BCE it included nearly 1,000 acres making it most likely the largest city in the world at the time, with somewhere in the region of 50,000–80,000 residents. Along with urban settlements were temples, platforms, ziggurats, and cemeteries, all enclosed by a massive wall almost ten kilometers in circumference which was said to have been built on the orders of King Gilgamesh, who, well known in stories and legends, may actually have been an historical king of Uruk around 2700 BCE.
More than 200,000 cuneiform clay tablets have been found in the lands of ancient Mespotamia. Tablets with pictographic script from about 3000 BCE were found in the ruins of the Red Temple of Uruk. Nearly 30,000 cuneiform tablets (dated about 2350 BCE) were recovered at Telloh, near Lagash. Many others were found at a temple library at Nippur (2500 BCE), south of modern Baghdad. The Great House of Tablets, which seems to have been a law library dating to the reign of Ur-Nammu around 2100 BCE, was unearthed in the ruins of Ur.
Mesopotamians invented not only writing but may well have introduced several technologies including metal- and copper-working, glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and crop irrigation.
They were one of the first Bronze Age people in the world. Palaces and temples were decorated with copper, bronze, and gold; copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor and weaponry such as swords, daggers, spears, and maces.
SOAS University of London
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