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Mesopotamia, from the Greek language, means 'land between rivers'. It includes the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, and the fertile land which surrounds them. It is part of the Fertile Crescent. Mesopotamia today is split. Most of it is in Iraq, but parts are in Kuwait, Syria, Turkey and Iran.
The area is often called the 'Cradle of Civilization'. The ancient writing called cuneiform was first used around 3000 BC by the Sumerians. They lived in city-states (a city and the land around it). According to Genesis in the Old Testament, Abraham lived in Mesopotamia before moving to Canaan.
Historically important cities in Mesopotamia included Uruk, Nippur, Nineveh, and Babylon, as well as major territorial states such as the city of Ma-asesblu, 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 (who started 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 and Mesopotamians, such as irrigation, and trade by river, and flood control. Mesopotamians had agriculture and domesticated animals, or livestock, from the earliest records. Babylon is probably the first city built by settled people. Mesopotamia also was the place where the wheel was first used. First it was a pottery wheel that was used to make clay pots, then Sumerians adapted it for transport.
Mesopotamia is made up of different regions. Northern Mesopotamia is made up of hills and plains. Seasonal rains, and the rivers and streams 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 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.
Peoples of Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia has been conquered many times, by many different peoples. 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, 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
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".