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“Land Between Rivers”
Cradle of civilization
Misconception – One civilization…
In reality multiple different cultures and tribes
vying for power in a single area.
• Main groups – Akkadians, Sumerians,
Three Main Periods of Mesopotamian
Dominance / Three Main Areas
• 1. Sumeria – Southern Iraq
• 2. Sargon and the Akkad Empire – North of
Sumeria • 3. City State Existence – Bablyon and Assyria
• **Akkads and Assyrians are considered
Semitic Language groups**
How to get from Urak to Sumer…
• Early post-Neolithic civilizations focused on
farming and stone tools
• By 3100 BCE Sumerian artisans had melded
together copper and tin to make Bronze.
• Bronze Age Begins – 3100 BCE – 1200 BCE
• Led to the development of Ox driven bronze
• Civilization centers develop at Sumer.
• A collection of city states
• Two most important were Urak and Kish.
• Sumer started by Etana of Kish (2800BCE).
United the southern city states.
• Constantly challenged by a rival dynasty in
Urak – after the death of Etana, king
Meskiaggasher took over from Urak.
• Struggle took its toll and by 2500 BCE, Sumer
in decline.
Sumerian Culture
• Agricultural – outside of city states would see lots
of fields at work with plows.
• Cities focused on rivers – would see sailboats on
• Pottery wheels and potters in trade – division of
• Ziggurats first developed.
• Wheels on carts first developed.
• Traded with Egyptians – evidence of culture
• Numerical system based upon 60
• Irrigation allowed cities to
thrive in this area.
• Used irrigation techniques
to farm when land was not
• Used dams, canals and
levees to bring water to the
Social Class Structure
• Upper, middle, and lower
• Upper Class: nobles,
priests, warriors.
• Middle Class: merchants,
traders, artisans
• Lower Class: Serfs and
Slaves – majority of
• http://www.mesopotami
Standard of Ur – War and Peace Side
Sumerian Writing
• First written language
• Pictograph writing
• Used to write the “Epic
of Gilgamesh”
• Gilgamesh supposed
king of Urak
• Creation story and
possible derivative of
the biblical flood story.
• Written in cuneiform
Sargon the Great
• Sargon united all of Sumer and Akkad (north)
via conquest and conquering.
• Sargon’s birth and origins are “legendary”
• Pulled out of a river as a child by priestess,
rose to be cupbearer of city of Kish.
• Eventually defeated Ur, but spoke Semitic
• Great general – especially organization of
Sargon the Ruler
• Founded Agede (Akkad) as central city in
Akkadian empire.
• Wanted trading empire – conquered silver in
Assyria and Zagros Mts.
• Created trading pacts with Indus Valley cities, the
coast of Oman, the islands and shores of the
Persian Gulf, the lapis lazuli mines of Badakhshan,
the cedars of Lebanon, the silver-rich Taurus
Mountains, Cappadocia, Crete, and perhaps even
Decline of Sargon
• Rule for 56 years (2234-2178BCE)
• Faced revolts in cities – constantly being put
• Sons and relatives would rule for another 150
years – prominently Narem-Sin.
• Akkadian empire so important because it
spread Semitic language and culture in area.
Period of Discord
• The Akkadian Empire will fall when invaders
from the Zagros mountains destroy the
• For appx. the next 1500 years, Mesopotamia
will be in turmoil with city states attacking and
conquering each other.
• Two city states emerge as powers during
different points – the Assyrians and
Old Assyrian Period (North)
• Assyrians (1975 BCE – 1756 BCE) were a
Semitic people who controlled northern
Mesopotamia during the period before Old
Babylonian control.
• They were constantly in conflict with the
southern areas of Babylon and Ur for control
of the territory.
• Eventually conquered by the Old Babylonians.
Old Babylonian Period (South)
• The Babylonians created a unified central
authority under Hammurabi (1728 BCE – 1686
• When he started, Babylon just a few towns –
after he finished conquering he controlled all of
southern Mesopotamia. (third dynasty of Ur)
• Created the Code of Hammurabi – most famous
written laws (although earlier laws may have
come from Code of Ur-Nammu 300 years earlier)
• Huge amount of records exist from this time
*Code of Hammurabi*
• Hammurabi – King of Babylonia, 1792 BC
• Established a WRITTEN Code of Laws
– 285 Laws, Engraved in Stone
–“An Eye For An Eye”
• Main Idea: Government helps run society –
HOWEVER the government firmly establishes
social classes in the code. Nobles can pay to get
out of more extreme versions of punishment if it
if was a lower class person involved.
The Code was Harsh…
theft, burglary, stealing
hitting a parent
lying in court
hiding runaway slaves
to commit a crime
offending the gods
The Code was Harsh…
theft, burglary, stealing
hitting a parent
lying in court
hiding runaway slaves
to commit a crime
offending the gods
8th, 9th, 10th centuries….
• Honestly there are no good records from this
Two Periods of Dominance
• Pre-Reform Dynasty – took over Babylon and
most of Southern Mesopotamia
• Sargonid Dynasty – Expanded the Assyrian
Empire to new heights – took over Egypt and
all of Northern Fertile Crescent.
– Ninevah center of government control.
– Made Babylon center of culture and empire.
– Army was dominated by chariots and spears
Nebuchadnezzar II
• After end of Assyrians, Babylonians took over
control of a smaller empire.
• The height of the empire came under
Nebuchadnezzar II. He was a great military
leader and general.
• Spectacular builder – known for the Hanging
Gardens of Babylon
• City surrounded by moats and walls with gardens
all over the city.
• There was a giant Ziggurat – Etemenaki - in the
center of the city which some scholars think may
be related to biblical “Tower of Babel”
Nebuchadnezzar II
• He is famed for his position in the Biblical
record as the king who was humbled by God
and driven insane.
• The only true account of this is in the Bible
and is suspect.
• Died of illness in 562 BCE
• End of Neo-Babylonian Period – Conquered by
Persians (Cyrus the Great) – end of Semitic
control of Mesopotamia.
• Used resources
around them:
houses & temples
made of brick.
• Thick walls for
insulation and
defense around the
Mesopotamian Religion
• Polytheistic – over 2000 deities. Each one to a
specific city (similar to Hinduism)
• No great creation story remains, but tablets talk
of how the God Marduk killed the mother
goddess Tiamat and used ½ of her body to create
the earth and the other ½ to create the paradise
of šamû and the netherworld of irṣitu.
• Gods would become more or less powerful
depending on which city was in power – as that
God took on a prominent role.
• Believed in an afterlife – there was a “Great
Below” that all people went to regardless of
social class standing.
Human Creation Story
Marduk – God King?
Religion in Daily Life
• The temple typically required land for crops and a
tribute from each citizen.
• Although land was originally in clan form,
eventually most land held by nobles and temple –
despots develop. (Land is the Gods)
• Believed in magic and witchcraft – took on part of
• Gods resembled human beings so often times
acted like them.
• People would ask priests to sacrifice and believed
that Gods controlled the environment.