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The Rise of Civlilzations in Mesopotamia
Coincided with the Neolithic Revolution
Was characterized by a succession of civilizations
Summerian, Akkadian, Babylonian
Each of these civilizations were
Polytheistic theocracies with strong kings
skilled in urban organization
skilled in crafts, pottery, metal working, bronze casting
dependent on writing
impacted by the irregular flooding of the Tigris and
vulnerable to attack
Student’s Friend website Lecture River Civilizations
southern Iraq marsh
Environmental devastation of
Marshes in Iraq
Dawn of the World
Marsh reed house
Sumerian Period 3000-2350 BCE
King was steward of the people, not identified as god. Political
structure was very modest, semi-democratic with a council of
men, sometimes led by city rulers, sometimes by kings.
Writing was on clay tablets in cuneiform with the primary
purpose being record keeping.
Beginning Art – religious, cylinder seals for economic purposes,
personal items. Only later did it become commemorative or a
way of recording historical accomplishments.
Sumerian King
Diorite, appr. 19 inches
Ca. 2090 BCE
Faithfulness to people
Carved in the round
With low relief of cuneiform
Adherence to form of stone
Geometric solids are the basis of
most early Mesopotamia sculpture
Gudea shown here with map of city walls on tablet
Sumerian Religion
Nature deities, unpredictable, spiteful
Sumerians did not have a definite view of afterlife
Rituals were performed by the priestly class who
nearly equaled the king in power
The temple complex was the site of warehousing
and controlling agricultural production
ancient civilizations
Imdugud, lion headed eagle whose wings covered the heavens and brought rain, ending
droughts brought on by the bull of heaven.
Copper relief with wooden core from the temple of Ninhursag. 25th c. BCE
City of Ur with Ziggurat ca. 2100 BCE
Ziggurat at Ur, Mesopotamia (Iraq), ca. 2100 B.C.E.smarthistory
Kings and priests were the only ones allowed into the temple at the top of the ziggurat.
Ziggurat of the moon-god Nanna –UR 2100-2050 B.C.E.ancient mesopotamia film
Economic role of temple: employed priests, scribes, artisans
stimulated trade
attracted visitors to urban center
Temple Votive Statues, Tell Asmar, Iraq, ca. 2900-2600 B.C.E. Tallest
figure ca. 30 in. Hierarchical scaling. Stand ins for worshipers.
Votive detail
I have found the greatest death-pit of all yet
discovered... Inform Philadelphia.
– C. Leonard Woolley, Telegram to British Museum,
December 22, 1928
In 1922—the same year that
Howard Carter shocked the world
with his discovery of
Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt—a
little-known British archaeologist,
Charles Leonard Woolley, began
excavations near the town of
Nasiriyah at the site of Ur—one of
ancient Mesopotamia’s most
important cities. His most
remarkable discovery was a
massive cemetery with thousands
of burials, including a small number
of rich tombs belonging to the kings
and queens of Ur from around
2500 BCE.
U Penn
Ruins of Ur, partially restored, with Ziggurat in backgound
Ram in Thicket
Gold, Lapis, Inlaid shell
Royal tomb of Ur
2600 BCE
British Museum field
photograph of “Ram in
Gold, Lapis, Carnelian
Royal tomb of Ur
2600 BCE
Harp (reconstructed)
from Ur, ca. 2600
B.C.E. Wood and inlays
of gold, lapis lazuli, and
shell, height 3 ft. 6 in
A harp like this might
be played as the story
of King Gilgamesh was
Wealth, organization, trade. Abstracted, narrative.
Standard of Ur 2550-2400 BCE “Peace side”
shell, lapis lazuli, and red limestone over a wooden structure,
decayed and restored 20 x 47 in Royal Tombs at Ur, Iraq
Peace side, Standard of Ur
A History of the World in 100 Objects BBC Radio
Royal Standard of Ur Detail of War Side
2550-2400 BCE wooden panels, inlaid with shell, red limestone, and
lapis lazuli in bitumen
Cuneiform- “wedge shaped”
Administrative tablet with cylinder seal impression
CUNEIFORM Uruk 3100-2900 B.C.
Cylinder seal 2350-2150 B.C.
3.4 cm 2.3 cmsmarthistory
Cylinder seal: Hero grappling with buffalo, two
lions attacking rearing bulls
1894 B.C. - 1595 B.C.
Old Babylonian Period
1960 Prose Translation
Verse form of Epic of Gilgamesh
Mythical/literal king
Ruled Uruk, 2600 B.C.E.
Earliest tablets discovered in
Assyrian library of King
Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.E.)
Neo-Babylonian Gilgamesh
fighting a bull, with shepherd
and mountain goats
612-539 BCE carnelian, cylinder
seal and imprint Measurements
3.4 cm (height) Musée du Louve
Annenberg Foundation Film
Cuneiform tablet
Epic of Gilgamesh,
14th-13th centuries
BCE, Staatliche Museen
zu Berlin (Germany)
Akkadian (?) 2300-2000
Strong kings like Sargon unified the city
Writing and the arts became more
Sargon extended the territories as far
away as Crete and Lebanon
Shift in the role of King- powerful,
Lost-wax method
Burkino Faso Lost Wax Production
Akkadian History Website
This victory stella
commemorates the
victory of Naram-Sin’s
army over the Lullaby
Hierarchical scaling
Attention to composition,
conforming to shape of
Sumero-Akkadian Victory stele of
Naram-Sin 2220 -2184 BC
6 feet, 6 inches
Akkadian kings, from Naram-Sin onward, were considered gods on earth in their lifetimes.
Their portraits showed them of larger size than mere mortals and at some distance from
their retainers.
Akkadian rule lasted less than 200 years
Constant unrest until the Amorites, nomads
from Arabia, founded the royal city of
Hammurabi ruled in the 17th c. B.C.E.
unifying the Sumerian and Akkadian city
Stela of Hammurabi , 1760 B.C.E. Basalt, 7.’
Louvre, Paris.
Law code inscribed beneath image
Shamash, the sun god, gives the code to
Assyria 1500 B.C.E.-612 B.C.E Greatest
power after fall of Babylon.
Guardian statue from Assyrian palace at Nimrud. 9th c. B.C.E. Ashurnasirpal II. Limestone.
Assyrian Gate monsters, palace of Ashurnasirpal, Nimrud. 9th c. B.C.E.
Nineveh Palace Reliefs - Southwest Palace of Sennacherib (701-681 B.C)
Nebuchchadnezzar’s Babylon
Neo-Babylon- not to be confused with
Hammurabi’s Babylon
Ishtar Gate, ca. 575 B.C.E.
Fire glazed brick decorated with lions,
dragons and bulls- emblematic of Ishtar’s
Ishtar was the Sumerian goddess of love
and war
Persian Empire
Cyrus II entered Babylon and
took over in 6th century.
Originated in Elam in western
Iran, dating back to 5000 B.C.E.
Zoroaster, 600 B.C.E.
Prophet who founded the
dualistic religion of
Universe divided between the
opposing forces of light and
Influential to the later Christian
concept of Satan, prince of
Relief sculpture on
stairway at Persepolis
5th-6th c. B.C.E.