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Ancient Mesopotamia
Overview
Ancient Mesopotamia was the earliest
civilization in world history, and the
longest lasting. It was probably also the
most influential, as all later western
civilizations were built on its
foundations.
Mesopotamia is known as one of the
cradles of human civilization because
the earliest cities in history were
constructed in the area known as the
“Fertile Crescent.”
Mesopotamia was the first civilizations in history, with its 3,000 years of development
and three major periods of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Its culture also
influenced its neighbors: the Egyptians and ancient India to the East.
The domestication of wild plants and animals was accomplished in Mesopotamia around
8500 BCE.
Geography
Mesopotamia can be found in the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Farming
within the Fertile Crescent made this civilization successful for thousands of years.
Language and Writing
The invention of writing came from
Mesopotamia. Early in Mesopotamia's history,
cuneiform writing was invented by the
Sumerian empire. Cuneiform literally means
"wedge-shaped," due to the triangular tip of the
stylus (a reed plant) used for impressing signs
on wet clay.
Libraries were built in towns and temples
during the Babylonian empire. Women as well as men learned to read and write.
Mathematics
Mesopotamian mathematics and science was based on a base 60 numeral system. This is
the source of the 60-minute hour, the 24-hour day, and the 360-degree circle. The
Sumerian calendar was based on the seven-day week. This form of mathematics was
instrumental in early map making. The Babylonians had formulas on how to measure the
area of several shapes and solids. They measured the circumference of a circle as three
times the diameter and the area as one-twelfth the square of the circumference, which
basically still holds true today!
Astronomy
The Babylonian empire astronomers were excellent at mathematics and could predict
eclipses and solstices. Scholars thought that everything had some purpose in astronomy
and the study of the planets. Mesopotamian astronomers worked out a 12-month calendar
based on the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into two seasons: summer and
winter. These studies became the first scientific revolution in history.
Technology
Mesopotamian people invented many technologies including metal and copper-working,
glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and irrigation. They
were also one of the first Bronze Age people in the world. They developed copper,
bronze, gold, and iron. Palaces were decorated with these very expensive metals. Also,
copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor as well as for different weapons such as
swords, daggers, spears, maces, and other stabbing weapons.
Religion
Mesopotamian religion was the first to be recorded. Mesopotamians believed that the
world was a flat disc, surrounded by a huge, holed space, and above that, heaven. They
also believed that water was everywhere, the top, bottom and sides, and that the universe
was born from this enormous sea. Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic (belief in
many gods).
Games
Hunting was popular in Mesopotamia. Boxing and wrestling were depicted frequently in
art. They also played majore, a game similar to the sport of rugby, but played with a ball
made of wood. They also played a board game similar to backgammon.
Farming
Farming in Mesopotamia is possible only with irrigation. The need for irrigation led the
Sumerians to build their cities along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, also known as the
Fertile Crescent.
Early farmers in Mesopotamia used wooden plows to soften the soil before planting crops
such as barley, onions, grapes, turnips, and apples. Mesopotamian farmers were some of
the first people to make beer and wine. Mesopotamian farmers did not depend completely
on slaves to work for them, but they did sometimes use slaves to help them.
Although the rivers were needed for survival, they also destroyed life by frequent floods
that ravaged entire cities. The unpredictable Mesopotamian weather was often hard on
farmers; crops were often ruined so backup sources of food such as cows and lambs were
also kept.
Government
The Sumerian people built the first cities along the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers. Each Sumerian city became a city-state,
independent of the others and protective of its independence.
King Hammurabi of the Babylon Empire is known for creating a
system of laws called the “Code of Hammurabi” that has had a
lasting influence on our legal system. Only one example of the
Code survives today on a seven foot, four inch tall basalt stone
slab. The Code is considered an early form of a constitution.
There are 282 laws in the Code of Hammurabi.
Architecture
written laws
Houses
The materials used to build a Mesopotamian house were the
same as those used today: mud brick, mud plaster and wooden
doors, which were all naturally available around the civilization.
Most houses had a square center room with other rooms attached
to it.
Palaces
The palaces of the Mesopotamian highest social class were large-scale palaces, and were
often lavishly decorated. These palaces housed craftsmen workshops, food storehouses,
ceremonial courtyards, and religious shrines. Usually the King's throne room opened to a
massive ceremonial courtyard where important ceremonies were performed.
Mesopotamia’s Legacy
Ancient Mesopotamia is one of the most influential civilizations in world history. All
other future civilizations were built upon its foundations. The Mesopotamians were the
first to build cities, use the potter's wheel, develop writing, write down their history, build
libraries, value learning, use bronze in metal-making, develop governments, organize
armies, begin schools, use irrigation for farming, create a system of laws with rules and
punishments, and start social classes.