What is mesopotamia?

We explain to you what Mesopotamia is, its location, why it was important in Antiquity and the peoples that inhabited it.

  1. What is mesopotamia?

Mesopotamia is a region of Western Asia located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers , as well as its surrounding land. In this region the so-called Mesopotamian civilization arose during the Ancient Age . Thanks to that culture, the Neolithic Revolution began there , that is, the development of agriculture and livestock around 12,000 years ago.

The Mesopotamians served as a model and inspiration to the rest of the world and popularized fundamental inventions for human civilization such as the wheel, the cultivation of cereals, the development of cursive writing, mathematics and astronomy .

Ancient Mesopotamia is an important reference in the study of human antiquity, since from it come stories such as the Gilgamesh myth , biblical episodes as in universal flood, or the first set of laws known: the Hammurabi Code.

The different Mesopotamian peoples prospered culturally and were in their time one of the great civilizing poles of Eurasia , although centuries later they were little more than disputed territory of the great empires of late Antiquity, such as the Roman Empire and the Persian Empire.

Its name comes from the Greek Μεσοποταμία which means “land between two rivers”.

  1. Mesopotamia Location

mesopotamia map
Mesopotamian cultures were located where today Iraq and Syria meet.

The Mesopotamian region is in the Middle East, extending largely from the current territories of Iraq and Syria , and to a lesser extent near its borders with Kuwait, Iran and Turkey.

It covers a territory made up of four regional units: the plateaus of upper Mesopotamia, the plains of the lower Mesopotamia, the mountains and mountain ranges, and the steppes or desert regions.

  1. Main rivers of Mesopotamia

Tigris Mesopotamia
On the banks of the Tigris River there are still thousands of years old villages.

As we have said, the main rivers of the region and those due to the emergence and prosperity of the Mesopotamian peoples are:

  • Tigris : It is 1,850 km long and is the one with the greatest slope. Its height difference from birth to mouth is 1,150 meters. It has tributaries along its left side, such as Armenia and the Zagros.
  • Euphrates : It extends along 2,800 km. Its height difference is 4,500 meters. However, its slope is smoother in most of its route. Its tributaries are Taurus, Balih and Habur, which cross the ancient Mesopotamian territory and have different flows: the Habur is navigable almost all year, while the Balih can become dry.

Both rivers suffer frequent floods, although not too beneficial, unlike those of the Nile (which are vital for the fertilization of nearby Egyptian lands). In addition, these floods usually arrive in bad weather and have destructive results.

  1. Peoples of Mesopotamia

peoples of mesopotamia
The Mesopotamian peoples lived together in peace or invaded and imposed their empires.

The Mesopotamian region was formerly divided into the nations of Assyria (to the north) and Babylon or Caldea (to the south). The latter also included the towns of Acadia (upper part) and Sumeria (lower part).

Assyrians, Akkadians and Sumerians ruled the region from around 3100 BC. C . up to 539 BC . It is estimated the writing was invented at the beginning of this period. The fall of Babylon, which meant the end of its power, was due to the conquest by the Archaemenid Empire or First Persian Empire.

  • Sumerian culture . It was the first Mesopotamian nation, which founded the mythical cities of Uruk, Lagas, Kis, Ur and Eridu, with an economy based on irrigated agriculture. They were the inventors of cuneiform writing and were ruled by absolute kings who were vicars of the gods on Earth.
  • Acadia culture . The Akkadians were the result of the invasions of the Semitic peoples of the Arabian Peninsula, which were pursuing the prosperity of the Sumerians. Among them came Arabs, Hebrews and Syrians, who settled down north of Sumeria and eventually prospered enough to invade and found the Acadian Empire.
  • Babylonian culture . The city of Babylon eventually spawned its own culture, in two great historical periods: the first under the reign of King Hammurabi, in what is known as the Paleo-Babylonian Empire, famous for resisting the attacks of nomadic peoples and thriving greatly in their civil, cultural and military works. The second stage is known as the Babylonian revival and is after the Assyrian domination, when a new Semitic tribe recast the Babylonian power: the Chaldeans. Under the mandate of their most famous king, Nebuchadnezzar II, they founded an empire that extended to the shores of the Mediterranean.
  • Assyrian culture . The Assyrians settled north of Babylon after the Hammurabi Empire fell, and soon they were strong enough to establish their own monarchy, with important cities like Assur and Nineveh, which fell under the attack of the alliance between the Babylonians and the Medes. in 612 a. C.
  1. Mesopotamian religion

The Babylonian peoples were highly religious, and almost all the elements of their society were understood from the divine will . His conception of the world was limited to the surroundings of the region: the world was limited by mountains and an immensity of water , and to each god corresponded certain kingdoms or domains.

The gods were immortal and eternal, capable of creating reality with the mere word. On the other hand, stories of deaths and rebirths abounded. Some of the main Mesopotamian gods were An (god of heaven), Enlil (god of wind), Enki (god of water) and Ninhursag (goddess of earth) .

However, each culture built its own pantheon of divinities and its own version of the religion they shared. The cultural fertility of the region was due to the constant arrival of nomadic peoples eager to settle and share Mesopotamian riches.

  1. Mesopotamia History

mesopotamia history hammurabi code
In the Paleo-Babylonian Empire, the Hammurabi Code, the first code of laws, was created.

The history of Mesopotamia ranges from prehistory and settlement of the first nomads in the region, to the conquest of the Middle East by the Persians.

  • Origins . The first Mesopotamian agricultural communities emerged around 7,000 BC. C., developing a simple agriculture, which was later improved by Sumerian farmers using the Tigris and Euphrates for irrigation, not depending on rainfall. In this way, the first permanent settlements in the region were born: Buqras, Umm Dabaghiyah and Yarim Tappeh, as well as the first minor Mesopotamian cultures: the Hassuna-Samarra (5,600-5,000 BC) and the Halaf (5,600-4,000 BC. C.).
  • El Obeid Period (5500-4000 BC). The foundation of the first settlements of buildings of baked clay, called el-Obeid, and of the first ziggurats, buildings of religious veneration that would later be characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization. The oldest of these temples would be Eridu, south of Sumer.
  • Uruk Period (4,000-2,900 BC). This period begins with the emergence of the first city in history: Uruk, along with the first cuneiform written records and the appearance of metal (copper, tin, bronze), and the wheel, which revolutionized transport forever. This is the time of birth of urban life.
  • Archaic Dynastic Period (2,900-2,350 BC). It begins with the emergence of the first city-states, which competed with Uruk in importance, such as Ur and Kish, reaching populations of between ten and fifty thousand inhabitants. It is a period of expansion of agricultural techniques and the Sumerian way of life to the rest of the fertile Mesopotamian region, until reaching Syria. The construction of the first palaces and the first walls around the cities can only indicate that it was also a period of constant wars and political disputes, in which the cities of Uruk, Ur, Kish, Lagash and Umma disputed the supremacy successively .
  • Akkadian Empire (2,350-2,160 BC). This was the name of the Semitic dynasty that settled in Sumeria and conquered the cities under the mandate of King Sargon I of Acadia. During his reign, Mesopotamia built exchange networks with the Indus Valley civilizations, Egypt and Anatolia.
  • Period of the gutis (2,150-2,100 BC). The Acadian Empire succumbed during the reign of King Ur-Utu, the result of internal tensions and the invasions of the nomadic gutis and lullubis, from the Zagros mountain range. The Gutians briefly ruled, making Lagash its political center, governed by a man named Gudea, who did not accept the title of king and carried out a government peaceful and growth.
  • III Dynasty of Ur (2110-2000 BC). Eventually the gutis were expelled by the king of Uruk, Utu-Hegal, who would in turn be dethroned by Ur-Nammu, governor of Ur, who would reunify the territory and witness a Sumerian renaissance. This dynasty would culminate due to a process of political disintegration that between 2000 and 1800 a. C. led to the dissolution of the Ur dynasty, partly due to the invasions of the Amurru or Amorites from the west.
  • Paleo- Babylonian Empire (1800-1590 BC). The Amurru founded new Mesopotamian dynasties, and the Paleo-Babylonian Empire emerged from the hodgepodge. His sixth king, Hammurabi, was famous for his flourishing government in arts and sciences , as well as military conquests; to such an extent that the region ceased to be called Sumeria or Acadia to begin to be Babylon. The Sumerian language survived in written records, but it was not spoken at the time, and new amorite gods joined the Mesopotamian pantheon.
  • Segregation period (1590-1000 BC). The death of Hammurabi led to the weakening of Babylon and the invasions of the Casitas peoples, of enigmatic origins. These invaders founded new dynasties, thus founding the Babylonian house (1590-1160 BC), as they were integrated with the local culture. They were followed by new Indo-European newcomers, who founded peripheral kingdoms in Mesopotamia, such as the Hittites, Hurrites, Peselet. The Assyrians also gradually emerged, whose origin is unknown, and whose territories were initially under Babylonian rule.
  • Neo-Assyrian Empire (1000-650 BC). After the year 900 a. C., the Assyrians expelled the Arameans from the region and gained control of the Mesopotamian trade routes, under the mandate of the first neo-Assyrian king: Salmanaser III, who led them to expand their dominion over entire Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine. This period was followed by a period of enormous political conflict and internal and external struggles, which will lead to war with Judah and Assyrian decay. Thus the Babylonian culture resurfaced , under the leadership of the Chaldean rebel Nabopolasar. The Assyrians were swept from the political map, their tongue erased and their empire divided between the Medes and the Chaldeans.
  • Neo-Babylonian Empire (612-539 BC). The Babylonians resurfaced in the region and flourished under the mandate of the son of Nabopolasar, the famous Nebuchadnezzar II, who conquered the kingdom of Judah and destroyed Jerusalem. However, after he was dethroned and replaced by King Nabonido, considered a mad king who did not know how to deal with the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great, Persian emperor, in 539 BC. C. Under the Persian rule, the Mesopotamian civilization ended

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