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Mesopotamia: Culture, Facts & History

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  • 0:04 Cradle of Civilization
  • 0:37 The Land Between Rivers
  • 1:49 The City of Uruk
  • 2:42 Political Control
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Ancient Mesopotamia, a region located in modern day Iraq, was a rich and diverse culture. In this lesson we will explore some of the major events and most interesting facts about Ancient Mesopotamia.

Cradle of Civilization

What is the oldest city you have ever visited? Plymouth, Massachusetts was founded in 1620. London was founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Either of these places might be considered old, but they have nothing on the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, which was believed to be founded around 5500 BCE (before Common Era). Often called the 'Cradle of Civilization,' Mesopotamia had a rich history of trade, culture and warfare before it was invaded by the Persians around 539 BC

The Land Between Rivers

Mesopotamia was a region located in what is now known as Iraq and part of Turkey and Syria. This region is situated between two major rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. Mesopotamia literally means 'land between rivers' in ancient Greek. Its Northern area consisted of plains, where residents could grow wheat and raise cattle. Its Southern areas had jungles, marine life and rich soil good for farming. For other resources, like timber, hard stones and metals, imports from the East and the North had to be made.

Eventually trade routes would be developed to import lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. Lapis is a semi-precious blue stone that was used in Mesopotamian art and jewelry. The brightness and rarity of the stone signified importance. Lapis, for example, was often used in the eyes of statues of gods and goddesses. The stone has been found in many other cultures, including Egypt and China.

Settlements developed with a common religious belief system, centering around a temple and a patron god or goddess. Some temples can be found in places like Uruk and Ur. Temples and other buildings were built from mud bricks.

The City of Uruk

In its time (late fourth millennium), Uruk was a large city, possibly one of the biggest cities. The patron goddess was Inanna, the goddess of love and war. An early form of writing was discovered in this city, consisting of pictures drawn on clay. This form of writing is the earliest record of writing. It was used in the temple to inventory produce like beer and bread.

The pictorial writing eventually developed into a cuneiform. Cuneus is a Latin word meaning 'wedge,' referring to the wedge shapes used in this language. Cuneiform likely developed from pictures to wedge-like shapes in order to save time and make recording more efficient. Eventually, cuneiform was also used to record events. The common language used at this time and represented by cuneiform was Sumerian.

Political Control

Southern city states of Mesopotamia united in around 2350 BCE under Sargon, who was the king of Akkad (a city sometimes called Agade). Here, the common language was Akkadian. After about 150 years, this area began to collapse in turmoil, and the once-united cities began to function independently of each other.

One of the biggest cities was called Ur. Sumerian became the written language of choice again, although it was no longer spoken. This was the site of famous buildings called ziggurats. These were made as shrines. Ziggurats were created as the city center. Ziggurats were a busy place where people met to socialize and worship. Ziggurats could have been as tall as a mountainous 200 feet.

Ur fell between 2028-2004 BCE to Hurrian and Amorite tribes. At this time the Akkadian language became re-popularized, although Sumerian was still used for inscriptions on monuments and religious writings.

In the late 1700s BCE, the Babylonian king, Hammurabi, once again united Southern Mesopotamia into one empire. The empire survived until around 1595 BCE. Fighting continued, mainly for control of land and resources.

In the early 9th Century BCE, kings from Assyria began to seek military control of marketable trade routes. They built enormous palaces and temples in their capital cities to venerate themselves. These were decorated with beautiful stone reliefs.

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