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Mesopotamian Kings: History, Politics & Religion

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  • 0:05 Mesopotamian Kings
  • 1:01 Religion in Mesopotamia
  • 2:07 Religion and Politics…
  • 3:33 The Power of Priests
  • 5:13 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 was a land of chaotic weather and inner turmoil. Religion became a political weapon for fighting among the city-states. This lesson explores the link between religion and politics in the ancient land.

Mesopotamian Kings

When you hear the word 'king,' do you think of the ruler of just one country? In most instances, this rings true. However, ancient Mesopotamia was a region that contained several city-states, much like Italy during the Italian Renaissance period. Mesopotamia at this time did not have a centralized government but, instead, had many smaller regions with their own separate governments. The early kings ruled over only their own city-states.

Lacking a centralized government and leader, the ancient region was prone to internal fighting among the kings for land and resources. As early as the 4th millennium BCE, ancient Mesopotamia covered the region that is now known as Iraq. It was settled between two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Although fertile, this land was prone to cycles of flooding and other natural disasters.

Religion in Mesopotamia

Religion in Mesopotamia served as a means to explain the uncertainty that developed as a result of the unpredictable weather conditions. The Mesopotamians could attribute the chaotic weather to the will of a god, finding comfort in the belief that they were at the mercy of the gods rather than the mercy of nature's anarchy. Mesopotamian gods were anthropomorphic. Anthropomorphic gods were human in appearance with many human personality traits. Gods required food and drink, and some gods had more power than others.

Most people had a relationship with their personal deity. However, the gods with the most power, although seemingly distant from humanity, were venerated by most people. A few of these more powerful gods are Enki (god of water and wisdom), Enlil (god of the sky who could create raging storms), Anu (the father of the gods and god of the heavens), Utu (god of the sun), Nana (god of the moon) and Ninhursag (goddess of the Earth).

Religion and Politics Rule Mesopotamia

Religion was often one aspect that forged a common bond among the members of a Mesopotamian city-state. Naturally, religion became closely linked with politics. Religious beliefs, however, could vary between city-states. Some gods, with similar aspects and descriptions, may have been worshiped under a different name in more than one region. For example, Anu, mentioned previously as the father of the gods, was known by this same name in some of the larger city-states: Akkad, Babylon and Assyria. A god with similar attributes was known in Sumer (another major city-state) as An.

Because the Mesopotamians believed the gods controlled the precarious weather, a social class developed around the priests. Priests were given the task of creating rituals to honor the patron deity of their city-state. Priests gained power because everything belonged to the gods. They made decisions regarding land, commercial trade, agricultural development and even war. They gained wealth from the contributions of the people to the gods. They also commissioned the building of ziggurats. Ziggurats were large structures with varying levels. Their main purpose was likely as a dwelling place for the local deity. They were located in the city's center as a place of commerce.

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