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Mesopotamian Ziggurat: Definition & Images

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  • 0:01 What Were Ziggurats?
  • 1:47 Who Built the Ziggurats?
  • 2:26 Ur
  • 2:50 Elam
  • 3:09 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 ziggurats were massive temple structures built in Ancient Mesopotamia to honor a deity. Ziggurats were built for hundreds of years in various regions of the ancient Middle East.

What Were Ziggurats?

One of the first things that usually comes to mind when we think of ancient Egypt is the Great Pyramid at Giza, but did you know the ancient Mesopotamians also built massive structures that were just as impressive? These buildings were called ziggurats.

A ziggurat was basically an enormous temple. These structures were built in several levels. Although we are unsure of the exact purpose of each level and ziggurat, it is likely that each level was designated for a different type of activity. The bottom level, for example, may have been a place of social and commercial interaction, while the upper levels may have been reserved for only the head priest to commune with a designated deity.

The ziggurat was the city's center. It would have been surrounded by a courtyard with homes, storage, and other facilities designated for administrative purposes.

Ziggurats were square or rectangular at their base. The bricks would have been made of mud. Unlike step pyramids, these structures would have contained stairs to allow designated people access to upper levels. Because each city generally had its own patron deity, the local ziggurat was built for that deity.

Herodotus, one of the earliest historians, said that at the top of each ziggurat was a shrine to a patron god. However, as ziggurats have been found and excavated, none of these shrines have survived. The remains of the buildings indicate the structures were very tall, although none found have been as tall as the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Some ancient religious texts indicate that a massive structure in Babylon (the capitol city of the ancient city-state Babylonia in Mesopotamia) was built to be over 300 feet high. This may refer to a ziggurat. However, the stories portray the structure as round rather than square.

Who Built Ziggurats?

Ziggurats were built in many regions of Mesopotamia beginning in the later part of the 4000s BCE. Mesopotamia spans the area now known as Iraq as well as parts of Turkey and Iran.

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