Old Orient

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Map of the ancient Orient (core / peripheral areas contrasted in color) and projected onto the current borders of the nation states

The term Ancient Orient describes the geographical and temporal space explored by Near Eastern archeology and ancient Near Eastern studies , as well as the cultures that developed in this space , especially the advanced cultures . A uniform definition of the space and the time span of the ancient Orient does not exist. Its core areas include Mesopotamia and its neighbors, Iran , Anatolia and the Levant .

According to the current state of research, several stages of human development took place earlier in the ancient Near East than in any other region in the world. These include, in particular, the Neolithic , urbanization and the development of writing , which marks the transition from prehistory to history .

In the ancient Orient, several advanced civilizations developed over the course of millennia, of which the Sumerians , Babylonians , Assyrians , Hittites and Persians achieved particular fame. The last ancient oriental high culture, that of the Sassanids , perished with the expansion of Islam , which marks a new cultural phase in this area.


The ancient Orient is not a term used in physical geography , but is defined very differently by individual disciplines and scientists. Thus, the Near Eastern archeology, which is interested in the material legacies of these cultures, understands with this term above all the spaces in which these legacies can be found and differentiates it from the spaces that belong to another material culture . The ancient oriental studies as a philological discipline , on the other hand, focuses primarily on the written evidence of the high cultures. Since the distribution areas of these cultures fluctuated strongly over time, only reasonably clear boundaries can be determined. The main differences between the definitions are in terms of their spatial and temporal dimensions.

Spatial classification

The geographical area with which the archeology of the Near East is concerned consensually includes the area of ​​today's Iraq , Syria , Turkey , Lebanon , Jordan , Iran, Saudi Arabia , Kuwait , Bahrain , Yemen , Oman , the United Arab Emirates and Qatar . Many archaeologists from the Near East also include Afghanistan , Pakistan (west of the Indus) and Cyprus among their research areas. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union , Armenia , Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have also been mentioned more and more . Israel occupies a special position , for which biblical archeology has developed as an independent branch of science which, depending on the author, is viewed as an independent discipline alongside Near Eastern archeology or as a sub-discipline thereof. As a rule, Egypt is no longer counted as part of the Middle East, as Egyptology became a completely independent science.

Ancient Oriental Studies, on the other hand, is more concerned with the area of ​​distribution of the cuneiform script and thus primarily includes Iraq, Syria, Asia Minor , Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran among its research areas. In addition, there is temporarily (for example in the Amarna period ) Egypt. On the other hand has opted for the Arabian Peninsula with the Sabäistik developed its own scientific discipline, so that this space is separated from the ancient Near East. The Iranian highlands are the eastern border . Since the areas of influence of the ancient Near Eastern high cultures fluctuate strongly in the course of time, the boundaries of the research area of ​​ancient Near Eastern studies shift through history continuously.

Chronological order


For most researchers, the timeframe with which Near Eastern archeology is concerned begins with the Neolithic about 11,000 years ago. Some representatives also include the Paleolithic Age , which began in the Middle East about 2 million years ago, to their research area; as a rule, however, the discipline of prehistory and early history sees itself responsible for this. During a long time the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC. BC was seen as the end of the research area, today the realms of the Parthians and Sassanids as well as the corresponding phases of the Hellenistic , Roman and Eastern Roman occupation of the area concerned are increasingly being examined, not least for pragmatic reasons . Archaeologists now generally consider the end of the last pre-Islamic empire, the Sassanid Empire, in AD 651 to be the end of the Ancient Orient .

Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Since historical sciences in the narrower sense are tied to the existence of evaluable texts, the period to be researched for ancient oriental studies begins with the appearance of the earliest cuneiform documents of the ancient orient in southern Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. In contrast, the end of the ancient Orient is highly controversial in ancient oriental studies. For many experts, the fall of the Achaemenid Empire ended in 330 BC. The time of the ancient Orient. Others also count the time of the Seleucids and the early Arsacid Empire to their area of ​​research, as cuneiform writing only slowly disappeared at that time as part of the establishment of Hellenistic culture. In contrast to the Near Eastern archaeologists, only very few ancient orientalists also see the Sassanid Empire as an object of their subject.


The area of ​​the Ancient Orient lies predominantly in the area of ​​the subtropical deserts, which extend from the Sahara to Central Asia. Nevertheless, the Middle East shows a variety of different natural areas, which have also been subject to a constant process of change over the millennia.


The relief of the Ancient Orient was created and is still being created since the Mesozoic era through the subduction of the Arab plate under the Anatolian and Iranian-Afghan plate or the collision of the latter with the Eurasian and Indian , which led to the typical division of the large relief into two parts: In the north, high mountains and Pontic Mountains , Caucasus , Taurus , Zagros , Elburs up to the Hindu Kush and in the south the rather flat plains of the Arabian shield . Both parts are separated by the Mesopotamian trough through which the Euphrates and Tigris, the most important rivers of the ancient Orient, flow today . The tectonic activity led and leads to numerous earthquakes in the region as well as to volcanism, for example on the Ararat , but on the other hand also causes minerals to reach the earth's surface, which make the soil on site fertile.


The largest part of the Old Orient lies in the climatic zone of the subtropics , the northern border regions and Anatolia belong to the steppe climates of the temperate zone , while the south of the Arabian Peninsula still has a share of the tropics . Most regions of the Ancient East receive winter rain , only the regions in the extreme south and extreme north receive summer rain. The annual rainfall today varies between 1000 mm on the mountain slopes, 200–400 mm in the central steppe regions and below 100 mm in the deserts. As the average rainfall decreases, so does the variability of rainfall, so that in large parts of the Middle East, where the average annual rainfall is already low, the probability of several years without rain increases. The annual average temperatures differ greatly from region to region. In the Levant and in the highlands of Iran and Afghanistan they are 15–20 ° C, in the high mountains they are no more than 5–10 ° C, while on the Arabian Peninsula they are at least 25 ° C everywhere. In the arid areas, local wind systems usually prevail, which, especially in summer, lead to the formation of sandstorms and so-called dust devils .

These climatic conditions have only existed since around 3500 BC. Chr., Although possible climate changes in the meantime are difficult to grasp for methodological reasons. In the previous epochs, however, several climate changes can be detected. At the end of the last Ice Age, for example, the temperatures in the Middle East were around 10 K lower than today, with even less rainfall. From around 15,000 BC. BC the Levant and Anatolia in particular were affected by significantly more humid conditions. Between 9000 and 6000 BC In addition, lower average temperatures can be detected. After that, until about 4500 BC. BC, the amount of precipitation decreased again, and then until 3500 BC. To increase again.


With the exception of a few favorable areas, the entire Middle East suffers from a lack of water. Northern Anatolia, the coastal areas, the Hindu Kush, Mesopotamia and the adjacent chains of the Taurus and Zagros have a permanent water supply through rivers. Unlike our rivers, however, these tend to lose volume when entering arid areas, as there are hardly any other inflows that could compensate for evaporation. This leads to a steady salinization of the arid regions. The northern highlands have periodically filled rivers, in the south of the Arabian Peninsula there are predominantly dry wadis . Many waters of the Ancient Orient and especially the Arabian Peninsula flow into inland waters, which leads to the formation of salt lakes (e.g. Lake Van or Dead Sea ). Particularly in the dry areas, heavy rainfall can occasionally occur, which then leads to severe erosion when it runs off and, when dry, leaves a salt crust that makes the affected areas sterile.

The groundwater reserves in desert and steppe regions are mostly fossil and lie at a depth of several hundred meters, so that they could not be tapped with wells in ancient times. However, there are local aquifers that generate usable groundwater levels. In the northern steppes and in the pediment zones , the groundwater can be tapped through wells a few meters deep. Especially in the flat southern Mesopotamia, the water table was directly below the surface of the earth, which led to the creation of extensive marshland . Most of the springs in the ancient Orient are karst springs in the limestone mountains, from which the rivers also feed. Other sources are rare, but were particularly popular for settlement (e.g. Palmyra ).

In the early days of the Ancient Orient, the coast of the Persian Gulf was much further inland. Cities like Ur and Nippur were originally coastal cities. However, due to sedimentation, the water has now withdrawn there.

Historical development

The favored area of ​​the fertile crescent moon with important settlement areas around 7,500 BC. Chr.

The Middle East has been inhabited by hominids for around 2 million years . For example, Neanderthals populated the region around the Carmel in the Levant or the Shanidar Heights in Iran. Until about 12,000 years ago, these people lived exclusively as mobile groups of hunters and gatherers . After the end of the last ice age, however, they gradually began to transition to a sedentary way of life with agriculture and cattle breeding as the basis of subsistence in a process called Neolithization . According to current knowledge, this process took place for the first time in the world in the so-called Fertile Crescent , the central favored area of ​​the ancient Orient.


First permanent dwellings of people who met their food needs still by hunting and gathering, are from the kebaran period referred to in Palestine. This phase was followed by the so-called Natufien , an archaeological culture that was widespread in Palestine and Syria. For these people, cereals are proven to be of great importance as food, so it can be assumed that they began to domesticate wild grasses . Finds from Abu Hureyra or Beidha suggest that certain animal species were preferred to be hunted.

Pre-ceramic Neolithic

Fewer sites are known from the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic A (9500-8300 BC) following the Epipalaeolithic than from the Natufian. In the few, however, some fundamental innovations in the way of settlement became tangible. Sun-dried mud bricks were used to build the round buildings , such as the tower of Jericho . Settlements now also had communal buildings, such as in Jerf el Ahmar . The most spectacular site of the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic A is Göbekli Tepe , a monumental cult complex that was probably built by a non-sedentary population and whose beginnings go back to the early 10th millennium BC. Go back BC.

In the following period of the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic B (9100–8000 BC) people began to build rectangular houses with several rooms, for example in Çayönü . Growing settlement sizes with up to 1,000 inhabitants and at the same time an increasing number of settlements suggest a strong increase in the population, which now also farmed and raised cattle. The first significant works of art such as the statues of ʿAin Ghazal and Nevalı Çori also date from this period . The deceased of these societies were usually buried under the floors of the houses and furnished with grave goods . These often consisted of luxury goods that came from early long-distance trade .

Ceramic Neolithic

Reconstruction of a living space in Çatalhöyük

The most striking feature of the following period of the ceramic Neolithic (8000–5500 BC) is the targeted use of fired ceramics , although this was also in isolated use in previous times. The most important site of this period is Çatalhöyük , whose houses were plastered and decorated with wall paintings or painted reliefs. As in the previous epoch, people were mostly buried under living spaces, but not under storage rooms and public places. Grave goods were limited here, however, to individual graves, possibly from local elites who were now forming.

The Mesopotamian alluvial land was also settled from the ceramic Neolithic. The oldest group of finds here is the so-called Umm Dabaghiyah Sotto culture (6000–5750 BC). The people probably lived in families in rectangular houses made of rammed earth with two to three rooms. Little is known about the method of burial, except that some dismembered corpses were kept in their own ossuary, while other skeletons, especially those of children, remained under the floor, occasionally in a clay pot. Domesticated grain and animal species served as the basis for food, while only 20% of the bone finds indicate hunting activity.

From the Umm Dabaghiyah Sotto culture, the Hassuna culture (5750–5250 BC), which was widespread in northern Mesopotamia, developed, which corresponds to its predecessor in many features, but had a more highly developed ceramic. In their later layers there is often a mixture with the Samarra culture (5500-5000 BC), which emerged a little later in southern Mesopotamia , which, in addition to a more highly developed ceramics, also had more carefully laid out houses, e.g. B. in Tell as-Sawwan . These buildings were built from square-shaped adobe bricks, the basic principle of which has been preserved as a building material in the Middle East to this day.

The Hassuna culture was replaced in northern Mesopotamia by the Halaf culture (5500-5000 BC), which then expanded to the Mediterranean coast and the Zagros. The people of the Halaf culture practiced dry fields and probably lived as a nuclear family in round huts with a diameter of up to 7 meters. The most striking feature of the Halaf culture is its typical painted pottery, which was fired in two-chamber ovens. During its southern expansion, the Halaf culture met the Chalcolithic Obed culture , which eventually prevailed.


The Chalcolithic ( Copper Age ) begins with the so-called Obed culture (5000–4000 BC) and is characterized by the first extensive use of metals, especially copper and simple bronzes . The distribution area of ​​this culture includes the entire Mesopotamia as well as Syria and parts of southern Anatolia, but its ceramics have been found as far as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, a clear indication of long-distance and sea trade in ceramics. Central hall houses , which in later times mainly functioned as temples, are characteristic of the Obed culture . On an area of ​​up to 200 m² they could be inhabited by an extended family of up to 20 people. Several of these houses formed settlements that slowly assumed an urban character. Important such settlements were Tell Brak in northern Mesopotamia and especially Uruk and Eridu in southern Mesopotamia. At that time Eridu lay on an arm of the Euphrates and was the central place of worship of the water god Enki . The temple of Eridu stood on a pedestal, from which the temple towers typical of the ancient Orient later developed.

The primeval unwinding of the seal shows the "man in the net skirt" in a cultic scene

The Obed culture was followed by the Uruk culture (4000–3100 BC), sometimes called the early Sumerian period. In the Uruk period, with the development of writing and the emergence of cities and early city-states, the transition from prehistory to history took place . The most important site of discovery at this time is the city of Uruk itself, which at the end of the era reached an area of ​​around 550 hectares and was thus the largest city in the world at the time. Towards the end of the epoch, several enclaves of the Uruk culture emerged along the central Euphrates, the most famous of which is Habuba Kabira Süd . This spread of the Uruk culture, also called Uruk expansion , led to the assumption that the urban development of northern Mesopotamia was only initiated through contact with the more developed southern Mesopotamia. More recent findings, including those from Tell Brak and Hamoukar , suggest, however, that urban societies in northern Mesopotamia developed independently in a commercial context. In the Uruk period the existence of a political leadership became tangible for the first time, exercised by the priestly prince En , who found himself as a “man in a net skirt” in many depictions, especially in the newly emerging cylinder seals . For reasons that have not yet been clarified, at the end of the 4th millennium the area of ​​distribution of the Uruk culture suddenly shrinks to its core area in Mesopotamia and the time of vonemdet Nasr (3100-2900 BC) follows , from which the Sumerian high culture becomes increasingly tangible becomes.

Bronze Age cultures in the ancient Orient

Concordance of the Bronze Age cultures in the ancient Near East. The times are approximate, more precise in the individual articles. The Iron Age followed after the Bronze Age .
Neues Reich Mittleres Reich Altes Reich Frühdynastische Periode (Ägypten) Prädynastik (Ägypten) Altes Ägypten Kassiten Altbabylonisches Reich Assyrisches Reich Ur-III-Zeit Reich von Akkade Sumerische Königsliste späte Bronzezeit mittlere Bronzezeit frühe Bronzezeit Alter Orient Klassische Bronzezeit

Early Bronze Age

In the Early Bronze Age (2900–2000 BC) some of the first advanced cultures in human history emerged in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and Egypt.

Victory stele of Naram-Sîn shows him as a victorious deity

After the collapse of the Uruk culture, southern Mesopotamia isolated itself from the surrounding regions in the early dynastic period that followed (2900–2350 BC). The Sumerians living here, whose origins are unclear because of their isolated language , lived in city-states that were ruled by the local ruling dynasties of Kiš , Lagaš , Ur and Uruk . These dynasties are enumerated one after the other in the Sumerian royal list as if they had all ruled one after the other. The rulers, called LU.GAL (king) or EN.SI (city prince), were secular rulers without a priestly function and resided in palaces. The dominant feature of the cities, however, were still the temples, of which the one in Ḫafāǧī is particularly well known. Even if the Sumerian cities were united in a city center with a center in Nippur, there were frequent wars between the city-states, which are attested by numerous mass graves . The conflict between the cities of Lagaš and Umma can be traced on the basis of the vulture stele . From around 2500 BC Then there are increasingly usable written sources from the Sumerian period. Works of art from this period come from the royal tombs in Ur , where kings and their entourage were buried .

In northern Mesopotamia along the central Euphrates and Tigris, several urban centers such as Ebla and Mari formed, which dominated their rural surroundings. The little known hill crown cultures existed in the northern Levant .

From around 3000 BC Semitic nomads immigrated to Mesopotamia from the north. A descendant of these Semites succeeded in 2340 BC. To depose the last king of Kiš as cupbearer and to ascend the throne himself. He then called himself Šarrukin (true king) and founded a new capital in Akkad , after which the following epoch is called the Akkad period (2340-2100 BC). With an aggressive expansion policy, Sargon and his successors succeeded for the first time in establishing a large territorial state that encompassed all of Mesopotamia, large parts of Syria and smaller parts of Anatolia and Iran. Programmatically they called themselves “King of the four regions of the world” and allowed themselves to be deified from Naram-Sîn . The politically unstable Akkad Empire experienced numerous uprisings, reported by royal inscriptions, and began to collapse again after about 150 years under the pressure of immigrating Gutaean tribes , before it broke down around 2100 BC. Chr. Finally disappeared.

With the collapse of the Akkadian Empire, the Sumerian city-states regained influence. The 2nd dynasty of Lagaš ruled one after the other and the 3rd dynasty of Ur , which gave it its name for the Ur III period (2100–2000 BC) . The centers of this empire, which covered around 50 percent of the area of ​​the Akkada region, were the ancient cities of Ur and Uruk. In particular, the founder of the Ur-Namma dynasty endeavored successfully to merge northern (Akkad) and southern southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) into one unit; today we call this unity Babylonia . With the Codex Ur-Nammu , the oldest known collection of laws of mankind comes from his time . The infiltration of Amorite tribes and the destruction of Urs by Elam also led to the fall of this empire after around 100 years, with which the Early Bronze Age in Mesopotamia ended.

Indus Valley

In roughly the same period, a high culture developed in the far east of the Near East, which is known as the Indus culture (2800–1800 BC) due to its location along the Indus . A typical feature of this culture is the relatively simultaneous emergence of very similar cities, such as Mohenjo-Daro , within a radius of around 1000 kilometers. With the Indus script, the Indus culture developed its own notation system, which has not yet been deciphered. Therefore, no historical statements about this culture are possible. After about 800 years, the Indus civilization increasingly collapsed again, so that it lasted until 1800 BC. Was completely gone. The triggers for this are unclear.

Middle Bronze Age

The Middle Bronze Age experienced from 2000 BC. After around a thousand years of prosperity, the Sumerian culture began to decline and at the same time the triumph of the Semites.

The Hammurabi stele is the most famous work of this era

In connection with the fall of Urs, Išbi-Erra , former governor Urs, succeeded in declaring himself king in Isin and establishing a dynasty. Together with the Larsa dynasty, which emerged a little later and compete with it , they gave this transitional epoch the name Isin Larsa Period (2000–1800 BC). While the Sumerian culture was still strongly developed at the beginning of this period, it increasingly disappeared in favor of the Akkadian. In the second half of this epoch a dynasty of infiltrated Amorites was founded in the ancient city of Babylon .

Several competing urban centers also developed in the north of the country. These were Assur and Mari in northern Mesopotamia, and Jamchad and Ebla in Syria . At that time, Assur was an important trading power, which had several trading posts (so-called Karums ), especially in Anatolia , the best known of which is Karum Kaneš . King Šamši-Adad I finally founded a territorial empire in the early 18th century, which is anachronistically referred to as the ancient Assyrian empire to name the entire epoch . In 1792 he succeeded in conquering Maris, where he later installed his son Jasmah-Adad as governor, his second son Išme-Dagan I became governor in Ekallatum . For the first time he carried the title “ Šar kiššatim ” (king of all) for an Assyrian ruler . The kingdom of Šamši-Adads I quickly disintegrated and Zimri-Lim came to power in Mari. His palace is one of the most famous in the ancient Orient.

Hammurapi , the 6th king of the Amorritic 1st Dynasty of Babylon , best known for his code of law , conquered large parts of southern Mesopotamia in several campaigns during the same period and united it with northern Mesopotamia at the end of his reign, Mari fell in 1760. This was the first time since the Akkadian era again a territorial empire that encompassed all of Mesopotamia. This old Babylonian empire (1800–1595 BC) began to gradually disintegrate immediately after his death due to constant unrest, until a campaign by King Muršili I destroyed the capital of the empire and thus ended the Middle Bronze Age. Subsequently, the Kassites took power in Babylon.

Late Bronze Age

Hittite period
The ancient Orient around 1220 BC Chr.

The Hittites, Indo-European language bearers, were probably around the end of the 3rd millennium BC. BC / beginning of the 2nd millennium BC Immigrated to Asia Minor. Under strong Hurrian and Hattic influences, crystallized in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. The great empire of the Hittites, to which large parts of Anatolia and at times also the northern half of today's Syria belonged. 1531 BC The Hittites plundered Babylon under Muršili I. 1274 BC The Hittites presumably triumphed over the expanding Egyptian Empire in the battle of Qadeš . The contract between Ramses II and Ḫattušili III. is the oldest known peace treaty in the world. The Hittite empire ends at the end of the 12th century BC. The third major power at this time was the empire of Mitanni , which ruled northern Syria.

Around the 15th century BC In Phenicia on the Mediterranean coast, city-states were formed, such as the sea cities Sidon , Tire , Byblos and Arwad , which founded trading colonies throughout the Mediterranean. Carthage in what is now Tunisia later became the most important settlement .

Central Assyrian Period

In the 14th century BC Assyria , which was able to free itself from Mitanni's supremacy , was strengthened as a new power .

The city of Assur was on the upper Tigris. Historians suggest that the city was initially under the rule of Akkad. Information in the Assyrian king list suggests that the first Assyrians were nomads. At the head stood the king, who also saw himself as the priest of the god Assur . In addition, the merchants exercised an important power. Assyria, located on important trade routes , traded with Iran, Babylon and Anatolia. In the 18th century BC Chr. Founded Samsi-Adad I. in northern Mesopotamia an Assyrian empire. In the first half of the 17th century BC Assyria fell apart and the ancient Assyrian Empire ended. The area became part of Hanilgabat.

Assyria regained its influence under Aššur-uballiṭ I (1353 to 1318 BC). Numerous conquests led to an economic boom. The king Tukulti-Ninurta I saw himself as a representative of the god Assyria. He called himself ruler of the four continents and thus made his claim to power clear. The era of the Central Assyrian Empire ended with his death .

Sea peoples

From 1250 to 1100 BC A climate change occurred in the region of the eastern Mediterranean, leading to extremely dry phases. In the late, late Bronze Age, from approx. Major changes in sea trade (see also Ship of Antiquity ) in the Mediterranean. These difficulties already showed with the Hittites around 1210 BC. First effects because Egypt supported the Hittites, who had got into a supply shortage, with grain deliveries. Apparently the economic situation could not be stabilized for long. Only a few years later, the Hittites were already looking for new settlement options. Archaeological finds and written documents show the emerging collapse of the entire trade as far as the Aegean region . In summary, the invasive groups are covered by the term sea ​​peoples . They are a collective name for the "foreign peoples" mentioned in Egyptian sources of the New Kingdom , which at the beginning of the 12th century BC. Chr. , According to reports of Ramses III. became a serious threat to Egypt. Probably the same forces that existed between 1194 and 1186 BC. BC Ugarit attacked and destroyed.

Iron age

Neo-Assyrian time

The empire experienced a final boom with King Aššur-dan II (935 to 912 BC), who conquered numerous Aramaic city ​​kingdoms. The kings Aššur-nâṣir-apli II. (883 to 859 BC) and Salmānu-ašarēd III. (858 to 824 BC) extended the Assyrian sphere of influence to Syria . After a few setbacks and internal disputes, Tiglat-pileser III succeeded. (745 to 727 BC) to conquer Babylon, Phenicia, Palestine and Israel. After the confusion of the throne, 721 BC took over. BC Sargon II. The rule. He ruled until 705 BC. BC Under him and his successors the Neo-Assyrian empire reached its greatest extent. The Aramaic language and writing became more and more popular as the lingua franca .

50 years later, Azarhaddon (681 to 669 BC) conquered Egypt. Ashurbanipal (669 to 627 BC) was the last important ruler. Its library is an important source for the history of Mesopotamia.

After Assurbanipal's death, the empire fell into disrepair, until a coalition of Babylonians and Medes turned against the Assyrian empire. Gradually, the allied empires were able to defeat the Assyrian army in several battles. The Assyrian royal cities were captured and destroyed one after the other: Assyria 614 BC. BC, Nineveh 612 BC And Harran 609 BC The history of the Assyrian Empire ends with the fall of Harran.

Late Babylonian Period

The united Medes and Babylonians defeated 609 BC. The armies of Assyria. Assyria and Nineveh were completely destroyed. 586 BC Chr. Was Judah conquered by Babylon, Jerusalem and the First Temple was destroyed, it started the Babylonian exile of the Jews . This ended in 539 BC. With the conquest of Babylon by the Persians.

Achaemenid period

The founder of the Persian empire of the Achaemenids was Cyrus II. Cyrus was founded shortly after 560 BC. BC King of Anschan , a region in the Persis , which was under the sovereignty of the Medes.

Cyrus succeeded around 550 BC. To shake off this supremacy. In the years that followed, Cyrus conquered the Medes Empire and thus laid the foundations for the great Persian Empire. Then the Lydians were defeated, which brought Asia Minor largely under Persian rule. 540/539 BC Babylonia also fell to Cyrus. Cyrus's successor, Darius I , organized the administration of the empire through satraps and strengthened the economy. He conquered parts of northern India and Thrace and 526 BC. All of Egypt.

After an uprising by the Greeks of Asia Minor (the so-called Ionian uprising , around 500 to 494 BC), the Persians launched a punitive expedition, which, however, ended in 490 BC. Were beaten by the Athenians at marathon . This was the beginning of the so-called Persian Wars , which were to become a determining element of the relations between the Greek Poleis (city-states) and the Persian Empire. Around 449 BC It came to the so-called Callias Peace (which was controversial in research) , which cemented the status quo : The Persians accepted the independence of the Greeks of Asia Minor and viewed the Aegean Sea as a Greek sea, for which the Greeks did not undertake any warlike actions against Persia.

Artaxerxes III. was the last important great king of the Achaemenids . After his death in 336 BC Alexander the Great conquered from 334 BC. The Persian empire. The last Achaemenid, Darius III. , was founded by one of his subordinates in 330 BC. Killed in BC.

Hellenistic period

Alexander the Great conquered in 336 BC BC today's Anatolia and brought to 323 BC Chr. Almost the entire Persian Empire and Egypt under his control. After the death of Alexander, Seleucus I gained control of an empire that included large parts of the Middle East, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus region, the Seleucid Empire . In the east, the Parthians succeeded from 240 BC. To take possession of the northeast of Iran.

Roman and Parthian times

187 BC The Romans conquered the northern provinces of the Seleucids and weakened the empire with this. Under Mithridates I (171 to 139/138 BC) the Parthian Arsacids conquered Mesopotamia and the Graeco-Bactrian Empire succumbed to the Kushana and other enemies. The Romans and Arsacids then fought from around 80 BC. Around the supremacy in the Middle East. Around 64 BC BC the Romans took control of Syria, which rose to become the richest Roman province after Egypt. The ongoing fighting between the Romans and the Parthians was very changeable. Even if the Romans succeeded in invading the Parthian Empire several times (the de facto capital Seleukeia / Ctesiphon was repeatedly besieged or conquered), they were never able to take permanent possession of this area. The last Arsakid ruler of Iran, Artabanos IV. , Was killed after a rebellion by the governor of Persis, Ardashir I , in the battle of Hurmuzgan in 224 AD . Ardaschir came to terms with Parthian noble families and founded the New Persian Empire of the Sassanids, the last pre-Islamic oriental empire that was to be a powerful rival of the Roman Empire throughout its existence. The Arsacids were able to hold their own in Armenia until 428.

Sassanid period

The Sassanid Empire and the late ancient Mediterranean world around the time of Chosraus I.

After the actual division of the Roman Empire in 395, the province of Syria (now subdivided into smaller areas) became part of the Eastern Roman Empire . For a long time, northern Mesopotamia was fought over between East Current and the Sassanid Empire, which had regained strength after a crisis around 490 (see, among others, Justinian ; Herakleios ). In contrast to the Parthians, which were initially more Hellenistic, the Sassanids explicitly linked to the ancient oriental tradition of Persia. Under Chosrau I, 531 to 579, the Sassanid Empire reached its climax: It was able to assert itself against the Romans and at the same time secure the border against the steppe peoples. Culturally, too, this was the most important phase of Sassanid Persia. But Chosrau's successors could not maintain this condition. His grandson Chosrau II was driven out by a usurper in 590 and reinstated in 591 with Eastern Roman support. After the death of Emperor Maurikios in 603, Chosrau II attacked the Eastern Roman Empire; As the first Persian king in a millennium, he tried to permanently subjugate the whole of the Middle East to his rule. By 619 the Persian troops had conquered Syria and Egypt, sacked Asia Minor and threatened Constantinople. The old Achaemenid Empire seemed to have risen again. But Emperor Herakleios, in alliance with the Turks, managed a successful campaign against the Sassanids, who were defeated in the battle of Nineveh . Chosrau II was overthrown and killed soon after, while Ostrom got the lost territories back in 629. The Sassanid Empire was completely bled to death by the long wars with Rome, but above all by the subsequent civil war with constantly changing rulers.

From 634 the Arabs from Medina conquered all of Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia and finally the entire Sassanid Empire (see Islamic expansion ). The last Sassanid ruler, Yazdegerd III. , was killed in 651 near Merw in northeastern Iran, with which the last ancient oriental state formation was lost.

Ethnicities and cultures

In the course of its millennia-long history, the ancient Orient produced a multitude of cultures and " ethnic groups ". The last term in particular is problematic because only Israel has developed an understanding of an ethnic identity that is primarily based on a common (salvation) history. As a rule, however, people in the ancient Orient name themselves according to their geographical origin or the social group to which they belong. Another problem is that prehistoric cultures are grouped together based on their material legacies, which, however, cannot be equated with a single ethnic group.

Prehistoric cultures

The first conclusions about cultural groups can be made from the Chalcolithic period. Mesopotamia was inhabited by people who were probably neither Sumerians nor Semites. Remnants of their otherwise unknown language are contained in old city names that end in Mesopotamia with all / ill, such as babillu (Babylon) or Urbillu ( Erbil ). In the West, however, the endings at / it / ut are widespread, for example with Kaḫat or Ugarit . To what extent these endings allow conclusions to be drawn about ethnic units is questionable. Individual words of a dialect spoken in southern Mesopotamia (e.g. SAN.GA = priest) continued to be used in the Sumerian language , but a different dialect or language was probably used in Assyria and on the Zagros flank. What is certain, however, is that these Chalcolithic cultures had already reached a high level of development.


The first tangible ethnic group are the Sumerians, whose origin has not yet been clarified. They used an isolated language and called their country KI.EN.GIR (cultural land), the term “Sumerians” goes back to the later Akkadian name for this region “Šumeru”. The Sumerians probably immigrated to Mesopotamia in the 4th millennium BC, although their route of migration is as unknown as their place of origin. Attempts to relate their language to other languages ​​have so far not been convincing. The total distribution area of ​​the Sumerians was limited to the south of Mesopotamia to about the height of Nippur.


The Semites are the largest ethnic group in the Ancient Orient and immigrated to the region in several waves. According to one hypothesis, they come from northwest Africa, from where they came from in the 5th millennium BC. Migrated to the east. Written mentions of the Semites date back to the 3rd millennium, but ancient Semitic loanwords in Sumerian indicate that the first Semites invaded Mesopotamia at least at the same time as the Sumerians. The oldest written documents of the Semites, in Eastern Semitic Akkadian , date from the middle of the 3rd millennium, including from Ebla. The Akkadians formed various regional groups, of which the Assyrians are the most famous.

At the end of the 3rd millennium, another Semitic group immigrated to Mesopotamia with the northwest Semitic Amorites . With a few exceptions, they mostly formed a lower social class, which, however, dissolved as an independent group from the middle of the 2nd millennium and became part of the local population. In the Levant, on the other hand, these groups, who lived largely nomadic or semi-nomadic, increasingly prevailed. Here, among other things, they produced Ugaritic . After the sea ​​peoples storm and the ensuing turmoil, the Phoenicians and Canaanites appear in the same region , including the Hebrews . During this period, from around 1300 BC. BC, another Semitic group appears with the Arameans , who were involved in numerous wars with the Assyrians. The deportation policy of the Assyrians meant that their language was distributed throughout the Middle East and became the regional lingua franca in the 1st millennium . The south-west Semitic southern Arabs settled in the south of the Arabian Peninsula . Become tangible. However, nothing is known about the previous time. Groups related to the southern Arabs settled in Nubia , where they became the ancestors of the Ethiopians . The western and northern Arabs settled in the central areas of the Arabian Peninsula and , as Bedouins , repeatedly fought wars with Assyria and Babylonia from 853 onwards. Overall, the Arabs did not exert much influence on the history of the Ancient Orient before they brought about its ultimate downfall with the Islamic expansion.

East Caucasians

From the end of the 3rd millennium BC From the northeastern border of Mesopotamia, the Hurrites appear as a new group in the ancient Orient, from where they spread to northern Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Levant in the second millennium. Until the end of the Late Bronze Age, with the exception of Babylonia and all of the core areas of the Ancient Orient and even Egypt, were temporarily under Hurrian rule. In the kingdom of Ḫanilgabat they formed the most important and largest group of the population. Their language is still barely understandable, so that their story has not been finally clarified. Many scholars believe that this language is related to the modern languages ​​in the Caucasus, which would suggest an origin from the eastern regions of the Caucasus. The only language that is definitely related to Hurrian is that of the Urartians , who settled in Armenia from the 2nd millennium and later established the Urartu Empire there. Only in the eighth century BC These then penetrate as far as Syria before they are destroyed by the Scythians around 600 BC .

Elamites and hill tribes

The Elamites settled in southern Iran no later than the 4th millennium, where the transition to historicity took place around the same time as Mesopotamia. From then on, until the destruction of Elam by the Assyrians in the middle of the 7th century BC, their language was used. In use that cannot be associated with any other language. Little is known about the Elamite ethnic group. Apart from the Elamites, Iran did not produce any written cultures. These are therefore only known through their mention from Mesopotamian written sources and often cannot even be linked to the archaeological finds. These settled in the Zagros and neighboring regions nations are represented as ruthless warriors in the sources, twice they could get stuck for a long time in Babylonia: So the invasion led by Gutians 2200 v. To the collapse of the empire of Akkad. They then established an empire in the north and east of southern Mesopotamia. Their supremacy is described as terrible in Sumerian sources. In later times, Assyrian inscriptions repeatedly tell of wars against Qûtu and Lullubi , the descendants of the Guteans .

After the destruction of Babylon by the Hittites, another ethnic group who had immigrated from the Zagros came to power there, the Kassites . The dynasty they founded was able to hold onto power for around 450 years. Since their kings used the Akkadian language, almost nothing is known about the Kassite language. Gradually they were absorbed by the Babylonian population. In Iran, however, they remained as an independent group that often waged wars against the Hurrites in the 1st millennium.


Introductions to the ancient Orient
  • Rainer Albertz et al. (Ed.): Early high cultures. Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Minoans, Phoenicians, Persians (Theiss Illustrierte Weltgeschichte), Verlag Theiss, Aalen 2003, ISBN 3-8062-1756-4 .
  • Wolfram von Soden : The Old Orient. An introduction , Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2006 (the only comprehensive but outdated introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Studies and the Ancient Near East), ISBN 978-3-534-18558-0 .
Lexicons, reference books and manuals
  • Piotr Bienkowski, Alan Millard (Ed.): Dictionary of the Ancient Near East. British Museum Press, London 2000; University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2000.
  • Peter Fibiger Bang, Walter Scheidel (Eds.): The Oxford Handbook of the State in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013.
  • Rykle Borger : Handbuch der Keilschriftliteratur , 3 vol., Berlin 1967–1975.
  • Real Lexicon of Assyriology and Near Eastern Archeology , founded by Erich Ebeling and Bruno Meissner , continued by Ernst Weidner , Wolfram von Soden and Dietz-Otto Edzard , edited by Michael P. Streck , Berlin 1932ff. (The great reference work of the discipline, not yet completed; however, the first volumes no longer reflect the current state of research.)
  • Michael P. Streck (Ed.): Languages ​​of the Old Orient , Scientific Book Society, 2nd edition, Darmstadt 2006, ISBN 3-534-17996-X .
Geography and regional studies of the ancient Orient
  • Eckart Ehlers: Iran. Basics of a geographic culture. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1980, ISBN 3-534-06211-6 .
  • Eugen Wirth : Agriculturalography of Iraq. Institute for Geography and Economic Geography at the University of Hamburg, Hamburg 1962.
  • Eugen Wirth: Syria, a geographic study of the country. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1971.
Translated texts on the ancient Orient
  • Walter Beyerlin: Religious History Textbook on the Old Testament (Grundrisse zum Old Testament, Vol. 1), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1985, ISBN 3-525-51659-2 .
  • Stephanie Dalley: Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others , Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989, ISBN 0-19-814397-4 .
  • Adam Falkenstein ; Wolfram von Soden: Sumerian and Akkadian hymns and prayers , Artemis-Verlag, Zurich 1953.
  • Benjamin R. Foster: From Distant Days. Myths, Tales and Poetry of Ancient Mesopotamia , Bethesda 1995, ISBN 1-883053-09-9 .
  • Benjamin R. Foster: Before the Muses. An Anthology of Akkadian Literature , 2 vols., 2nd edition, Bethesda 1996, ISBN 1-883053-76-5 .
  • Bernd Janowski ; Gernot Wilhelm : Texts from the environment of the Old Testament . New episode , Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Gütersloh 2004 ff.
  • Otto Kaiser (Ed.): Texts from the environment of the Old Testament , 3 vol., Mohn Verlag, Gütersloh 1982–1997.
  • Stefan Maul : The Gilgamesh Epos , Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52870-8 (latest and currently best translation).
  • William L. Moran: The Amarna Letters , Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1992, ISBN 0-8018-4251-4 .
  • James B. Pritchard : Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament , Princeton University Press, Princeton 1969, ISBN 0-691-03503-2 .
  • Horst Steible : Die Altsumerischen Bau- und Weihinschrift , 2 vols., Steiner Franz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1982, ISBN 3-515-02590-1 .
Complete representations of the history of the ancient Orient
The Relations of the Ancient Orient with its Neighbors
  • Wolfgang Helck : The relations of Egypt to the Middle East in the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC Chr. , Verlag Harrassowitz, 2nd, improved edition, Wiesbaden 1971, ISBN 3-447-01298-6 .
  • Wolfgang Helck: The relationship between Egypt and the Middle East and the Aegean until the 7th century BC Chr. , New edition reviewed and edited by R. Drenckhahn, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1995, ISBN 3-534-12904-0 .
Social and Economic History of the Ancient Orient
Art history of the ancient Orient
Religious history of the ancient Orient
  • Brigitte Groneberg : The gods of the two-stream country , Artemis and Winkler publishing house, Düsseldorf, Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-7608-2306-8 .
  • Peter W. Haider; Manfred Hutter; Siegfried Kreuzer (Hrsg.): Religious history of Syria. From the early days to the present , Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1996; 2001, ISBN 3-17-012533-8 .
  • Manfred Hutter: Religions in the environment of the Old Testament I. Babylonians, Syrians, Persians (Kohlhammer study books theology, vol. 4.1), Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne 1996, ISBN 3-17-012041-7 .
  • Bernd Janowski; Klaus Koch; Gernot Wilhelm: Relationships in the history of religion between Asia Minor, Northern Syria and the Old Testament (= OBO 129), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1993; 1997, ISBN 3-525-53764-6 .
  • Herbert Niehr: Religions in Israel's Environment. Introduction to the north-west Semitic religions of Syria-Palestine (New Real Bible, Supplementary Volume 5), Echter Verlag, Würzburg 1998, ISBN 3-429-02315-7 .
  • Helmer Ringgren; Walter Beyerlin: The Religions of the Ancient Orient (ATD supplementary series), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1979, ISBN 3-525-51662-2 .
  • Hartmut Gese, Maria Höfner , Kurt Rudolph (eds.): The religions of Old Syria, Altarabia and the Mandaeans (= The religions of mankind . Volume 10.2). Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1970, ISBN 3-17-071177-6 .
Reception of the Ancient Orient
  • Brigitte Pedde: Orient Reception. II. Middle East / Art. In: H. Cancik, H. Schneider, M. Landfester (Eds.): Der Neue Pauly . Volume 15/1 La-Ot. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2001, ISBN 3-476-01485-1 , Sp. 1209-1221.
  • Brigitte Pedde: Ancient oriental animal motifs in medieval art of the Orient and Europe. VDG, Weimar 2009, ISBN 978-3-89739-551-0 .

Web links

Commons : Ancient Orient  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. for example: Marlies Heinz (2009: p. 3)
  2. for example: Dieter Vieweger (2005: p. 125).
  3. cf. Wolfram von Soden (1992: p. 1).
  4. During excavations, the Near East Archeology also produces data for which Ancient History , Classical , Byzantine and Roman Provincial Archeology are responsible.
  5. The southern Iraqi marshland was only drained during the First Gulf War under Saddam Hussein.
  6. The dates are only rough values, overlaps between different periods are caused by measuring errors in the age determination and age differences between the sites of different settlements.
  7. ^ Bettina Bader: Egypt and the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age: The Archaeological Evidence. Egyptian Archeology, August 2015, DOI: 10.1093 / oxfordhb / 9780199935413.013.35 PDF , see also Early Bronze Age in the Near Eastern Cultures , Middle Bronze Age
  8. Karin Kloosterman: Ancient pollen yields dramatic finds at Sea of ​​Galilee. Israel21c, November 10, 2013, accessed December 29, 2013 .