Mesopotamien or Zweistromland ( ancient Greek Μεσοποταμία Mesopotamia ; Aramaic ܒܬ ܢܗܪܝܢ Beth Nahrin ; Arabic بلاد الرافدين, DMG Bilād ar-rāfidain ; Persian میان رودان Miyān roodan ; Kurdish / Turkish Mezopotamya ) describes the cultural landscape in the Middle East , which isshapedby the large river systems of the Euphrates and Tigris .
Together with Anatolia , the Levant in the narrower sense and the Indus Valley , it is one of the most important cultural development centers of the ancient Orient . Together with the Levant, it forms a large part of the so-called fertile crescent , in which people settled for the first time permanently. City-states, kingdoms developed - innovations for mankind with the inventions of writing, the first legal system, the first anthems, the brick, the chariot, beer and ceramics: evolutions in urban development, the history of culture and technology. In the south with the Sumerians , interspersed with Gutean royal dynasties, the first advanced civilization in human history developed . They were followed by the Akkadians , Babylonians , in the north the kingdom of Mittani , in central Mesopotamia the Assyrians , then the Median kingdom, which conquered the Assyrian empire in a union with the Babylonians. The Medes held a great empire for almost 200 years before the Persians, for the first time, a culture developed outside of Mesopotamia gained permanent control over the region. The Persians were followed by the Macedonians , Parthians , Sassanids , Arabs and finally the Ottomans , whose rule was briefly interrupted in the 17th century by the Persian Safavids .
The country, especially in its water availability , offered the people living there very different settlement conditions at all times, which had a massive influence on the historical development.
The term Mesopotamia supposedly goes back to Alexander the Great , who used it to describe the land “between the rivers” (Greek: μέσο ποταμοι, méso potamói ) Euphrates and Tigris north of today's Baghdad to the southern flank of the Taurus Mountains . Mesopotamia was therefore mostly only called the northern part of the area in ancient times, while the southern part was called Babylonia . The only surviving text from antiquity that relates the term Mesopotamia to the entire area from the sources to the Persian Gulf comes from Claudius Ptolemy . His work, Geographike Hyphegesis , had such a great impact in antiquity and the Middle Ages that his definition is also used today: When Mesopotamia is spoken of, one usually means the entire region, from southeast Turkey to the Persian Gulf.
The Akkadians already knew a very similar name ( Akkadian : mātum birit idiglat u purratim , "land between Tigris and Euphrates"), which also included the alluvial land south of today's Baghdad. They divided this country into a northern part (Akkadian: māt aššur , " Assyria ") and a southern part (Akkadian: māt akkadi , "Akkadian country"), which Greek authors then referred to as Babylonia , which is still used today . In the third millennium, this southern part was again divided into a northern part (Akkadian: māt akkadi , Sumerian : kiURI ) and a southern part (Akkadian: šumeru , Sumerian: kiEN.GIR ).
While politics and the press today often equate the term Mesopotamia with the national territory of Iraq , the sciences that deal with the exploration of the Ancient Orient mostly use a definition that applies to the river systems of the Euphrates and Tigris , their tributaries and the lower reaches of the Karun is based. Thus, southeast Turkey , northeast Syria , Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, northeast Kuwait and western Iran have a share in Mesopotamia.
The natural borders of Mesopotamia are mostly the eastern edge of the valley of the Zagros and Taurus Mountains , the coastal area of the Persian Gulf and the beginning Syrian-Arab desert. The source regions of the Euphrates and Tigris, on the other hand, do not belong geographically to Mesopotamia. With the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the historical concept of Mesopotamia, which from then on was no longer politically independent, also ended. From the perspective of Assyriology , the following epochs with their new political state structures do not fall under the name Mesopotamia. Ancient historians, on the other hand, use the term for the following centuries up to the end of late antiquity , as it was the common name for the region between the Euphrates and Tigris at this time (see above). When the north of this area came under Roman control around 200 AD, the emperors founded the province of Mesopotamia there , which existed until the 7th century.
Political areas of influence
Assyria, Babylonia and Sumer had far-reaching political relations with the neighboring countries, some of which were also declared provinces of the Mesopotamian core countries.
The oldest traces of archaeological settlement can be found in the middle of the 11th millennium BC. On the middle Euphrates in Mureybet , where buried bull skulls were found in round houses. It can be assumed with certainty that similar conditions existed in neighboring regions, since the nature of the finds represent the typical signs of the entire Mesopotamia. From the 10th millennium BC There are modeled female figures to be found. Obsidian in small quantities suggests trade with Cappadocia . The obsidian blades found are evidence of an early trade.
By 8700 BC An architectural progress can be observed. The formerly round dwellings were transformed into angular houses that now also have several rooms. Grain residues in silos indicate the first agricultural activities. From around 7700 BC. All houses in which human skulls have been found are angular in style. The special arrangement shows similarities to the cult of the dead in Jericho . From the 7th millennium BC The oldest evidence of ceramics comes from the 4th century BC . The objects show changing motifs and techniques, which indicate a long development process over several centuries. From the 6th millennium BC Baked clay can be detected for the first time in prehistoric models of the potter's wheel near Kirkuk. In Mesopotamia u. a. invented the seven-day week, determined a system of measurement that defines a circle with 360 degrees.
Settlement began between 5000 and 4000 BC. In the Obed period . Farmers settled the land between Babylon and the Persian Gulf and the first agriculture was practiced. A division of labor emerged, the potter's wheel was invented, and temples made of mud bricks were built. Since the Uruk period (4000–3100 BC) there were cities and the beginnings of writing , which developed from a system of pictograms to Sumerian cuneiform .
The most important places in the valley plains of Central Mesopotamia were Sippar , Dur-Kurigalzu and Opis . The area was limited by the lower Diyala and the upper reaches of the lower Zab . Mainly grain was grown . The most important industry, however, was pitch and tar production in the Opis region.
A special role played in the 4th and 3rd millennium BC. Also the northern Mesopotamia, which is colloquially sometimes referred to as Upper Mesopotamia. This included the areas on the upper reaches of the Euphrates, Tigris and Habur . Important cities arose there, such as Wasshukani, Nuzi / Kirkuk, Mari , Ebla , Hama , Hamoukar , Tell Halaf / Aleppo , Nabada , Ninive , Urfa , Harran , Nisibis and also Aššur (city) .
In the second half of the 3rd millennium BC In addition, a uniform culture can be recorded in this area, which among other things was characterized by a standardized acropolis complex with a palace and temples in the center of the settlement hill.
Near Kirkuk, in the village of Jarmo , the first clay cups and vessels for everyday use were made: around 5000 BC. BC, also as a mass product, an unbelievable innovation for mankind, who previously drank water for hundreds of thousands of years with their hands or from processed animal skins.
From Sumer to the end of the New Babylonian Empire
Most of the known history of Mesopotamia has been marked by spurts of immigration. Most of the time, the region split up into numerous city-states, similar to ancient Greece , under kings who were temporarily at war with one another. There were phases that were dominated by great empires and others in which powers from neighboring regions waged campaigns of conquest.
The chronology is based on the Assyrian King List , the Eponym List and the Eponym Chronicles . Most of the Babylonian kings (according to the Sumerian and Babylonian King List A ) can also be incorporated into this system through a series of synchronisms . In Babylonia, year names (after an important event) were in use until the reign of Kuri-galzu I , after which only the reign of the king was usually used as a reference.
Synchronisms are also known: Šamši-Adad I of Assyria died after the 10th year of Hammurabi's reign, the 17th palu is usually assumed. Ammi-saduqa , king of Babylon, ruled 146 years after Hammurabi acceded to the throne. Babylon fell from Šamšu-ditana to the Hittites under Mursili I in the year 31. From observations of Venus in the time of Ammisaduqa an attempt was made to derive absolute data. The event in question was repeated every eight years. There are also reports of two lunar eclipses during the original III dynasty.
Archaeological finds also became sparse. Many old Babylonian settlements were abandoned. According to Gasche et al. (1998, 7), however, this process started before the fall of Babylon and seems to have been associated with a change in the hydrological system during the reign of Samsuiluna. Ur , Uruk and Larsa on the Euphrates were affected, but Girsu and Lagaš were also abandoned, and then also Isin and Nippur in the 30th year of Šamšu-iluna's reign . The range of ceramic shapes also decreases significantly (Gasche et al. 1996, 43). The area east of the Tigris seems to have been less affected.
The first written documents in southern Mesopotamia are in Sumerian . The origin of the Sumerian language is so far unknown and it is currently linguistically considered an isolated language . Alleged connections to Central Asian languages, from which some claim that Sumerians immigrated to Mesopotamia from the east, where they suspect the roots of these languages, are nowadays rejected by experts. There is also no archaeological evidence of such immigration. The theory that southern Mesopotamia was still below sea level in the Neolithic can no longer be supported, even if the erosion as a result of agricultural use and overgrazing in the Taurus Mountains and Zagros resulted in a heavy soil application.
End of the 4th millennium BC Technologies for a more effective irrigation of the fields were developed and established, so that for the first time larger cities could develop. The widely ramified canal system was organized by so-called priests and built together (" temple economy ").
Crafts and trade gained more and more importance and the cities became more and more prosperous. Each of these settlements was politically independent.
The increasing demands on the organization and the temple economy conditioned and favored the development of a script. Initially, the font was only used for bookkeeping. The most important city of the Sumerians was Uruk , their ruler was Gilgamesh . The epic of this hero is considered to be the oldest surviving literary document known to man. 2700 BC The cuneiform script was brought to perfection in its possibilities.
From 3000 BC BC nomads immigrated from the north into southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian list of kings , which also reports of a flood , documents these migrations through the appearance of Semitic names. Historians refer to this epoch as the Early Dynastic Period, which began in the 23rd century BC. BC ended.
In this epoch the unity of spiritual and worldly power broke. Palaces were built for the kings who were not just for representation. From about 2210 BC. Until 2004 BC BC Sumer was ruled by the Gutean, Indo-European conquerors from northern Mesopotamia.
The kings of Sumer were called lugal (= "great man"). The rulers also demonstrated their claim to power through their graves by letting themselves be buried with their entourage. Several of these royal tombs were found near Ur .
Other inventions that were of decisive importance for the economy were the wheel and the potter's wheel ( late Uruk period ). Discoveries of clay cups and everyday tableware in the village of Jarmo, near the city of Kirkuk, are archaeologically dated to around 5000 BC. Chr.
Agreement and heyday under Akkad
With Sargon of Akkad a new era began (around 2235–2094 BC). He created the first great Middle Eastern Empire by uniting the many city-states. His sphere of influence included all of Mesopotamia as well as parts of Syria , Iran and Asia Minor . The city of Akkad , the remains of which have still not been found, became his seat of government. The Akkadian language supplanted Sumerian as a spoken language; however, Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary, and scientific language. The conquests of Sargon led to economic and cultural links with the conquered peoples and the new neighbors. Access to the Persian Gulf gave rise to a flourishing maritime trade.
The Akkad Empire did not last long. Numerous uprisings and especially the conquerors of the Guteans from northern Mesopotamia ended the epoch.
This first great empire under one ruler, formed as a territorial state with a central capital instead of the kingdoms which until then had only been city-states, remained alive in the myths of the peoples who later settled in this area. Even the subsequent Assyrians reported about Sargon's empire in their historical works.
New Sumerian Empire of the Ur III dynasty
After almost 100 years, the Guteans were expelled and the Sumerian city-states regained power and greatness. The city of Ur became the center again. Sumerian became the administrative language and the first ziggurats emerged .
This period was characterized by a tight administration and the establishment of legal regulations ( Codex Ur-Nammu ). It is the last epoch shaped by the Sumerians. Their decline is marked by the waning power of the cities, which should give another nomadic people their chance to rise (see also: List of the kings of Ur ).
Under King Hammurabi , in the Old Babylonian period (2000–1595 BC), the city of Babylon became the focus of current affairs and became so important for the region that the Greeks subsequently referred to all of Mesopotamia as Babylonia . Hammurabi is known because he wrote one of the first traditional collections of laws, the so-called Codex Hammurapi . In 280 paragraphs it regulated aspects of civil law, criminal and administrative law. It handed down numerous individual decisions, which were often characterized by great severity. Historians are not sure how long this set of laws was observed.
Empire of the Assyrians
In the 18th century BC Šamši-Adad I ruled a larger empire in northern Mesopotamia, but in the first half of the 17th century BC. Assyria fell apart again, ending the ancient Assyrian Empire.
In the 14th century BC Assyria strengthened again. The capital Aššur was on the upper Tigris. Historians suggest that the city was initially under the rule of Akkad , while the first Assyrians were nomads.
At the head of the Assyrians stood the king, who also saw himself as the representative of the god Aššur . In addition, the merchants exercised an important power in the country. Assur, geographically conveniently located on important trade routes, traded with Babylon, Anatolia and what is now Iran .
Assyria regained its influence under Aššur-uballiṭ I (1353-1318 BC). Numerous conquests led to an economic boom. King Tukulti-Ninurta I saw himself again as the representative of the god Assyria. He also called himself "ruler of the four continents". The so-called Central Assyrian Empire ended with his death.
The kings Aššur-nâṣir-apli II. (883–859 BC) and Salmānu-ašarēd III. (858–824 BC) extended the Assyrian sphere of influence to Syria. After a few setbacks and internal disputes, Tukulti-apil-Ešarra III succeeded. (745–727 BC) to conquer Phenicia and the territory of the Philistines . He also attacked the northern kingdom of Israel , but only his successor Salmānu-ašarēd V defeated it completely in 722/721. Babylon was founded in 689 BC. Conquered. The urge to conquer found its climax in the conquest of Egypt by Aššur-ahhe-iddina (681-669 BC). Aššur-bāni-apli (669–627 BC) was the last important ruler. He was a seasoned politician who was very well read. Its library is an important source for the history of Mesopotamia.
New Babylonian Empire
After the fall of Assyria, Babylon regained strength, and the empire of the Medes rose as a great power. The Medean king Kyaxares, who lived in 625 BC. BC destroyed the Scythians on Lake Urmia and in alliance with the Babylonian king Nabopolassar finally Assyria around 614–612 BC. BC, wiped the Assyrian Empire from the political world map. 18 years after the death of Ashurbanipal, the united Medes and Babylonians defeated the armies of Assyria (612 BC). Babylon subsequently became the cultural center of Mesopotamia again. The alliance partners captured the main Assyrian fortresses of Nineveh and Aššur , which were annexed to the New Babylonian Empire . In the north and east, with the empire of the Medes, a new major military power emerged for almost two centuries, stretching as far as the Black Sea, the Ararat and the gates of Afghanistan. The Assyrians eventually faded from the memory of subsequent generations until this name was revived for political and social reasons within the Assyrian people in the east in the 19th century AD.
The successors of ancient Mesopotamia until the end of late antiquity
The Persian Achaemenids conquered from 550 BC. The Middle East and Asia Minor. Cyrus II left Babylon in 539 BC. His proclamation on the Cyrus cylinder and Mesopotamia became part of the strongly expanding Persian Empire , which then became part of 330 BC. Was in turn conquered by Alexander . After his death, General Seleucus took power in the east of the Alexander Empire and founded the Seleucid dynasty . Around 140 BC The largest part of Mesopotamia came under the rule of the Iranian Parthian Arsacids . They made the city of Seleukia-Ctesiphon on the Tigris their main residence, while Babylon rapidly declined in importance after the conquest by the Parthians and the Seleucid-Parthian wars.
The Euphrates marked the border to the Roman Empire for a long time until the Romans under Emperor Septimius Severus annexed northern Mesopotamia around 200 AD and ruled it for over four centuries. A few years later, the kings of the Arsacid family were overthrown by the Persian Sassanids , who continued to reside in Ctesiphon. Although they were Zoroastrians themselves, Christianity spread among the Sassanids in Mesopotamia, which was also an important center of Judaism in late antiquity . The pre-Islamic history of Mesopotamia ended with the fall of the Sassanid Empire in the course of the Arab expansion around 640 AD.
Culture and society
Economy and Economics
In the 3rd millennium (Sumerians) the priestly princes ruled, who held political and religious power in their hands. They also organized the canalization of the land and agriculture. The state budget was synonymous with that of the ruler, this economic system is called the Oikos economy . The organization needed a large administrative apparatus for this. The slaves who worked for the priestly princes received in kind. Private property was not established until the time of Babylon. The tasks of the state were in the course of time "privatized", i. H. a lessee took over the work and had to provide a service (e.g. silver) for it.
The farmers in the 2nd to 1st millennium BC Chr. However exchanged their products for the necessary food and textiles. The temples and their priests had far less influence on the economy in Assyria. The Assyrian state tolerated private property and was financed by tribute and taxes. The lands were owned by aristocratic families who made the small farmers more and more dependent. Land ownership had one major advantage - it was tax-free. In addition to land ownership, these aristocratic families mostly owned trading ventures.
In Babylon, too, there were influential merchants who formed veritable dynasties with their families. They increased their wealth not only through trade, but also through financial transactions. Amazingly, there seemed to be no markets ( bazaars ) at that time, as one would actually expect from an oriental country. However, the documents found do not report this form of trade.
Mesopotamia traded with the neighboring countries. Long-distance trade relationships even stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Indus Delta . The goods were brought into the country by ship or caravans . The caravans initially transported their goods with donkeys, from the 1st millennium BC onwards. BC camels carried the goods. Horses and wagons were also used to a lesser extent. Roads only existed since the New Assyrian Empire. There are traditions of chariots and the drill of horses, charioteers by coaches in the Kingdom of Mittani around 1400 BC. In northern Mesopotamia.
Language, writing and numbers
Before the 4th millennium BC The inhabitants of the Mesopotamia used so-called counting stones for everyday arithmetic tasks. The expanding trade led to the development of the cuneiform script in the 3rd millennium . Initially, the writing consisted mainly of pictorial symbols. Later it became more abstract. Since many people could not write, they used the services of scribes . The writer thus became a respected person in society .
The characters were scratched into clay tablets with pens. First you drew vertical and horizontal lines on the clay tablet. Then the symbols were carried into the resulting boxes by pressing them into the soft clay tablet with the triangular end of a thin tube. People wrote and read from left to right. The so-called cuneiform script reached around 2700 BC. Their completion. The cuneiform script was used in Mesopotamia for over 2500 years and was also found in Syria and among the Hittites as well as in the diplomatic archives of Egypt.
With the Sumerians, the individual characters stood for whole words that could have several meanings. Some characters were combined, e.g. B. to represent actions. The term “food” was represented by the symbols “mouth” and “bread”. This pictorial font allowed people to better organize everyday things.
The script became more complex over time, individual symbols could now also represent sounds and several symbols could represent entire sentences. This made possible the birth of literature, as it was also reflected in the Gilgamesh epic, which is known throughout the region . Before the 2nd millennium, none of the languages used prevailed in Mesopotamia. Sumerian and Akkadian were spoken equally . The centuries-long settlement and spread of the most diverse Aramaic tribes across the entire Fertile Crescent made Aramaic the leading language in the Middle East.
The Sumerian language remained the language of the educated until the turn of the times, similar to Greek during the Roman Empire or Latin in the Middle Ages.
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