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, located in southern Mesopotamia
, was one of the earliest known civilizations
in the world. It lasted from the first settlement of Eridu
in the Ubaid period
(late 6th millennium BC) through the Uruk period
(4th millennium BC) and the Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BC) until the rise of Babylon
in the early 2nd millennium BC.
Although other cities pre-date Sumer (Jericho, Çatalhöyük and others, either for seasonal protection, or as year-round trading posts) the cities of Sumer were the first to practice intensive, year-round agriculture (from c. 5300 BC). The surplus of storable foodstuffs created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating after crops and herds. It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labor force and division of labor. This organization led to the necessity of record keeping and the development of writing (c. 3500 BC).
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The Sumerian language
was the language of ancient Sumer
, spoken in Southern Mesopotamia
since at least the 4th millennium BC. It was gradually replaced by Akkadian
as a spoken language in the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, but continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the first century AD. Then, it was forgotten until the 19th century, when Assyriologists
began deciphering the cuneiform
inscriptions and excavated tablets left by these speakers. Sumerian is a language isolate
The Sumerian language is the earliest known written language. It first appeared as numerical records, with symbols added to represents the things counted, which then developed into a logographic script representing the whole language, not just accounting objects. The logographic symbols were then generalized using a wedge-shaped stylus to impress the shapes into wet clay, giving rise to the name cuneiform, meaning "wedge-shape". These distinctive wedge shapes were imitated even in carved inscriptions. By ca. 2600 BC, the large set of logographic signs had been simplified into a syllabary of several hundred signs, allowing modern Assyriologists to understand many aspects of the phonology, morphology and syntax of the language.
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[[Image:|140x170px|left|The demon Huwawa]]The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia and is among the earliest known works of literary fiction. Scholars surmise that a series of Sumerian legends about the mythological hero-king Gilgamesh (who according to the Sumerian king list might have been a real ruler in the late Early Dynastic II period (ca. 27th century BC)) were later compiled by the scribe Sin-liqe-unninni into an Akkadian language epic, with the most complete version existing today preserved on twelve clay tablets found in the library of the 7th century BC Assyrian king Ashurbanipal.
The story revolves around the relationship between Gilgamesh, a king who has become distracted and disheartened by his rule, and a friend, Enkidu, who is half-wild and who undertakes dangerous quests with Gilgamesh. Much of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh's thoughts of loss following Enkidu's death. It is about their becoming human together, and places a high emphasis on issues surrounding human mortality. It is often credited by historians as being one of the first literary works.
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The Battle of Kadesh
was fought between Ancient Egyptian
forces under Ramesses II
and the Hittites
under Muwatalli II
at the city of Kadesh
on the Orontes River
, modern Tell Nebi Mend
, and is generally dated to Year 5, III Shemu, day 9 of Ramesses II's reign
, or May 12, 1274 BC, based on Ramesses' commonly accepted accession date in 1279 BC. The battle was part of the Egyptian New Kingdom
's campaign to regain control over the Levant
, which they were losing to Mitanni
's expansion. Over the course of these campaigns, lighter 2-man chariots
, the battle axe
, and the curved khopesh
sword came into use, with the Battle of Kadesh probably being the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving perhaps 5,000 – 6,000 chariots. The battle was also extensively documented, especially by the Egyptians, and gives modern historians some of the earliest accounts of military strategy.
Ultimately the battle was fought to a stalemate, essentially a loss for Egypt, and conflicts continued for 15 more years, after which the earliest extant international peace treaty was reached (pictured).
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The Akkadian Empire
was centered in Akkad
, an ancient city in central Mesopotamia
. Despite its ancient importance, the city of Akkad has not yet been located. It was probably situated on the west bank of the Euphrates
, between Sippar
(ca 50 km (31 mi) southwest Baghdad
The Akkadian Empire reached the height of its power between the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC, following the conquests of king Sargon of Akkad.
Because of the policies of the Akkadian Empire toward linguistic assimilation, the predominant Semitic dialect was named the Akkadian language, reflected in the word akkadû ("in the language of Akkad") during the Old Babylonian period to denote a Semitic-language version of a Sumerian text.
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The Akkadian language
is the earliest attested Semitic language
. It used the cuneiform
writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian
, an unrelated language isolate
. It was originally the language of the Akkadian Empire
(ca. 2270 – 2083 BC (short chronology
)), centered in Akkad
. After the empire collapsed, the written language continued to be used as the official, diplomatic lingua franca
throughout the ancient Near East
until it was gradually displaced by Aramaic
and later Greek
more than a millennium later.
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was an Amorite
state in lower Mesopotamia
, with Babylon
as its capital. Babylonia emerged when Hammurabi
c. 1728 – 1686 BC (short chronology
)) created an empire out of the territories of the former kingdoms of Sumer
. The Amorites being a Semitic
people, Babylonia adopted the written Semitic Akkadian language
for official use, and retained the Sumerian language
for religious use, which by that time was no longer a spoken language. The Akkadian and Sumerian cultures played a major role in Babylonian culture, and Babylon itself became the major cultural center in the ancient Near East
and remained so for more than a millennium, even under foreign rule.
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is well documented from the earliest writings through the Hellenistic period — so-called "contracts" exist in the thousands, including deeds
, bonds, receipts, accounts, and most significantly, actual legal decisions given by judges in the law courts.
Other cultures involved with ancient Mesopotamia shared the same common laws and precedents, extending to the form of contacts in the Bible, down to the sequence of blessings and curses that bind the deal.
The discovery of the Code of Hammurabi has allowed for a more systematic study than could have been possible from just the classification and interpretation of other material. Even in ancient times, the Code was studied, divided into chapters, entitled Ninu ilu sirum from its incipit, and recopied for fifteen hundred years. The greater part of it remained in force, even through the Persian, Greek and Parthian conquests, which had little effect on private life in Babylonia; and it survived to influence Syro-Roman and later Islamic law. The law of Assyria was derived from the Babylonian, but conserved early features long after they had disappeared elsewhere.
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refers to the mathematics developed by the ancient Mesopotamians
. The earliest writing
developed by the Sumerians
(ca. 3500 BC) was in fact not words, but numbers — accounting records and tokens. From ca. 3000 BC they developed a complex system of metrology
, a move from purely concrete accounting to abstract mathematics. From 2600 BC onwards, we find multiplication tables
on clay tablets, geometrical
exercises, and division
problems. The sexagesimal
(base-60) numeral system
also comes from this period. This is the source of our modern day usage of 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 (60×6) degrees in a circle.
During the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1700 – 1531 BC (short chronology)), Babylonian mathematicians were able to make great advances for two reasons — firstly, the number 60 is a highly composite number, facilitating calculations with fractions, and second, unlike the Egyptians and Romans, the Babylonians had a true place-value system, where digits written in the left column represented larger values (much as in our modern base-ten system). They worked with fractions, algebra, quadratic and cubic equations, the Pythagorean theorem, Pythagorean triples, and possibly trigonometric functions.
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is an ancient Persian
religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster
(Zarathustra, Zartosht). The Zoroastrian Magi
were an important priestly class in the Medean
empires, the creed becoming the dominant religion in the Achaemenid Empire. Zoroastrianism is uniquely important in the history of religion because of its possible formative links to both Western
religious traditions. As "the oldest of the revealed credal
religions", Zoroastrianism "probably had more influence on mankind directly or indirectly than any other faith" (Mary Boyce
The Avesta is the collection of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism; the most ancient are written in an old or Gathic Avestan language, and the majority of the texts are probably from the Achaemenid era (648–330 BC).
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[[Image:|140x170px|left|Relief from the palace of Ashurnasilpal II in Nimrud]]Assyria was originally a region on the Upper Tigris river, named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur. Later, as a nation and empire that came to control all of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and much of Anatolia, the term "Assyria proper" referred to roughly the northern half of Mesopotamia (the southern half being Babylonia), with Nineveh as its capital.
The Assyrians were warriors, who invented excavation to undermine city walls, battering rams to knock down gates, as well as the concept of a corps of engineers, who bridged rivers with pontoons or provided soldiers with inflatable skins for swimming. The Assyrian kings controlled a large kingdom at three different times in history. These are called the Old (20th – 15th centuries BC), Middle (15th – 10th centuries BC), and Neo-Assyrian (911 – 612 BC) kingdoms, of which the last is the most well known and best documented.
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The Aramaic language
is a Semitic language
with a 3,000-year history. It has been the language of administration of empires and the language of divine worship. It is the original language of large sections of the biblical
books of Daniel and Ezra, and is the main language of the Babylonian Talmud
. Aramaic was the native language of Jesus
(see Aramaic of Jesus
). Modern Aramaic is spoken today as a first language by numerous scattered communities, most significantly by the Syriacs
and is considered to be endangered today.
Aramaic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Within that diverse family, it belongs to the Semitic subfamily. Aramaic is a part of the Northwest Semitic group of languages, which also includes the Canaanite languages (such as Hebrew). It is also related to Arabic, being part of the more diverse Central Semitic languages; one possible source for the Arabic alphabet is Nabataean Aramaic script.
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were an Anatolian
people who spoke a language
of the Anatolian branch
of the Indo-European
language family. They established a kingdom (c. 1800 – 1180 BC) centered at Hattusa
in north-central Anatolia
and reached its height c. the 14th century BC, encompassing a large part of Anatolia and interacting with Assyria
and ancient Egypt
. The collapsed c. 1180 BC, during the upheavals of the Bronze Age collapse
; a number of independent "Syro-Hittite
" city-states then emerged, some surviving until as late as the 8th century BC.
Although belonging to the Bronze Age, the Hittites were forerunners of the Iron Age, developing the manufacture of iron products from as early as the 14th century BC, when letters to foreign rulers reveal the demand for their iron goods. The Hittites were not, however, the first to work iron, and iron remained a precious metal throughout the history of their empire.
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was an ancient civilization centered in the north coast of ancient Canaan
. Phoenician civilization was an enterprising maritime trading culture
that spread across the Mediterranean
between the period of 1550 BC to 300 BC. The Phoenicians often traded by means of a galley
, a man-powered sailing vessel and are credited with the invention of the bireme
Rather than being a single country, Phoenician civilization was organized in city-states. Each city-state was an independent unit politically, although they could come into conflict, be dominated by another city-state, or collaborate in leagues or alliances. Tyre (Lebanon) and Sidon were the most powerful Phoenician states in the Levant, but were not as powerful as the North African ones would come to be.
The Phoenicians were also the first state level society to make extensive use of the alphabet, and the Phoenician alphabet is considered to be the ancestor of all modern alphabets. It was adopted by the Aramaeans, who spread it through the ancient Near East, which led to the Hebrew, Indian and Arabic alphabets. And through their maritime trade, the Phoenicians spread the use of the alphabet to North Africa and Europe where it was adopted by the Greeks and ultimately by all European languages.
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The Neo-Assyrian Empire
was a period of Mesopotamian
history which began in 934 BC and ended in 609 BC. During this period, Assyria
assumed a position as a great regional power, vying with Babylonia
and other lesser powers for dominance of the region, though not until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III
in the 8th century BC, did it become a powerful empire. In the Middle Assyrian period of the Late Bronze Age
, Assyria had been a minor kingdom in northern Mesopotamia, competing for dominance with its southern Mesopotamian rival Babylonia
. Beginning with the campaign of Adad-nirari II
, it became a great regional power, growing to become a serious threat to 25th dynasty Egypt
. During this period, Aramaic
was also made an official language of the empire, alongside the Akkadian language
Assyria finally succumbed to the rise of the Median Empire and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, with the Fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.
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refers to the astronomical theories and methods that were developed in ancient Mesopotamia
. Babylonian astronomy formed the basis for much of the later astronomical traditions that developed in Greece
, the Middle East
and ultimately of modern Western astronomy.
Astral theology, which gave planetary gods an important role in Mesopotamian mythology and religion, began with the Sumerians (before 2000 BC), and created a place of importance for the study of astronomical phenomena. Texts from the First Babylonian Dynasty (ca. 1700 – 1531 BC (short chronology)), show the earliest use of mathematics to describe the variation in day length over a year, and the Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa is the earliest evidence that planetary phenomena were recognized as periodic.
During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a new empirical approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science, and some scholars have referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution.
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[[Image:|140x170px|left|Main stairway at Persepolis palace]]The Achaemenid Empire (550 – 330 BC) was forged by Cyrus the Great, and became territorially the largest empire in antiquity, stretching from Pakistan and Central Asia to the Black sea, Asia Minor and Thrace, and much of Egypt going as far west as Libya. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states in the Greco-Persian Wars, for freeing the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting Aramaic as the empire's official language. This era saw the spread of Persian culture, and the beginning of the decline of ancient Near East culture centered in Babylon. Two centuries later, after Alexander the Great's conquest, Greece would eclipse both.
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[[Image:|140x170px|left|Bust of an Akkadian ruler]]Sargon of Akkad (Akkadian: Šarru-kinu, "legitimate king", reigned ca. 2270 – 2215 BC (short chronology)) founded the Dynasty of Akkad, and created the Akkadian Empire after conquering all the Sumerian city-states.
Early in his career, he was as a prominent member of the royal court of Kish, ultimately overthrowing its king before embarking on the conquest of Mesopotamia. Sargon's vast empire is known to have extended from Elam to the Mediterranean sea, including Mesopotamia, parts of modern-day Iran and Syria, and possibly parts of Anatolia and the Arabian peninsula. He ruled from a new capital, Akkad (Agade), which the Sumerian king list claims he built (or possibly renovated), on the left bank of the Euphrates. Sargon is regarded as one of the first individuals in recorded history to create a multiethnic, centrally ruled empire, and his dynasty controlled Mesopotamia for around a century and a half.
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[[Image:|140x170px|left|Stele with the Code of Hammurabi]]Hammurabi (Akkadian, from Amorite ˤAmmurāpi, "the kinsman is a healer", reigned ca. 1728 – 1686 BC (short chronology)) was the sixth king of Babylon. He became the first king of the Babylonian Empire, extending Babylon's control over Mesopotamia by winning a series of wars against neighboring kingdoms. Although his empire controlled all of Mesopotamia at the time of his death, his successors were unable to maintain his empire.
Hammurabi is known for the set of laws called Hammurabi's Code, one of the first written codes of law in recorded history. These laws were written on a basalt stele standing over six feet tall that was found in 1901. Owing to his reputation in modern times as an ancient law-giver, Hammurabi's portrait is in many government buildings throughout the world.
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, "my trust is in the son of Eshara
", reigned 745 – 727 BC) is considered the founder of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
. He is considered to be one of the most successful military commanders in world history, conquering most of the world known to the ancient Assyrians
before his death. A former governor of Kalhu
, he seized the throne on 13 Iyyar
, 745 BC, in the midst of a civil war during which the royal family was killed.
Upon ascending the throne, Tiglath-Pileser instituted reforms to several sectors of the Assyrian state, which arguably revived Assyria's hegemony over the Near East. He curtailed the powers of the high officials, often by appointed eunuchs as governors to remove provincial dynastic threats, and reducing the size of provinces. He expanded the army by incorporating large numbers of conquered people in it, with native Assyrians comprising the cavalry and chariotry. This also allowed it to campaign year-round rather than seasonally, and he used it to conquer the entire middle east. Unlike previous Assyrian rulers, his heirs were able to maintain his empire.
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, defend my firstborn son", reigned 605 – 562 BC) was the second king of the Neo-Babylonian Dynasty
and its greatest ruler. He was called "Nebuchadrezzar, the Great" in ancient times, but his destruction of temples in Jerusalem caused his vilification in the Bible.
He was a successful military leader before ascending the throne, defeating the Egyptians in the Battle of Carchemish. After his father Nabopolassar died and he became king, he defeated the Cimmerians and Scythians in Anatolia and continued campaigning in the Levant, including the capturing Jerusalem, destroying both city and temple and deporting a large portion of the population to Babylon. He then started a 13-year siege of Tyre, ending with Tyre's accepting Babylonian authority.
When he wasn't waging war, he continued he father's work of restoring Babylon, which had been devastated through years of Assyrian rule and more recent rebellions. He made Babylon one of the wonders of the world, with projects like the Ishtar Gate and the hanging gardens of Babylon.
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Cyrus II, the Great
, reigned 559 – ca. 530 BC) was the founder of the Persian Empire
under the Achaemenid dynasty
. The empire expanded under his rule, eventually conquering most of Southwest Asia
and much of Central Asia
, from Egypt
and the Hellespont
in the west to the Indus River
in the east, to create the largest state the world had yet seen.
During his twenty-nine year reign, Cyrus fought against some of the greatest states of his time, including the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in August 530 BC.
Beyond his nation, Cyrus left a lasting legacy on Jewish religion (through his Edict of Restoration), politics, and military strategy, as well as on both Eastern and Western civilization.
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Darius I, the Great
, "upholder of good", reigned 522 – 486 BC) ascended the Achaemendi
throne amid controversy and bloodshed that claimed two sons of Cyrus the Great
, but managed to expand the Achaemenid Empire to its greatest extent, being stopped by the Greeks
at the Battle of Marathon
. He reformed the army and navy, as well as commerce and coinage, built roads throughout his empire, and a canal from the Nile river
. He also founded the city of Persepolis
, built a palace in Susa
, and commissioned the Behistun Inscription
, which would become the modern key for deciphering the cuneiform script
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Artaxerxes III Ochus
, reigned 358 – 338 BC) was the eleventh king of the Achaemenid Dynasty
and the first Pharaoh
of the 31st dynasty
. Before ascending the throne he was a satrap
and commander of his father Artaxerxes II
's army. Artaxerxes III came to power after one of his brothers was executed, another committed suicide, the last brother was murdered and his father died at the age of 90. Soon after becoming king, Artaxerxes murdered all the royal family to secure his place on the throne.
After ascending the throne, he started two major campaigns against Egypt. The first campaign failed, and was followed by rebellions throughout the western empire. However, in 343 BC, he defeated Nectanebo II, the Pharaoh of Egypt, driving him from the country, and stopping a revolt in Phoenicia on the way. Later, he countered Philip II of Macedon who was gaining power in Greece.
In his later life, he renewed building activity at Persepolis, erecting a new palace and building his tomb. It is generally assumed he was poisoned by his minister Bagoas, but a cuneiform tablet (now in the British Museum) suggests he died of natural causes.
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