It’s official; it is a year today since I wrote my first article on extinctions! To celebrate, I thought I would write about something a bit different and it is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while (but my trip to Germany (article about that soon) and exams has pushed me back a bit). Ancient history is a long period of time covering many different ages and civilisations, from the Early Bronze Age, 3300–1200 BC, to the Coming of Islam in 613CE. This article covers the Mesopotamians, who lived from 4000 B.C. to 332 B.C., when they became part of Alexander the Great’s empire.
The Mesopotamians are pretty well known as being the ‘cradle of civilisation in the West’ and included Sumer and the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires (modern day Iraq). The fact that this civilisation was wedged between two rivers (Tigris and the Euphrates) arguably allowed them to be so successful. This meant that the Mesopotamians could use the rivers’ banks for agriculture; irrigation and canals were built to control and direct the flow of water. This gave the people of Mesopotamia a constant and vast food source, allowing them to expand into cities. The climate that they lived in was semi-arid with lots of marshes, lagoons, mud flats and reed banks- a lot of these are opportune places for farming and agriculture. In these areas, nomads herded goats, sheep and camels all year round, moving from place to place with the seasons. The one down-side of this area is that it is lacking in precious metals, building stones and timber, so the people of this land traded with others, swapping their agriculture products for the building essentials they needed. They also frequently fished in the rivers, adding to their trading value. The demand for labour frequently led to drastic population increases.
The Sumerians produced some of the earliest writing discovered, on baked clay tablets. However, this writing was not profound, merely tax and accounting records. But, this led to phonetic writing, where writing represented sounds, not objects. Semitic dialects were also spoken in Mesopotamia. Subartuan, a language of the Zagros, is attested in personal names, rivers and mountains and in various crafts. Akkadian came to be the dominant language during the Akkadian Empire and the Assyrian empires, but Sumerian was retained for administration, religious, literary, and scientific purposes. This led to widespread bilingualism. Libraries could be found in towns and temples during the Babylonian Empire and both men and women learnt to read and write. Many of this literature was translated from Sumerian, many of which is still studied today, the most famous of which is the Epic of Gilgamesh, telling the tales of Gilgamesh’s adventures.
Mesopotamian mathematics is the source of a 60-second minute, 60-minute hour, 24-hour day and 360-degree circle. Their calendar was based on a 7-day week and Babylonians also came up with theorems of many areas of shapes, which we still use today. They learnt how to mathematically predict eclipses and Mesopotamian astronomers used a 12-month calendar based on the cycles of the moon. The origins of astrology and astronomy date from this time. There were only two seasons to Mesopotamians- summer and winter. They used many technologies, such as copper-working, glass making, water storage and textile weaving. opper, bronze, and iron were used for armour as well as for different weapons such as swords, daggers, spears and maces.
Mesopotamia also led to possibly the first organised religion, which has led to many beliefs and tales (The Fourth Kind ring any bells?). They believed that the world was flat, surrounded by water and the heavens above. Their polytheistic beliefs had regional variations; the Sumerians believed that Enlil was the most powerful god. He was the chief god of the Pantheon. This religion also led them to think philosophically (Babylonian logic is thought to have greatly influenced Early Greek philosophy).
Festivals and music were also a key part of their lives, mostly linked to religion and the gods. Hunting, boxing and wrestling were very popular sports, along with a form of polo, but riders would play on the backs of other men instead of horses. Although this is one of the oldest civilisations, there are many aspects which are very similar to modern civilisations. One can see why Mesopotamia was known as the ‘cradle of civilisation’.
These are just some of the key points of the Mesopotamians. I have focused mostly on what the Mesopotamians brought to future civilisations, such as maths, phonetics and organised religion, rather than their general lifestyles. If you want to research more, click and follow the links below!