Mesopotamian History

Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, derives its name and existence from the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The Mesopotamian history has been very intriguing and has attracted a lot of people. About ten thousand years ago, the people of this area began the agricultural revolution. Instead of hunting and gathering their food, they domesticated plants and animals.

Between 3500 and 3000 BC, the civilization of Southern Mesopotamia underwent a sudden growth and change, centered in the cities of Ur and Uruk. The main part of the third millennium, now called the Early Dynastic period, saw the gradual development of Sumerian civilization, based on numerous city states.

The Early Dynastic period was brought to an end when Sargon (2334-2279 BC) created the world’s first empire, stretching the length and breadth of the fertile crescent. The impact of Sargon’s unification of Sumer and Akkad resonated down through the history of Mesopotamia for the next two thousand years.

The Sargonic Empire lasted for almost a hundred and fifty years, before it fell to insurrections and invasions. There followed a characteristically Mesopotamian turbulent period, part of which involved the hordes of Guti, who ruled in the south for a century or so. Eventually, they were thrown out in an uprising which inaugurated the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III, or Neo-Sumerian period).

During the reign of the Ur III kings beginning with Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, Sumerian culture and civilization experienced a remarkable renaissance. The Ur III Empire lasted for over a century (2112-2004 BC) before falling to the violent incursions of nomadic Amorites.

The next couple of hundred years was another turbulent time during which the cities of Isin and Larsa vied for supremacy in the south, while Mari and Assur grew to prominence in the north. Assur was the principal city of the Assyrians.

Also in the south was the city of Babylon. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the ruler of Babylon was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). We now call this period Old Babylonian, in about 1600 BC, Mesopotamia was faced with troublesome northern neighbors.

The Hittites, under Mursilis, captured and plundered Babylon, but they did not stay and hold the territory. Into the vacuum thus created came the Kassites from the Zagros Mountains to the northeast. The Kassite rule of Babylon lasted for four hundred years, some of which were quite peaceful.

The last centuries of the second millennium were yet another turbulent time. Throughout the Near East and southern and eastern Europe mass movements of peoples coincided with the destruction of all major centers of civilization. The end of the Bronze Age is shrouded in mystery.

The next empire to arise in the history of Mesopotamia came from a different quarter, the Assyrians in the northeast. The last of the great Neo-Assyrian kings, Assurbanipal (669-627), ruled over the Assyrian empire at its peak.

In the abrupt way that characterizes Mesopotamian history, his empire outlived him by less than twenty years. It was followed by a brief period of Babylonian hegemony before Babylon in turn fell to the Persians, former nomads who ruled until Alexander conquered the known world. But this is to bring us into modern times.