Ancient Mesopotamia refers to the place where humans first formed civilizations. It was here that people first gathered in large cities, learned to write, and created governments. For this reason Mesopotamia is often called the "Cradle of Civilization".
The word Mesopotamia means "the land between rivers". When people say Mesopotamia they are referring to a section of land in the Middle East between and around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Today this land is located mostly in the country of Iraq. There are also portions in southwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey, and northeastern Syria.
The heart of Mesopotamia lies between the two rivers in southern Iraq. The land there is fertile and there is plenty of water around the major two rivers to allow for irrigation and farming.
Civilizations and Empires
Early settlers in Mesopotamia started to gather in small villages and towns. As they learned how to irrigate land and grow crops on large farms, the towns grew bigger. Eventually these towns became large cities. New inventions such as government and writing were formed to help keep order in the cities. The first human civilization was formed.
Sumer - The Sumerians were the first humans to form a civilization. They invented writing and government. They were organized in city-states where each city had its own independent government ruled by a king that controlled the city and the surrounding farmland. Each city also had its own primary god. Sumerian writing, government, and culture would pave the way for future civilizations.
Akkadians - The Akkadians came next. They formed the first united empire where the city-states of the Sumer were united under one ruler. The Akkadian language replaced the Sumerian language during this time. It would be the main language throughout much of the history of Mesopotamia.
Babylonians - The city of Babylon became the most powerful city in Mesopotamia. Throughout the history of the region, the Babylonians would rise and fall. At times the Babylonians would create vast empires that ruled much of the Middle East. The Babylonians were the first to write down and record their system of law.
Assyrians - The Assyrians came out of the northern part of Mesopotamia. They were a warrior society. They also ruled much of the Middle East at different times over the history of Mesopotamia. Much of what we know about the history of Mesopotamia comes from clay tablets found in Assyrian cities.
Persians - The Persians put an end to the rule of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They conquered much of the Middle East including Mesopotamia.
Interesting Facts About Mesopotamia
Take a ten question quiz at the Ancient Mesopotamia questions page.
- The Babylonian law created by King Hammurabi, the Code of Hammurabi, may be the oldest written law in the world.
- The Sumerians are often credited with inventing the wheel.
- At the center of each major city was a temple to the city's god called a ziggurat.
- The Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers are both well over 1,000 miles long.
- Because this is where people first began to write, Mesopotamia is often called the place where history began.
- Mesopotamia is part of a larger area that archeologists call the Fertile Crescent.
- Many of the buildings, walls, and structures were made from sun-dried bricks. These bricks didn't last long, so very little of Ancient Mesopotamian cities still stand.
- Much of what we know about Mesopotamian history comes from thousands of clay tablets found in the library at the Assyrian city of Nineveh.
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