Mesopotamia The Land of Many Firsts
First up on our tour is marvelous Mesopotamia; the place where one of the earliest civilizations began developing. Mesopotamia isn’t a country that we know today. In fact, it was never really a country at all, but rather a region that was made up of several cultural pockets. From the first recordings of the region, we know that Mesopotamia was mainly inhabited by four distinct civilizations; the Sumerians, Ubaidians, Akkadians, and Persians, but who were these people and what do we know about them?
The Sumerians lived in southern Mesopotamia, what we now know today as Iraq. They were one of the very first civilizations in the world who lived along the lush valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Before civilizations such as the Sumerians, humankind had predominantly lived as nomads, traveling in constant pursuit of food and water sources during the changing of the seasons; as well as in an attempt to escape predators and opposing tribes. The Sumerians ingenuity after they had settled along the Tigris and Euphrates would mean that they could put down roots; developing one of the first urban settlements in human history. While these weren’t the cosmopolitan cities that we are accustomed to today, they formed the basis for urbanizations that other civilizations would follow. According to ancient Sumerian inscriptions, they called their abundant new settlement ‘Kengir’; loosely translated to ‘Country of Lords’ or ‘Country of the Noble Lords’. While some believe that the Sumerians migrated from West Asia, others suggested that they were, in fact, North African people who came to the region in search of fertile lands and stability for their people. Thanks to the wonders of modern science, and genetic samples taken from skeletal remains found at the ancient site of southern Sumer, we now know that they indeed carried the DNA of Indus Valley Civilizations; suggesting that they were of Indian descent. Isn’t science amazing?
This brings us to a civilization within Mesopotamia that is even older than the Sumerians; the Ubaidians.
These people came before the Sumerians and were settled in the northern parts of Mesopotamia, or the southern edge of modern-day Turkey. Many scholars have argued whether the Sumerians or the Ubaidians came first, but what we do know is that the study of the Ubaidian civilizations shows traces of a development of trade as well as the establishment of industries which predates the earliest records of Sumer. Ultimately, these Ubaidians along with their Sumerian neighbors, would lose control of their regions to the rulers of the Akkadian empire around 2270 BC.
While the Sumerians and Ubaidians were the first to begin settling in the region, the Akkadians would become the first known Empire of the region; with Kings at the helm of their rule. The Akkadians were comprised of the Assyrian and Babylonian speaking people, and they would go on to conquer and unite the Sumerian and Ubaidians under one Akkadian rule. It was roughly around the third millennium that the languages spoken by these people would begin to change; blending the Akkadian and East Semitic language, used by the Sumerians. This unity would be very short-lived and after the fall of the Akkadian empire in 2154 BC, Mesopotamia would be divided into two factions linking back to the earlier languages. Assyria would fall to the north of the region, while Babylonia would fall to the south.
The Persians hailed from the region of Mesopotamia that we now recognize as Iran. The first recordings of Persian people appear in Assyrian records as early as the 3rd millennium. The Persians were fierce warriors and sought to conquer the entire region; stretching forth towards Eastern European regions, such as Turkey, and Indus Valley regions, such as northwestern India. Historical Persian culture is still celebrated today; with great influences on the artistic heritage of the Persian people coming from both eastern and western bordering nations, such as Greece.
Let’s have a look at Ancient Mesopotamia in a timeline:
5000 BC – The Sumerians form the first urban settlements.
4000 BC – They go on to establish great cities with temples to their gods at the center of them all.
3300 BC – The Sumerians invent pictograph writing.
3200 BC - The Sumerians invent the wheel.
3000 BC – The Sumerians begin exploring mathematics as a means to better their trade and construction efforts.
2400 BC – Akkadian becomes the primary unifying language.
2250 BC - King Naram-Sin conquers several smaller factions and the occasion is immortalized in clay.
1900 BC - The Assyrians rise to power.
1250 BC – They begin using chariots in battle, as well as iron armaments.
1225 BC – They go on to take over Babylon.
721 BC - King Sargon II rules Assyria.
705 BC – King Sargon II dies.
668 BC - Ashurbanipal creates one of the first notable libraries of the civilization during his time as King of Assyria.
550 BC – The Persian Empire comes into existence with the empowerment of Cyrus the Great.
522 BC – A new King of Persia is declared; Darius I.
490 BC - Darius I lays siege to his Greek neighbors, but he is defeated.
480 BC - Xerxes I attempts to follow in Darius I’s footsteps and fails dismally.
333 BC – Greek leader, Alexander the Great finally conquers the Persian Empire.
Mesopotamia was a vast and powerful civilization, and we owe much of our modern-day ways of conducting trade to them. They developed a knack for weaving; creating baskets to help them store their grains and other crops. If you have a pair of leather shoes that you love, you also owe this to the people of Mesopotamia, as well as the plates you may have your breakfast on this morning. They were amazing inventors; creating ways to better their lives and advance their civilization. Now that we’ve looked at the history of the region, let’s jump right into our fun facts!