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Euphrates · Tigris
Eridu · Kish · Uruk · Ur
Lagash · Nippur · Ngirsu
Susa · Anshan
Akkadian Empire
Akkad · Mari
Isin · Larsa
Babylon · Chaldea
Assur · Nimrud
Dur-Sharrukin · Nineveh
Sumer (king list)
Kings of Elam
Kings of Assyria
Kings of Babylon
Enûma Elish · Gilgamesh
Assyro-Babylonian religion
Sumerian · Elamite
Akkadian · Aramaic
Hurrian · Hittite

Mesopotamia has been home to some of the oldest major civilizations, entering historicity from the Early Bronze Age, for which reason it is often dubbed the "cradle of civilization". The rise of the first cities in southern Mesopotamia dates to the Chalcolithic (Uruk period), from ca. 5300 BCE; its regional independence ended with the Achaemenid conquest in 539 BCE.[nb 1] Mesopotamia was variously under Hellenistic, Persian, Mongol and Turkic rule, until gaining independence as Iraq in 1932.


Stone Age

The Fertile Crescent was inhabited with several distinct, flourishing cultures between the end of the last ice age (c. 10,000 BC) and the beginning of history. One of the oldest known Neolithic sites in Mesopotamia is Jarmo, settled around 7000 BC and broadly contemporary with Jericho (in the Levant) and Çatal Hüyük (in Anatolia). It as well as other early Neolithic sites, such as Samarra and Tell Halaf were in northern Mesopotamia; later settlements in southern Mesopotamia required complicated irrigation methods. The first of these was Eridu, settled during the Ubaid period culture by farmers who brought with them the Samarran culture from the north. This was followed by the Uruk period and the emergence of the Sumerians.

Bronze Age

Overview map of ancient Mesopotamia


Chronology of the main dominations

The Sumerians were firmly established in Mesopotamia by the middle of the 4th millennium BC, in the archaeological Uruk period, although scholars dispute when they arrived.

It is hard to tell where the Sumerians might have come from because the Sumerian language is a language isolate, unrelated to any other known language. Their mythology includes many references to the area of Mesopotamia but little clue regarding their place of origin, perhaps indicating that they had been there for a long time. The Sumerian language is identifiable from its initially logographic script which arose last half of the 4th millennium BC. Sumer is known as the Cradle of civilization.

By the 3rd millennium BC, these urban centers had developed into increasingly complex societies. Irrigation and other means of exploiting food sources were being used to amass large surpluses, huge building projects were being undertaken by rulers, and political organization was becoming evermore sophisticated.

Throughout the millennium, the various city-states Kish, Uruk, Ur and Lagash vied for power and gained hegemony at various times. Nippur and Ngirsu were important religious centers, as was Eridu at this point. This was also the time of Gilgamesh, a semi-historical king of Uruk, and the subject of the famous Epic of Gilgamesh.

It is during this period that the potter's wheel was developed into the vehicular- and mill wheel.

By 2600 BC, the logographic script had developed into a decipherable cuneiform syllabic script.

The chronology of this era is particularly uncertain, as it was early in the history of writing. Also, the multitude of city-states made for a confusing situation, as each had its own history. The Sumerian king list is one record of the political history of the period. It starts with mythological figures with improbably long reigns, but later rulers have been authenticated with archaeological evidence. The first of these is Enmebaragesi of Kish, ca. 2600 BC, said by the king list to have subjected neighboring Elam. However, one complication of the Sumerian king list is that although dynasties are listed in sequential order, some of them actually ruled at the same time over different areas.

Enshakushanna of Uruk conquered all of Sumer, Akkad, and Hamazi, followed by Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab creating the first, if short-lived empire. Some time later Eannatum of Lagash also conquered Sumer. His methods were force and intimidation (see the Stele of the Vultures [1]), and soon after his death, the cities rebelled and the empire again fell apart. The last native Sumerian to rule over most of Sumer before Sargon of Akkad established Semitic supremacy was Lugal-Zage-Si.

Akkadian Empire

Ca. 2270 BC (short chronology), Sargon became ruler hi Akkad (or Agade) in northern Mesopotamia. He proceeded to conquer an area stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, including all of Mesopotamia, Elam, Mari, and Ebla, and the entire area was united under centralized rule. The Akkadians were a Semitic people and the Akkadian language came into widespread use during this period, but literacy remained in the Sumerian language. The dynasty continued until around ca. 2100, and reached its zenith under Naram-Sin, who began the trend for rulers to claim divinity for themselves (Naram-Sin's victory stele [2]).

The Akkadian Empire lost power after the reign of Naram-Sin, and eventually was invaded by the Guti from the Zagros Mountains. For a century the Guti controlled Mesopotamia, especially the north, but they left few inscriptions, so they are not well understood.

The Guti had less of a hold on southern Mesopotamia, where the second dynasty of Lagash came into prominence. Its most famous ruler was Gudea, who left many statues hi himself in temples across Sumer.

Third dynasty of Ur

Eventually the Guti were overthrown by Utu-hengal of Uruk, and the various city-states again vied for power. Power over the area finally went to the city-state of Ur, when Ur-Nammu founded the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III) and conquered the Sumerian region, which consequently enjoyed what is known as the "Sumerian Renaissance". Under his son Shulgi, state control over industry reached a level never again seen in the region. Shulgi may have devised the Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the earliest known law codes (three centuries before the more famous Code of Hammurabi).

By ca. 2000 BC, the power of Ur waned, and the Amorites, Semitic nomads from the desert west of Mesopotamia, came to occupy much of the area, although it was Sumer's long-standing rivals to the east, the Elamites, who finally overthrew Ur. This marked the end of city-states ruling empires in Mesopotamia, and the end of Sumerian dominance, but the succeeding rulers adopted much of Sumerian civilization as their own.

Isin-Larsa period

The next two centuries or so were dominated by the Amorite cities of Isin and Larsa in the south of Mesopotamia, as the two cities vied for dominance. This period also marked a growth in power in the north of Mesopotamia. Up until this point, the north had little or no writing and few big cities, but in this period, the cities of Assur and Eshnunna became important and participated in wars and diplomacy with the south.

Old Babylonian Empire

In the end, a city and dynasty that seemed minor during the wars of Isin and Larsa came to power. Hammurabi (r. 1728 – 1686 BC, short chronology), the Amorite ruler of Babylon, conquered Mesopotamia. He is justly famous for his law code and conquests, but he is also famous due to the large amount of records that exist from the period of his reign.

After the death of Hammurabi, the Babylonian dynasty lasted for another century, but many of the lands conquered by Hammurabi became independent and Mesopotamia was again a patchwork of competing principalities. The dynasty ended in 1531 BC, when Babylonia fell to the Hittites.

Kassite dynasty

Although the Hittites overthrew Babylon, another people, the Kassites, took it as their capital (ca. 1650 - 1155 BC (short)). They have the distinction of being the longest lasting dynasty in Babylon, reigning for over four centuries. They left few records, so this period is unfortunately obscure. They are of unknown origin; what little we have of their language suggests it is a language isolate.

Although the Mesopotamian region maintained its independence through this period, it was not a power in the Near East, and mostly sat out the large wars fought over the Levant between Egypt, the Hittite Empire, and Mitanni (see below), as well as independent peoples in the region. Assyria participated in these wars toward the end of the period, but the Kassites in Babylon did not. They did, however, fight against their longstanding rival to the east, Elam (related by some linguists to the Dravidian languages in modern India). In the end, the Elamites conquered Babylon, bringing this period to an end.


The Hurrians were a people who settled in northern Mesopotamia and South-East Anatolia circa 1600 BC, and by circa 1450 BC established a medium-sized empire called Mitanni, and temporarily made tributary vassals out of kings in the west, making them a major threat for the Pharaoh in Egypt. The Hurrian language is related to the later Urartian, but there is no conclusive evidence these two languages are related to any others.


By 1300 BC the Hurrians had been reduced to their homeland and the status of vassal to the "Hatti", the Hittites, a western Indo-European people (belonging to the linguistic "kentum" group) who dominated most of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) at this time from their capital of Hattusa.

Bronze Age collapse

Records from the 12th and 11th centuries BC are sparse, but Assyria and Babylon remained important. The 10th century is even worse, with very few inscriptions. Mesopotamia was not alone in this obscurity: the Hittite empire fell at the beginning of this period and the Egyptians left few records. This was a time of invasion by many new people throughout the Near East.

Iron Age

Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity

Northern Mesopotamia fell under Median Empire rule in the 7th-6th century BC (Cyaxares). Cyaxares reorganized and modernized the Median Army, then joined with King Nabopolassar of Babylon. These allies overthrew the Assyrian Empire and destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC. After this victory, the Medes conquered Northern Mesopotamia, Armenia and the parts of Asia Minor east of the Halys River, which was the border established with Lydia after a decisive battle between Lydia and Media, the Battle of Halys ended with an eclipse on May 28, 585 BC. Babylon and Lydia fell under Persian rule in the 6th century BC (Cyrus the Great).

After two centuries of Achaemenid rule, Mesopotamia fell to Alexander the Great in 330 BC, and remained under Hellenistic rule for another two centuries, with Seleucia as capital from 305 BC. In the 1st century BC, Mesopotamia was in constant turmoil as the Seleucid Empire was weakened by Parthia on one hand and the Mithridatic Wars on the other. The Parthian Empire lasted for five centuries, into the 3rd century AD, when it was succeeded by the Sassanids. The Sassanid Empire finally fell to the Rashidun army under Khalid ibn al-Walid in the 630s.

Middle Ages to Early Modern Period

During the early Middle Ages, Khalid ibn al-Walid led the Islamic conquest of Iraq in the early 7th century. The region came to be known as Iraq in Arabic and was ruled by the Caliphate for over six centuries until the 1258 sack of Baghdad. It then came under Mongol rule for nearly a century, and was then under Turkic rule for nearly another four centuries, throughout the late Middle Ages and into the Modern period, under the Safavids and later, following the conquests of the Ottomans (Suleiman the Magnificent).

Modern history

Following World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Mesopotamia was administered by the British Empire, in 1932 granted independence as a kingdom under Faisal I of Iraq, the first Arab monarch of Mesopotamia since caliph Al-Musta'sim. The Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by a military coup in 1958, and replaced by the Republic of Iraq.

See also


  1. ^ Early cultures include those of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians; it was also the source of major cultural innovations, such as the invention of writing. Absolute dates for events in the 2nd to 3rd millennia BCE are under some debate due to an uncertainty in chronology. The so-called "short chronology" is used in this article for consistency.


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