word Mesopotamia comes from Greek words meaning "land between the
rivers." The rivers are the Tigris and Euphrates. The first settlers
to this region did not speak Greek, it was only thousands of years later
that the Greek-speaking Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, conquered
this land and carried with him his culture.
Mesopotamia is located the modern country of Iraq, while Upper Mesopotamia
is in Syria and Turkey
is considered the cradle, or beginning, of civilization. Here large
cities lined the rivers and many advances took place. Mesopotamia at
first glance does not look like an ideal place for a civilization to
flourish. It is hot and very dry. There is very little rainfall in Lower
Mesopotamia. However, snow, melting in the mountains at the source of
these two rivers, created an annual flooding. The flooding deposited
silt, which is fertile, rich, soil, on the banks of the rivers every
year. This is why Mesopotamia is part of the fertile crescent, an area
of land in the Middle East that is rich in fertile soil and crescent-shaped.
Sumerians were the first people to migrate to Mesopotamia, they created
a great civilization. Beginning around 5,500 years ago, the Sumerians
built cities along the rivers in Lower Mesopotamia, specialized, cooperated,
and made many advances in technology. The wheel, plow, and writing (a
system which we call cuneiform) are examples of their achievements.
The farmers in Sumer created levees to hold back the floods from their
fields and cut canals to channel river water to the fields. The use
of levees and canals is called irrigation, another Sumerian invention.
A typical Sumerian city-state, notice the ziggurat, the tallest
building in the city
The Sumerians had a common language and believed in the same gods and
goddesses. The belief in more than one god is called polytheism. There
were seven great city-states, each with its own king and a building
called a ziggurat, a large pyramid-shaped building with a temple at
the top, dedicated to a Sumerian deity. Although the Sumerian city-states
had much in common, they fought for control of the river water, a valuable
resource. Each city-state needed an army to protect itself from its
From Nomads to Farmers
the video clip below from Discovery Education, as Nissaba, a young Sumerian
girl, talks about her people's accomplishments.
1922, English archaeologist, C. Leonard Woolley went to Southern Iraq
in hopes of finding the Sumerian city-state of Ur. Woolley learned archaeology
from some of the best of his day, and now he was ready to strike off
on his own. Many people felt that Ur was only a myth, but Woolley, the
son of a clergyman, was fascinated by the stories his father told about
Ur, which, according to the Bible, was the birth place of Abraham. Abraham
is a central figure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three monotheistic
decided to excavate near the ruins of a ziggurat and began to dig two
trenches. Here, Woolley confirmed that the site was the ancient Sumerian
city-state of Ur. Woolley's discovery of Ur along with the artifacts
and burials there give us a glimpse of life in Sumer 4,500 years ago.
Woolley discovered graves of common people, but also royal graves, including
that of a Sumerian queen named Pu-Abi.
Sargon was an excellent commander, he organized his army into
different units, including donkey-drawn war chariots, used to scare
and trample his enemies
Around 2,300 BC, the independent city-states of Sumer were conquered
by a man called Sargon the Great of Akkad, who had once ruled the city-state
of Kish. Sargon was an Akkadian, a Semitic group of desert nomads who
eventually settled in Mesopotamia just north of Sumer. The Sumerian
king, Lugal-Zaggisi, tried to form a coalition of Sumerian city-states
against Sargon, but he was defeated by the Akkadian. Sargon is considered
the first empire builder. Sargon made Agade the capital city of his
daughter, Enheduanna, was first world's first credited author because
she signed her name to a set of poems she wrote about her gods and goddesses.
Sargon's son and grandson ruled after him, but eventually the Akkadian
Empire fell, and was replaced by the Old Babylonian Empire. We will
learn more about the Babylonians in the next chapter.
Akkadian Empire stretched across all of Mesopotamia. You can see the
military campaigns of both Sargon, and his grandson, Naram Sin.