History of Mesopotamia

The history of Mesopotamia ranges from the earliest human occupation in the Lower Sumaya period up to the Late antiquity. This history is pieced together from evidence retrieved from archaeological excavations and, after the introduction of writing in the late 4th millennium BC, an increasing amount of historical sources. While in the Paleolithic and early Neolithic periods only parts of Upper Mesopotamia were occupied, the southern alluvium was settled during the late Neolithic period. Mesopotamia has been home to many of the oldest major civilizations, entering history 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 Uruk period, from c. 4000 BC onward; its regional independence ended with the Achaemenid conquest in 539 BC, although a few native neo-Assyrian kingdoms existed at different times.

N-Mesopotamia and Syria english
Map showing the extent of Mesopotamia

Short outline of Mesopotamia

Fertile crescent Neolithic B circa 7500 BC
Area of the Fertile Crescent, circa 7500 BC, with main archaeological sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. At that time, the area of Mesopotamia proper was not yet settled by humans.

Mesopotamia literally means "(Land) between rivers" in ancient Greek. The oldest known occurrence of the name Mesopotamia dates to the 4th century BC, when it was used to designate the land east of the Euphrates in north Syria.[1] Later it was more generally applied to all the lands between the Euphrates and the Tigris, thereby incorporating not only parts of Syria but also almost all of Iraq and southeastern Turkey.[2] The neighbouring steppes to the west of the Euphrates and the western part of the Zagros Mountains are also often included under the wider term Mesopotamia.[3][4][5] A further distinction is usually made between Upper or Northern Mesopotamia and Lower or Southern Mesopotamia.[6]

Upper Mesopotamia, also known as the Jezirah, is the area between the Euphrates and the Tigris from their sources down to Baghdad.[3] Lower Mesopotamia is the area from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.[6] In modern scientific usage, the term Mesopotamia often also has a chronological connotation. It is usually used to designate the area until the Arab Muslim conquests in the 7th century AD, with Arabic names like Syria, Jezirah and Iraq being used to describe the region after that date.[2][7][nb 1]

Chronology and periodization

Two types of chronologies can be distinguished: a relative chronology and an absolute chronology. The former establishes the order of phases, periods, cultures and reigns, whereas the latter establishes their absolute age expressed in years. In archaeology, relative chronologies are established by carefully excavating archaeological sites and reconstructing their stratigraphy – the order in which layers were deposited. In general, newer remains are deposited on top of older material. Absolute chronologies are established by dating remains, or the layers in which they are found, through absolute dating methods. These methods include radiocarbon dating and the written record that can provide year names or calendar dates.

By combining absolute and relative dating methods, a chronological framework has been built for Mesopotamia that still incorporates many uncertainties but that also continues to be refined.[8][9] In this framework, many prehistorical and early historical periods have been defined on the basis of material culture that is thought to be representative for each period. These periods are often named after the site at which the material was recognized for the first time, as is for example the case for the Halaf, Ubaid and Jemdet Nasr periods.[8] When historical documents become widely available, periods tend to be named after the dominant dynasty or state; examples of this are the Ur III and Old Babylonian periods.[10] While reigns of kings can be securely dated for the 1st millennium BC, there is an increasingly large error margin toward the 2nd and 3rd millennia BC.[9]

Based on different estimates for the length of periods for which still very few historical documents are available, so-called Long, Middle, Short and Ultra-short Chronologies have been proposed by various scholars, varying by as much as 150 years in their dating of specific periods.[11][12] Despite problems with the Middle Chronology, this chronological framework continues to be used by many recent handbooks on the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East.[9][13][14][15][16] A study from 2001 published high-resolution radiocarbon dates from Turkey supporting dates for the 2nd millennium BC that are very close to those proposed by the Middle Chronology.[17][nb 2]


Pre-Pottery Neolithic period

Göbekli Tepe
Overview of Göbekli Tepe with modern roof to protect the site against the weather

The early Neolithic human occupation of Mesopotamia is, like the previous Epipaleolithic period, confined to the foothill zones of the Taurus and Zagros Mountains and the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys. The Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period (10,000–8700 BC) saw the introduction of agriculture, while the oldest evidence for animal domestication dates to the transition from the PPNA to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB, 8700–6800 BC) at the end of the 9th millennium BC. This transition has been documented at sites like Abu Hureyra and Mureybet, which continued to be occupied from the Natufian well into the PPNB.[18][19] The so-far earliest monumental sculptures and circular stone buildings from Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey date to the PPNA/Early PPNB and represent, according to the excavator, the communal efforts of a large community of hunter-gatherers.[20][21]

Chalcolithic period

Mesopotamia 6000-4500
The development of Mesopotamia in the 7th–5th millennium BC was centered around the Hassuna culture in the north, the Halaf culture in the northwest, the Samarra culture in central Mesopotamia and the Ubaid culture in the southeast, which later expanded to encompass the whole region.

The Fertile Crescent was inhabited by 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.

Halaf culture (Northwestern Mesopotamia)

Pottery was decorated with abstract geometric patterns and ornaments, especially in the Halaf culture, also known for its clay fertility figurines, painted with lines. Clay was all around and the main material; often modelled figures were painted with black decoration. Carefully crafted and dyed pots, especially jugs and bowls, were traded. As dyes, iron oxide containing clays were diluted in different degrees or various minerals were mixed to produce different colours.

Hassuna culture (Northern Mesopotamia)

The Hassuna culture is a Neolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia dating to the early sixth millennium BC. It is named after the type site of Tell Hassuna in Iraq. Other sites where Hassuna material has been found include Tell Shemshara.

Samarra culture (Central Mesopotamia)

Female Statuette Halaf Culture 6000-5100 BCE
Female statuette, Samarra culture, 6000 BC

The Samarra culture is a Chalcolithic archaeological culture in northern Mesopotamia that is roughly dated to 5500–4800 BCE. It partially overlaps with the Hassuna and early Ubaid.

Ubaid culture (Southern Mesopotamia)

The Ubaid period (c. 6500–3800 BC)[22] is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-'Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia, where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.[23]

In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium.[24] In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.[25]

Northern expansion of Ubaid culture

Gebel el-Arak Knife ivory handle (front top part detail)
Mesopotamian king as Master of Animals on the Gebel el-Arak Knife, dated circa 3300-3200 BC, Abydos, Egypt. This work of art suggests early Egypt-Mesopotamia relations, showing the influence of Mesopotamia on Egypt at an early date, and the state of Mesopotamian royal iconography during the Uruk period. Louvre Museum.[26][27]
Uruk King-Priest 3300 BCE portrait detail
Similar portrait of a probable Uruk King-Priest with a brimmed round hat and large beard, excavated in Uruk and dated to 3300 BC. Louvre Museum.[28]

In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC.[25] It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period. The new period is named Northern Ubaid to distinguish it from the proper Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia,[29] and two explanations were presented for the transformation. The first maintain an invasion and a replacement of the Halafians by the Ubaidians, however, there is no hiatus between the Halaf and northern Ubaid which exclude the invasion theory.[30][31] The most plausible theory is a Halafian adoption of the Ubaid culture,[30][29][31][32]

Uruk period

This was followed by the Uruk period. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization.[33] The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age; it may also be called the "Protoliterate period".

Third millennium BC

Jemdet Nasr period

Cuneiform tablet- administrative account of barley distribution with cylinder seal impression of a male figure, hunting dogs, and boars MET DT847
Administrative tablet in Proto-cuneiform, Jemdet Nasr period 3100–2900 BC, probably from the city of Uruk.

The Jemdet Nasr period, named after the type-site Jemdet Nasr, is generally dated to 3100–2900 BC.[34] It was first distinguished on the basis of distinctive painted monochrome and polychrome pottery with geometric and figurative designs.[35] The cuneiform writing system that had been developed during the preceding Uruk period was further refined. While the language in which these tablets were written cannot be identified with certainty for this period, it is thought to be Sumerian. The texts deal with administrative matters like the rationing of foodstuffs or lists of objects or animals.[36] Settlements during this period were highly organized around a central building that controlled all aspects of society. The economy focused on local agricultural production and sheep-and-goat pastoralism. The homogeneity of the Jemdet Nasr period across a large area of southern Mesopotamia indicates intensive contacts and trade between settlements. This is strengthened by the find of a sealing at Jemdet Nasr that lists a number of cities that can be identified, including Ur, Uruk and Larsa.[37]

Early Dynastic period

Golden helmet of Meskalamdug in the British Museum
Golden helmet of Meskalamdug, possible founder of the First Dynasty of Ur, 26th century BCE.

The entire Early Dynastic period is generally dated to 2900–2350 BC according to the Middle Chronology, or 2800–2230 BC according to the Short Chronology.[38] 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.[39] 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.

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 ever more sophisticated. Throughout the millennium, the various city-states Kish, Uruk, Ur and Lagash vied for power and gained hegemony at various times. Nippur and Girsu 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. By 2600 BC, the logographic script had developed into a decipherable cuneiform syllabic script.

Mesopotamian Chronology 2-2011-29-03
Chronology of the main dominations

The chronology of this era is particularly uncertain due to difficulties in our understanding of the text, our understanding of the material culture of the Early Dynastic period and a general lack of radiocarbon dates for sites in Iraq. Also, the multitude of city-states makes for a confusing situation, as each has 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, c. 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 Eannatum of Lagash who also conquered Sumer. His methods were force and intimidation (see the Stele of the Vultures), and soon after his death, the cities rebelled and the empire again fell apart. Some time later, Lugal-Anne-Mundu of Adab created the first, if short-lived, empire to extend west of Mesopotamia, at least according to historical accounts dated centuries later. The last native Sumerian to rule over most of Sumer before Sargon of Akkad established supremacy was Lugal-Zage-Si.

During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians which included widespread bilingualism.[40] The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence.[40] This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the 3rd millennium as a sprachbund.[40]

Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate),[41] but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD.

Akkadian Empire

Empire akkad
Map of the Akkadian Empire (brown) and the directions in which military campaigns were conducted (yellow arrows)
Map of the Ur III state (brown) and its influence sphere (red)

The Akkadian period is generally dated to 2350–2170 BC according to the Middle Chronology, or 2230–2050 BC according to the Short Chronology.[38] Around 2334 BC, Sargon became ruler of Akkad in northern Mesopotamia. He proceeded to conquer an area stretching from the Persian Gulf into modern-day Syria. The Akkadians were a Semitic people and the Akkadian language came into widespread use as the lingua franca during this period, but literacy remained in the Sumerian language. The Akkadians further developed the Sumerian irrigation system with the incorporation of large weirs and diversion dams into the design to facilitate the reservoirs and canals required to transport water vast distances.[42] The dynasty continued until around c. 2154 BC, and reached its zenith under Naram-Sin, who began the trend for rulers to claim divinity for themselves.

The Akkadian Empire lost power after the reign of Naram-Sin, and eventually was invaded by the Guti from the Zagros Mountains. For half a century the Guti controlled Mesopotamia, especially the south, but they left few inscriptions, so they are not well understood. The Guti hold loosened on southern Mesopotamia, where the second dynasty of Lagash came into prominence. Its most famous ruler was Gudea, who left many statues of himself in temples across Sumer.

Ur III period

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 Ur III Empire (2112–2004 BC) and conquered the Sumerian region. 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). Around 2000 BC, the power of Ur waned, and the Amorites came to occupy much of the area, although it was Sumer's long-standing rivals to the east, the Elamites, who finally overthrew Ur. In the north, Assyria remained free of Amorite control until the very end of the 19th century BC. 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.

Second millennium BC

Old Assyrian Period

Of the early history of the kingdom of Assyria, little is positively known. The Assyrian King List mentions rulers going back to the 23rd and 22nd century BC. The earliest king named Tudiya, who was a contemporary of Ibrium of Ebla, appears to have lived in the mid-23rd century BC, according to the king list. Tudiya concluded a treaty with Ibrium for the use of a trading post in The Levant officially controlled by Ebla. Apart from this reference to trading activity, nothing further has yet been discovered about Tudiya. He was succeeded by Adamu and then a further thirteen rulers about all of whom nothing is yet known. These early kings from the 23rd to late 21st centuries BC, who are recorded as kings who lived in tents were likely to have been semi nomadic pastoralist rulers, nominally independent but subject to the Akkadian Empire, who dominated the region and at some point during this period became fully urbanised and founded the city state of Ashur.[43] A king named Ushpia (c. 2030 BC) is credited with dedicating temples to Ashur in the home city of the god. In around 1975 BC Puzur-Ashur I founded a new dynasty, and his successors such as Shalim-ahum, Ilushuma (1945–1906 BC), Erishum I (1905–1867 BC), Ikunum (1867–1860 BC), Sargon I, Naram-Sin and Puzur-Ashur II left inscriptions regarding the building of temples to Ashur, Adad and Ishtar in Assyria. Ilushuma in particular appears to have been a powerful king and the dominant ruler in the region, who made many raids into southern Mesopotamia between 1945 BC and 1906 BC, attacking the independent Sumero-Akkadian city states of the region such as Isin, and founding colonies in Asia Minor. This was to become a pattern throughout the history of ancient Mesopotamia with the future rivalry between Assyria and Babylonia. However, Babylonia did not exist at this time, but was founded in 1894 BC by an Amorite prince named Sumuabum during the reign of Erishum I.

Isin-Larsa, Old Babylonian and Shamshi-Adad I

Cylinder seal and modern impression Presentation scene,ca. 2000–1750 B.C. Isin-Larsa
Cylinder seal and modern impression. Presentation scene, ca. 2000–1750 B.C. Isin-Larsa
Anubanini (3936968576)
Original relief.
Anubanini extracted
Components of the relief.

The next two centuries or so saw southern Mesopotamia dominated by the Amorite cities of Isin and Larsa, as the two cities vied for dominance. This period also marked a growth in power in the north of Mesopotamia. An Assyrian king named Ilushuma (1945–1906 BC) became a dominant figure in Mesopotamia, raiding the southern city states and founding colonies in Asia Minor. Eshnunna and Mari, two Amorite ruled states also became important in the north.

Babylonia was founded as an independent state by an Amorite chieftain named Sumuabum in 1894 BC. For over a century after its founding, it was a minor and relatively weak state, overshadowed by older and more powerful states such as Isin, Larsa, Assyria and Elam. However, Hammurabi (1792 BC to 1750 BC), the Amorite ruler of Babylon, turned Babylon into a major power and eventually conquered Mesopotamia and beyond. He is 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 first Babylonian dynasty lasted for another century and a half, but his empire quickly unravelled, and Babylon once more became a small state. The Amorite dynasty ended in 1595 BC, when Babylonia fell to the Hittite king Mursilis, after which the Kassites took control.

Unlike the south of Mesopotamia, the native Akkadian kings of Assyria repelled Amorite advances during the 20th and 19th centuries BC. However this changed in 1813 BC when an Amorite king named Shamshi-Adad I usurped the throne of Assyria. Although claiming descendency from the native Assyrian king Ushpia, he was regarded as an interloper. Shamshi-Adad I created a regional empire in Assyria, maintaining and expanding the established colonies in Asia Minor and Syria. His son Ishme-Dagan I continued this process, however his successors were eventually conquered by Hammurabi, a fellow Amorite from Babylon. The three Amorite kings succeeding Ishme-Dagan were vassals of Hammurabi, but after his death, a native Akkadian vice regent Puzur-Sin overthrew the Amorites of Babylon and a period of civil war with multiple claimants to the throne ensued, ending with the succession of king Adasi c. 1720 BC.

Middle Assyrian Period and Empire

The Middle Assyrian period begins c. 1720 BC with the ejection of Amorites and Babylonians from Assyria by a king called Adasi. The nation remained relatively strong and stable, peace was made with the Kassite rulers of Babylonia, and Assyria was free from Hittite, Hurrian, Gutian, Elamite and Mitanni threat. However a period of Mitanni domination occurred from the mid-15th to early 14th centuries BC. This was ended by Eriba-Adad I (1392 BC - 1366), and his successor Ashur-uballit I completely overthrew the Mitanni Empire and founded a powerful Assyrian Empire that came to dominate Mesopotamia and much of the ancient Near East (including Babylonia, Asia Minor, Iran, the Levant and parts of the Caucasus and Arabia), with Assyrian armies campaigning from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian, and from the Caucasus to Arabia. The empire endured until 1076 BC with the death of Tiglath-Pileser I. During this period Assyria became a major power, overthrowing the Mitanni Empire, annexing swathes of Hittite, Hurrian and Amorite land, sacking and dominating Babylon, Canaan/Phoenicia and becoming a rival to Egypt.

Kassite dynasty of Babylon

Although the Hittites overthrew Babylon, another people, the Kassites, took it as their capital (c. 1650–1155 BC (short chronology)). 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 Babylonia 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, overthrowing the Mitanni Empire and besting the Hittites and Phrygians, 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). Babylonia found itself under Assyrian and Elamite domination for much of the later Kassite period. In the end, the Elamites conquered Babylon, bringing this period to an end.


Cylinder seal,ca. 16th–15th century BC Mitanni
Cylinder seal,ca. 16th–15th century BC, Mitanni

The Hurrians were a people who settled in northwestern Mesopotamia and southeast Anatolia in 1600 BC. By 1450 BC they established a medium-sized empire under a Mitanni ruling class, and temporarily made tributary vassals out of kings in the west, making them a major threat for the Pharaoh in Egypt until their overthrow by Assyria. 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 homelands in Asia Minor after their power was broken by the Assyrians and Hittites, and held the status of vassals 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. The Hittites came into conflict with the Assyrians from the mid-14th to the 13th centuries BC, losing territory to the Assyrian kings of the period. However they endured until being finally swept aside by the Phrygians, who conquered their homelands in Asia Minor. The Phrygians were prevented from moving south into Mesopotamia by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser I. The Hittites fragmented into a number of small Neo-Hittite states, which endured in the region for many centuries.

Bronze Age collapse

Records from the 12th and 11th centuries BC are sparse in Babylonia, which had been overrun with new Semitic settlers, namely the Arameans, Chaldeans and Sutu. Assyria however, remained a compact and strong nation, which continued to provide much written record. The 10th century BC is even worse for Babylonia, with very few inscriptions. Mesopotamia was not alone in this obscurity: the Hittite Empire fell at the beginning of this period and very few records are known from Egypt and Elam. This was a time of invasion and upheaval by many new people throughout the Near East, North Africa, The Caucasus, Mediterranean and Balkan regions.

First millennium BC

Neo-Assyrian Empire

Assyrian Crown-Prince MET DP-13006-005
Assyrian Crown-Prince, ca. 704–681 BC. Nineveh, Mesopotamia. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire is usually considered to have begun with the accession of Adad-nirari II, in 911 BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Babylonians, Medes, Scythians and Cimmerians in 612 BC. The empire was the largest and most powerful the world had yet seen. At its height Assyria conquered the 25th dynasty Egypt (and expelled its Nubian/Kushite dynasty) as well as Babylonia, Chaldea, Elam, Media, Persia, Urartu, Phoenicia, Aramea/Syria, Phrygia, the Neo-Hittites, Hurrians, northern Arabia, Gutium, Israel, Judah, Moab, Edom, Corduene, Cilicia, Mannea and parts of Ancient Greece (such as Cyprus), and defeated and/or exacted tribute from Scythia, Cimmeria, Lydia, Nubia, Ethiopia and others.

Neo-Babylonian Empire

The Neo-Babylonian Empire or Second Babylonian Empire was a period of Mesopotamian history which began in 620 BC and ended in 539 BC. During the preceding three centuries, Babylonia had been ruled by their fellow Akkadian speakers and northern neighbours, Assyria. The Assyrians had managed to maintain Babylonian loyalty through the Neo-Assyrian period, whether through granting of increased privileges, or militarily, but that finally changed after 627 BC with the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, and Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar a Chaldean chieftain the following year. In alliance with king Cyaxares of the Medes, and with the help of the Scythians and Cimmerians the city of Nineveh was sacked in 612 BC, Assyria fell by 605 BC and the seat of empire was transferred to Babylonia for the first time since Hammurabi.

Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity

After the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC, the Assyrian empire descended into a series of bitter civil wars, allowing its former vassals to free themselves. Cyaxares reorganized and modernized the Median Army, then joined with King Nabopolassar of Babylon. These allies, together with the Scythians, overthrew the Assyrian Empire and destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC. After the final victory at Carchemish in 605 BC the Medes and Babylonians ruled Assyria. Babylon and Media fell under Persian rule in the 6th century BC (Cyrus the Great).

For two centuries of Achaemenid rule both Assyria and Babylonia flourished, Achaemenid Assyria in particular becoming a major source of manpower for the army and a breadbasket for the economy. Mesopotamian Aramaic remained the lingua franca of the Achaemenid Empire, much as it had done in Assyrian times. 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. After constant wars between Romans and first Parthians, later Sassanids; the western part of Mesopotamia was passed to the Roman Empire. Christianity as well as Mandeism entered Mesopotamia from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, and flourished, particularly in Assyria (Assuristan in Sassanid Persian), which became the center of the Assyrian Church of the East and a flourishing Syriac Christian tradition which remains to this day. A number of Neo-Assyrian kingdoms arose, in particular Adiabene. The Sassanid Empire and Byzantine Mesopotamia finally fell to the Rashidun army under Khalid ibn al-Walid in the 630s. After the Arab-Islamic conquest of the mid-7th century AD, Mesopotamia saw an influx of non native Arabs and later also Turkic peoples. The city of Assur was still occupied until the 14th century, and Assyrians possibly still formed the majority in northern Mesopotamia until the Middle Ages. Assyrians retain Eastern Rite Christianity whereas the Mandaeans retain their ancient gnostic religion and Mesopotamian Aramaic as a mother tongue and written script to this day. Among these peoples, the giving of traditional Mesopotamian names is still common.

See also


  1. ^ This page will use Mesopotamia in its widest geographical and chronological sense.
  2. ^ This page will use the Middle Chronology.


  1. ^ Finkelstein 1962, p. 73
  2. ^ a b Foster & Polinger Foster 2009, p. 6
  3. ^ a b Canard 2011
  4. ^ Wilkinson 2000, pp. 222–223
  5. ^ Matthews 2003, p. 5
  6. ^ a b Miquel et al. 2011
  7. ^ Bahrani 1998
  8. ^ a b Matthews 2003, pp. 65–66
  9. ^ a b c van de Mieroop 2007, p. 4
  10. ^ van de Mieroop 2007, p. 3
  11. ^ Brinkman 1977
  12. ^ Gasche et al. 1998
  13. ^ Kuhrt 1997, p. 12
  14. ^ Potts 1999, p. xxix
  15. ^ Akkermans & Schwartz 2003, p. 13
  16. ^ Sagona & Zimansky 2009, p. 251
  17. ^ Manning et al. 2001
  18. ^ Moore, Hillman & Legge 2000
  19. ^ Akkermans & Schwartz 2003
  20. ^ Schmidt 2003
  21. ^ Banning 2011
  22. ^ Carter, Robert A. and Philip, Graham Beyond the Ubaid: Transformation and Integration in the Late Prehistoric Societies of the Middle East (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, Number 63) The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (2010) ISBN 978-1-885923-66-0 p. 2; "Radiometric data suggest that the whole Southern Mesopotamian Ubaid period, including Ubaid 0 and 5, is of immense duration, spanning nearly three millennia from about 6500 to 3800 B.C."
  23. ^ Hall, Henry R. and Woolley, C. Leonard. 1927. Al-'Ubaid. Ur Excavations 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  24. ^ Adams, Robert MCC. and Wright, Henry T. 1989. 'Concluding Remarks' in Henrickson, Elizabeth and Thuesen, Ingolf (eds.) Upon This Foundation - The ’Ubaid Reconsidered. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press. pp. 451-456.
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Further reading

  • Joannès, Francis (2004). The Age of Empires: Mesopotamia in the First Millennium BC. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-1755-8.
  • Matthews, Roger (2000). The Early Prehistory of Mesopotamia: 500,000 to 4,500 BC. Subartu. 5. Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 2-503-50729-8.
  • Nissen, Hans J. (1988). The Early History of the Ancient Near East 9000–2000 B.C. London: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-58656-1.
  • Postgate, J.N. (1992). Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-11032-7.
  • Saggs, H.W.F. (1990). Assyria: The Might that Was. London: Sidgwick and Johnson. ISBN 0-312-03511-X.
  • Simpson, St. John (1997). "Mesopotamia from Alexander to the Rise of Islam". In Meyers, Eric M. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East. 3. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 484–487. ISBN 0-19-506512-3.
1921 Iraqi monarchy referendum

A referendum was held in Mandatory Iraq between 16 July and 11 August 1921 to determine the form of government and head of state.

Akkad (city)

Akkad () or Agade (cuneiform: 𒌵𒆠 URIKI) was the name of a Mesopotamian city and its surrounding area.

Akkad was the capital of the Akkadian Empire, which was the dominant political force in Mesopotamia during a period of about 150 years in the last third of the 3rd millennium BC.

Its location is unknown, although there are a number of candidate sites, mostly situated east of the Tigris, roughly between the modern cities of Samarra and Baghdad.

Ancient Records of Egypt

Ancient Records of Egypt is a five-volume work by James Henry Breasted, published in 1906, in which the author has attempted to translate and publish all of the ancient written records of Egyptian history which had survived to the time of his work at the start of the twentieth century. (Breasted notes that his work covers only ancient “historical documents”, and generally does not include ancient Egyptian literature, religious writings, or texts on science, mathematics, or medicine.)

Volume I, The First to the Seventeenth Dynasties

Volume II, The Eighteenth Dynasty

Volume III, The Nineteenth Dynasty

Volume IV, The Twentieth to the Twenty-Sixth Dynasties

Volume V, Indices It was part of a proposed three-part set of translations of original texts by different authors, which at the time were difficult to find:

History of Egypt (five volumes)

History of Assyria (two volumes)

History of MesopotamiaOnly the first two collections — those from Egypt and Assyria — were published.


Anthemusias (Greek: Ανθεμουσιάς) or Charax Sidae was an ancient Mesopotamian town, according to Pliny and Strabo. Isidore of Charax says that it was 8 schoeni from Apamea near the Euphrates on the road to Seleucia, and Ptolemy places it “at the foot of a mountain called Caspius".The city was founded by one of the early Seleucids and, according to Ptolemy, was situated next to Apameia.

"Tiridates meanwhile, with the consent of the Parthians, received the submission of Nicephorium, Anthemusias and the other cities, which having been founded by Macedonians, claim Greek names, also of the Parthian towns Halus and Artemita. There was a rivalry of joy among the inhabitants who detested Artabanus, bred as he had been among the Scythians, for his cruelty, and hoped to find in Tiridates a kindly spirit from his Roman training." This conquest by Tiridates III in 35 CE over Artabanus II was short-lived as Artabanus soon returned from Hyrcania with an army of Dahae Scythians. However, he was forced to accept a treaty with the Lucius Vitellius, the Roman governor of Syria, in 37CE, in which he gave up all power.

Ba'athist Iraq

Ba'athist Iraq, formally the Iraqi Republic, covers the history of Iraq between 1968 and 2003, during the period of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party's rule. This period began with high economic growth and soaring prosperity, but ended with Iraq facing social, political, and economic stagnation. The average annual income decreased because of several external factors, and several internal policies of the government.

Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Arif, and Iraqi Prime Minister Tahir Yahya, were ousted during the 17 July coup d'état led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr of the Ba'ath Party, which had previously held power in 1963 and was led primarily by al-Bakr, its leader, and Saddam Hussein. Saddam through his post as de facto chief of the party's intelligence services, became the country's de facto leader by the mid-1970s, and became de jure leader in 1979 when he succeeded al-Bakr in office as President. During al-Bakr's de jure rule, the country's economy grew, and Iraq's standing within the Arab world increased. However, several internal factors were threatening the country's stability, among them the country's conflict with Iran and factions within Iraq's own Shia Muslim community. An external problem was the border conflict with Iran, which would contribute to the Iran–Iraq War.

Saddam became the President of Iraq, Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Prime Minister and General Secretary of the Regional Command of the Ba'ath Party in 1979, during a wave of anti-government protests in Iraq led by Shias. The Ba'ath Party, which was officially secular in nature, harshly repressed the protests. Another policy change was Iraq's foreign policy towards Iran, a Shia Muslim country. Deteriorating relations eventually led to the Iran–Iraq War, which started in 1980 when Iraq launched a full-scale invasion of Iran. Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Iraqis believed the Iranians to be weak, and thus an easy target for their military. This notion proved to be incorrect, and the war lasted for eight years. Iraq's economy deteriorated during the war, and the country became dependent on foreign donations to fund their war effort. The war ended in a stalemate when a ceasefire was reached in 1988, which resulted in a status quo ante bellum.

When the war ended, Iraq found itself in the midst of an economic depression, owed millions of dollars to foreign countries, and was unable to repay its creditors. Kuwait, which had deliberately increased oil output following the war, reducing international oil prices, further weakened the Iraqi economy. In response to this, Saddam threatened Kuwait that, unless it reduced its oil output, Iraq would invade. Negotiations broke down, and on 2 August 1990, Iraq launched an invasion of Kuwait. The resulting international response led to the Persian Gulf War, which Iraq lost. The United Nations (UN) initiated economic sanctions in the war's aftermath to weaken the Ba'athist Iraqi regime. The country's economic conditions worsened during the 1990s, and at the turn of the 21st century, Iraq's economy started to grow again as several states ignored the UN's sanctions. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001, the United States initiated a Global War on Terrorism, and labelled Iraq as a part of an "Axis of Evil". In 2003, U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq, and the Ba'athist Iraqi regime was deposed less than a month later.

Egypt-Mesopotamia relations

Egypt-Mesopotamia relations seem to have developed from the 4th millennium BCE, starting in the Uruk period for Mesopotamia and the Gerzean culture of pre-literate Prehistoric Egypt (circa 3500-3200 BCE). Influences can be seen in the visual arts of Egypt, in imported products, and also in the possible transfer of writing from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and generated "deep-seated" parallels in the early stages of both cultures.

First Dynasty of Ur

The First Dynasty of Ur was a 26th century-25th century BCE dynasty of rulers of the city of Ur in ancient Sumer. It is part of the Early Dynastic period III of the History of Mesopotamia. It was preceded by the earlier First dynasty of Kish and First Dynasty of Uruk.

Georges Roux

Georges Raymond Nicolas Albert Roux (French: [ʁu]; November 16, 1914 – August 12, 1999) was a French writer, author of the popular history books about the Ancient Near East, Ancient Iraq and La Mésopotamie.

Son of a French Army officer, Roux moved with his family to the Middle East at the age of nine where he subsequently lived for 12 years in Syria and Lebanon before returning to France in 1935. Roux was educated by Jesuits in Beirut and studied medicine at the University of Paris, where he graduated in medicine in 1941 and later studied Oriental studies at École pratique des hautes études.

In 1950 Roux became a medical officer for the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) as a medical officer, spending his first two years in Qatar and the remainder in Iraq. During his time with the IPC the company produced the magazines Iraq Petroleum and The Crescent, and Roux was commissioned to produce articles. Through the duration of 1956-1960, Roux published a series of articles, The Story of Ancient Iraq. They form the basis of his later books.After the 14 July Revolution of Iraq in 1958, Roux returned to Europe and headed the International medical department at GlaxoWellcome, retiring in 1980. In 1964, he published in English Ancient Iraq, a book covering the political, cultural, and socioeconomic history of Mesopotamia. In 1985 he published a fuller French work, La Mésopotamie, but the English book's third edition, of 1992, has further enhancements.

History of Iraq (2003–2011)

The history of Iraq from 2003 to 2011 is characterized by a large United States military deployment on Iraqi territory, beginning with the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003 which overthrew the Ba'ath Party government of Saddam Hussein and ending with the departure of US troops from the country in 2011 (though the Iraq War that commenced in 2003 continued and subsequently intensified during 2013). Troops for the invasion came primarily from the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, but 29 other nations also provided some troops, and there were varying levels of assistance from Japan and other countries.

It was a period of violence and political turmoil with strong foreign influence exerted on Iraqi politics. In April 2003, a military occupation was established and run by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which later appointed and granted limited powers to an Iraq Interim Governing Council. In June 2004, a caretaker government was established – the Iraqi Interim Government. Following parliamentary elections in January 2005, this administration was replaced in May by the Iraqi Transitional Government. A year later, the Al Maliki I Government took office.

During this period, tens of thousands of private military company personnel—many from abroad—were employed in the protection of infrastructure, facilities and personnel. Efforts toward the reconstruction of Iraq after the damage of the invasion were slowed when coalition and allied Iraqi forces fought a stronger-than-expected militant Iraqi insurgency, leading to difficult living conditions for the population of Iraq throughout the period.

Iraqi Republic (1958–68)

The Iraqi Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العراقية‎ al-Jumhūrīyah al-'Irāqīyah) was a state forged in 1958 under the rule of President Muhammad Najib ar-Ruba'i and Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim. ar-Ruba'i and Qasim first came to power through the 14 July Revolution in which the Kingdom of Iraq's Hashemite monarchy was overthrown. As a result, the Kingdom and the Arab Federation were dissolved and the Iraqi republic established. The era ended with the Ba'athist rise to power in 1968.

Jemdet Nasr period

The Jemdet Nasr Period is an archaeological culture in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). It is generally dated from 3100–2900 BC. It is named after the type site Tell Jemdet Nasr, where the assemblage typical for this period was first recognized. Its geographical distribution is limited to south-central Iraq. The culture of the proto-historical Jemdet Nasr period is a local development out of the preceding Uruk period and continues into the Early Dynastic I period.


Khvārvarān, was a military quarter of the Sasanian Empire. Intensive irrigation agriculture of the lower Tigris and Euphrates and of tributaries such as the Diyala and Karun formed the main resource base of the Sassanid monarchy.

Michael G. Morony

Michael Gregory Morony (born September 30, 1939) has been a professor of history at UCLA since 1974, with interests in the history of Ancient and Islamic Near East.Morony was born in 1939 in Sacramento. He holds a BA in Near Eastern Languages from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA in Islamic Studies and a PhD (1972) in History from the University of California, Los Angeles. His dissertation, originally advised by Gustave von Grunebaum, was concerned with the history of Mesopotamia after the Islamic Conquests. The edited dissertation was later published as Iraq After the Muslim Conquest. Upon von Grunebaum's death, his dissertation was supervised by Nikki Keddie. In addition to these scholars, Morony has also worked with W. B. Henning in Berkeley and M. A. Shaban.Morony's research is mostly concerned with the economic history of the Near East, North Africa and Muslim Spain. He has written many articles on the subject and is considered one of the authorities on the socio-economic history of the region in the pre-modern period.


Naram-Suen (Naram-Sin) may refer to any of four kings in the history of Mesopotamia:

Naram-Sin of Akkad (c. 2190–2154 BC), an Akkadian king, the most famous of the four

Naram-Sin of Assyria (c. 1872–1845 BC), an Assyrian king

Naram-Sin of Uruk (c. 19th century BC), a king of Uruk

Naram-Suen of Eshnunna (c. 19th century BC), a king of Eshnunna


Sawad was the name used in early Islamic times (7th–12th centuries) for southern Iraq. It means "black land" and refers to the stark contrast between the alluvial plain of Mesopotamia and the Arabian desert. Under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, it was an official political term for a province encompassing most of modern Iraq (except for the western desert and al-Jazira in the north).

As a generic term, it was used to denote the irrigated and cultivated areas in any district, in Arabic and Persian.

Siege of Singara (344)

The Battle of Singara was fought in 348 between Roman and Sassanid Persian forces. The Romans were led in person by Emperor Constantius II, while the Persian army was led by King Shapur II of Persia. It is the only one of the nine pitched battles recorded to have been fought in a war of over twenty years, marked primarily by indecisive siege warfare, of which any details have been preserved. The Romans were decisively defeated, suffering heavy casualties.

Siege of Singara (360)

The Siege of Singara took place in 360, when the Sasanian Empire, under Shapur II, besieged the town of Singara, held by the Roman Empire. The Sasanians successfully captured the town from the Romans.The wall was breached after some days by battering ram, and the town fell. The 1st Flavian and 1st Parthian legions which had formed the garrison, as well as the inhabitants of Singara, were sent into captivity in Sasanid Persia.


Singara (Greek: τὰ Σίγγαρα, tà Síngara) was a strongly fortified post at the northern extremity of Mesopotamia, which for a while, as it appears from coins found, was occupied by the Romans as an advanced colony against the Persians. It was the camp of legio I Parthica.

Uruk period

The Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC) existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period. Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia and the Sumerian civilization. The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age; it may also be called the Protoliterate period. It was during this period that pottery painting declined as copper started to become popular, along with cylinder seals.

Culture / Society
Bronze Age

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