Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations

Ancient Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia—mainly modern-day Iraq and Kuwait—is often called the cradle of civilization because some influential early city-states and empires emerged there. It was one of the first places to develop agriculture, and was also a melting pot of languages and cultures that had a lasting impact on writing, language, trade, religion, and law. Mesopotamia included ancient cultures that interacted with and ruled over each other over a period of several thousand years.


Sumerian civilization formed in southern Mesopotamia around 4000 BCE. Mesopotamians developed one of the first written scripts: wedge-shaped marks pressed into clay tablets. This cuneiform script was adapted by surrounding peoples to write their own languages, until Phoenician became the dominant script. Mesopotamians recorded sales, wrote letters, and told stories. Sumerians may have invented the wheel. They built ships to travel into the Persian Gulf and trade with other early civilizations, such as in northern India. They traded textiles, leather goods, and jewelry for copper, pearls, and ivory. Sumerian religion was polytheistic and the gods often had a human-like form. Sumerians built temples atop massive ziggurats in the centers of most cities. These structures took thousands of people many years to construct.

Akkadian Empire

Around 3000 BCE, the Sumerians had significant cultural interchange with the Akkadians. The Akkadian language is related to the modern Semitic languages of Hebrew and Arabic. Around 2334 BCE, Sargon of Akkad established the world’s first dynastic empire, ruling over both the Akkadian and Sumerian speakers in Mesopotamia and the Levant—modern day Syria and Lebanon—for 180 years.

Assyrian Empire

Ashur was originally one of a number of Akkadian-speaking city-states during the Akkadian Empire. Following the collapse of the Akkadian Empire, Assyria became a major empire. From the late twenty-first century BCE until the late seventh century BCE, the Assyrians were the dominant power.


Hammurabi freed Babylon from foreign rule and brought stability to the region. Around 1754 BCE the Code of Hammurabi was written on stone slabs and clay tablets. The Code contains 282 laws with scaled punishments depending on social status. For example, if a person from a noble class broke an enslaved person’s arm, they would have to pay a fine; if they broke another noble person's arm, they would have their arm broken. These were early forms of constitutional government, with the presumption of innocence and the ability to present evidence. The Hammurabi Babylonian Empire lasted for 260 years, until Babylon was destroyed by invaders. Later, Babylon asserted itself again until the Persians came.

Source: Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations
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