• Categorized as the earliest of all civilizations as people formed permanent settlements
  • Mesopotamia is a Greek word that means “between the rivers”
  • Specifically, the area between the Tigris River and Euphrates River (present day Iraq)
  • Mesopotamia is not within the “Fertile crescent“, it is in the more desert area that the “Fertile crescent” arcs around

Geographic Conditions

  • Little rainfall for crops
  • Hot and dry climate in the summers
  • Winters brought fierce windstorms leaving muddy river valleys
  • Springs brought catastrophic flooding of the rivers
  • Arid soil containing little minerals
  • No stone or timber resources

Then why live in Mesopotamia?

  • NATURAL LEVEES: embankments produced by build-up of sediment over thousands of years of flooding

Natural Levee

  • create a high and safe flood plains
  • make irrigation and canal construction easy
  • provide protection
  • the surrounding swamps were full of fish &  waterfowl
  • reeds provided food for sheep / goats
  • reeds also were used as building resources

History of Mesopotamia

  • Over the centuries, many different people lived in this area creating a collection of independent states
  • Sumer- southern part (3500-2000 BCE)
  • Akkad- northern part (2340 – 2180 BCE)
  • Babylonia- these two regions were unified (1830-1500 BCE and 650-500 BCE)
  • Assyria- Assyrian Empire (1100 -612 BCE)


  • Position of King was enhanced and supported
  • Kingship believed to be created by gods and the king’s power was divinely ordained
  • Polytheistic religion consisting of over 3600 gods and demigods
  • Shows diversity of religion from different regions
  • Yet all of Mesopotamia shared the same religion and the same prominent gods


  • Important for gods to be honoured by religious ceremonies
  • Ceremonies performed by priests in sacred temples
  • Temples created from mud brick and placed on platforms due to constant flooding
  • Temples evolved to ziggurats-  a stack of  1-7 platforms decreasing in size from bottom to top
  • Famous ziggurat was Tower of Babel (over 100m above ground and 91m base)
  • Political structure an early form of democracy
  • Frequent wars led to the emergence of warriors as leaders
  • Eventually rise of monarchial


  • Established the social, economic and intellectual basis of Mesopotamia
  • First to develop writing in the form of cuneiform
  • Sumerians are credited to have invented the wheel
  • Became the first city of the world
  • However, the Sumerians were not successful in uniting lower Mesopotamia


  • Leader:  Sargon the Great
  • Sargon’s greatest achievement was the unification of lower Mesopotamia (after conquering Sumerians in 2331 BCE)
  • Established capital at Akkad
  • Spread Mesopotamian culture throughout Fertile Crescent
  • Yet dynasty established by Sargon was short-lived… Akkadians were conquered by the invading barbarians by 2200 BCE


  • Babylonians reunited Mesopotamia in 1830 BCE
  • Used their central location to dominate trade and establish control over all of Mesopotamia
  • KING HAMMURABI – conquered Akkad and Assyria and gained control of north and south
  • Hammurabi’s Legacy:  law code
  • YET AGAIN, Mesopotamia was not unified for long…
  • 10th century BCE, Assyria emerged as dominant force
  • Assyrian reunited Mesopotamia  and established the first true empire
  • Assyrian army was most feared due to their brutal, bloodthirsty & terrorizing tactics and use of iron weapons, battering rams, chariots
  • Assyrian Empire stretched from Persian Gulf north and West to Syria, Palestine and Egypt
  • However, states began to revolt and ONCE AGAIN,  Assyrian Empire collapsed by late 7th century BCE
  • By 539 BCE, Mesopotamia part of the vast Persian Empire (led by Cyrus the Great)
  • Persian Empire dominated for 800 years until Alexander the Great

Code of Hammurabi

  • Code of 282 laws inscribed on a stone pillar placed in the public hall for all to see
  • Hammurabi Stone depicts Hammurabi as receiving his authority from god Shamash
  • Set of divinely inspired laws; as well as societal laws
  • Punishments were designed to fit the crimes as people must be responsible for own actions
  • Hammurabi Code was an origin to the concept of “eye for an eye…”  ie.  If a son struck his father, the son’s hand would be cut off
  • Consequences for crimes depended on rank in society (ie. only fines for nobility)


  • Greatest contribution of Mesopotamia to western civilization was the invention of writing
  • allowed the transmission of knowledge, the codification of laws,  records to facilitate trade
  • First written communication was PICTOGRAMS
  • As society evolved, the first form of writing was developed called CUNEIFORM (meaning “wedge shaped”), dating to 3500 BCE
  • Cuneiform spread to Persia and Egypt and became the vehicle for the growth and spread of civilization and the exchange of ideas among cultures

Development of Writing

  • Gilgamesh is an ancient story or epic written in Mesopotamia more than 4000 thousand years ago
  • Gilgamesh is the first known work of great literature and epic poem
  • Epic mentions a great flood
  • Gilgamesh parallels the Nippur Tablet, a six-columned tablet telling the story of the creation of humans and animals, the cities and their rulers, and the great flood
  • Gilgamesh and the Nippur tablet both parallel the story of Noah and the Ark (great flood) in the Old Testament of the Jewish and Christian holy books
  • Modern science argues an increase in the sea levels about 6,000 years ago (end of ice age)
  • the melting ice drained to the oceans causing the sea level to rise more than ten feet in one century
  • From 1922 to 1934, an archaeologist named C. Leonard Woolley excavated the site of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur
  • City famed in Bible as the home of patriarch Abraham
  • many great discoveries such as extravagant jewelry of gold, cups of gold and silver, bowls of alabaster, and extraordinary objects of art and culture
  • opened the world’s eyes to the full glory of ancient Sumerian culture

Great Death Pit

  • Found at Ur was a mass grave containing the bodies of 6 guards and 68 court ladies (servants of kings and queens)
  • servants walked down into the grave in a great funeral procession
  • they drank a  poisoned  drink and fell asleep never to wake again, choosing to accompany the kings and queens in the afterlife

Legacies of Mesopotamia

  • Revolutionary innovations emerged in Mesopotamia such as:
    • codified laws
    • the concept of kinship and the city-state
    • the building of places of worship (ziggurats)
    • the birthplace of writing (cuneiform)
    • Invention of the wheel
    • Oldest written records of a story of creation date back to Mesopotamia
    • First civilization to make a prosperous living based on large scale agriculture
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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