7 junio, 2024

Mesopotamia: history, location, economy, religion, culture

Mesopotamia It is the name given to the area of ​​the Near East located between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. In fact, the word itself means “between two rivers”. This region has great historical importance, since it was there that agriculture began to be practiced, the first cities were founded and the first civilizations appeared.

Historians point out that the civilization in Mesopotamia appeared around the year 5000 BC, although some authors maintain that it was in 3500 BC. Its territory can be divided into two different regions: Upper Mesopotamia, inhabited by the Assyrians, and Lower Mesopotamia, where they lived. Sumerians and Chaldeans.

The history of Mesopotamia was full of wars between the different civilizations that caused the rise and fall of the empires that were created. The last invasion, carried out by the Persians, is used by historians to point to the decline of the peoples of the area.

In addition to being the birthplace of civilization, Mesopotamia saw numerous innovations, both technical and political. Among the most outstanding are the wheel, the irrigation system, the first compendiums of laws or writing.


Origin and history

The lands near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were very suitable for cultivation. Every year the rivers overflowed and increased the fertility of the land. However, the region had a problem: the lack of rain. This meant that agriculture could not begin to be practiced until the inhabitants of the area learned to control the flow of water.

Although there are discrepancies about the dates, historians affirm that the first agricultural communities were located in the north of the region around the year 7000 BC On the other hand, in the south they did not appear until 5500 BC

About that last date, the inhabitants of Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, began to build irrigation canals, dikes, and pools. Thanks to these infrastructures they were able to grow a multitude of products and the population increased considerably.

Historians have divided the history of Mesopotamia into five periods, with five different empires: the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian Empires.

El Obeid period (5500-4000 BC)

It is known that the first settlements of this period occurred around 5000 BC, however, its greatest splendor came about 500 years later.

In this period, some nomadic peoples from the Zagros Mountains arrived in the area. The settlements increased in size and the social organization changed to adapt to the larger population.

One of the most important cities in this period is the one that gives it its name: the Obeid. The remains found prove that the houses were built with clay bricks.

Likewise, at this stage some religious buildings were already erected inside the cities. Given its terraced shape and its rectangular plan, experts affirm that they were the antecedents of the ziggurats.

Another characteristic of this period was the development of irrigation techniques, especially irrigation canals.

the sumerians

The first great Mesopotamian civilization was the Sumerian. Starting around 3000 BC, this people founded a series of city-states, among which Uruk, Uma or Ur stood out. Each of them was governed by an absolute king whose legitimacy came from being the vicar of the protective god of the locality.

Despite the importance of this civilization and the fact that lists of its kings have been found, the truth is that there is not much information about them.

It is known, for example, that their economy was based on agriculture and that they were the first to use cuneiform writing. In addition, it is known that they built large religious temples.

Likewise, the evidence shows that the city of Uruk expanded its culture throughout southern Mesopotamia. Thanks to his influence, more cities were built in other areas. The frequent wars caused these cities to equip themselves with defensive walls.

the akkadian empire

The prosperity achieved by the Sumerians caused various nomadic tribes to arrive in the region. Among these peoples, of Semitic origin, were the Arabs, Hebrews and Syrians. The invasions were constant from 2500 BC and they soon managed to wrest political dominance from the Sumerians.

The migratory waves arrived in northern Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. As a consequence, groups such as the Amorites were created, among which were included Phoenicians, Hebrews, Aramaeans and Akkadians, the Semitic people that gained more relevance.

The Akkadians, around 1350 BC, conquered the city of Kiš. Later, led by Sargon, they founded a new capital called Agade and proceeded to conquer the rest of the Sumerian cities. After this conquest, the Akkadian Empire became the first in history.

Political instability in the area affected the empire after Sargon’s death. His successors, among whom he stood out, had to face many revolts. Despite this, Sargon’s grandson Naram-Sin managed to extend his domain at the expense of other city-states.

Finally, the constant rebellions and the invasion of the Gutis and Amorites caused the empire to fall apart, around 2220 BC. It was the Amorites who came to govern the entire region.

sumerian renaissance

Some Sumerian city-states had managed to resist the Akkadians. Among them, Uruk, one of the most important.

According to a commemorative tablet, it was a king of Uruk, named Utu-hegal, who spearheaded a brief revival of Sumerian power. About 2100 BC, the monarch defeated the Gutis who had settled in the lands of Sumer.

Another Sumerian king, from the city of Ur, defeated Utu-hegal in turn. This allowed Ur to unseat Uruk as the most powerful city in the region during the so-called Sumerian Renaissance.

Contrary to what had happened before, the monarchs of Ur tried to create a centralized Sumerian power, in the image of what Sargon had done during the Akkadian empire. In addition, they began a campaign of conquest until their territory exceeded in extension that which the Akkadians had controlled.

This stage ended about 2003 BC, when Amorite conquerors from Arabia defeated the Sumerians.

Babylonians and Assyrians

When Ur lost its hegemony, the region saw a gradual rise of various Amorite dynasties in almost every city. Several of them vied for supremacy during the following decades. The confrontations and invasions were constant.

Several strong states appeared in northern Mesopotamia, possibly fueled by trade with Anatolia. Among those states, Assyria stood out, which managed to expand until it reached the Mediterranean.

The paleo-Babylonian Empire

Hammurabi’s accession to the throne of then unimportant Babylon occurred in 1792 BC. The monarch began a strategy to extend his domain that began with a confrontation with Ur.

After defeating several of the neighboring kingdoms and a coalition made up of the cities on the banks of the Tigris, Hammurabi proclaimed himself Acad of Sumer, a title that emerged in the period of Sargon and was used to emphasize control over all of Mesopotamia.

The expansion of the kingdom continued in the following years, until, in 1753, it completed it by annexing Assyria and Eshnunna, in northern Mesopotamia.

Hammurabi’s work led to his figure being mythologized. In addition to his military triumphs, he was responsible for creating large infrastructures and for developing humanity’s first code of laws.

After the death of the monarch, in 1750 BC, his son Samsu-iluna occupied the throne. From that moment on, the kingdom began to be attacked by a nomadic tribe, the Casitas. These invasion attempts continued through the 17th century BC, wearing down the empire.

Finally, the Hittite monarch Mursili I ended the Babylonian resistance and the Kassites took control of the region.


Around 1250 BC, the Assyrians took control of all of northern Mesopotamia. This town was organized in city-states, with a monarchy very centered in the two capitals of the region: Nineveh and Assur.

Before that happened, the Assyrians had achieved a dominant position in trade with Anatolia. In that peninsula they established some commercial ports that they used to transport gold, silver and bronze.

The Assyrians, who had been under the rule of other empires before establishing their own kingdom, were also great warriors, with a reputation for being very violent. Their mastery of iron forging endowed them, in addition to better weapons.

One of its moments of greatest splendor was during the reign of Tiglathpileser I (1115-1077 BC). This king defeated Nebuchadnezzar I in Babylon and extended his domain to the Mediterranean. However, his strength waned in the following century.

Neo-Babylonian Empire

Another Semitic people, the Chaldeans, was responsible for Babylon regaining its power. It was King Nabopolassar, at the end of the 7th century, who refounded the city. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II, inherited the throne and became one of the most important rulers in the entire history of Mesopotamia.

Thanks to his policies and the conquests he made, his empire stretched from Mesopotamia to Syria and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Persian invasion

This Babylonian renaissance lasted until 539 BC, when the Persian king Cyrus conquered the city and established his rule over all of Mesopotamia.

Geographic and temporal location

Mesopotamia, as its name indicates, is located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the Near East.

Geographically it is located north of the Arabian peninsula. The territory that hosted the first civilizations is bordered to the east by Iran, to the north by Anatolia, and to the west by Syria.

Temporary location

Some authors affirm that the civilization in Mesopotamia was born around 3500 a. C. Others, on the other hand, point out that it occurred before, around 5000 a. c.

On the other hand, the invasion by the Persians is used to mark the end of their most important civilizations.

Mesopotamian economy

Many experts consider that the economy proper originated in Mesopotamia. The reason for this statement is that, for the first time, they took into account the economic situation when organizing.

It must be taken into account that the economic circumstances varied during the more than four thousand years of history of their civilizations. In addition, these activities took place in a context of continuous wars and invasions. However, there were some facets of its economy that were maintained over time.


The geographical situation of Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and the Euphrates, made agriculture its main economic activity.

However, the lack of rain made it very difficult to grow crops on lands far from the river basins. For this reason, the inhabitants of the region had to build an efficient irrigation system that would bring water to their…

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