Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ancient Mesopotamia



    

       The first history of human civilization took place in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates River (modern day Iraq, Syria,Turkey and Iran). Mesopotamia has been called the 'cradle of civilisation' because agriculture, animal herding and domestication developed there earlier than anywhere else, almost 8,000 years ago. 
Though the early Mesopotamian people lived in a complex, unpredictable and frequently hostile environment here; instead of hunting and gathering their food, they began the agricultural revolution here. They struggled to survive and overcome feelings of futility and powerlessness. They lived in houses built from reeds or mud-brick, grouped in villages where they tended their crops and they began developing a token system to record trade and accounts. By 3,000 BCthe Mesopotamians had already invented the wheel, developed writing, metro logical systems and arithmetic. 
    
 About ten thousand years ago, the first settlers around this region was Ubaidian people who gradually developed into the main Sumerian cities, namely Adab, Eridu, Isin, Kish, Kullab, Lagash, Larsa, Nippur, and Ur. Around 3500 BC, the Sumerians founded their first cities on the banks of the Tiger and Euphrates rivers and began to intermarry with the native population. 

     Till 3000 BC, hereditary monarchy system was prevailing in ancient Mesopotamia. The minor local kings of all Sumerian cities mutually used to manage the affairs of the cities and to protect them against possible barbarian invaders. Later on the warfare between cities eventually led to the rise of kings, whose authority replaced that of local kings.

   The first Sumerian ruler of historical record was Etana, king of Kish (flourished about 2800 BC) which became the principle city of Sumer. Shortly after his reign ended, many other local kings from Kish, UR, Uruk and Lagash exercised their power from 2340 to 2316 BC by establishing their mini kingdoms. 

The history of Great Dynasty begins when ‘The Sargon (2334-2279) of Akkad’ created the world's first empire conquering all the Sumerian city-states united them with Akkad. Sargon founded a new capital, called Agade, in the far north of Sumer and made it the richest and most powerful city in the world. 

Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, the indigenous Sumerians, the Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, when it was conquered and ruled by Achaemenid the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great conquered the known world, in 332 BC. Thereafter the region of the two rivers becomes, for the next few years, a province within a succession of empires - those of the Hellenistic Greeks, the Parthians, and the Sassanians. But this is to bring us into modern times. 

Each Sumerian cities built around 3500 BC were called temple towns because they were built around the temple of the local god. The temples were eventually built up on towers called ziggurats (holy mountains), which had ramps or staircases or ramp around the outside. Public buildings and marketplaces were built around these shrines. These Temple Cities were considered the basis of the first true civilizations.

Sumerian was the first language written in Mesopotamia. This language was used for religious, administrative, scientific, and literacy purposes. Other popular languages were Semitic and Akkadian. Initially, the Mesopotamians used cuneiform script, the wedge-shaped' clay tablets to impress signs or simple pictures, or pictograms, which represent an object or an idea. Depictions on seals sometimes illustrate the mythic traditions that were part of this great civilization's literary heritage. 

Along with myths, Mesopotamian literary works include epics, folktales, prayers, hymns, proverbs, personal letters, and fables. The finest literary work from ancient Mesopotamia is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is a long narrative poem that describes the deeds of a hero in his quest for identity and the meaning of life. Part man and part god, Gilgamesh deals with such universal themes as the meaning of friendship; fear of sickness, death, and the forces of evil; and the search for immortality.They also invented a system of mathematics based on the number 60. Today, we divide an hour into 60 minutes, and a minute into 60 seconds that also derived from the ancient Mesopotamian.

Mesopotamians were very fond of songs. Most of their songs were written for the gods but many were written to describe important events. The Oud is a small, stringed musical instrument used by the Mesopotamians. The oldest pictorial record of the Oud dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago. Hunting was popular among Assyrian kings. Boxing and wrestling feature frequently in art, and some form of polo was probably popular, with men sitting on the shoulders of other men rather than on horses. They also played majore, a game similar to the sport rugby, and board game similar to senet and backgammon, now known as the "Royal Game of Ma-asesblu." 

The origin of astronomy also dates back to the Mesopotamian civilization. The Mesopotamian astronomers were fond of studying stars and planets. They invented a lunar calendar which had 12 months and two seasons, summer and winter which was later adopted by Semites, Egyptians, and Greeks. They even predicted the motion of planets and eclipses; some scholars referred to this approach as the first Scientific Revolution. During the Neo-Sumerian period Sumerian culture and civilization experienced a remarkable renaissance. There was peace and prosperity throughout the land, the legal system was strengthened, the calendar was revised, metrology simplified, agriculture revived, and towns and temples were rebuilt, the most imposing of the latter being the ziggurat at Ur. 

The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the Old Babylonian period introducing the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, and prescriptions. The most extensive Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the physician Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa(a city), during the reign of the Babylonian king Adad-apla-iddina. 

The last of the great Neo-Assyrian kings, Assurbanipal (669-627) who ruled over the Assyrian empire at its peak, collected a vast library at his palace at Nineveh. In 1849, this library was rediscovered by the British archaeologist, Sir Henry Layard, and the modern discipline of Assyriology was born. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the ruler of Babylon was one Hammurabi (1792-1750). In short order he conquered and unified the whole of Mesopotamia, and Babylon became its greatest city. King Hammurabi, was famous for his set of laws, that were the longest and best organized law collections that survive from ancient Mesopotamia.

The Mesopotamians were polytheistic and believed in many gods. Most of their important gods were seen as human forms of natural forces; such as sky, sun, earth, water, and storm. Although, they had common beliefs, there were some regional variations; the Babylonians worshiped Marduk, the Assyrian Empire believed in Ashur, the Sumerians considered An and Ki as their god and goddess, and Enlil (son of An and Ki) as the air god. Mesopotamian Religion did not believe in the after-life. They believed that all good and bad people go under-ground as ghosts and eat filth. 

The materials used to build a Mesopotamian structure were the same as those used today: mud brick, mud plaster and wooden doors, which were all naturally available around the city. The most remarkable architecture of Mesopotamia includes The temple and palace of kings,The royal tombs,The ziggurat, Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Greek Theatre, Kufa and its famous Mosque, Wasit (Mosque and Dar-al-Imara) and many other establishments. Levelled over the centuries by rain, floods, and shifting sands, the mud brick cities and temples of Mesopotamia were buried, leaving only the shapeless mounds that still stand throughout Iraq today. 






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