What is Mesopotamia?
Mesopotamia is an Asian territory extending between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is considered the cradle of civilization, since the first permanent human settlements were developed there, as well as the first states and empires.
Although vestiges of art from older cultures are found, the development of architecture requires not only that human groups be sedentary but also that there be an organized state.
Mesopotamia, the cradle of the first permanent human settlements.
This is why the oldest architectural works in the world are found in this region, with the sole exception of Egyptian constructions, which grew at the same time.
In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of the development of agriculture was found. The Mesopotamian script is the oldest known, along with the Egyptian script, which developed around the same time.
The Music of Mesopotamia
The music would be homophonic, but it seems that they had also known polyphonic. Thus, lyres and harps were almost always punctuated with both hands and the shawm sounded in two voices.
Characteristics of Mesopotamia
The geographical term “Mesopotamia” is used to designate a territory between rivers. Mesopotamia lies just between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, north of the Arabian Peninsula.
This particular location between rivers makes it a particularly fertile territory. That is why it was the ideal context for the development of the first forms of agriculture, and attracted numerous cultures throughout prehistory and history. Its climate is tropical.
Mesopotamia is divided into four regional units:
- Plateaus: High Mesopotamia has plateaus and mountain folds that cross it from East to West. The North is a rainy area.
- Plains: Lower Mesopotamia stretches from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.
- Mountains: the major mountain folds form the Lebanese Cordillera, the Antilíbano Cordillera, the Amanus Mountains, and the Armenian Mountains.
- Steppes and deserts: areas of low rainfall, the only ones in the Mesopotamian territory where it cannot be cultivated. They are found in the valley of the Middle Euphrates.
The Sumerians settled in lower Mesopotamia after the year 3,000 B.C. Uruk was the most important city during the first millennium of this civilization.
However, there were several competing city-states, but in 2340 BC the city of Umma achieves a unification of all Sumerian cities under its command.
To this people, we owe the invention of cuneiform writing. It was created approximately in the year 3,100 B.C., i.e. approximately at the same time as the Egyptian writing.
In the beginning the signs represented objects to symbolize concepts, that is to say, that it was an ideographic writing.
However, their forms evolved into signs representing sounds. The writing is called “cuneiform” because the latter signs were shaped like wedges or nails.
Sargon I of Akkad conquered the Sumerians in 2334 B.C. The domain of the Akkadians spread throughout Mesopotamia and lasted 141 years.
This implied a cultural change, with the diffusion of the Acadian language both in spoken language and in writing.
Babylon was a city founded by the Akkadians, but of minor importance. When the Acadian power fell, it gained importance and became the capital of the Babylonian Empire during the reign of Hammurabi, in the 18th century BC.
Babylon was a metropolis where political power was concentrated and culture flourished.
The many palaces, temples and other architectural works testify to this. Among them are the hanging gardens, one of the original seven wonders, which was destroyed.
They also built a bridge over the Euphrates River, thanks to the combination of stone pylons and the use of Adobe.
In 1978 Saddam Hussein began the reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon. He also built his own palace overlooking the ruins.
When the Babylonian Empire occupied the south of Mesopotamia, the Assyrian Empire occupied the north.
Assur was its capital and was on the banks of the Tigris River. Assur was also the name of his main deity. Its form of government was a monarchy with religious legitimacy: the king ruled in the name of the god.
The Assyrian empire was an innovator in warfare technology, as they were the first to use iron weapons. Its powerful army also included infantry of archers and piqueros and cavalry.
Persia was in the territory of what is now Iran. In the mid-16th century B.C., they conquered Babylon and from there the entire Mesopotamian territory, under the rule of King Cyrus.
Each of the diverse peoples that occupied the region imposed their customs, languages, and beliefs.
In all cases, however, they were polytheistic religions. The gods that were worshipped were anthropomorphic, that is to say, that they had an appearance similar to that of human beings.
The difference with human beings was the immortality of the gods.
The Mesopotamian gods had in common being vengeful and cruel to humans who did not follow their orders.
That is to say that the relationship with the gods was not based mainly on love but on fear. The main gods were Enlil (god of water), Enki (god of earth) and Anu (god of heaven).
Scientific knowledge flourished mainly in mathematics and related disciplines. For the calculation a decimal and a sexagesimal system was used, which was applied to trade.
They applied both addition and subtraction as well as multiplication and division and even third-degree equations.
Over the centuries, they came to use more complex calculations, such as root and power. Mathematics and geometry were applied in commerce not only to calculate exchange but also to calculate volumes and surfaces.
Astronomy allowed them to distinguish planets from stars, and during the Babylonian Empire, they could foresee astronomical events. Thanks to them they developed a lunar calendar and a solar calendar.
The Hammurabi code is a compilation of laws. It was created during the reign of Hammurabi, monarch of Babylon. It is the oldest legal document preserved.
Some of the laws, written in stone, could not be modified even by other kings. This is because they were considered to have divine origin: they had been delivered by Shamash, god of justice.
The Mesopotamian civilization is the one that took place around 3500 B.C. but it has not been possible to determine exactly its birth.
Others maintain that its beginnings date back to 5000 B.C. Its culmination is with the rise of the Persian Empire (around 1,500 B.C.).
It is in this civilization where there begins to be a distinction between the customs purely of hunting and gathering, producing the change towards agriculture.
During this civilization, temples and cities were built for the first time. They also learned how to work metal and writing emerged.
Next, as a summary of Mesopotamian civilization, we expose the main characteristics of life in these times.
Characteristics of Mesopotamian Civilization
Origin of the name
The word Mesopotamia means “between rivers”. Also called the “heart of the Middle East”, it includes the current regions of Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Although the climatic conditions were extreme, it was the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that made possible the life of that civilization.
The Mesopotamian civilization was geographically located in the territories crossed by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (from the northeast to the southeast).
This region was very fertile and had ideal conditions for what meant the emergence of agriculture. Ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Acadians, Chaldeans, Medes, Assyrians, Persians. This geographical area where these civilizations developed is found in what is now Iraq.
There were three kinds of social classes:
- In the first stratum: government officials, nobles and priests.
- In the middle stratum: traders, farmers, and craftsmen.
- At the base of society were the plebeians. These were considered free people and were protected by law.
The first inhabitants of this area were the Sumerians. Subsequently, two different groups emerge, with different geographical locations:
To the north: The Chaldeans and Assyrians
To the South: The Medes and the Persians
His style represented the union and development of that civilization. For this reason, they presented a geometric, rigid and closed artistic style. They used stones, alabaster, shells, and marble.
They used a style called “conceptual realism” in which the left and right parts were totally symmetrical.
In the sculptures, they represented the gods, sovereigns or civil servants. His objective was to replace the person.
These human representations are completely different from reality. However, in the animal sculptures, these did maintain a greater realism.
There are very few paint samples. However, it has been broadly observed that this civilization did not paint in perspective, but did use relief.
Although they painted as a form of artistic expression, in their paintings they manifested the social hierarchical order they had.
The higher ranks were painted larger. While those of lower rank were painted smaller in size.
They had made a calendar that had two seasons: summer and winter. His new year began after the spring equinox with the first lunar crescent quarter.
Since they were passionate researchers of astronomy, they were aware that the planet had a heliocentric model, that is to say, that the Earth revolved around its own axis and, in turn, this revolved around the sun.
As for the economy, during the Mesopotamian civilization agriculture arose. This area is surrounded by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which enabled an irrigation system to favor planting. Later they generated irrigation systems through canals.
In the Mesopotamian civilizations, the constructions had religious, economic and political purposes. As far as the general characteristics of the constructions are concerned, it stands out that:
- They didn’t put up windows
- They didn’t put up columns.
- The light was obtained from the ceiling.
They had a kind of polytheistic religion. In other words, they worshipped several gods. These, in turn, had different ranges of importance (haymaker). Each God had a temple, a priest, a temple and a certain ritual.