Early Civilizations in Mesopotamia
When we look around the world today we can see many advanced civilizations. Technology, government, art, and infrastructure show that people have developed high achievements in their cities, states, and nations. It is fascinating that many elements of advanced civilization were also found in places like ancient Mesopotamia as early as 5,000 BCE!
Mesopotamia is located in the Middle East between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It is called the “Cradle of Civilization” because many of the world’s oldest civilizations began in this area. The first civilization to emerge was Sumer. Around 2,400 BCE we see the development of other civilizations that adopted and built upon aspects of Sumerian culture.
For 200 years, from about 2300-2100 BCE, the Akkadians came to power under their ruler Sargon the Great in the southern area of the Fertile Crescent. Sargon was the first to conquer and unite many Sumerian city-states. In fact, after conquering many of them, the Akkadians developed the first known post office that could deliver messages across the empire.
When the Akkadian Empire fell, the Babylonians and Assyrians came to power. The Babylonians were also located in the southern area of Mesopotamia and centered in their capital Babylon. They were a major trading empire that rose to power during the reign of Hammurabi.
Hammurabi conquered surrounding territory and established a new code of laws that applied to the entire empire. At its peak, Babylon became the largest city in the world at that time with over 200,000 people.
The Assyrians lived in the northern region near the Tigris River. They conquered all of Mesopotamia and expanded their empire to include Egypt, Babylon, Israel, and Cyprus. They established a great library at Nineveh which held clay tablets that included ancient stories of Mesopotamia. Over 30,000 tablets have been recovered and are housed at the British Museum in London. The Assyrians rose and fell several times throughout their existence. After their second rise, freeing themselves from Babylonian control, they ruled in 774 BCE for a century and a half.
The Phoenicians were an independent city-state along the Mediterranean who were great sea-farming traders. They founded many cities and colonies around the Mediterranean Sea. They built amazing ships and traded many different types of goods like metals, cloth, jewelry and crafts. They developed a highly prized and valuable purple dye that came from the murex shellfish.
The Persian Empire began its rise to power around 550 BCE. They would go on to become one of the largest empires in the Middle East. Under Cyrus the Great, Darius, and Xerxes, they waged war against other empires and brought them into the Persian realm. A difference between the Persians and other conquers was that they allowed their subjects to keep their customs and religions but required them to pay taxes and obey Persian laws.