Mesopotamia is the world’s first civilization. They left behind a legacy of mathematics, astrology, and contributions to many more fields. What are some Mesopotamia facts you need to know?
For starters, let’s start talking about its location. Mesopotamia is the historical region of Western Asia. Today, it occupies parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Kuwait. From the beginning of written history around 3000 BC to the fall of Babylon, Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians dominated Mesopotamia.
Back in the days, Mesopotamia was known as the area between the Euphrates river and Tigris river, north or northwest of the bottleneck at Baghdad. Here are some facts about Mesopotamia you need to know.
Home of the Fertile Crescent
We refer to Mesopotamia as the Cradle of Civilization. But it is also home to the Fertile Crescent. It is a quarter-moon-shaped region of the ancient country corresponding to modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan.
The term Fertile Crescent probably originated in antiquity. But some believe it was coined in 1916 CE by the Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in his book Ancient Times: A History of the Early World.
Origin Of The Name
Why the name Mesopotamia? It is because of the location between Euphrates river and Tigris river. It comes from the ancient Greek words “meso” translating to middle and “potamos” translating to river. Basically, it translates to land in the middle of rivers.
Back in the day, the land was divided into Upper or Northern Mesopotamia and Lower or Southern Mesopotamia. The upper part is the area between the two rivers from their sources down to Baghdad. And the lower Mesopotamia part starts at Baghdad down to the Persian Gulf.
The First Civilization
Ancient Sumer or Sumerians was the first early civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. In the beginning, humans occupied areas of the Taurus and Zagros mountains. Agriculture was the first branch they developed and people began domesticating animals.
Then, after artificial irrigation, they brought water to large stretches of territory through a network of canals. This invention enabled people to spread from the northern regions to the southern regions.
Sumer was the first urban civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, occupying modern-day Iraq.
The city of Eridu is widely regarded as the first city in the world.
First Multinational Empire
Even back in the day, there were multinational empires. And that happened when one empire conquered another. In the long list of firsts, Mesopotamians also have the first multinational empire, the Akkadian Empire. Founded by Sargon of Akkad between 2334 and 2083 BC, the empire stretched from the Persian Gulf up through modern-day Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, and most likely to Levant and the island of Cyprus.
He placed trusted men and women in positions of political power. Historians refer to them as Citizens of Akkad, serving as governors, high priests, high priestesses, or high-level administrators. The empire had 65 different cities.
Uruk, The Largest City In The World
By 3000 BC, Mesopotamia was under the control of the Sumerian people. They had several decentralized city-states, including the cities of Eridu, Nippur, Lagash, Uruk, and many more.
But Uruk stood out as the most prominent city. It was located around 30km east of the modern city of Samawah in Iraq.
Uruk period played a huge role in urbanization and state formation, and the growth of the city made it the largest settlement in Mesopotamia.
When you are the first civilization in the world, you are bound to invent a couple of things, right? But most importantly, Mesopotamia people invented writing. It is the most significant innovation because it was a concept non-existent before.
Writing developed independently in different areas of the world, but Mesopotamia created the first writing system prior to 3000 BC. We call it cuneiform script today.
Cuneiform is a Latin term translating to “wedge-shaped”. Their writing developed from pictograms but with time it grew in sophistication. Ultimately, Sumerian writing became a full-fledged writing system used for creating literature, prayers, and laws. Gilgamesh is the first epic poem.
First Recorded War
When you want to increase your empire, you will have to start a war, right? Back in the days, and you can say today as well, water was the most important resource in the region. Water was the source of the first war in recorded history.
It happened in 2700 BCE when the Sumerian king Emmebaragesi of the city of Kish led his people in a military campaign against the region of Elam. He defeated them and carried spoils back to Mesopotamia.
According to many historians, the initial dispute arose over water rights and access to water.
Hammurabi, One Of The Great Leaders
Hammurabi was the sixth ruler of the First Dynasty of Babylon. Under his power and leadership, Babylonia became a major power.
He expanded Babylon from a small town into a great city with a series of conquests. He first raided towns and cities and then continued defeating major powers to the north, east, and south of Babylon.
By the end of his reign, he brought all of southern Mesopotamia under Babylonian rule.
Myths and Biblical Narratives
Mesopotamian myths greatly influenced the biblical tales of the Fall of Man and The Great Flood as well as the Book of Job. These stories were adapted from Mesopotamian works.
First Law Codes
One of the most famous early law codes is the one of Babylonian King Hammurabi. But it was not the first law code. The earliest was the Code of Urukagina in the 24th century BCE.
That one and the second after, the Code by Ur-Nammu influenced the later Code of Hammurabi in making clear the punishments for offenses.
Tiglath-Pileser III, A Military Genius
Tiglath-Pileser III was an Assyrian king who reigned from 745 BC to 727 BC. He is among the greatest Mesopotamian kings and considered by many historians a military genius. Tiglath implemented a series of sweeping reforms helping to reorganize the military and restructure the bureaucracy of the government. But he also created the first professional standing army of Assyria and made it the most effective force at the time.
If you are a beer lover, you should thank Mesopotamians for that. The ancient civilization found many uses for water, including irrigation of crops and brewing of beer.
They considered beer the drink of the Gods. Brewing beer was presided over by the goddess Ninkasi who ensured the purity of the drink.
Fun fact: it was the most popular drink in ancient Mesopotamia. At the time, beer contained important nutrients. Many people considered beer food. It was even used to pay the wages of laborers.
The recipe was preserved by the Sumerians in The Hymn to Ninkasi.
Home of the First Firsts
We mentioned a couple of firsts by Mesopotamia by now. Let’s finish off our list of Mesopotamia facts with a couple of more. Here are some things that Mesopotamia brought to this world fier.
Ancient Mesopotamia is the home of the first schools, first bicameral congress, first historian, first legal precedent, first pharmacopeia, first Farmer’s Almanac, first experiment in shade-tree gardening, first moral ideas, first cosmology, first job, first animal fables, first biblical parallels, first love song, first sex symbolism, first literary imagery, first aquarium, first elegies, first lullaby, and many more.