Mesopotamia
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Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia

Between 3000 b.c.e. and 300 b.c.e. the civilizations thriving in Mesopotamia, a large region centered between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq, laid the foundation for customs that would dominate later European culture. Though many different societies emerged and organized cities, states, and empires in Mesopotamia, historians study these cultures together because they lived near each other and had many similarities. The main civilizations were the Sumerians (30002000 b.c.e.), the Akkadians (23502218 b.c.e.), the Babylonians (18941595 b.c.e.), the Assyrians (1380612 b.c.e.), and the Persians (550330 b.c.e.).

The people of Mesopotamia

The Sumerians created the earliest civilization in Mesopotamia around 3000 b.c.e. Large city-states developed near the Euphrates River. Some of the cities grew to have populations near 35,000 citizens. Although most Sumerians made their living by farming, professionals, such as doctors, organized into powerful associations. Both rich and poor Sumerians were considered citizens, and slaves could earn money and buy their freedom. While men enjoyed the most power in society, women in Sumeria held power in their families and a ruler's wife had authority in the government of a city-state.

Living among the Sumerians for many years, the Akkadians took power of Mesopotamia around 2350 b.c.e. Little evidence is available to describe the Akkadian culture, but it is believed to have resembled the Sumerian culture but differed in language and ethnicity. Sumerians reclaimed control of the region after about two hundred years of domination by the Akkadians and others. Under the restored Sumerian rule, Mesopotamia was again dominated by thriving agriculturally-based cities.

By 1894 b.c.e. the Babylonians rose to power in Mesopotamia. Babylonians created a thriving, organized society. Under the rule of Hammurabi (17921750 b.c.e.), the king of Babylon, a code of laws was developed and written down. Although evidence exists that Babylonians sold clothing and perfumes in stores, little is known about what Babylonians actually wore. While there are some depictions of the king, which indicate that he dressed in styles very similar to the Sumerians, no pictures of Babylonian women exist. The Babylonian Empire fell in about 1595 b.c.e.

Assyrians had prospered in Mesopotamia for many centuries, but by 911 b.c.e. the society began conquering surrounding areas and united Mesopotamia into one enormous empire that encompassed the Taurus Mountains of modern-day Turkey, the Mediterranean coast, and portions of Egypt. To hold their empire together, the Assyrians aggressively protected their territory and battled constantly with enemies. At the same time as they multiplied and defended their conquests, Assyrians built cities with large buildings and statues. Assyrian society was controlled by men, and women were legally inferior to them. Although the Assyrians built strong economic ties over a vast territory, they ruled brutally and the conquered nations celebrated when the Assyrians were overthrown in 612 b.c.e.

After the Assyrians were conquered, the Persian Empire rose to prominence. The Persian Empire, which united approximately twenty different societies, became known for its efficiency and its kindness to its citizens. Under Persian rule products such as clothing, money, and furniture were made in vast quantities.

How much do we really know?

The artifacts left by these cultures include clay and stone statues, carvings on palace walls, carved ivory, some wall paintings, and jewelry. These items illustrate the clothing, hairdressing, and body adornment of these cultures as well as how these cultures idealized the human form. While these visual forms provide costume historians with a great deal of information, of even greater interest are the written tablets that have been discovered. The development of written language in Mesopotamia provides historians and archeologists, scientists who study past cultures, with information about daily life in the distant past. Descriptions of how the people of Mesopotamia acted toward one another, how they dressed and cleaned themselves, how they prepared for weddings, how they organized businesses, and how they ruled by law are among the things that are recorded in written language.

But even with this information, it is impossible to know if we truly understand what the people of Mesopotamia looked like or exactly what they wore. The statues made by sculptors offer simplified depictions of people and their clothing, making it difficult to know the type of fabric used in a particular garment. In addition, different cultures portrayed people in different ways. The Sumerians created statues and pictures of stocky, large-eyed people while the Assyrians depicted people as lean, strong, and hairy. It is impossible to know if these people actually looked different from one another or if these artifacts represent the idealized version of different cultures.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

Mesopotamian Clothing
Mesopotamian Headwear
Mesopotamian Body Decorations
Mesopotamian Footwear

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Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia (mĕs´əpətā´mēə) [Gr.,=between rivers], ancient region of Asia, the territory about the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, included in modern Iraq. The region extends from the Persian Gulf north to the mountains of Armenia and from the Zagros and Kurdish mountains on the east to the Syrian Desert. From the mountainous north, Mesopotamia slopes down through grassy steppes to a central alluvial plain, which was once rendered exceedingly fertile by a network of canals.

Earliest Cultures

The south was long thought to be the cradle of civilization until earlier settlements (which probably date from about 7000 BC) were found in N Mesopotamia; Jarmo, the earliest of these, was superseded by a succession of cultures: Tell Hassuna, Samarra, and Tell Halaf. Tell Halaf, the most advanced of these early cultures, is famous for Halaf ware, the finest prehistoric pottery in Mesopotamia. It is found at such sites as Nineveh and Tepe Gawra. While these advances were being made in the north, civilization was just beginning in the south, particularly at Eridu. The Al Ubaid culture that followed flourished in both N and S Mesopotamia, at Tell Zeidan and Tepe Gawra (N) and Ubaid, Eridu, and Oueili (S). Irrigated agriculture became widespread, and social stratification developed in this early urban period.

The Proto-Literate and Early Dynastic Phases

During the next period (called the proto-literate phase) the south was the important region, and the transformation of the village culture into an urban civilization took place. Uruk (modern Tall al Warka), the foremost site at the beginning of this period, has yielded such monumental architecture as the temple of Inanna and the ziggurat of Anu. Also found at Uruk were tablets including the earliest pictographic writing. At the same time and apparently independently, smaller organized settlements arose at sites such as Tell Hamoukar and Tell Brak in NE Syria and Hacinebi and Arslantepe in SE Turkey.

The early dynastic phase that followed saw the development of city-states all over the Middle East as far as N Syria, N Mesopotamia, and probably Elam. The famous sites of this period are Tell Asmar, Kafaje, Ur, Kish, Mari, Farah, and Telloh (Lagash). The Sumerians (see Sumer), the inhabitants of these city-states of S Mesopotamia, were unified at Nippur, where they gathered together to worship Enlil, the wind god. The famous first dynasty of Ur came at the end of the early dynastic period.

Dynasties and Empires

Sargon founded (c.2340) the Akkadian dynasty, the first empire in Mesopotamia, whose example of empire building was later followed by the old Babylonian dynasty and late Assyrian Empire (see Babylonia; Assyria). There was also a great cultural exchange between the Mesopotamians and the Elamites (and other Iranians), who for centuries had threatened each other. Mesopotamia still had prestige at the time of Alexander the Great, but later it was generally a part of the Roman Empire. The Arabs took it from the Sassanid Empire, and it rose to great prominence after Baghdad was made (AD 762) the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. This glory was destroyed when the Mongols under Hulagu Khan devastated the area in 1258, destroying the ancient irrigation system.

The Region in Modern Times

In the centuries following, Mesopotamia never regained its former prominence. In World War I, however, it was an important battlefield. The kingdom of Iraq was formed in 1921 (Iraq became a republic in 1958) and is of international importance because of its rich oil fields, but its status in the world is enhanced by the rich archaeological finds of the incredibly distant past.

Bibliography

See H. Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (1951, repr. 1968); S. N. Kramer, Cradle of Civilization (1967); D. Oates, Studies in the Ancient History of Northern Iraq (1968); L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1968); H. J. Nissen and P. Heine, From Mesopotamia to Iraq: A Concise History (2009).

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Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia Ancient region between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in sw Asia, roughly corresponding to modern Iraq. It was the site of one of the earliest human civilizations, resulting from the development of irrigation in the 6th millennium bc and the extreme fertility of the irrigated land. The Sumerians established the first cities in c.2500 bc. The first empire-builders on a large scale were the people of Akkadia under Sargon I, who conquered (c.2300 bc) the Sumerian cities. Babylonia gained supremacy in the 18th century bc, followed by others, most notably the Assyrians. Later ruled by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, Mesopotamia gradually lost its distinctive cultural traditions. See also Sumeria

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Mesopotamia

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