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History of the Ancient Mesopotamia

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Mesopotamia is the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, north or northwest of Baghdad. South of this is Babylonia, which is named after the city of Babylon. Though, the name Mesopotamia is now used to refer to the area that extends from the Zagros Mountains, to the southern edges of the Arabian Plateau to the Persian Gulf, and to the edges of the Anti-Taurus Mountains. Due to the very low-lying position of much of Mesopotamia around rivers, there are heavy deposits of silt, and the riverbeds are raised. Due to this, the rivers often overflow their banks if they are not protected by high dikes. Due to this, agriculture without risk of crop failure began in Mesopotamia itself, the middle of what is modernly considered to be early civilization, only after artificial irrigation had been invented, bringing water to large areas through a large system of canals. Since the land is extremely fertile and will produce many crops, southern Mesopotamia became rich land that could support a large population.

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Due to the large amount of crops that could be produced by the fledgling societies of Mesopotamia, Sumer’s wealth was able to attract many settlers from Semitic regions to Mesopotamia’s west. Many of these settlers would end up intermarrying and combining Semitic and Sumerian culture. For about a thousand years between 3200 and 2350 BC, 12 cities controlled major influence throughout Mesopotamia. These were Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Nippur, Kish, and others. Over time, these small cities would expand not just territorially, but also in methods of governance and control. All of these cities would eventually transition into becoming city-states, which managed not just their core capital territory, but also the land surrounding it. These city-states all developed ancient forms of governance that can still be seen today. This includes social welfare (in certain capacities), a stable government (sometimes), and a strong ruling group. Though these states were often in war or experienced problems, the abundance of resources allowed for new jobs to develop and for governance to expand. Around the centers of governance to secure the religious positions of the king, Ziggurats were constructed, which were giant step pyramids that often dominated the centers of cities and were the tombs of past kings. In the early existence of Sumer, governance was conducted by individuals who made decisions along with members of their respective communities. Though over time, this power would expand, and eventually, all of the Sumerian states would be ruled by a monarch.

Over time, Mesopotamian societies would extend their power, and eventually some states would grow to become empires. The creator of empire in Mesopotamia was Sargon of Akkad, who came into power through a coup, managed to establish a professional army and invade all of the city states which surrounded his control. Through Sargon’s tough control over his empire, seizing cities and trade routes, he was able to maintain his massive war effort and extend his empire’s control to all of Mesopotamia at certain points. Though his empire grew very large, it did face major problems, such as rebellion which was commonplace in areas of his empire that resented his rule.

Around 1700 BC, the Babylonian Empire had the most power over Mesopotamia, and was able to establish a firm rule over the land. One of the people who did this was the king Hammurabi, who deemed himself “the king of the four corners of the world”. Under his rule, new types of governance were developed, such as the use of bureaucracy rather than military force to keep his empire in check. This relied on the use of local administrators and enforced laws to prevent rebellion. Through this revelation, laws were introduced into society that would be enforced and (hopefully) followed by the population who the laws were subject to. In the Babylonian Empire, these would be developed and end up becoming Hammurabi’s Code, which established into his empire what was legal and illegal, and what the punishments were for illegal actions. In the later days of the Babylonian Empire however, much of Mesopotamia was again dominated by local states vying for power, which would simply exemplify the effects of Hittite assaults which would end up destroying the empire.

Though Babylonian rule in Mesopotamia would be over, this would later be replaced by other empires in Mesopotamia such as Assyria. The Assyrians managed to develop their empire based on the strategies of empires that came before them. One of the most significant was the development of standard army units which were led by generals chosen by merit, not nepotistic army and social rule which dominated the empires before it. Under this command, powerful cavalry units were created, which would later use pioneering iron weaponry. Though the Assyrian Empire was very powerful, and at one point its leader, Assurbanipal, called himself “the king of the universe”, the empire did eventually fall. This would occur due similar reasons as the Babylonian Empire, which was faced with civil unrest and rebellion, along with external forces that damaged the country.

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