MESOPOTAMIA EGYPT INDIA

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1 Mesopotamia

2 Mesopotamia means Between Rivers which conveniently explains is location between the Tigris and Euphrates. These functioned as natural borders within which 12 independent city-states developed. The Taurus and Zagrus mountains formed northern borders. The marshlands and the Persian Gulf formed the southern borders. Mesopotamia had an ideal location for ancient tastes. It provided ample rainfall in the north and arable land in the south along the banks of the rivers. Both rivers flooded their plains in March and April each year, making it one of the most ideal places for cultivation and animal husbandry. EGYPT MESOPOTAMIA INDIA The closest major civilizations were Egypt to the west and the Indus River Valley civilizations in India. Mesopotamia rarely had trouble with foreign invasion. It took 2,000 years for Egypt to become a formidable threat. For about 1,200 years Mesopotamia existed separately as city-states. There was a similar language, culture and religion that was tolerant enough to limit the number of armed conflicts between them. The greatest challenge for Mesopotamia came from within the confines of the region as city-states would rival for chief control over the others.

3 Sumerians based their civilization chiefly in Uruk, but they had cultural preeminence in the surrounding city-states during this period known by their name. Mesopotamia shared a common language around 3200 BCE. Cuneiform was a wedge shaped script unique to the region. Mesopotamians recorded political and commercial events on clay tablets. Scribes used a stylus on soft clay tablets to record inventories, historical accounts, legal dealings, and mythological narratives. Each city-state had local rulers, a group of elders and deities. A general tolerance prevailed during this period since rulers were popularly elected so there was little to no tendency to deify them. In times of distress a single leader was appointed, but generally the group of elders managed issues together. Sumerian cities featured calendars, writing systems and architectural monuments that structured life around the temple. They developed the 60 second and 60 minute base for keeping time. Major feats of urban planning include canals and irrigation systems through the development of mathematics, geometry, and surveying. Sumerian culture prevailed even after its political influence due to its religious and literary significance. Gilgamesh is the most notable Sumerian ruler. He reigned around 2600 BCE in Uruk prior to the unification of Mesopotamia under Sargon I. One of the earliest works of literature is the Epic of Gilgamesh. This story had been translated in surrounding languages and circulated throughout the region. It includes a flood story similar to that found Genesis about Noah s ark, but the thrust of the narrative is considerably different.

4 The Epic of Gilgamesh offers a unique perspective on Mesopotamian religion. Gilgamesh was a legendary king of Uruk attributed divine status. He has the rare privilege of speaking with Utnapishtim and his wife who were the only two people granted immortality. They explain to him the story of the flood and their survival on the ark. Gilgamesh and his journey for immortality to restore the life of his best friend Enkidu reveals their perspectives on the meaning of life and the possibility of immortality. Gilgamesh is considered semi-divine and has all the natural talents and abilities one could imagine. The 11 tablets of the epic are partially preserved so there is no one definitive version but many scholars have made attempts to discern what his story entails. Gilgamesh exemplifies the ideal human whose quest for immortality indicates its futility for other Mesopotamians. The epic speaks of the deep friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu whose relationship symbolizes the balance between urban and rural living. Gilgamesh is an urban king and Enkidu is a wild figure who lives in nature. They have great exploits together and their pairing seems to bring the first signs of true joy in the narrative. Ishtar falls in love with Gilgamesh and asks him to be her husband. The gods strike Enkidu down when Gilgamesh denies her advances. Gilgamesh sits by his friend s side while Enkidu suffers and dies. Struck by his own mortality, Gilgamesh goes on his journey to find immortality and meaning in life. Utnapishtim and his wife give Gilgamesh a plant that will give him immortality, but it is taken by a snake before he can eat it. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and realizes the value of ruling and establishing the city of Uruk.

5 The Standard of Ur is one of the great works of art from the 3 rd millennium BCE. It indicates the classes of Mesopotamian societies in distinct levels from top to bottom. The king is featured in the top center with his soldiers presenting prisoners of war. Two panels depicting war and peace are part of the sides of a musical instrument.

6 Art and architecture functioned religiously and politically. Artists worked for the priesthood or for Mesopotamian kings. Art served both decorative and propagandistic roles to promote the local religion or affirm the power of the king. In addition to the records of scribes, artists carved into stone or hardened clay seals to use on tablets for raised impressions. Cylinder seals depict human and animal forms in addition to geometric patterns and cuneiform.

7 Sumerians were polytheistic. Their pantheon of gods and goddesses tied to natural phenomenon and human passions. The Enuma Elish is a mythological account of the creation of the universe and the cosmic conflict between the gods of the old order and the new order. Each Sumerian city-state adopted a different minor deity as a representative among the gods and a focal point for worship. Some of the major Mesopotamian deities were: 1. An/Anu sky god, father of the other gods 2. Enlil god of the air 3. Utu/Shamash sun god, justice, truth 4. Nanna/Sin moon god 5. Inanna/Ishtar goddess of love and war 6. Ninhursag/Belitilli goddess of the Earth 7. Enki/Ea god of fresh water, wisdom, magic, arts and crafts Temples or ziggurats were the center of Sumerian life. Ziggurats symbolically represented the place between the heavens and the Earth where prayers could be said in perpetuity through votive statues representing families. Earth gods lived there and Sky gods would visit occasionally. Offerings of food and drink were presented to the gods. Priests, attendants, and servants helped the religious machine function. Gardens and orchards surrounded the temple grounds to provide ample harvest for regular meals offered to the gods and goddesses. Most people had little dealings with the gods or temple life. Inanna or Ishtar

8 Relief sculpture and free standing miniature statues have been the most commonly discovered art forms in Mesopotamia. Votive statues represented families as continual intercessors to the gods. They have been found in tombs and in temple complexes. They are symbolic in nature so their lack of realism does not take away from their artistic value.

9 Monumental political events in Mesopotamia were commemorated by relief sculptures on giant slabs of stone called stele. The Stela of King Naram-Sin c BCE depicts him a the top left with a captive from a battle leading for mercy amidst Naram-Sin s many soldiers. The stars shining brightly in the sky affirm his position as ruler. His horned helmet usually was reserved for the gods. The Akkadians adopted the Sumerian style in their stele. One of the most famous stele is Hammurabi s Law Code. It illustrates the divine reception of the code by Hammurabi from Shamash the sun god. The scene sits high atop the 7 ½ slab of stone signify the powerful nature of the law code inscribed below it. This fusion of art and political life powerfully communicates how art served to structure social thought and political stability. Most of the common Babylonians were illiterate since cuneiform was used primarily as a classical language for scribes to preserve dynastic information. The imagery would establish the religious and political strength of the otherwise incoherent code being enforced by Hammurabi and his successors.

10 King Sargon I of Akkad became the first ruler to unify Mesopotamia in 2340 BCE. He killed the king of Kish and proceeded to capture Uruk. Sargon is often considered the first ruler of a multi-ethnic empire. His empire ruled the peoples in southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, Iraq and western Iran. Sargon moved the capital city from Uruk to Agade. Sargon used the Sumerian social structure to maintain political conformity. An Akkadian board of elders ruled over each city-state. Citizens were expected to continue living as usual under the leadership of elders. Akkadian replaced Sumerian as the official language. Sumerian became a classical language of administration. Sargon s tolerance of Sumerian religion aided in the transition of power. He was a priest of Anu (the sky god), but he did not receive divine status. His birth narrative became legendary. Akkadian rule extended about 4 generations. None of Sargon s offspring were as competent and commanding as he was. Babylon consolidated power in the demise of Akkadian rule under the leadership of Hammurabi.

11 The Babylonian period features one of the greatest legal contributions under the administration of Hammurabi in 1792 BCE. He was the first ruler of Babylon who consolidated rule in the wake of the Akkadian demise. Hammurabi s code contains 282 clauses inscribed on 8 ft. tall column topped with an image of Hammurabi receiving the law from Shamash, the sun god. This is a tremendous mark in legal history to see a ruler limiting himself by writing his legal code down for everyone to know and to follow. It clarifies the social structure by specifying compensation for damage to another person s property. Some of the key aspects of the code include: 1. Clear class structures with varying degrees of punishment 2. Rules protecting women from violence and accusations of adultery 3. Compensation for abuse of pregnant women 4. Rates for medical services provided 5. Compensation for slaves wounded in transactions

12 The invasion of the northern peoples from Turkey (Hittites) disrupted Mesopotamian rule in 1600 BCE. The next major Mesopotamian dynasty began in Assyria 600 years later around 1000 BCE. Hittites adopted Mesopotamian culture which kept it from becoming extinct. The Assyrian Empire was one of the most ruthless to rule the region. It ruled in Nineveh located in the northern Mesopotamian region. Assyrians had an agrarian culture and a well trained army. They adopted chariots from the Hyksos who passed through the region on the way to conquering Egypt. Assyrian literature and sculptures indicate the degree of dominance they felt over the region. Prisoners of war were mutilated and chained while taken into captivity in Nineveh. The northern kingdom of Israel was besieged for three years by Shalmanezer V and taken captive by Sargon II in 722 BCE. Assyrians ruled by relocating major people groups and forcing them to accept Assyrian rule to survive in their new environments. Notable Assyrian kings were Ashurnasirpal II BCE, Tiglath-Pileser BCE, and Sargon II BCE. The palace of Sargon II indicates the degree of power Assyrian kings had at the peak of their power. The palace was a wing of the city since it was too big to fit inside the city walls. Assyrian power declined as a result of its waging wars continually to keep subjects at bay. In 612 BCE, the Medes united with the Babylonians and defeated the Assyrians.

13 Ashurnasirpal II Killing Lions Dying Lioness Relief sculpture is typically affixed to architecture. It is one of the greatest ways to determine what a culture values and what types of humanity are most honorable or shameful. The palaces of Ashurnasirpal II BCE and King Ashurbanipal BCE offer some of the great relief scenes honoring their respective rulers and their entertainments. The Assyrian kings were fierce and loved blood sports such as hunting lions. These two relief scenes illustrate the types of sport and their results. The Assyrian sculptors are among the more masterful of the 2 nd millennium BCE with their depiction of space, muscular detail, and emotion.

14

15 The Medes and Babylonians broke up the remnants of the Assyrian kingdom. Babylon ruled the territories West and South of the Tigris River. Babylon sought to restore the past glory of Hammurabi. Nebuchadnezzar II BCE captured the southern kingdom of Judah and took the Hebrew king and his court captive. He destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, which devastated the Israelites. The palace in Babylon boasted of the hanging gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Scholars estimate 100,000 people lived in Babylon at this time. Babylonians were reputable historians and astrologers. Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and effectively ended Mesopotamian rule in 550 BCE. The captives taken by the Assyrians and Babylonians were allowed to return to their respective lands; however, many remained where they were taken. Cyrus had a more tolerant rule than was typical of Mesopotamian rulers. Persian rule remained until 331 BCE when Alexander the Great would defeat King Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela.

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