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- 18th to 6th century before Christ.
Mesopotamia (literal translation "between two rivers")
Mittani, Mitanni (Hurrit Hurrians) (16th to 13th century before Christ)
Sumerians (4th millenium before Christ)
Babylonians (18th century to 11th and 6th century before Christ)
- map sketch:
|There has been found archaeological evidence for the settlement of the Assyrians at the middle course of the river Tigris already dating back to the 2nd millenium before Christ. In succession to the Sumerian Empires, Assur (as capital) gained in importance (Assur was also their principal god).
After having conquered the northern areas of Babylonia, Assyria became a regional power in northern Mesopotamia under Samsi-Adad I (King of the World, 1744 to 1712 before Christ); after his death the empire started to crumble. What followed was a dark era (~1700-1500 before Christ), with only a few inscriptions surviving up to now. The Levant ("land of the rising sun" or "The East") was the reason for hot battles between Hittites, Mittani and Egyptians. In the end, Assyria became a vassal state of Mittani under Hurrians (from 1450 before Christ on). In this period of time, Assyria was restricted only to the city of Assur and its surrounding.
The land of Mittani which had been severely weakened by the aspiring Egypt in the South and the Hittites in the North was conquered by Sulmanu-asared I, and Assyria was able to free itself again (about 1250 before Christ). Under Tukulti-apil-Esarra I (11141076 before Christ) the first weapons were made from iron. Tukulti-apil-Esarra III even succeeded in expanding his power. In the south, the Babylonian Kassite rulers were so weak that it was even possible to re-conquer their realm. In the north, the empire of the Hittites had also vanished; and this opened the way to the invasion of new areas and conquest of the realm expanding as far as the Taurus Mountains and the coast of the Mediterrean Sea. He invaded Syria and Palestina and even conquered Damascus; he expanded his empire as far as Gaza at the Egyptian frontier. The Assyrian Empire, hence, covered the area from today's Israel to the Persian Gulf. His descendants, however, were not able to hold and keep together this great realm.
Aramaeans (the collective name for various nomadic tribes that have been invading since the 13th century from the West and settling in this area) invaded and conquered large areas of northern Syria. In the mountains north of the plains of the Euphrates, there had developed, already under his predecessor Tiglat-pilesers, out of several small principalities the kingdom of Urartu which definitely offered strong resistance to the aspiring realm. The Neo-Assyrian Empire (approx. 911610 before Christ) is considered the first real empire in history. This empire, at least in part, also governed the Babylonian and the Egyptian people at some point. Under the rule of Sargon II the realm was at its climax in respect of power. And thus he was able to focus on Babylon and Elam after peace and quiet had been restored in the empire. But he lost the battle and "had a closer look" on the northern territories. Once again he succeeded in expanding the empire as far as the Mediterrean Sea and Cyprus, he invaded Asia Minor and agreed to a truce with the Phrygians (Indo-European people). In 714 before Christ it came down to the final and decisive battle with the Urartu. Afterwards, in the year 710 after Christ, he again invaded Babylonia and had himself crowned King of the World. Sargon's successors were able to maintain their empery through several cruzades and the suppression of revolts; they even succeeded in expanding the territory. Crown prince Assur-baniapli conquered Thebes, the capital of Upper Egypt, and in this way made the Neo-Assyrian Empire the biggest one ever. He also invaded Babylon and Elam and conquered Susa. The last Assyrian king died in 609 before Christ. His death is equivalent with the new rise of Babylonia to predominance in Mesopotamia. Nabopolassar and especially his son Nabu-kudurri-usur II succeeded in creating a Neo-Babylonian empire that was, in the end, subordinated by the Persian King Kyros II in 539 BC. Mesopotamia became part of the enormously expanding Persian Empire, which was conquered in 330 before Christ by Alexander. He and his successors consequently banned the Akkadian language, while the Aramaean language was declared official language. After his death Seleceus took over power and founded the Empire of the Seleucid.
The Old-Assyrian culture is especially well-known due to the evaluation of the comprehensive findings of cuneiform scripts in Kanes. Assyrian traders had established a network of trade colonies in Anatolia in order to trade especially metals for cloth. They controlled the trade with spices and cultivated land, growing barley. The Sargonides (their last dynasty) even constructed irrigation canals. They also cultivated the breeding of goats and sheep grazing on the fallowing fields. The farmers in the 2nd to 1st millenia before Christ exchanged their products for the food and textiles they required. The temples and their priests did not excert the same amount of influence as they did in Sumer. The Assyrian state allowed for private property and was financed by tributes and taxes. Land was owned by noble families, step by step turning the smaller farmers into servants and dependants. Owning land was, indeed, of great advantage as it was exempt from taxation. Apart from land, these noble families did own big mercatile enterprises, too. Conquering territory was often associated with deporting people. In this way, it was possible to maintain an Assyrian majority and to establish an Assyrian provincial governor. The population already living there was deported to the core area and isolated from their homelands. The Assyrians had an infantry consisting of armoured lance and spear carriers, lightly or heavily armoured archers and throwers of all kind of weapons to be thrown and pushed. The cavalry also comprised chariots with two wheels and riders.
The language of the Assyrians, this is the Assyrian language that is spoken in northern Mesopotamia and the Babylonian language used in the south, is classified an Akkadian dialect. Akkad was an old royal city in Mesopotamia. In the late 3rd millenium before Christ, King Sargon of Akkad proclaimed the city the centre of his empire, hence it is called "Empire of Akkad" (approx. 23402200 before Christ). Furthermore, the Semitic language of Mesopotamia of which there may be found evidence in different language levels and dialects up to the first century after Christ is named after this city: the Akkadian language. Assyrian remained the official language used in official writings on clay tablets which have survived up today. The Assyrian which was written in cuneiform writing had the same importance and meaning for the Sargonides as had Latin in the European countries of the Middle Ages. But even in the Sargonian and Neo-Babylonian period, the Akkadian was substituted by the Aramaean language. The Aramaean language is, in combination with the Hebrew language, part of the northwestern branch of the Afro-Asian language family. The Aramaeans also introduced the later syllabary which was consequently adapted by the Phönicians. The Assyrian people was well renown for their conquests but also their excellent cultural achievements. Assyrian culture was, as it was the case with Akkadian culture, influenced by the Sumerians. There may, however, also be found traces of influence leading to the Hurrians, the Hittites as well as the Iranian people.
| Mesopotamia stands for "land between the two rivers" and denominates, in a historical view, the area of the valleys between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris; there were located the city states and empires of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Aramaeans and Assyrians, defining the area which today comprises the territories of the Iraq and northeastern Syria and the southeast of Turkey. Natural frontiers are the valley outskirts of the Zagros and Taurus Mountains in the East, the coastal area of the Persian Gulf and the Syrian-Arabian desert which has its beginning in this area.
| Mittani, Mitanni (Empire of the Hurrians) or region Hanilgalbat (this is the name the Assyrian people gave the land between the two rivers Habur and Euphrates). This was a state in northern Syria in the 15th and early 14th century before Christ. The state extended, when its territory covered the largest area, from Nuzi (today's Kirkuk) in the Iraq in the East across the region of northern Tigris and northern Syria as far as Kizzuwatna (Kilikien at the Mediterrean Sea) in the West. The centre of the territory was located in the Habur Valley (Chabur / Khabur Valley) and its tributaries. As there have not been excavated a lot of archaeological findings giving evidence thereof, especially Egyptian, Assyrian and Hittite sources provide information on the Hurrians and the Mittani. Important discoveries of old textual scripts have been made in Qatna; in this way, the importance of the Halaf and the Khirbet Kerak culture of the Bronze Age was confirmed. Their ceramics were called Kharbur (with lines in red, decorated with geometric triangle patterns and dots) or Nuzi (with black or brown colour). They traded metal, especially copper, silver, tin, and, last but not least, the little lion in bronze produced by themselves. There were also found the oldest texts written in notes for music (1800 before Christ). They knew how to cultivate land, and they constructed drainage channels providing for two harvests per year. This people were cattle, sheep and goat breeders; and they also considered important the breeding of horses and the culture of chariots. The horses had their origins in Central Asia; it still remains unclear whether they have come there on their own; there are, however, also tribes leading the life of nomads. The individual towns were governed and administered by relatives of the King, supported also by a council of elders (senate). The palace as well as the big temples owned their own land, animals and fruit orchards. The land was cultivated by dependent farmers who were called taluhi. Furthermore, also free farmers had to work for the palace; the drivers of the chariots were assigned land which they could use to earn themselves a living - frequently with the help of slaves. Land that had been assigned by the king, this is so-called "crown estate", could only be passed on to someone's heirs; it was not possible to sell it. This tradition led to the development of a special kind of adoption. Farmers as well as workmen were organised in families, which also formed economic as well as religious unities. Women were allowed to own land and administer districts.
Hurrian states were already known in the late 3rd millenium before Christ; especially the principality of Urkes (Ureksch / Tell Mozan) has to be mentioned in this regard; this entity comprised a rather vast territory under the princes Atal-Sen in the 22nd century and under Tis-Atal in the 21st century before Christ. At this time, the majority of the population was Hurrian. They formed the Kingdom of Arrapha which existed in parallel to the Kingdom of Akkad. In this period of time, Hurrian tribes settled in the area of the Zagros Mountains extending as far as the Habur tributaries. In this way, it was possible to prove numerous Hurrian personal names already in the 18th and 17th century before Christ in an area reaching up to Orontes. (Originally the Orontes had drained, in a much directer way, into the Mediterrean Sea, until the river valley was blocked by vulcanic eruptions about 60,000 before Christ. Subsequently, the course of the river imitated the Jordan Rift Valley). In northern Mesopotamia there were situated further Hurrian principalities such as, for example, Burundum and Elahut; and while the Hurrian people were mainly used as workers or slaves in Mari and Babylonia, they already succeeded in getting into the higher social classes in Yamhad and hence established another kingdom (about 1600 before Christ). When the Hittite King Hattusili I moved against the expanding Hurrians about 1630 before Christ towards the East, he was met by the Hurrite Kings of Suda and Ilanzura. From the inscriptions in the statue of Idrimi we get, however, proof of the state of Hurri / Mittani for the very first time; this nation was developed, at the last, at the end of the 16th century before Christ and extended from northern Mesopotamia as far as the Mediterrean Sea. There has been found evidence of confrontations between Mittani and Egypt only in 1446 before Christ, after Thutmosis III had realised several campaigns with the aim of consolidating his position and standing in southern Syria. Due to his use of the armada in the coastal region, the influence of Egypt, however, extended farther north than towards the inside of his country. At the beginning of his governance, the son of Thutmosis III, Amenophis II (1427-1401 BC), was forced to realise several expeditions to Syria. The balance of power between Mittani and Egypt may, however, be seen at the fact that he later on established diplomatic relations with the Hurrians that were, at least at the beginning, accompanied by a lot of sabre-rattling but later on resulted in permanent conciliation. With the Assyrians becoming stronger and their influence in the region further increasing, Mittani was definitely weakened. The deportation of the population into slavery in the Assyrian heartland also increased the vacuum. Several riots that were supported by the Hittites were then put down. The Aramaeans who had invaded this region since the 13th century before Christ and who, at the beginning, still participated in the rebellions, finally prevailed in the region, which continued to exist under the denomination Hanilgalbat and had the status of an independent province. From the middle of the 14th century up to the middle of the 13th century, when the realm ceased to exist, it only covered the area of the tributaries of the Habur; this area was known as the Kingdom of Arrapha which initially became vassal of the Great King of Mittani but was in the end destroyed by the Assyrians; hence this led to the development of an Assyrian province. The influence on the Hittites and the Hatti culture, however, still remained prevailing but was later on displaced by the Urartian (Aramaean).
The origins of the state of Mittani remain still unknown. Their kings exclusively held non- Hurrian royal names, with some of them being identified as Indo-Arian. The population was a mixture of Hurrians, Amorites (nomads owning small livestock) and Assyrians. They used the cuneiform script of the Akkadian. These were decorated with mythical drawings (human beings and animals with wings, dragons and monsters). The differentiation between god and demon was not a clear and precise one, and there was formed the good as well as the evil spirit. There is known evidence of Hurrian, Akkadian and Old Anatolian languages going back to Mittani. The Pantheon of the Mittani was a mixed religion of various Levantine peoples. The population already knew numbers as well as names of deities which are also known in parts of the Vedic and Persian Pantheon. They are called "rare relics of Aryan character", for example the Rigveda (a collection of texts), Verdic and Sanskrit verses. These belong to the oldest of the four Vedes and hence to the most important scriptures of Hinduism. The Indo-Aryan languages are a part of the Indo-Germanic language family that is primarily found in southern Asia. For this reason researchers believe that the upper classes may be allocated to this Indo-Aryan group and origin (proof, however, has never been found). Together with the Iranian languages, the Indo-Aryan languages form a common Indo-Iranian subgroup within the Indo-Germanic language family. Today there are spoken more than 100 Indo-Aryan languages by about one billion speakers, especially in northern and central India, in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and on Sri Lanka and the Maledives.
| The history of Sumer has its beginnings in the so-called Uruk period from about 4000 to 3000 before Christ. This period of time is famous for the foundation of the oldest cities and characteristic art of pottery, such as, for example, the Ubai culture which is well-known for the extraordinary style and colour of their ceramics. This period is also characterised by early settlements at waterways already dating back to the 6th millenium before Christ.
The Sumerians settled at the river Euphrates. Villages finally became cities. At this time, Uruk was the most important one; it was governed by Gilgamesh with the far-radiating Inanna temple. The country of the Sumerians was situated in the south of Akka (Babylon) in Mesopotamia. In this age, the unity of secular and ecclesiastical powers started to crumble away. Palaces were built for the kings who assumed more than a mere representative function. Inventions of enormous importance for the economy were the wheel and the potter's wheel. And people started to realize that animals were not simply suppliers of food and raw materials (for example, leather) but rather also could serve as draught and working animals (plow, carts). Dairy farming was developed. The keeping of working animals and the cultivation of land required a refinement of the irrigation system; this led to an increasing salinisation of the ground and a decreasing harvest. Even now some of the areas are still unusable. Food consisted primarily of porridge, gruel, dates, honey, and sesam oil. Protein was provided by eggs and cheese, geese, ducks, chicken as well as grasshoppers. The farm animals were only seldomly slaughtered for meat. Hares, boars, wild goats and sheep, antelopes, gazelles and wild deer were hunted. Fishing with the help of tamed pelicans was further developed. Carps were even exported. The people were craftsmen and cultivated their education and training. There even existed a school system (these schools were called board houses). These people are considered the inventors of the vault and the monumental buildings, especially the ziggurats (step pyramid-like temples) typical for Mesopotamia. The beginnings of astronomy can also be found in Sumer. The Sumerians already knew Mercury and other planets. The kings of that era were called lugal (= "tall human being"). The rulers displayed their claim to power by having themselves buried with their entourage. The Sumerians in a great deal influenced the transition into the Mesopotamian high culture in the 4th millenium BC. They called their country "ken-gir" and their language "eme-gi(r)"; the denomination "Sumeru" is the Akkadian name for the land and the people of Sumer. In the third millenium before Christ the priest princes ruled, combining ecclesiastical and political powers in their hands. They also organised the canalisation of the country and agriculture. The budget of the country was simultaneously the budget of the ruler. People who worked for the priest princes were paid in kind. Private property was only established in the Babylonian era. The duties of the state were in part later "privatised", this means that a tenant assumed the work and had to render service therefore (for example silver). After the rediscovery of the Sumerian script and language, the name "Sumerian" has also been used for the denomination of their culture since the 19th century. Since the Uruk period (4000-3100 BC) there have been found cities and the origins of this script which has developed from a system of pictograms to a cuneiform scripture. At the beginning, the characters stood for entire words which could also have several meanings. Originally, pictograms were drawn on clay tablets in vertical and horizontal lines with a pen made from a sharpened reed stylus. The lines formed boxes, and then the symbols were put into the boxes by pressing the three-edged end of a thin wood piece into the soft clay tablet. The symbols were written and read left-to-right. The so-called "cuneiform scripture" reached its perfection about 2700 BC, in this way paving the way for the birth of literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh has been famous in the entire area ever since. In the south of Mesopotamia the Sumerian language was spoken until about 1700 BC. Even after it had ceased to be used in everyday speech, the Sumerian language was later on still used as sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in the whole of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian cuneiform script is of essential importance, and it is supposedly even older than the other highly developed scriptures. The cuneiform script was successfully adapted to the Akkadian and the Hittite, and it is considered the ancestor of many more scriptures. The Sumerian religion is one of the oldest religions; it is seen as an important archetype of later religions in Mesopotamia and the neighbouring areas. Apart from the major deities and ancestral gods, the Sumerians also worshipped their town gods who were rivalling and taking their turn in their hegemony. Alltogether already formed a common pantheon. The Sumerian language is the earliest known written language, with proof therefore found in the south of Mesopotamia. Many linguists believe that it may be related with the Mongolian, the Finnish, the Hungarian or the Turkish language; hence there may be drawn the assumption that the Sumerians have immigrated into Mesopotamia from the East as this is where these languages supposedly have developed. There has not been found archaeological evidence of such an immigration so far.
| Sargon von Akkad stands for the beginning of a new era (about 2235-2094 BC). He was the founder of the first big empire in the Levante by uniting many city-states. He ruled all Mesopotamia, parts of Syria, the Iran and Asia Minor. He made the city of Akkad, the remainings of which have not been discovered so far, his new capital. The Akkadian language displaced the Sumerian language. Sargon's conquests led to economic and cultural relationships with the peoples subdued by him and the new neighbouring countries. The newly gained access to the sea enabled the development of a booming maritime trade. The empire of Akkad, however, did not last for a very long time. Numerous revolts and especially the Gutian, a mountain people invading the country (nomads "wandering mountain people") destabilised and finally ended his rule. This first big realm, however, has remained alive in the myths of religion until now. Even the Assyrians who took over rulership only some time later tell about this empire in their "History of Sargon". Some 100 years later, the Gutian people were displaced, and the Sumerian city-states regained their power and greatness. The Neo- Sumerian Empire (2112 to 2004 BC) under the rule of the third dynasty of Ur arose and ended under the pressure of Elam invading from the East.
|• Babylonians: About 1831 BC, the Amorites (nomads from Asia Minor breeding small animals and speaking a Semitic language) freed themselves from the rulership of Isin (Sumerian city-state) and founded the Old-Babylonian Empire. The most famous Babylonian ruler of this era was Hammurabi (1728 - 1686 BC) who had the oldest legal code engraved in cuneiform script onto a stele. The irrigation system was further developed, and the plow with a kind of seed funnel was introduced. Influential traders whose families established real dynasties increased their assets not only through trade but also with the help of money transactions. Indebted slaves and usury were rather common at this time. Hammurabi's son Schamschu-ilana (1685 - 1648 BC) then still was able to protect the empire against the invading Kassites and Elamites. After Babylon had been conquered by the Hittites about 1530 before Christ, the kings ruling the countries at the Persian Gulf occupied the country and founded the Second Dynasty of Babylon. In the year 1450 BC the country was conquered by the Kassites ruling until 1160 BC. After their dethronement, the Fourth Dynasty was established, with Nebukadnezar I (1136 -1113 BC) being the most prominent member. He led successful cruzades against the Assyrian and Elamite people. After his death the empire was conquered by the Assyrians about 1100 BC.
Kassites: After the Hittite invasion of Babylon in 1595 (or 1531 according to other chronicles) BC they assumed leadership in Babylonia about 1485 BC; they held the throne until the Elamite conquest in 1155 BC, this is for more than 400 to 500 years.
The Elamites did not have as the Sumerians Indo-European origins. About 3500 BC the first urban centres were established. The rise of the Sumerian city-state Uruk took place between 3450 and 3100 BC, in parallel to the development of Susa into the political and religious centre of Elam. The oldest written documents in the Proto-Linear-Elamite script date back to this period. The development of script systems in Sumer was independent from that of the scripts being developed in Elam. The Sumerian and Babylonian people got their building wood, stones, ore and horses from the Elamite mountain area. The Elamites, furthermore, were masters in casting metal.
The Chaldean invasions took place at the beginning of the first millenium before Christ. The Babylonian Chaldeans were Semites and entered Babylon from the coast of the Persian Gulf. They probably had established relations as far as the Oman and the Yemen, this leading to the discussion of their origin on the basis of three theories: relationship with the Aramaeans as Aramaean names were rather common; relationship with the Babylonians because of Neo-Akkadian names; and relationship with East-Arabian population groups.
In the 8th century before Christ, the local Chaldean population adapted to the rites and lifestyle of the Aramites living in rural areas. They also assumed their language. At the beginning of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty about 625 BC, the general process of assimilation had proceeded so far, in part an assimilation of the Aramaean and in part of the Babylonian, that the identification of the original Chaldean population was not possible anymore.
In the year 626 BC the Babylonian Empire, favoured by the decline of the Assyrian Empire, was refounded by Nabopolassar (626 604 BC). In the year 605 BC the remainings of the Assyrian army were destroyed by Nebukadnezar II (604 562 BC). He conquered Syria and Palestina, and in 586 BC he destroyed Jerusalem. At this point of time southern Mesopotamia constituted the central trading point of the Orient. The ruling class in the state was the priest aristrocracy. Under King Nabonid (555 - 538 BC) the final schism with the priesthood evolved. The Persian King Cyrus the Elder (Cyrus the Great) was able to derive advantage from this situation and conquered Babylon. The priests opened the city gates for him in 539 BC.
February- July 2009 Albi - translated by Hermelinde Steiner - November 2009