(6,000 BC- 486 BC) by Lance Wilson and Michael Holland

"And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor." -The Bible

The Fertile Crescent, a fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was labeled by the Greeks as Mesopotamia, which means "land between the rivers." Though the region's rainfall was minimal, snowmelt fed the rivers and flooding made the valley fertile, which led to the birth of organized civilization. The people in the region near the mouths of the rivers are called Sumerians. In the region of Sumer that created theocratic city-states that created many things that we still use today, including the wheel, schools, arches, bricks, and the system of time based on the number 60 and the circle. Today we are still reliant on wheels to get us from place to place, schools to educate us, and clocks that they invented for time.

Irrigation channels, which were first created by the Mesopotamians, allow the water from the Tigris and Euphrates to water large sects of land.

Mesopotamia was also

a birthplace for many empires. The first empire in history was created by Sargon in about 2,340 BC. This empire lasted little more than 200 years. In 1792 BC, the Babylonians

took over, ruled by King Hammurabi. Hammurabi wrote the first code of laws, which consisted of 282 laws based on the Law of Retaliation. The main power in the area briefly shifted to the Hittites, who came from Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). The Assyrians, who formed a military power in 1,200 BC, took control in 700 BC. Under King Assurbanipal, the first library was created in their capital city of Nineveh. However, in 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar, the leader of the Chaldeans, defeated the Assyrians and formed the Chaldean, or Neo-Babylonian, Empire. The Persians created an empire in 550 BC, an it became the largest empire in the Middle East.

A ziggurat, a temple to the Sumerian gods.

The region around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers contained many important leaders as well. Sargon of

Akkad created the first of many empires throughout history. Hammurabi wrote down the law of Babylonia, and today laws are still written. Kind Nebuchadnezzar built one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for his wife, Amytis. Libraries, which today hold much of the world's knowledge, was first created by King Assurbanipal. Abraham, who was the founder of the three major monotheistic faiths in he world today, came from the city of Ur. Darius, the king of Persia, subdivided his empire into 20 provinces, making them easier to rule. All of their achievements show us that the Mesopotamian civilizations were the basis for all later civilizations, including those today.


A map of Mesopotamia, including the major city-states, as well as present day cities and labels of modern countries.
A map of Mesopotamia, including the major city-states, as well as present day cities and labels of modern countries.

Key Terms

  1. Mesopotamia: the title given to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It is a Greek word that literally means "land between the rivers".
  2. City-State: a city and the surrounding countryside that is all part of the same government, is governed by the same laws, and generally follows the same chief god or goddess.
  3. Theocracy: a form of government in which the people are ruled by the gods and their representatives. The representative of the chief god is usually the king.
  4. Cuneiform: the wedge shaped system of writing invented by the Sumerians in 3,100 BC, which included over 600 signs written on clay tablets.
    A tablet written in Cuneiform.
  5. Sumer: the first organized civilization in history, founded around 5,000 BC, that created many history changing inventions, including schools, the wheel, the plow, arches, bricks, and the system of time based on a circle. It was located in southern Mesopotamia.

Important People

  1. Hammurabi:a Babylonian king who wrote down the first code of laws, called the Code of Hammurabi, which consisted of 282 laws and was based on the law of retaliation.
  2. Sargon of Akkad: the Akkadian king who founded the first empire in history. He won all 34 of his battles and was called the Lord of the 4 Quarters of the World.
  3. Abraham: the man born in Ur who became the founder of the Jews. He was monotheistic and was called by God to move to the land of Canaan, where he would be made into a great nation.
  4. King Assurbanipal:the king who created the Library of Nineveh, which was the world's first library; it housed over 22,000 clay tablets.
  5. Nebuchadnezzar: the leader of the Chaldeans who rebuilt Babylon and defeated the Assyrians. He was the king who capture Jerusalem and enslaved the Jews.

Timeline of Key Dates

6,000 BC: Birth of Civilization in Mesopotamia. At this time City-States began originating.
5,000 BC: Sumerian Civilization begins. The Sumerian civilization was based on twelve similar city-states near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. They were very good farmers, and used irrigation channels to water vast stretches of land.
3,100 BC: The Sumerians invented the Cuneiform style of writing. These wedge shaped characters were written on clay tablets with a stylus, which was a reed used to make markings into the soft clay.
2,340-2,284 BC: The Akkadian Empire ruled during this time under Sargon. It was the first empire in history and extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
2,000 BC: The country of Babylonia was created around this time, centered on its capital, Babylon, which was the largest city-state in the world with over 200,000 people.
1,800 BC: The approximate date for the writing of the Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem based on the exploits of King Gilgamesh, a noble who was two parts man and one part god. It is believed to be one of the oldest stories in the world. Below is a picture of the tablet that gave the story of a great flood, similar to the one found in the book of Genesis in the Bible.
The tablet from the "Epic of Gilgamesh" that tell the story of a great flood.

1,792 BC: The beginning of the rein of the Babylonian king Hammurabi, who wrote down the first code of laws.
1,550 BC: The Hittites, who created an empire in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), conquered Babylon.
1,200 BC: The military power Assyria was founded around this time and named after their chief god Assur.
700 BC: The Neo-Babylonian Empire was destroyed by the Assyrians.

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This video gives a brief summary of the way of Mesopotamian life and the civilizations that flourished there.

For more information

All About History: A short summary of information about Mesopotamia can be found here. Included are the famous people of the era and the Mesopotamians contributions to modern civilization. A website based on lesson plans aout Mesopotamia that includes vocabulary, geography, and contribution activities and more.
BBC History: This contains a picture gallery with explanations of their tie-in to Mesopotamian history.
The British Museum: This website contains several articles about many of the pieces of Mesopotamian civilization that the British discovered, including the Royal Tombs of Ur as well as several other pieces of information, such as the gods and goddesses of the era.
University of Chicago Library: The University of Chicago site includes a good account of Mesopotamian history, as well as interactives and videos relating to the era.