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I Ancient Mesopotamia

 

A. The first cities developed along the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers

 

†††† 1. rivers provide natural abundant water supply for agriculture, and they look pretty

†††† 2. but by 3500 B.C. population grew so that the naturally irrigated flood plains could not supporttheir food needs

 

††††††††† a) one result was war - one group took over the fertile areas of a weaker group as competition for agricultural areas

††††††††† grew fierce

††††††††† b) another result was increased flood plain through large scale irrigation projects

††††††††† c) either way, everyone had to get involved and emerge from the Neolithic closet or else starve, or be conquered as

††††††††† slaves to help someone elseís city develop

 

†††† 3. the rivers were uncooperative and made life hard

 

††††††††† a) they flooded irregularly, or not at all, increasing even more the need for irrigation, basically to create artificial

††††††††† flooding

††††††††† b) they were not navigable, making the city/states which developed along them independent, isolated, developing

††††††††† individual languages, cultures and traditions

 

B. The region was wide open, flat and fertile

 

†††† 1. the openness of the land made for easier warfare - there were no natural defenses

 

††††††††† a) created an atmosphere in which development of military technology was very important to give an advantage over

††††††††† others

††††††††† b) city/states competed with one another for dominance of the region

 

†††† 2. although our image of Iraq is one of dusty desolation, ancient Mesopotamia was lush and fertile, the site of the Garden of Eden

 

C. The physical environment of Mesopotamia affected the development of their civilization

 

†††† 1. cities develop early because of the need for irrigation and efficiency

†††† 2. life is competitive and warlike - thereís always the possibility of attack from enemies envious of a cityís resources

†††† 3. everything from politics to religion to literature reflects this reality - impermanence, violence, unpredictability, progress,

†††† ambition, efficiency

 

II. Political Development

 

A. The first city/states developed in Sumer

 

†††† 1. Sumer was the most fertile part of Mesopotamia, a real prize

†††† 2. Uruk, Lagash, Ur, Eredu, all with populations between 30 - 50,000

 

B. The early cities competed vigorously with one another for land and water

 

†††† 1. there was organized warfare for the first time in history

†††† 2. the first empires emerged, as one city subjugated others

 

††††††††† a) empire = a union of states dominated by one state brought together by coercion, consensus, or both

 

C. The history of Mesopotamia is the history of one empire after another, each trying different rulership styles

 

†††† 1. the Akkadian Empire (ca. 2375 - 2225 B.C.) took the cultural approach

 

††††††††† a) Sargon (2371-2316 B.C.), King of Akkad, created the empire by first conquering Sumer - he took advantage of the

††††††††† internal fighting and conquered them

††††††††† b) then came the problem how to keep it? How does one culture absorb another without difficulty?

 

†††††††††††††† (1) Sargonís approach was to unite the religions of the two kingdoms together politically and theologically,

†††††††††††††† hoping that if the two peoples worship the same gods they will be unified

 

††††††††††††††††††† (a) his daughter, Enheduanna (the High Priestess of Akkadian religion), was married to the

††††††††††††††††††† former king of Sumer (the High Priest of Sumerian religion)

 

†††††††††††††††††††††††† i) Enheduanna went right to work rewriting the hymns and prayers of both religions

†††††††††††††††††††††††† to reflect the new order - these are the first writing in western civilization, which

†††††††††††††††††††††††† makes her the first author in our civilization

 

†††††††††††††† (2) this approach lasted about 150 years, but eventually failed as a result of outside invasion and internal

†††††††††††††† dissent

 

†††† 2. the Babylonian Empire (ca. 1790 - 1000 B.C. tried the legal approach

 

††††††††† a) Hammurabi (1792 - 1750 B.C.), the sixth king of Babylon, believed that unification could be achieved through the

†††††††† increased prestige of the king, and through the use of organized law

 

†††††††††††††† (1) he increased the prestige of the king by combining the palace and temple into one group of buildings,

†††††††††††††† and by standardizing the rituals of each, making them similar

 

††††††††††††††††††† (a) going to see the king was now like going to the temple to see a god

 

†††††††††††††† (2) to establish an organized system of law he had legal experts collect, organize and publish all the laws of

†††††††††††††† all the cities in Hammurabiís kingdom

 

††††††††††††††††††† (a) this new Code of Laws was carved onto pillars and one was sent to every city in his empire

††††††††††††††††††† (b) all citizens would now be protected by Hammurabiís justice, achieving unity in the empire

††††††††††††††††††† (at least that was the idea)

 

†††††††††††††† (3) Hammurabiís approach to unity is still used today all over the world, although his empire only lasted

†††††††††††††† about 700 years, broken down by internal disorder and weakness of rulership

 

†††† 3. the Assyrian Empire (ca. 900 - 600 B.C.) took the conquest approach

 

††††††††† a) the Assyrians were harsh rulers who held their empire together with terror

 

†††††††††††††† (1) the "Nazis of the Ancient World" proudly displayed the severed heads and flayed skin of conquered

†††††††††††††† enemies

 

††††††††† b) they used the new technology of iron weapons and horse-drawn chariots to overrun all of Mesopotamia

 

†††††††††††††† (1) this is an example of how the effective use of a new military technology can make a huge difference

 

††††††††† c) their power was based on fear, terror and superior military skill

 

†††††††††††††† (1) but when conquered people no longer feared, and gained technology, they were no longer afraid to

†††††††††††††† rebel

 

††††††††††††††††††† (a) the Assyrians now had to deal with rebellions all over their empire

††††††††††††††††††† (b) this spread them too thin, leaving them vulnerable to conquest

 

††††††††† d) the Assyrian capital, Ninevah, was finally destroyed in 612 B.C.

 

†††† 4. the Chaldean Empire (ca. 600 - 550 B.C.) tried the restoration approach

 

††††††††† a) Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 562 B.C.) thought that even if his empire was bad, it would be better than the Assyrians

 

†††††††††††††† (1) he conquered a little, built and spent a lot

 

††††††††††††††††††† (a) he conquered Israel, and brought the entire population to Babylon as slaves

††††††††††††††††††† (b) he built up Babylon, including the famous Hanging Gardens

 

††††††††† b) his rather lazy approach to rulership might have been successful, but for the arrival of the Persians

 

†††† 5. the Persian Empire (550 - 325 B.C.) took the tolerant /benevolent approach

 

††††††††† a) Cyrus (550 - 530 B.C.) united the Persians and the Medes, then moved his show on the road to Mesopotamia -

††††††††† conquered three of the four river valley civilizations

††††††††† b) the Persian style was tolerance and benevolence; they respected local customs and styles and gained many friends

††††††††† and provinces

 

†††††††††††††† (1) local customs were allowed to continue

†††††††††††††† (2) the Jews were allowed to go home; Cyrus even gave them money to rebuild their smashed temple

†††††††††††††† (3) many cities just opened their gates to Cyrus and asked to be part of his empire

 

††††††††† c) the Persians gave the region uniform coinage, shared technology, trade, roads, and asked only for respect and taxes

††††††††† in return

 

†††††††††††††† (1) these benefits, combined with efficient imperial government led to success

 

††††††††† d) the Persians had a curious religion - Zoroastrianism, named for its founder, Zoroaster

 

†††††††††††††† (1) there are two equally powerful, but opposite gods, Ahura Mazda, god of truth and light, and Ahriman,

†††††††††††††† god of lies and darkness - dualism

†††††††††††††† (2) these gods fight one another within the souls of humans; our decisions and actions are their victories

†††††††††††††† and defeats

 

††††††††† e) Cyrus and his successors ruled in peace for over 200 years, until conquered by the Greek king Alexander the Great

 

D. What can we learn by studying these different rulership styles? How should we behave toward others in our own relationships?

 

III. Mesopotamian Society

 

A. Class Structure was sharply divided

 

†††† 1. at the top were the king and noble classes

 

††††††††† a) priests and scribes were top positions

 

†††† 2. then free commoners

 

††††††††† a) some were clients to noble or temple patronage

††††††††† b) made up the bulk of artisans, farmers, and merchants

 

†††† 3. slaves had some rights

 

††††††††† a) they could own property, engage in business, testify in court

 

B. Gender relations in the cities were surprisingly liberal

 

†††† 1. while women were not treated equally with men, women did have many rights

 

††† ††††††a) they could own property, own slaves, engage in business, testify in court

††††††††† b) marriage and property rights were liberal and protected by law

 

C. The Mesopotamian political world-view had no distinction between public and private life

 

†† ††1. the state is society: religion, state and society were one

 

††††††††† a) the community, not the individual, was supreme

 

†††† 2. this is to be expected in a monarchy, as the kingís private household is the state

 

††††††††† a) religion was linked to the monarchy in many cities - the king marries the priestess

 

D. Daily life pretty much amounted to work and worship

 

†††† 1. the goal was to make enough money to survive comfortably, while continually humbling yourself to the gods

†††† 2. homes were functional and plain, while public buildings were grand-scale but only somewhat decorated

 

††††††††† a) Mesopotamians were too busy working to beautify their buildings

 

†††† 3. food was mostly vegetarian, similar to modern Middle Eastern cuisine

 

††††††††† a) their diet kept the people relatively healthy, but relatively small - the average height of a full grown Mesopotamian

††††††††† male was approximately 5 feet !

 

†††† 4. education was private - no schools - just learning to read and write a pictographic language was a lifetime job

 

IV. Mesopotamian Culture

 

A. Religious beliefs were a complex form of animism called paganism

 

†††† 1. the forces of nature were still worshiped, but they were given the specific names of gods or goddesses

 

††††††††† a) Anu, Enlil, Innana/Ishtar, Marduk, Baíal to name a few

 

†††† 2. the old shamanís job was split up due to specialization

 

††††††††† a) priests took over his religious functions

††††††††† b) scribes took over his storytelling

††††††††† c) government and law took over his civic leadership duties

 

†††† 3. the people believed they were part of the universal order, that their job was to be servants to the gods to help them run the

†††† universe

 

††††††††† a) the gods were always ready to destroy mankind (they even tried once) and so mankind needed to suck up to the

††††††††† gods

 

†††††††††††††† (1) the gods, like nature, were unpredictable

 

††††††††† b) it was the gods who made the rivers flood, so if the gods are happy men get water

 

†††††††† ††††††(1) when the rivers flood and destroy property, the gods were angry

 

††††††††† c) rituals helped reinforce this belief - sacrifice in the temple, the sacred marriage, seasonal festivals

 

†††† 4. the focus of this religion was not a natural place, but the constructed temple

 

††††††††† a) usually the important temples were located high above the city atop the ziggurat, symbolic of stairways up to

††††††††† heaven

 

†††††††††††††† (1) the Hebrews saw these as monuments to human arrogance: Tower of Babel

††††††††††††† (2) right next to the palace, they were the most important buildings in the city

 

††††††††† b) the worshiper had to climb and climb to enter the courtyard of the temple

 

†††††††††††††† (1) there, after being specially clothed, he would see lines of people holding animals to sacrifice; priests

†††††††††††††† scurrying about covered with blood; vendors selling chickens, goats, sheep and cattle; refreshment stands;

†††††††††††††† meeting rooms

†††††††††††††† (2) once inside the temple everything grew dark, rooms filled with smoke and fire, the stench of blood, and

†††††††††††††† the sacred image of the god, dressed, perfumed, and ready to receive the sacrifice

 

††††††††† c) after the sacrifice, the worshiper might purchase some meat, or might make a visit to the temple prostitutes, male

††††††††† and female

 

†††††††††††††† (1) the goddess of love, Innana/Ishtar required that all people sacrifice to her by spending a little time as a

†††††††††††† ††prostitute in her temple, because the act of sex is itself a sacrificial ritual to her

 

†††† 5. their mythology reflected the chaos and anxiety of Mesopotamian life

†††† 6. the belief in the afterlife was grim

 

††††††††† a) the world of the dead was a cold, dusty place; so dreary, in fact, that the heroes of Mesopotamian literature,

††††††††† Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim, attempt to cheat death and live forever

 

B. Mesopotamian literature reflected their way of life as well

 

†††† 1. most (99%) of the writing which survives from Mesopotamia consists of law lists, accounting and inventory lists, lists of kings,

†††† enemies, functional literature like that

†††† 2. a precious little is more artistic: hymns to the gods, the story of creation, and the Epic of Gilgamesh from the Sumerian period,

†††† ca. 3000B.C.

 

††††††††† a) the Epic of Gilgamesh strongly displays the values and beliefs of Mesopotamian society

 

C. Mesopotamian art ?

 

†††† 1. well, not much exists because they didnít have the time to devote to something useless like art

†††† 2. but what little survives again is rather functional, and simplistic

 

††††††††† a) if you are looking at a piece of Mesopotamian art, and the figures have big, wide eyes, chances are they are gods; all

††††††††† the better to see mankindís sins with