A brief history of Mesopotamia

According to the course of Professor Kenneth W.HARL

Africa has given birth to humanity. But it’s Mesopotamia who entered in history. It is indeed in Mesopotamia that appeared writing, livestock, agriculture, the first planned cities and their administration, the first monarchies, the first dynasties, the first temples and the first wars too. Before the Islamic State has all broken, it appeared useful to small-COMBES father to leave with this modest article, some traces of what is considered the ancestor of all civilizations, our mother the Mesopotamia.

Etymologically, Mesopotamia means between the two rivers, namely, the Euphrates and the Tigris, which puts us now southern Iraq, along the Persian Gulf. It is here that humanity emerged from the Neolithic to make history.

To begin, a few historical markers

The first traces unearthed by archaeologists date back to 10,000 BC. Syria in particular, the first masonry evidence has been discovered. Breeding appears 1,000 years later in Iraq, and agriculture and the domestication of sheep and goats (in Iran). The ceramic appears to 7500 BC in Iran, followed by the loom in Anatolia (Turkey). Wheat and barley are grown at the same time in Iraq and Palestine and Anatolia high pig.

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Mesopotamia map

A summary of the history of Mesopotamia

Birth of civilization in Sumer

Human civilization developed along three major river together: along the Nile; in the Indus Valley; but, above all, between the Tigris and Euphrates, in what is commonly called the « fertile crescent ».

The first villages and cities early Neolithic (9000 BC)

The oldest traces of villages in Mesopotamia dating back to 6500 years BC (well before the Egyptian pyramids or the modest town of the Indus). The site Jericho , in the West Bank today, is even older: it would have been occupied by the first sedentary since 9000 BC.

clay tablet


The villages of Sumer were built by the first farmers who came here to enjoy the fertile silt. An estimated 20,000 the number of inhabitants in Uruk (or Uruk) . It was at that time the most densely populated region of the globe. Cities are created around a temple, sometimes built on top of the ziggurats (the stepped pyramids). In the Bible, the description of the Tower of Babel was probably inspired by the first pyramids.

A theocracy is taking place, along with a clergy, with the summit, a King (representative of God on earth of the city), the middle nobility, priests, warriors, scribes and, at the bottom , craftsmen.

Birth of writing: the story begins in Sumer (3500 BC)

The writing appears around 3500 BC and takes the form of wedges (cuneiform) embedded in clay tablets. Originally mainly accountants, small texts cover to small all fields of administration, especially during the period called  » Uruk  » (city-state appeared around 3200 BC).

Writing allows the consolidation of the state, more and more centralized, orders reaching more easily to the governors of the most remote countries. His teaching is for the elite (the scribes), for he who has mastered the art of writing has the power. Democratization will therefore few millennia …

Sumer important neighboring regions (Indus or Egypt) commodities and slaves. It exports its know-how, including the art of writing. Further north, the region of Akkad, populated by Semitic peoples, also adopts the Sumerian writing. Essentially originally pictograms, it quickly acquires the phonetic principle (a drawing = one sound). The Phoenicians even simplify writing by introducing the alphabet (limited to consonants), itself adopted by the Greeks (who added the vowels) and then the Romans, to us, the heirs of the Sumerian …

Birth of mathematics

It seems that the Sumerians have acquired profound knowledge in mathematics, as the Pythagorean theorem, the extraction of cube roots, the sexagesimal system (which is still used).

other innovations

Agriculture, terracotta bricks, irrigation, textile wheel: all these important inventions in the history of mankind originated in Sumer.

City development

A force to grow, the Sumerian city-states eventually touch. Uruk, Ur, Elam are among the most important. They gradually come into contact with civilizations to the north, different in language (Semitic), but who have incorporated the Sumerian innovations, including its administrative science. The largest of the northern cities Akkad will finally be a first territorial empire by absorbing its southern neighbors.

The Old Testament is entirely Sumer

Sumer is located at the mouth of the Euphrates and Tigris, twin rivers that flow into the Persian Gulf. The Old Testament gives birth to humanity Sumer . It is from there, south of present Iraq that left Abraham , the patriarch common to the three great monotheistic religions, around 3000 BC, leaving his hometown of Ur to reach the Promised Land ( Canaan : the current Israel).

Abraham , his two son, the father of the people:

  • Hebrew (by Isaac, his legitimate son by his wife Sarai);
  • and Arabic (with Ishmael , the son of his servant Hagar).

It is established that the writers of the Old Testament were largely inspired epics left by the Sumerians on clay tablets: the story of Noah and the flood, for example, is inspired by the epic of Gilgamesh , the great Sumerian king of Uruk , the goddess Ishtar (recycled by the Greeks in the guise of Aphrodite and the Romans, those of Venus) was in love. The Epic of Gilgamesh (Bilbamesh in Sumerian) tells the story of a king who defied the gods. The latter sent on earth his alter ego: Enkidu. The confrontation of the two demigods ended in a draw. They became friends, fusional friends will overcome Humbaba , guardian of the forest of conifers where the gods live. Humbaba’s death will be avenged by the gods who will perish Enkidu. Gilgamesh never be consoled for the death of Enkidu willed by the gods. he spent the rest of his life searching in vain the secret of « immortality with Untanatispi, the alter ego of Noah, the man that the gods had spared during the episode of the flood.

Akkad (2400 BC)

Despite their geographical proximity to the Sumerians, Akkadians do not speak the same language: they are part of the family of Semitic peoples (originally came from the Arabian Peninsula).

Akkad has not been discovered by archeology and its exact location is questionable.

Dynastic succession, each ruling over city-states gradually merged by a charismatic king Sargon of Akkad (2400 BC).

The story of his birth recalls the story of Moses , collected by the daughter of the Pharaoh of the Nile and raised as a king.

 » I was born in Azupiranu on the banks of the Euphrates. My mother, the high priestess bore me in secret. She put me in a reed basket and left me drift on the river. The river carried me, even among Aqqi, the drawer of water, which took me with her bucket. He raised me as his son, taught me his gardener business. The goddess Ishtar fell in love with me made me king. I régnai for fifty-six years. « 

Sargon created the first empire in history by taking control of the Sumerian cities and directing these armies north and west, taking in particular the city of Assur and Mari ..

The time of the invasions

The Amorites (2100 BC)

Hammurabi code

The area is then broken up with the arrival of Amorites (those coming from the west), often mentioned in the Bible, sharing the various kingdoms in Mesopotamia, including the eternal Babylon (they are the founders). During the reign of Hammurabi (author of the code bearing his name, considered one of the first legal texts), Babylon will absorb its competitors, before sinking in turn, bending under the blows of the new power: the Hittites.

The Hammurabi code

It regulates all human relationships, such as inheritance, contracts, divorce, ownership of slaves. The law of retaliation is one of the major principles.


The major Mesopotamian peoples

The Hitti your (2000-1700 BC.)

They just HATTI Ankara present), the main city of Anatolia (Turkey) around 2000 BC. Their warfare is reinforced by a major innovation: the introduction on the battlefield of light wagon drawn by two horses and carrying three men.

Around 1600 BC, they take Syria and Babylon in 1595 BC. Five centuries will then succeed under the rule of the Kassites (dynasty founded by a Hittite sovereign reigning over Babylon).

They eventually incorporate the 1200 BC. Sumerian pantheon.

Their progress was stopped in Egypt, at the Battle of Kadesh (1200 BC), where they face the pharaoh Ramses II. The battle ended in a draw and the first peace treaty in history.

Arameans (1200 BC)

This period ends with the arrival of a new people: the Aramaeans, Semitic people, who came from the town of Aram, that it is not known place. There seems to be an alliance of tribes that occupied territories in northern Syria and emigrated to the east and southeast to conquer Mesopotamia . The Arameans bequeath their language in the region (that Christ used to preach), which is the language of commerce, but also their alphabet which negates the cuneiform writing.

They were the first to domesticate the camel (contrary to what tells the Old Testament , which provides the company of Abraham this animal 2000 years too early)

Neighboring Peoples

Sumer around and influenced by this great civilization, develop several great nations that interact, in particular through trade.

the Phoenicians

Phoenician alphabet

They are known as the people of the sea. They trade with other peoples of the Mediterranean to North Africa or Spain.

We owe them our alphabet. The Phoenician Alphabet, which he is the heir, has significantly reduced the number of signs necessary for the expression of any idea.

the Hebrews

Their story begins around 1200 BC. No archaeological evidence attests to civilization before that date. In particular, intensive excavations in the Sinai desert have never possible to find traces of the Exodus (escape of the Hebrews from Egypt), despite the presence of nearly 600,000 men for 40 years, no burial, no pottery, nothing. It is the same of the alleged exodus of Abraham from east to west to Canaan .

The contribution of Hebrews is religious: they invent monotheism and, with it, intolerance. Monotheism is not attached to a city, as in Sumer, but a people and ensures its cohesion. Deportation (586 BC) in Babylon will thus not mean assimilation. The Hebrews keep their identity by writing their history around a unifying God: the Old Testament . The term « Jew » is given to the Hebrews by the Sumerian people.

The Mycenaean civilization

It grows especially in Crete from 1650 to 1100 BC. It covers mainland Greece and the shores of the Aegean Sea.


Protected by the Sinai desert to the east, the Egyptians are sheltered land invasions. The reunification of the southern kingdoms (Sudan) and north (Nile Delta) is born an empire. Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh, re-invent, on the banks of the Nile, monotheism.

The decline of empires of the Bronze Age

All hitherto described Empires disappear with the end of the Bronze Age (1200 BC). The origin of this carnage is likely to seek the sudden hypertrophy side of the bureaucracy involved in managing such a state and associated costs: short, ceremonies, palaces, wars, mercenary armies generating more and more taxes and as many revolts. Will disappear including the Hittite and Mycenaean civilization.

The Assyrians (900 BC)


Around 900 BC, Mesopotamia still changes hands. The Assyrians (who came from the city of Asur (north of Sumer) and worshiping the deity of the same name) founded the first true empire of the Middle East that will run until the seventh century BC.

The city of Nimrud destroyed by the Islamic state is a legacy of the Assyrian period.

Installed on the heights of the Euphrates, Assyrians, known for their brutality, control the iron mines, commercial ports and fertile land. Their mastery of the cavalry gives them a significant advantage on the battlefield. They absorb some of the Arameans they settle in Syria. The rulers show the name of Sargon (Lord of the world).

Babylon but resists time the invader. But Sargon II finally destroyed. Around 600 BC, a Chaldean king of Babylon eventually crush the Assyrian power. The Assyrians will occupy a time the Egyptian delta.

The Assyrians in the Bible

Assyria shall submit the Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. Salamassar, Assyrian king, moved to Samaria settlers who, mixing with the local population, will become the Samaritans. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, away from trade routes, is a spare time.

The Babylonians (600 BC)

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Hanging Gardens of Babylon

In 900 BC the Chaldeans (nomadic desert people) settled in Babylon. Around 600 BC, the new masters are Babylonians , led the most emblematic king named after Nebuchadnezzar II (originally the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Ishtar Gate).

The Babylonians in the Bible

Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of Solomon, the people subjected Hebrew and deported to Babylon. The cohesion of the exiles is maintained, particularly through spiritual guides like Ezekiel. Daniel even became an important advisor of the king of Babylon. Balthazar succeeds Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel interprets a prophecy: the end of the kingdom of Babylon. Darius the Mede (Persia) takes the city that night and put the Babylonian king to death.

The Persians (550 BC)

The Persians (from Iran) are Babylon. Cyrus II (dynasty of Achaemenids ) is their king. He has already conquered the Medes (also Iranian people) and Lydians (now western Turkey).

The Persians in the Bible

In 536 BC, Cyrus king of Persia, promulgated an edict:

the Lord has placed in my hands all the kingdoms of the earth. He entrusted the mission to build a temple in Jerusalem. If any of you who belong to his people, the LORD his God be with him to let him go.

Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home.

In his attempt to conquer the world, it fails to meet the Greeks Marathon (480 BC). Ataxercès his son will fail in the same way, stopped despite its thousands of troops to Thermopilae by the 200 Spartans of Leonidas. It will lose its fleet at Salamis cast by the Athenian fleet.

Greeks (330 BC) the Romans , to the Muslims (632 AD)

The Persians take their territory until the arrival of the Greeks in 330 BC by Alexander the Great. It scans the great Empire and became the greatest conqueror of all time before dying in Persepolis general leaving his tear for the management of the empire.

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The conquests of Alexander the Great

The Parthian (150 BC) from Iran, they succeed, then the Romans (110 BC). The Umayyad Muslims (630 AD) invade the entire Middle East. Their power is only thwarted by the Crusaders on the one hand and the other Byzantium, whose empire was founded by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and destroyed by Muslims in 1453.

The Ottoman Empire (from the sixteenth to the twentieth century)

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the land is Muslim, until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. Any reference to « Mesopotamia » disappears shelves of history.

French and British mandates (1920)

Sykes-Picot 1916

Not until the end of the Second World War, the agreements Sykes-Picot in 1916 and the Treaties of Versailles (1919) Sevre (1920) and San Remo for the term is used again.

Mesopotamia passes to the east, under British mandate and west, under French mandate. Iran, Iraq and Syria become so states (of monarchies).

British and French occupation permit relative development of the Middle East, but ultimately leads to a rejection of Western society.

After the nationalist parenthesis scope by General Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt or the FLN in Algeria, the military dictatorships are taking place in several countries (Assad in Syria, Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, Sadam Hussein in Iraq …) . In 1979, the Iranian monarchy was overthrown by a Shi’ite Islamic revolution.

The world loses his head (2013-2015)

The world is losing the head. Following the Arab Spring that toppled dictators in place, contradictory forces vying for power, the Democrats on one side and religious fundamentalists on the other.

DAECH attempts to recreate the missing Sunni caliphate. Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was inducted new caliph.