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Ancient Mesopotamian Temples Ziggurats

Temples in Mesopotamia were popularly known as ziggurat which was built on a

raised area and the structures were also predominant in Iran as well. The
structure was like a raised pyramid with several receding stories. The temples
were built during the time of the Sumerians, Babylonians and the Assyrians in
ancient Mesopotamia. Some of the earliest structures were constructed as early
as 3 BC.
The receding tiers rested on a triangular, square or oval platform with the top
resembling a pyramid. Mud bricks baked in the sun were used for the construction
and the exterior was usually glazed with different colors which were in tuned to
astrological importance. Tiers ranged from two to seven and a temple or a shrine
was created at the crest. Ramps were used for access to the temples in
House of gods:
The ziggurats were regarded as the house of gods and only priests were permitted
entry for their safekeeping. They took upon themselves the task of looking after
the gods who were known to look after the people.
Naturally, the priests wielded a lot of power in ancient Mesopotamia and they
were extremely powerful members of society. Priests held sway and were at par
as well as higher in class to the merchant and wealthy classes.
One could also climb from the base to the top with the help of spiral stairs as well.
According to available records, there were nearly 32 ziggurats in and around the
region which were regarded as the temples of Mesopotamia. Out of them, only 4
are in present day Iran, while the rest are in Iraq. Among the best preserved
temple is the one in the western part of Iran and the most recent discovery took
place at Sialk in central Iran.
The structure at Iran survived the long war the country fought with Iraq in the
1980's when many notable architectural sites were damaged. The complexes of
the gods in Uruk dating back to 4 BC and excavated sites at in Syria and Turkey
tell us something about the condition of the period as well as the temples in

Mesopotamian History
Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, derives its name and existence from the rivers
Tigris and Euphrates. The Mesopotamian history has been very intriguing and has attracted
a lot of people. About ten thousand years ago, the people of this area began the
agricultural revolution. Instead of hunting and gathering their food, they domesticated
plants and animals.
Between 3500 and 3000 BC, the civilization of Southern Mesopotamia underwent a sudden
growth and change, centered in the cities of Ur and Uruk. The main part of the third
millennium, now called the Early Dynastic period, saw the gradual development of
Sumerian civilization, based on numerous city states.
The Early Dynastic period was brought to an end when Sargon (2334-2279 BC) created the
world's first empire, stretching the length and breadth of the fertile crescent. The impact of
Sargon's unification of Sumer and Akkad resonated down through the history of
Mesopotamia for the next two thousand years.
The Sargonic Empire lasted for almost a hundred and fifty years, before it fell to
insurrections and invasions. There followed a characteristically Mesopotamian turbulent
period, part of which involved the hordes of Guti, who ruled in the south for a century or
so. Eventually, they were thrown out in an uprising which inaugurated the Third Dynasty of
Ur (Ur III, or Neo-Sumerian period).
During the reign of the Ur III kings beginning with Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, Sumerian culture
and civilization experienced a remarkable renaissance. The Ur III Empire lasted for over a
century (2112-2004 BC) before falling to the violent incursions of nomadic Amorites.
The next couple of hundred years was another turbulent time during which the cities of Isin
and Larsa vied for supremacy in the south, while Mari and Assur grew to prominence in the
north. Assur was the principal city of the Assyrians.
Also in the south was the city of Babylon. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the
ruler of Babylon was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). We now call this period Old Babylonian,
in about 1600 BC, Mesopotamia was faced with troublesome northern neighbors.
The Hittites, under Mursilis, captured and plundered Babylon, but they did not stay and
hold the territory. Into the vacuum thus created came the Kassites from the Zagros
Mountains to the northeast. The Kassite rule of Babylon lasted for four hundred years,
some of which were quite peaceful.
The last centuries of the second millennium were yet another turbulent time. Throughout
the Near East and southern and eastern Europe mass movements of peoples coincided with

the destruction of all major centers of civilization. The end of the Bronze Age is shrouded in
The next empire to arise in the history of Mesopotamia came from a different quarter, the
Assyrians in the northeast. The last of the great Neo-Assyrian kings, Assurbanipal (669627), ruled over the Assyrian empire at its peak.
In the abrupt way that characterizes Mesopotamian history, his empire outlived him by less
than twenty years. It was followed by a brief period of Babylonian hegemony before
Babylon in turn fell to the Persians, former nomads who ruled until Alexander conquered
the known world. But this is to bring us into modern times.

Reasons for Decline Of Mesopotamia

It sometimes appears paradoxical that the same reasons which resulted in the dominance
of an empire may end up being the reasons of its destruction. How did Mesopotamia, one
of the most wonderful civilizations of the ancient world, decline is an interesting question
to consider. It is said that the Sumerians ceased to exist as a civilization by 2000 BC.
Historians attribute many reasons for the fall of Mesopotamian Empire. Some say that
there was overcrowding which subsequently led to pollution along with other reasons like
war and changes in the environment.
Mesopotamian cities also had major pollution problems. Lack of indoor toilets and
ineffective garbage collection led to contaminated water supplies and frequent epidemics
such as Typhus.
An important observation is that irrigation techniques are also one of the chief reasons for
the decline of the empire. When irrigation water is allowed to evaporate in the fields, it
leaves behind mineral salts. These mineral salts become highly poisonous for the plants.
It irrigation water is drained, erosion occurs.
The rivers were higher than the surrounding plain because of built-up silt in the river
beds, so water for irrigation flowed into the fields by gravity. Once the water was on the
fields, it could not readily drain away because the fields were lower than the river.
As the water evaporated, it not only left its dissolved mineral salts behind, but also drew
salts upward from lower levels of the soil. By 2300 BC, agricultural economy of the
Mesopotamians began to shatter as the soil could no longer support plants.
Historians also opine that wars were an important cause for the collapse. In 2000 BC, the

last Sumerian dynasty fell and for almost a century, Mesopotamia was a place of chaos
and confusion. In 1900 BC, Amorites captured the region and centralised the government
over various city states.
Finally, it was the invasion of Hittites which marked the end of Old Babylonian Empire in
Mesopotamia during 1900 BC to 1600 BC.
This article gives information on: Reasons for End of Mesopotamian Civilization

King Hammurabi ruled Babylon, located along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, from 17921750
BCE. During his time as king he oversaw a great expansion of his kingdom from a city-state to an
empire. However, today he is most famous for a series of judgments inscribed on a large stone stele
and dubbed Hammurabi's Code. Scholars are still debating its precise significance as a set of laws,
but the Code's importance as a reflection of Babylonian society is indisputable. In this lesson,
students learn about life in Babylonia through the lens of Hammurabi's Code. This lesson is
designed to extend world history curricula on Mesopotamia and to give students a more in-depth
view of life in Babylonia during the time of Hammurabi.

Biography of Hammurabi
History >> Biography >>Ancient Mesopotamia

Occupation: King of Babylon

Born: c. 1810 BC in Babylon

Died: 1750 BC in Babylon

Reign: 1792 - 1750 BC

Best known for: A written code of laws called Hammurabi's Code

Early Life
Hammurabi was born around 1810 BC in the Mesopotamian city-state of Babylon. His father,
Sin-Muballit, was king of Babylon. Although not a lot is known about Hammurabi's youth, he
was raised as the crown prince of Babylon. He likely attended a school called the tablet house.
He was taught about the Babylonian gods and the history of the great leaders of Mesopotamia.
He also learned and how to fight and lead an army. As he grew older, he learned how to rule by
watching his father and listening to his advisors.
Becoming King
When Hammurabi turned eighteen years old, his father became very sick. Soon his father died
and young Hammurabi was crowned king of the city-state of Babylon.
At this time, Babylon was a fairly small kingdom. There were many other larger kingdoms
surrounding Babylon including Assyria, Mari, Larsa, and Eshnunna. It was now Hammurabi's
job to keep the city safe and help it to prosper. This may sound like a daunting task for an
eighteen year-old, but Hammurabi was not scared. He was confident he could lead and he had
a plan.
Improving Babylon
For the first several years of Hammurabi's reign, he concentrated on improving the city of
Babylon. Hammurabi knew he needed peace to make these improvements so he established
treaties with the most powerful nations in Mesopotamia. Once he felt the city was safe, he went
to work.
Hammurabi worked to improve the defenses and infrastructure of the city. He strengthened the
city walls, improved the city's irrigation system, and built new temples to the gods. The city
became prosperous and grew in power.
After several years of building, Hammurabi's peace came to an end. The powerful kingdom of
Elam invaded Mesopotamia and conquered the kingdom of Eshnunna. The city of Babylon was
next in their path. Hammurabi called on his ally of Larsa to help and then he gathered his army
to fight the Elamites.
Hammurabi and his army faced the Elamites. He expected an army from Larsa to arrive, but it
never did. However, Hammurabi had done a good job in preparing Babylon for battle. His army
crushed the Elamites.
Founding an Empire
After defeating the Elamites, Hammurabi turned his attention to his former ally Larsa. He was

not happy that they had betrayed him. He invaded Larsa and took control of their cities. He then
turned his army to the north and began conquering more cities and nations. Soon Hammurabi
controlled all of Mesopotamia. He had established the first Babylonian Empire and was king of
"the four quarters of the world."
Code of Hammurabi
Once Hammurabi had conquered Mesopotamia, he didn't consider his work done. He wanted
to improve the way of life for all the people in his kingdom. He embarked on many reforms and
construction projects. He built new canals, aqueducts, and temples throughout the land.
Today Hammurabi is most famous for enacting a new set of laws called the Code of
Hammurabi. These laws were carved into stone columns called stelae that everyone could
read. There were 282 laws.
Hammurabi died in 1750 BC after 43 years of rule. His final years were ones of peace and
prosperity for the people of Mesopotamia.
Interesting Facts about Hammurabi

Tablets including 55 of Hammurabi's letters have been recovered by archeologists.

He made changes to fix flaws in the Babylonian calendar.

He was a hard worker and became personally involved in managing many of his
construction projects.

His name means "the kinsman is a healer."

His picture can be found in both the U.S. Capitol Building and the U.S. Supreme
Court as one of the world's great lawgivers.

Inana/Itar (goddess)
Inana (Sumerian)/Itar (Akkadian) is among the most important deities
and the most important goddess in the Mesopotamian pantheon. She is
primarily known as the goddess of sexual love but is equally prominent as
the goddess of warfare. In her astral aspect, Inana/Itar is the planet
Venus, the morning and the evening star.

Cylinder seal TT (the Adda seal) at the British Museum, showing the goddess Itar (full
face) carrying weapons on her back, standing on a mountain (BM 89115). The seal dates to
the Old Akkadian period (ca. 2300 BCE). The Trustees of the British Museum.

Glazed brick relief from the city of Babylon, showing the lion, the symbol of Itar. The relief
was part of the processional way from the temple of Marduk to the aktu-house, where the
New Year's festival was celebrated. The relief dates to the time of king Nebuchadnezzar II
(r. 604-562 BCE). (Louvre Museum, AO 21118) RMN.

Inana/Itar is by far the most complex of all Mesopotamian deities, displaying
contradictory, even paradoxical traits (Harris 1991; see also Bahrani 2000). In
Sumerian poetry, she is sometimes portrayed as a coy young girl under patriarchal
authority (though at other times as an ambitious goddess seeking to expand her
influence, e.g., in the partly fragmentary myth Inana and Enki, ETCSL 1.3.1 and in
the myth Inana's Descent to the Netherworld, ETCSL 1.4.1). Her marriage
to Dumuzi is arranged without her knowledge, either by her parents or by her
brother Utu(Jacobsen 1987: 3). Even when given independent agency, she is
mindful of boundaries: rather than lying to her mother and sleeping with Dumuzi,
she convinces him to propose to her in the proper fashion (Jacobsen 1987: 10).
These actions are in stark contrast with the portrayal of Inana/Itar as a femme
fatale in the Epic of Gilgame. Taken by the handsome Gilgame, Inana/Itar
invites him to be her lover. Her advances, however, are rejected by the hero who
accusingly recounts a string of past lovers she has cast aside and destroyed (Dalley
2000: 77ff).
There is, arguably, a persistent commonality between these two natures of
Inana/Itar: her sexuality. The young Inana of Sumerian poetry, who says "Plough
my vulva, man of my heart" Leick 1994: 91) is no less desirous than the
Inana/Itar portrayed in Gilgame: "Let us enjoy your strength, so put your hand
and touch our vulva!" (Dalley 2000: 79). Accordingly, Inana/Itar was the recipient

of prayers regarding (im)potency or unrequited love (Biggs 1967: 115; Leick 1994:
193ff). Inana/Itar was also the patron goddess of prostitutes. (Abusch 2000: 23).
Inana/Itar is equally fond of making war as she is of making love: "Battle is a
feast to her" Harris 1991: 269). The warlike aspect of the goddess tends to be
expressed in politically charged contexts (Leick 1994: 7) in which the goddess is
praised in connection with royal power and military might. This is already visible in
the Old Akkadian period, when Naram-Sin frequently invokes the "warlike Itar"
(atar annuntum) in his inscriptions (A. Westenholz 1999: 49) and becomes more
prominent in the Neo-Assyrian veneration of Inana/Itar, whose two most
important aspects in this period, namely, Itar of Nineveh and Itar of Arbela, were
intimately linked to the person of the king (Porter 2004: 42). The warrior aspect of
Inana/Itar, which does not appear before the Old Akkadian period (Selz 2000:
34), emphasizes her masculine characteristics, whereas her sexuality is feminine.
The role of the goddess in legitimizing political power was not, however, restricted
to her masculine aspect as the warlike Itar but is attested also for the sexual
Inana in her female aspect. Attributed to early Sumerian history, the so-called
"sacred marriage" ceremony celebrated the marriage of Inana (represented by her
high priestess) and Dumuzi (represented by the ruler) during the New Year's
festival to ensure prosperity and abundance (Szarzyska 2000: 63). Practiced in
the late third and early second millennium BCE, the sacred marriage rite, which
may have "have been only an intellectual construct, rather than an event in real
life", nevertheless served to express the relationship between the king and the
divine world (Jones 2003: 291). Accordingly, that many third-millennium rulers
described themselves as her spouse, points to Inana's significant agency in
wielding political power (Westenholz 2000: 75).
Some mythological narratives dwell on the astral aspect of Inana/Itar, albeit
indirectly. In the myth Inana and u-kale-tuda (ETCSL 1.3.3), the clumsy gardener
boy u-kale-tuda has intercourse with the goddess whilst she is asleep under a
tree. Enraged at what has happened, Inana/Itar goes in search for the hiding boy.
The course she takes in searching her violator has been suggested to mimic that of
the astral course of the Venus star (Cooley 2008). Likewise, her movements in the
myth of Inana and Enki (ETCSL 1.3.1), in which the goddess travels first to Enki's
city Eridu from Uruk and travels back again, recalls the cycle of Venus. Presumably
the same journey was carried out terrestrially in festivals (Alster 1975: 27-9).

A liminal, that is, in-between, role may also be ascribed to Inana/Itar by virtue of
having travelled to and back from the underworld (Barret 2007). In her
mythological descent to the netherworld, she sits on her sister Erekigal's throne,
rouses the anger of theAnunnaki and is turned to a corpse. Only through the
agency of her minister Ninubur, who secures the help of Enki/Ea, is Inana/Itar
able to come alive again and return to the world above (Dalley 2000). Notably, in
another myth, among the MEs


she takes fromEnki/Ea are those associated with

"going down into the netherworld" and "coming up from the netherworld". It has
been argued byBarret 2007: 19-20 that Mesopotamian grave goods reflect the
iconography of Inana/Itar more than that of any other deity because of this
inherent association with transition between the world of the living and the dead.

Divine Genealogy and Syncretisms

The family tree of Inana/Itar differs according to different traditions. She is
variously the daughter of Anu or the daughter ofNanna/Sin and his wife Ningal;
and sister of Utu/ama (Abusch 2000: 23); or else the daughter of Enki/Ea. Her
sister is Erekigal. Inana/Itar does not have a permanent spouse per se, but has
an ambivalent relationship with her lover Dumuzi/Tammuz whom she eventually
condemns to death. She is also paired with the war god Zababa.
In the Assyrian Empire, Itar of Nineveh and Itar of Arbela were treated as two
distinct goddesses in royal inscriptions and treaties of Assurbanipal. Also during
this period Itar was made the spouse of Aur and known by the alternative name
of Mulliltu in this particular role (Porter 2004: 42).

Cult Place(s)
The main city of Inana/Itar is Uruk. As one of the foremost Mesopotamian deities,
she had temples in all important
cities: Adab,Akkade, Babylon, Badtibira, Girsu, Isin,
Kazallu, Ki, Larsa, Nippur, Sippar, uruppak, Umma, Ur (Wilcke 1976-80: 78; see
also George 1993 for a comprehensive list).

Time Periods Attested

Inana is listed in third place after An and Enlil in the Early Dynastic Fara god-lists

(Litke 1998). Inana/Itar remains in the upper crust of the Mesopotamian

pantheon through the third, second and the first millennia. She is especially
significant as a national Assyrian deity, particularly in the first millennium.

The Iconography of Inana/Itar is as varied as her characteristics. In early
iconography she is represented by a reed bundle/gatepostFrankfort 1939:
15; Szarzyska 2000: 71, Figs. 4-5), which is also the written form of her name in
very early texts (Black and Green 1998: 108). The uppermost register of the
famous Uruk Vase shows the goddess in anthropomorphic form, standing before
two such gateposts (Black and Green 1998: 150, Fig.122). In human form as the
goddess of sexual love, Inana/Itar is often depicted fully nude. In Syrian
iconography, she often reveals herself by holding open a cape. The nude female is
an extremely common theme in ancient Near Eastern art, however, and although
variously ascribed to the sphere of Inana/Itar (as acolytes or cult statuettes), they
probably do not all represent the goddess herself. A sound indication of divine
status is the presence of the horned cap. In her warrior aspect, Inana/Itar is
shown dressed in a flounced robe with weapons coming out of her shoulder, often
with at least one other weapon in her hand and sometimes with a beard, to
emphasize her masculine side. Her attribute animal as the goddess of war is the
lion, on the back of which she often has one foot or fully stands. In praise of her
warlike qualities, she is compared to a roaring, fearsome lion (see Inana and
Ebih, ETCSL 1.3.2). In her astral aspect, Inana/Itar is symbolized by the eightpointed star. The colours red and carnelian, and the cooler blue and lapis lazuli,
were also used to symbolise the goddess, perhaps to highlight her female and male
aspects respectively (Barret 2007: 27).

Name and Spellings

Inana/Inanna is the Sumerian name of this goddess. It is most often etymologically
interpreted as, literally "Lady of the heavens" (Selz 2000: 29). A
different interpretation (Jacobsen 1976: 36) translates her name as "Lady of the
date clusters."
The Semitic name Itar originally belonged to an independent goddess that was
later merged and identified with the Sumerian Inana (Abusch 2000: 23). The

meaning of her name is also unclear (for more information see Westenholz 2000:

The Sumer
History >> Ancient Mesopotamia
The Sumerians are thought to have formed the first human civilization in world history. They
lived in southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East.

Cradle of Civilization
Many historians think that cities and towns were first formed in Sumer around 5000 BC.
Nomads moved into the fertile land and began to form small villages which slowly grew into
large towns. Eventually these cities developed into the civilization of the Sumer. This land is
often called the "Cradle of Civilization".
Sumer City-States
As the Sumerian villages grew into large cities, they formed city-states. This is where a city
government would rule the city as well as the land around it. These city-states often fought
each other. They built walls around their cities for protection. Farmland was outside the walls,
but people would retreat to the city when invaders came.
There were many city-states throughout Sumer. Some of the most powerful city-states included
Eridu, Bad-tibura, Shuruppak, Uruk, Sippar, and Ur. Eridu is thought to be the first of the major
cities formed and one of the oldest cities in the world.
Sumerian Rulers and Government
Each city-state had its own ruler. They went by various titles such as lugal, en, or ensi. The
ruler was like a king or governor. The ruler of the city was often the high priest of their religion
as well. This gave him even more power. The most famous king was Gilgamesh of Uruk who
was the subject of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world's oldest surviving works of
In addition to the king or governor, there was a fairly complex government with officials who
helped to organize city building projects and keep the city running. There were also laws that

the citizens must follow or face punishment. The invention of government is often credited to
the Sumerians.
Each city-state also had its own god. In the center of each city was a large temple to the city
god called a ziggurat. The ziggurat looked like a step pyramid with a flat top. Here the priests
would perform rituals and sacrifices.
Important Inventions and Technology
One of the great contributions the Sumerians made to civilization was their many inventions.
They invented the first form of writing, a number system, the first wheeled vehicles, sun-dried
bricks, and irrigation for farming. All of these things were important for the development of
human civilization.
They also had an interest in science including astronomy and the movement of the moon and
the stars. They used this information to make a more accurate calendar.
Fun Facts About the Sumerians

Their number system was based on the number 60, like ours is based on the number
10. They used this when they came up with 60 minutes in an hour and 360 degrees in a
circle. We still use these divisions today.

Some historians think that the ziggurat at the city of Eridu was the Tower of Babel from
the Bible.

Some of the city-states were quite large. Ur is thought to have been the largest and may
have had a population of 65,000 people at its peak.

Their buildings and homes were made from sun-dried bricks.

The Sumerian language was eventually replaced by the Akkadian language around
2500 BC.

The Akkadian Empire

The first Empire to rule all of Mesopotamia was the Akkadian

Empire. It lasted for around 200 years from 2300 BC to 2100 BC.
How it Began
The Akkadians lived in northern Mesopotamia while the
Sumerians lived in the south. They had a similar government and
culture as the Sumerians, but spoke a different language. The
government was made up of individual city-states. This was
where each city had its own ruler that controlled the city and the
surrounding area. Initially these city-states were not united and
often warred with each other.
Over time, the Akkadian rulers began to see the advantage of
uniting many of their cities under a single nation. They began to
form alliances and work together.

Sargon the Great

Around 2300 BC Sargon the Great rose to power. He established his own city named Akkad.
When the powerful Sumerian city of Uruk attacked his city, he fought back and eventually
conquered Uruk. He then went on to conquer all of the Sumerian city-states and united
northern and southern Mesopotamia under a single ruler.
The Empire Expands
Over the next two hundred years, the Akkadian Empire continued to expand. They attacked
and conquered the Elamites to the east. They moved south to Oman. They even went as far
west as the Mediterranean Sea and Syria.
One of the great kings of Akkad was Naram-Sin. He was the grandson of Sargon the Great.
Naram-Sin ruled for over 50 years. He crushed revolts and expanded the empire. His reign is
considered the peak of the Akkadian Empire.
Fall of the Empire
In 2100 BC the Sumerian city of Ur rose back into power conquering the city of Akkad. The
Empire was now ruled by a Sumerian king, but was still united. The empire grew weaker,
however, and was eventually conquered by the Amorites in around 2000 BC.
Interesting Facts About the Akkadians

Many people in Mesopotamia at the time spoke two languages, Akkadian and


There were many good roads built between the major cities. They even developed an
official postal service.

The Sumerians believed that the Akkadian Empire collapsed because of a curse placed
on them when Naram-Sin conquered the city of Nippur and destroyed the temple.

The kings maintained power by installing their sons as governors over the major cities.
They also made their daughters high priestesses over the major gods.

Sargon installed the first dynasty. He came up with the idea that a man's sons should
inherit his kingdom.

The Babylonian Empire

History >> Ancient Mesopotamia
After the fall of the Akkadian Empire, two new empires rose to power. They were the
Babylonians in the south and the Assyrians to the north. The Babylonians were the first to form
an empire that would encompass all of Mesopotamia.
Rise of the Babylonians and King Hammurabi
The city of Babylon had been a city-state in Mesopotamia for many years. After the fall of the
Akkadian Empire, the city was taken over and settled by the Amorites. The city began its rise to
power in 1792 BC when King Hammurabi took the throne. He was a powerful and capable
leader who wanted to rule more than just the city of Babylon.
Not long after becoming King, Hammurabi began to conquer other city-states in the area.
Within a few years, Hammurabi had conquered all of Mesopotamia including much of the
Assyrian lands to the north.
The City of Babylon
Under Hammurabi's rule, the city of Babylon became the most powerful city in the world.
Located on the banks of the Euphrates River, the city was a major trade hub bringing together
new ideas and products. Babylon also became the largest city in the world at the time with as
many as 200,000 people living there at its peak.
At the center of the city was a large temple called a ziggurat. This temple looked something like
a pyramid with a flat top and archeologists think that it was 300 feet tall! There was a wide

street leading from the gates to the center of the city. The city was also famous for its gardens,
palaces, towers, and artwork. It would have been an amazing sight to see.
The city was also the cultural center of the empire. It was here that art, science, music,
mathematics, astronomy, and literature were able to flourish.
Hammurabi's Code
King Hammurabi established firm laws called Hammurabi's Code. This was the first time in
history that the law was written down. It was recorded on clay tablets and tall pillars of stones
called steles.
Hammurabi's code consisted of 282 laws. Many of them were quite specific, but were meant as
guidelines to be used in similar circumstances. There were laws governing commerce such as
wages, trade, rental rates, and the sale of slaves. There were laws governing criminal behavior
describing the penalties for stealing or damaging property. There were even laws governing
adoption, marriage, and divorce.
Fall of Babylon
After Hammurabi died, his sons took over. However, they were not strong leaders and soon
Babylon grew weak. In 1595 the Kassites conquered Babylon. They would rule for 400 years.
Later, the Assyrians would take over. It wasn't until 612 BC that Babylonia once again rose to
power as the ruler of the empire over Mesopotamia. This second Babylonian Empire is called
the neo-Babylonian Empire.
Neo-Babylonian Empire
Around 616 BC King Nabopolassar took advantage of the fall of the Assyrian Empire to bring
the seat of the empire back to Babylon. It was his son Nebuchadnezzar II who led Babylon
back to its former glory.
Nebuchadnezzar II ruled for 43 years. He was a great military leader and expanded the empire
to include much of the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This included the
conquering of the Hebrews and taking them into slavery for 70 years as told in the Bible. Under
Nebuchadnezzar's rule, the city of Babylon and its temples were restored. It also became the
cultural center of the world, just like during Hammurabi's rule.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This was a large series of terraces
that rose to around 75 feet high. They were covered with all sorts of trees, flowers, and plants.
The gardens is considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world.
Fall of Neo-Babylonia
After Nebuchadnezzar II died, the empire began to fall apart once again. In 529 BC, the

Persians conquered Babylon and made it part of the Persian Empire.

Fun Facts About the Babylonians

Nebuchadnezzar had a moat built around the city of Babylon for defense. That must
have been quite a sight in the desert!

All that remains of the city of Babylon is a mound of broken mud buildings about 55
miles south of Baghdad, Iraq.

Alexander the Great captured Babylon as part of his conquests. He was staying in the
city when he got sick and died.

The city has been rebuilt or reconstructed in Iraq. The actual ruins and artifacts are
likely buried under the reconstruction.

The Assyrian Empire

History >> Ancient Mesopotamia
The Assyrians were one of the major peoples to live in Mesopotamia during ancient times. They
lived in northern Mesopotamia near the start of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The Assyrian
Empire rose and fell several times throughout history.

Map of the growth of the neo-Assyrian Empire

The First Rise

The Assyrians first rose to power when the Akkadian Empire fell. Click to see larger version
The Babylonians had control of southern Mesopotamia and the Assyrians had the north. One of
their strongest leaders during this time was King Shamshi-Adad. Under Shamshi-Adad the
empire expanded to control much of the north and the Assyrians grew wealthy. However, after
Shamshi-Adad's death in 1781 BC, the Assyrians grew weak and soon fell under control of the
Babylonian Empire.
Second Rise
The Assyrians once again rose to power from 1360 BC to 1074 BC. This time they conquered
all of Mesopotamia and expanded the empire to include much of the Middle East
including Egypt, Babylonia, Israel, and Cypress. They reached their peak under the rule of King
Tiglath-Pileser I.
The neo-Assyrian Empire

The final, and perhaps strongest, of the Assyrian Empires ruled from 744 BC to 612 BC. During
this time Assyria had a string of powerful and capable rulers such as Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon
II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal. These leaders built the empire into one of the most powerful
empires in the world. They conquered much of the Middle East and Egypt. Once again, it was
the Babylonians who brought down the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC.
Great Warriors
The Assyrians were perhaps most famous for their fearsome army. They were a warrior society
where fighting was a part of life. It was how they survived. They were known throughout the
land as cruel and ruthless warriors.
Two things that made the Assyrians great warriors were their deadly chariots and their iron
weapons. They made iron weapons that were stronger than the copper or tin weapons of some
of their enemies. They were also skilled with their chariots which could strike fear in the hearts
of their enemies.
The Library at Nineveh
The last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, constructed a great library at the city of Nineveh. He
collected clay tablets from all over Mesopotamia. These included the stories of Gilgamesh, the
Code of Hammurabi, and more. Much of our knowledge of the Ancient civilizations of
Mesopotamia comes from the remains of this library. According to the British Museum in
London, just over 30,000 tablets have been recovered. These tablets make up around 10,000
different texts.
Interesting Facts About the Assyrians

The great cities of the Assyrian Empire included Ashur, Nimrud, and Nineveh. Ashur
was the capital of the original empire and also their main god.

Tiglath-Pileser III built roads throughout the empire to enable his armies and
messengers to travel quickly.

The Assyrians were experts at siege warfare. They used battering rams, siege towers,
and other tactics such as diverting water supplies in order to take a city.

Their cities were strong and impressive. They had huge walls built to withstand a siege,
many canals and aqueducts for water, and extravagant palaces for their kings.

The Persian Empire


The first Persian Empire took control of the Middle East after the fall of the Babylonian Empire.
It is also called the Achaemenid Empire.

Cyrus the Great

The empire was founded by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus first conquered the Median Empire in 550
BC and then went on to conquer the Lydians and the Babylonians. Under later kings, the
empire would grow to where it ruled Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. Its borders would
eventually stretch over 3,000 miles from east to west making it the largest empire on Earth at
the time.
Different Cultures
Under Cyrus the Great, the Persians allowed the peoples they conquered to continue their lives
and cultures. They could keep their customs and religion as long as they paid their taxes and
obeyed the Persian rulers. This was different from how earlier conquerors such as the
Assyrians had ruled.
In order to maintain control of the large empire, each area had a ruler called a satrap. The
satrap was like a governor of the area. He enforced the king's laws and taxes. There were
around 20 to 30 satraps in the empire.
The empire was connected by many roads and a postal system. The most famous road was
the Royal Road built by King Darius the Great. This road stretched around 1,700 miles all the
way from Sardis in Turkey to Suza in Elam.
Although each culture was allowed to keep their own religion, the Persians followed the
teaching of the prophet Zoroaster. This religion was called Zoroastrianism and believed in one
main god called Ahura Mazda.
Fighting the Greeks
Under King Darius the Persians wanted to conquer the Greeks who he felt were causing
rebellions within his empire. In 490 BC Darius attacked Greece. He captured some Greek citystates, but when he attempted to take the city of Athens, he was soundly defeated by
the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon.

In 480 BC Darius' son, Xerxes I, attempted to finish what his father started and conquer all of
Greece. He amassed a great army of hundreds of thousands of warriors. This was one of the
largest armies assembled during ancient times. He initially won the Battle of Thermopylae
against a much smaller army from Sparta. However, the Greek fleet defeated his navy at the
Battle of Salamis and he was eventually forced to retreat.
Fall of the Persian Empire
The Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Starting in the
year 334 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire from Egypt all the way to the
borders of India.
Interesting Facts About the Persian Empire

The name "Persian" comes from the people's original tribal name Parsua. This was also
the name they gave the land they originally settled which was bounded by the Tigris
River to the west and the Persian Gulf to the south.

The longest reigning Persian King was Artaxerxes II who ruled 45 years from 404-358
BC. His reign was a time of peace and prosperity for the empire.

The Persian culture held the truth in high esteem. Telling a lie was one of the most
disgraceful things a person could do.

The capital of the empire was the great city of Persepolis. This name is Greek for
"Persian City".

After Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he allowed the Jewish people to return to
Israel and to rebuild their temple at Jerusalem.

Alexander the Great

Occupation: Military Commander and King of Ancient Greece

Born: July 20, 356 BC Pella, Macedon

Died: June 10, 323 BC Babylon

Best known for: Conquering much of Asia and Europe


Alexander the Great was the king of Macedonia or Ancient Greece. He is considered
one of the greatest military commanders in history.
When did Alexander the Great live?
Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 BC. He died at the young age of 32 in
323 BC having accomplished much in his short life. He reigned as king from 336-323
Childhood of Alexander the Great
Alexander's father was King Philip the II. Philip II had built up a strong and united
empire in Ancient Greece, which Alexander inherited.
Like most children in Athens, Alexander was tutored as a child and learned
mathematics, reading, writing, and how to play the lyre. He also would have been
instructed on how to fight, ride a horse, and hunt. When Alexander turned thirteen, his
father Philip II wanted the best teacher possible for him. He hired the great philosopher
Aristotle. In return for tutoring his son, Philip agreed to restore Aristotle's home town of
Stageira, including setting many of its citizens free from slavery.
At school Alexander met many of his future generals and friends such as Ptolemy and
Cassander. He also enjoyed reading the works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Alexander's Conquests
After securing the throne and getting all of Greece under his control, Alexander turned
east to conquer more of the civilized world. He moved swiftly using his military genius
to win battle after battle conquering many peoples and rapidly expanding the Greek
Here is the order of his conquests:

First he moved through Asia Minor and what is today Turkey.

He took over Syria defeating the Persian Army at Issus and then laying siege to Tyre.

Next, he conquered Egypt and established Alexandria as the capital.

After Egypt came Babylonia and Persia, including the city of Susa.

Then he moved through Persia and began to prepare for a campaign in India.

At this point Alexander had accumulated one of the largest empires in history. However, his
soldiers were ready to revolt. They wanted to return home to see their wives and children.
Alexander agreed and his army turned back.

Death of Alexander
Alexander only made it back to Babylon where he became suddenly sick and died. No one is
sure what he died from, but many suspect poison. Upon his death the great empire he had built
was divided up amongst his generals, called the Diadochi. The Diadochi ended up fighting each
other for many years as the empire fell apart.
Fun Facts about Alexander the Great

He was supposedly related to the Greek heroes Hercules from his father's side and
Achilles from his mother's side.

When Alexander was 16, his father left the country to do battle, leaving Alexander as
regent, or temporary ruler of Macedonia.

He tamed a wild horse named Bucephalus when he was a kid. It was his main horse
until it died of old age. Alexander named a city in India after his horse.

He never lost a single battle.

Legend has it that the Temple of Artemis burnt down the day of Alexander's birth
because Artemis was busy attending the birth.

His best friend and second in command was the general Hephaestion.

Social Pyramid
The population of ancient Egypt was divided into groups of people with different
jobs and responsibilities to society. These social classes were structured as a
pyramid with six levels. This social pyramid shows the levels of each social class in
terms of importance.
The two top levels, the Pharaoh and Government Officials, were the most powerful
and wealthy. The bottom level, the peasants, were the largest social class and were
the workers that were the farmers and construction workers.