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Mesopotalia and the Near East: The Roots of Western Culture
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Mesopotalia and the Near East: The Roots of Western Culture

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Traces the history of Msopotamia, describes the Gods, and presents the epic of Gilgamesh

Traces the history of Msopotamia, describes the Gods, and presents the epic of Gilgamesh

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  • 'A great summary of the development of civilization in Mesopotamia! Please note, however, that the moon god Sin was a male deity, and the sun god's name is usually transliterated as 'Shamash'. Also, I'm not sure that the theme of 'enjoyment and despair' really sums up the Epic of Gilgamesh. What Gilgamesh eventually learns is that it is better to obtain wisdom than immortality. At the end of the epic he finds peace with himself, his people and his gods as he returns to Uruk with a newfound appreciation for the great city and the civilization it stands for.
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  • 1. Mesopotamia and the Near East The Roots of Western Culture
  • 2. Location of Mesopotamia
    • Meant “Between Two Rivers”: The Tigris and Euphrates
    • Empires: Sumeria followed by Akad then Assur (Assyria)
  • 3. Neolithic: The Fertile Crescent
    • Fertile Crescent: starts at Levant (E. Mediterranean Sea), upward into Turkey and Syria
    • Then down to Iraq and Iran.
  • 4. Near Eastern Neolithic
    • Mesopotamia was too dry to sustain local agriculture
    • Neolithic began in the Fertile Crescent, comprising
    • The Levant (eastern shore of the Mediterranean
    • Taurus Mountains of Turkey
    • Zagros Mountains of Iran
  • 5. Wild Ancestors of Domesticates
    • The Fertile Crescent was the natural habitat of
    • Wild ancestors of domesticated plants
    • Wheat --Legumes (peas and beans)
    • Barley
    • Wild ancestors of domesticated animals
    • Cattle --Pigs
    • Sheep --Goats
  • 6. Domestication Processes
    • “ Founder” plants were domesticated 9000-7000 BC
    • Grains (3) : Emmer and einkorn wheat, rye
    • Legumes (5): Lentils, peas, faba beans, chickpeas, bitter vetch
    • Flax for oil and fiber
  • 7. Abu Hureyra: Domesticates
    • Location: Euphrates Valley in Syria
    • Shift from wild to domesticated species
    • Chart shows shift from gazelle to sheep and goat bone count around 6500 BC
    • Cattle and pig bone increases as well
    • Grain and legume remains also increase
  • 8. Abu Hureya: Other Developments
    • Housing: rectangular mud brick
    • Clay: There were containers, but no fired pottery
    • Evidence of trade:
    • Cowrie shells (Mediterranean)
    • Turquoise (Sinai)
    • Obsidian and other crystalline stone from Turkey
  • 9. Abu Hureyra: Decline
    • Abandonment: 6000 BC
    • Factors
    • Arid conditions precluded farming
    • Pastoralism (herding) more viable in a grassland environment
    • Likely scenarios
    • Migration to the Zagros Mountains as herders
    • Movement to the upper part of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers
  • 10. Mesopotamia: Introduction
    • Meaning: From the Greek, “between two rivers” (Euphrates and Tigris)
    • Location: southern strip of land between the Euphrates and Tigris River
    • First villages formed in northern Meso-potamian floodplain about 6000 BC
    • Seasonal rainfall sustained agriculture
    • Communities comprised several houses with roof entrances
  • 11. Ubaid Era (5300-4100 BC): Overview
    • Later shifted from northern plains to southern river valley
    • The Area lacked:
    • Sufficient rainfall for dry (nonirrigated) farming
    • Plants and animals capable of domestication
    • Even usable stone and metal ores
    • Despite it all, by 4500 BC, towns and public buildings dotted the countryside
    • Irrigation sufficient to support a nonfarm population
    • Shrines and then temples emerged
  • 12. Ubaid Era: Main Attributes
    • Spread of irrigation canals
    • Construction of temple complexes
    • A monochrome pottery design
    • Triangles, grids, zigzag lines were common
    • Less decorative than the polychrome Halafian pottery originating in Syria
    • Ceramics made on slow-turning potter’s wheel
    • For lack of workable stone and metals, tools were made of fired clay
    • Sickles
    • Hammers and axes
    • Mullers (implements to grind paints, powders, etc.)
  • 13. Eridu (5000-3100 BC)
    • Most of the early structures at Eridu were residential
    • Later, public and ritual centers were erected
    • At its peak, population was 5000
    • In one site, a series of shrines were constructed, one over another (see diagram)
    • Earliest, dated 5000 BC, was a simple shrine
    • By 3000 AD, a ziggurat was constructed in the form of a 200 yard square enclosure
  • 14. Social Stratification
    • Little sign of the extreme social differentiation that was to come
    • No elaborate funerary complexes found in this period
    • No sign of a single ruler dominating southern Mesopotamia
    • In fact, this city was the prototype of the city-state organization that was to come
  • 15. Uruk Period (4100-3100 BC)
    • The first city, Uruk with a population of 10,000
    • Overshadowed by the Anu Ziggurat and later the White Temple
    • Named after the principal god Anu
    • Like Eridu, constructed over earlier shrines
    • The White Temple was constructed over the Anu Ziggurat
    • Both temples entailed massive manpower inputs—7500 man-years alone
    • Structures separated priestly residents from the populace
    • Walls were constructed in Early Dynastic Period (3100-2370 BC)
  • 16. Uruk and Vicinity: Technology and Trade
    • Pottery
    • Fine design of Ubaid
    • Gave way to crudely made utilitarian objects
    • Plow was invented
    • Wooden blade with metal tip
    • Far more productive than the digging stick
    • Agricultural base diversified
    • Wheat, barley, flax, dates
    • Cattle raising and fishing
  • 17. Uruk and Vicinity: Trade
    • Resource poor itself, Sumeria relied on trade
    • Main routes: the rivers (especially the Euphrates) and overland east-west
    • Products imported
    • Persian Gulf
    • Precious metals and stone: gold, silver, carnelian, lapus lazuli, onyx, alabaster
    • Textiles, skins, and ivory
    • Timber
    • Northern regions: copper
  • 18. Uruk: Writing and Accounting, A Five-Step Model
    • Main source: Denise Schmandt-Besserat: Before Writing: From Counting to Cuneiform
    • Step 1, 9000 BP: 16 basic shapes, geometric, animal, or pottery jar forms
    • Step 2, 6000 BP: 300 forms with varied markings (e.g.., distinctions between raw and finished materials)
  • 19. Final Steps of Writing and Accounting
    • Step 3, 5500 BP: Bullae, or clay envelopes covering and indicating the tokens inside (upper left; this indicated oil)
    • Step 4, 5200 BP: Flattened tokens to indicate kind and amount of commodities recorded
    • Step 5, 5100 BP: Information recorded on clay tablets using cuneiform, or ideographic wedge-shaped, markings (see lower left)
    • This clay tablet indicates the sheep and goats owned by someone in Mesopotamia
  • 20. Writing and Accounting: Refinements
    • Number of symbols
    • Early texts: 1500 symbols
    • One-for-one relations with commodity
    • Thus, one symbol represented wheat, another for chariot, a third for copper ingot or block
    • Later texts: 750 unique symbols
    • Advantage: Increased the control by administration of products and people
    • System was still cumbersome
    • Elements could be combined but not in the way we can
    • Cuneiform is not alphabet-based
    • Want to see your name in cuneiform? Log on to www.upennmuseum.com/cuneiform.cig and follow instructions
  • 21. Early Dynastic Period (3100-2370)
    • City states dominated Mesopotamia
    • 10-15 were present various times
    • Uruk itself increased to 50,000 inhabitants
    • Defensive walls were constructed
    • Monarchs became independent of temple rule
    • City states rose and fell
    • Uruk: Challenged by other city states around 2700 BC
    • Ur: Located 75 miles away, became Uruk’s principal economic and military rival
    • Bands of highwaymen, possibly pastoralists, raided the merchants en route
  • 22. Evidence of Extreme Stratification: Burials
    • Sir Leonard Woolley unearthed 2500 burials
    • Fewer than 20 were of royalty
    • Queen Shub-ad was lying on a bed accompanied by female attendants
    • 2 wagons drawn by oxen driven by male servants backed down into entry ramp
    • 59 bodies, mostly female, were on the ground near the tomb
    • All retainers were lavishly bedecked with crafted elements
    • Oxen dispatched, then all in the party consumed poison
  • 23. Lower Class Graves
    • Of the other graves in the site
    • A large number contains modest quantity of goods
    • A far larger number contain none at all
  • 24. The Gods of Mesopotamia: I
    • Anu : The father of the gods; god of heaven (above left)
    • Adad: the rain god, and of storms
    • Dumuzi (Tanmuz): God of vegetation and the Underword; Husband of Ishtar
    • Ishtar (Innana): Goddess of love, fertility, and war; Queen of Heavan; Nemesis of Gilgamesh (lower left)
  • 25. The Gods of Mesopotamia II
    • Apsu: God of the primeval sweet waters
    • Ea: God of wisdom and patron of the arts
    • Enlil: God of earth, wind, and air
    • Ninhursag: Mother goddess, creator of vegetation; wife of Enlil
    • Nisaba: Goddess of grain
    • Skanash: God of the sun, judge, and law giver; god of wisdom
    • Sin: Goddess of the moon
  • 26. The Epic of Gilgamesh I
    • Gilgamesh represents a theme of the enjoyments of life That ends sooner or later
    • Gilgamesh is part human, part god, blessed with beauty and courage
    • He blows it when he spurns the love of Ishtar (the Queen of Heaven) and kills the Bull of Heaven, (upper left)
    • He is punished with the loss of his dearest (male) companion, Enkidu (depicted above right)
  • 27. Epic of Gilgamesh II
    • Gilgamesh then goes on a quest for everlasting life
    • When he finds a plant that promises everlasting life, a serpent snatches it away (Left)
    • He is left with a vision of death, a “house of dust,” and a place of inescapable sadness
    • The snake recurs in the Book of Genesis and leads to the Fall of Man
  • 28. The Prevailing Theme: Enjoyment and Despair
    • Michael Wood: This theme dominates the history of Iraq
    • Accordng to him, the Gilgamesh myth sets the theme whereby greatness followed by disaster recurs throughout Mesopotamian/ Iraqi history
    • Discussion: Does this theme recur throughout this history, up to and including the Iraq war?