6000 BCE, agriculture
developed in Mesopotamia
(“land between rivers”), the
plains in between the Tigris and
This map shows the Fertile
Crescent, which is the roughly
crescent shaped area in the
Middle East that stretches in a
semi-circle from Nile River in
Egypt to the Tigris and
Euphrates Rivers in modern day
It contains the ancient countries
Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria,
Egypt, Phoenicia; from which
the ancient Greeks and Romans
derived their civilization
Neolithic: Near East: 8,000 – 3,000 BCE
Neolithic: Europe: 6,500 – 1,200 BCE
Farming appeared in the Near East before it appeared in Europe.
The cultivation of agriculture helped the development of large
communities and permanent settlement, the earliest examples of
city life. Being situated between two rivers in a desert plain, the
area of Mesopotamia was subject to periodic floods and periodic
drought. Thus the development of complex large-scale systems
of irrigation to control the water supply. This led to the
development of the first centers of urban living.
Sumer and the Sumerians
The city and city-states developing along the rivers of Southern
Mesopotamia between 3500 and 2340 BCE are known
collectively as Sumer. Their major contributions:
1. Writing: cuneiform, used by the Sumerians, Akkadians,
Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians.
3. Wagon wheel and plow
4. Food production (plant and animal domestication)
5. Metallurgy; the science and technology of metals
6. A high degree of occupational specialization
7. The growth of cities
Sumerian Writing System: Cuneiform
The origin of written language (c. 3200 B.C.E.) was invented as a tool
to keep an accounting system of goods traded. It was a record of
agricultural wealth of the city-states (ie barley, cattle, oil).
Cuneiform is the type of script that was used, wedge shaped symbols
that were pressed into clay tablets with a stylus. This was where the
evolution of writing, arithmetic and the justice system originated. The
world’s first literary epic is Sumerian: The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Pictography: expression and
communication by means of pictures
and drawings. These pictures and
drawings (called pictographs).
Starting in c. 3100 BCE, the Sumerians invented
cuneiform -- the first true written language and the
first real information system.
First development of signs corresponding to spoken
sounds, instead of pictures, to express words.
Pictographs were turned on their sides (2800 BCE) and then
developed into actual cuneiform symbols (2500 BCE)
The Ziggurat: Sumerian’s Greatest Architectural Achievement
Huge stepped pyramid-like structures with a temple or shrine on top.
The elevated buildings also protected the shrines from flooding. They
seem to be built to glorify the gods, a structure that are symbolically a
bridge between the earth and the heavens – a meeting place for
humans and their gods.
Sumerian had many
gods and goddesses.
Inanna: The chief
associated with fertility,
natural world, and war.
with the Babylonian
was Nanna's daughter
with the Underworld.
Nanna Ziggurat, Ur (present-day Muqaiyir, Iraq). c. 2100-2050 BCE
Statues of gods and votive figures (images dedicated to the gods of
men and women) were placed in the temples. Was this statue of a
woman a temple goddess? Votive offering: is an object left in
a sacred place for ritual purposes. Votive figures are rigid, frontal, symmetric,
enlarged open eyes, simple geometric forms of cones and cylinders.
Uruk was the first Sumerian city-state. There
were two large temples in the 1000-acre city
(present day Warka, Iraq). One was dedicated
to Inanna, the goddess of love and war, and the
other to the sky god Anu.
Head of a Woman, from Uruk
(present day Warka, Iraq) c. 33003000 BC. Marble, height 8”
Lots of what we know about the Sumerians come from artifacts found
in royal burial tombs and temple ruins.
They worked in precious metals, such as
bronze and gold, and combined them with
other materials. This wood lyre was found in
a tomb buried with women that would play it
for funeral ceremony. It’s inlaid with shell
and the bull’s head is made of gold and lapis
Cylinder seals were developed as signatures
for special documents and establishing
property ownership. Made of hard stone with
intricate scenes incised on them, the seals
were often buried with royalty. They would
be rolled across documents on clay tablets
or soft clay applied to a closure that needed
sealing, a door to a room or a jar lid.
Stele of Naram-Sin: The stele is a large upright stone slab often
inscribed with text or with relief carving .
Registers: The elaborate stories and complex
characters found in Mesopotamian visual narrative
had sculptors engrave them clearly and
economically in horizontal bands called registers.
The Epic of Gilgamesh story was found on the
register carved on the Great Lyre with Bull’s Head.
Victory Stele of NaramSin, Akkadian, pink
B.C.E. (Louvre, Paris)
Babylon: Hammurabi’s empire took control of Mesopotamia around
1792-1750 BCE. His capital city was known as Babylon and his
subjects Babylonians. Hammurabi conquered much of northern
and western Mesopotamia and by 1776 B.C.E., he is the most farreaching leader of Mesopotamian history, describing himself as
“the king who made the four quarters of the earth obedient.”
Documents show Hammurabi was a classic micro-manager,
concerned with all aspects of his rule, and this is seen in his
famous legal code, the Code of Hammurabi, a 7’4” stele made of
black basalt. This is our first example of legal code and justice
system in the ancient world. It is said that this is a precursor to the
10 commandments, which came about 500 years later.
Assyria: The Assyrians rose to power around 1400 BCE in northern Mesopotamia,
collapsing around 600 BCE. The key leaders were Assurnasirpal II, who established his
capital at Kalhu (present day Nimrud, Iraq), and Assurbanipal. The art that the Assyrians
contributed were huge palaces atop high platforms insided fortified cities. The palaces
were decorated extensively with shallow stone reliefs of battle and hunting scenes,
tributes to the king, and religious imagery.
The Assyrian empire dominated Mesopotamia and all of the Near East for the first half of
the first millennium, led by a series of highly ambitious and aggressive warrior kings.
Assyrian society was entirely military, with men obliged to fight in the army at any time.
State offices were also under the purview of the military.
Indeed, the culture of the Assyrians was brutal, the army seldom marching on the
battlefield but rather terrorizing opponents into submission who, once conquered, were
tortured, raped, beheaded, and flayed with their corpses publicly displayed. The
Assyrians torched enemies' houses, salted their fields, and cut down their orchards.
As a result of these fierce and successful military campaigns, the Assyrians acquired
massive resources from all over the Near East which made the Assyrian kings very rich.
Some of this wealth was spent on the construction of several gigantic and luxurious
palaces spread throughout the region.
The palaces were on an entirely new scale of size and glamor; the palace of Kalhu, built
by Assurnasirpal II (who reigned in the early 9th century), had almost 70,000 people
invited to banquet. The interior public reception rooms of Assyrian palaces were lined
with large scale carved limestone reliefs which offered beautiful and terrifying images of
the power and wealth of the Assyrian kings and some of the most beautiful and
captivating images in all of ancient Near Eastern art.
Lamassus, head of man and body of lion or bull,
wings of eagle and horned headdress of a god.
Guardian figure at gate of citadel. Naturalistic
representation. Dur Sharrukin (present day Khorsabad,
Iraq). c. 721-706 BCE
This vivid relief of a lion-hunting scene shows a
ceremonial hunt. It’s action-oriented story marks a shift
in Mesopotamian art away from timeless solemnity and
toward a more dramatic involvement with the event
Killing Lions, palace
of Assurnasirpal II,
Kalhu (present day
Nimrud, Iraq). c.
Neo-Babylonia – Persia: The Assyrian Empire which had previously
dominated the Near East came to an end at around 600 B.C.E. due to a
number of factors including military pressure by the Medes (a pastoral
mountain people, again from the Zagros mountain range), the Babylonians,
and possibly also civil war.
The Neo-Babylonians are most famous for their architecture, notably at their
capital city, Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar (604-561 B.C.E.) largely rebuilt this
ancient city including its walls and seven gates. It is also during this era that
Nebuchadnezzar purportedly built the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon" for his
wife because she missed the gardens of her homeland in Media (modern day
Iran). Though mentioned by ancient Greek and Roman writers, the "Hanging
Gardens" may, in fact, be legendary. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/ishtargate-and-processional-way.html
Ishtar Gate and Throne Room Wall, Originally
from Babylon (present day Iraq), c. 575 BCE.
Glazed brick, height originally 40’
Persia: Around 500 BCE the Persians gained power in
Mesopotamia. From the region of Parsus, or present day Iran,
they established a vast empire. The famous rulers from this
empire started with King Achaemenes, and his disciples were
Aechemenids. Darius I was another significant ruler, known as
the “King of Kings.” Like other rulers he created palaces and
citadels as visible symbols of his authority. In 515 BCE he
began construction of Parsa, the Persian capitol known today
as Persepolis. He imported material, artists and workers from
all over the empire, even Egypt. The result was a multicultural
style of art that combined many different traditions: Persian,
Median, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek.
Persepolis included a massive
columned hall used for receptions by
Kings, called the Apadana. This hall
contained 72 columns and two
monumental stairways. The walls of th
spaces and stairs leading up to the
reception hall were carved with
hundreds of figures, several of which
illustrated subject peoples of various
ethnicities, bringing tribute to the
This relief of Darius and Xerxes
receiving tribute depicts and display of
allegiance and economic prosperity.
What’s the significance of animal combat found in Near
Ziggurats functioned symbolically as what?
The first domestication of grains occurred where?
Select 2 rulers discussed in this chapter and explain how
each preserved his legacy through commissioned works of
art and/or architecture.