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Map showing the extent of Mesopotamia. Shown are Washukanni, Nineveh, Hatra, Assur, Nuzi, Palmyra, Mari, Sippar, Babylon, Kish, Nippur, Isin, Lagash, Uruk, Charax Spasinu and Ur, from north to south.

Mesopotamia (Greek: Μεσοποταμία) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.

The Sumerians and Akkadians (including Assyrians and Babylonians) dominated Mesopotamia from the beginning of written history (c. 3100 BC) to the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, when it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire. It fell to Alexander the Great in 332 BC, and after his death, it became part of the Greek Seleucid Empire.

Around 150 BC, Mesopotamia was under the control of the Parthian Empire. Mesopotamia became a battleground between the Romans and Parthians, with western parts of Mesopotamia coming under ephemeral Roman control. In AD 226, the eastern regions of Mesopotamia fell to the Sassanid Persians. The division of Mesopotamia between Roman (Byzantine from AD 395) and Sassanid Empires lasted until the 7th century Muslim conquest of Persia of the Sasanian Empire and Muslim conquest of the Levant from Byzantines. A number of primarily neo-Assyrian and Christian native Mesopotamian states existed between the 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, including Adiabene, Osroene, and Hatra.

Mesopotamia is the site of the earliest developments of the Neolithic Revolution from around 10,000 BC. It has been identified as having "inspired some of the most important developments in human history, including the invention of the wheel, the planting of the first cereal crops, and the development of cursive script, mathematics, astronomy, and agriculture".


Mesopotamia is made up of different regions. Northern Mesopotamia is made up of hills and plains. Seasonal rains, and the rivers and streams come from the mountains. Early settlers farmed the land and used timber, metals and stone. Southern Mesopotamia is made up of marshy areas and wide, flat, plains. Cities developed along the rivers which flow through the region. Early settlers had to irrigate the land along the banks of the rivers in order for their crops to grow.

Peoples of Mesopotamia

Mesopotamia has been conquered many times, by many different peoples. It was the heartland of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. As each new group moved into the region they adopted some of the culture, traditions and beliefs of the people who had come before. It was conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BC), the Parthians (150 BC), the Romans, the Persian Empire, the Arabs (7th century). It is still one of the most fertile (and therefore valuable) parts of the Middle East.

Ancient Mesopotamia begins in the late 6th millennium BC, and ends with either the rise of the Achaemenid Persians in the 6th century BC or the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia in the 7th century CE. This long period may be divided as follows:

  • Pre-Pottery Neolithic:
    • Jarmo (~7000 BC– ~6000 BC)
  • Pottery Neolithic:
    • Hassuna (~6000 BC–? BC), Samarra (~5700 BC–4900 BC) and Halaf (~6000 BC–5300 BC) cultures
  • Chalcolithic or Copper Age:
    • Ubaid period (~5900 BC–4400 BC)
    • Uruk period (~4400 BC–3200 BC)
    • Jemdet Nasr period (~3100 BC–2900 BC)
  • Early Bronze Age
    • Early Dynastic Sumerian city-states (~2900 BC–2350 BC)
    • Elam 2700 (BC–570 BC).
    • Akkadian Empire (~2350 BC–2193 BC).
    • Third Dynasty of Ur ('Sumerian Renaissance' or 'Neo-Sumerian Period') (~2119 BC–2004 BC)
  • Middle Bronze Age
  • Late Bronze Age
  • Iron Age
  • Classical Antiquity
    • Persian Babylonia, Achaemenid Empire (6th–4th century BC)
    • Seleucid Mesopotamia (4th–3rd century BC)
    • Parthia, then Asuristan (3rd century BC–3rd century AD)
    • Osroene (2nd century BC–3rd century AD)
    • Adiabene (1st–2nd century AD)
    • Roman Mesopotamia, Roman Assyria (2nd century AD)
  • Late Antiquity
    • Sassanid Asuristan (3rd–7th century AD)
    • Arab conquest of Mesopotamia (7th century AD)

Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient story about a relationship between Gilgamesh and his close companion, Enkidu. Enkidu is a wild man created by the gods as Gilgamesh's equal to distract him from oppressing the citizens of Uruk. Together they undertake dangerous quests that incur the displeasure of the gods. Firstly, they journey to the Cedar Mountain to defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven that the goddess Ishtar has sent to punish Gilgamesh for turning down her advances.

The second part of the epic is about Gilgamesh's distressed reaction to Enkidu's death, which takes the form of a quest for immortality. Gilgamesh attempts to learn the secret of eternal life by undertaking a long and perilous journey to meet the immortal flood hero, Utnapishtim. The words addressed to Gilgamesh in the midst of his quest foreshadow the end result:

"The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping".

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