Major civilizations started to develop and become dominant around 3000 BCE, including Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia literally means, “land between the rivers”, the rivers were the Tigris and the Euphrates. A series of ancient civilizations thrived along their banks. Mesopotamia is part of a larger area of relatively arable land known as the Fertile Crescent, which extends westward from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was very unpredictable, so some early settlements were frequently washed away. But soon people learned to build canals and dikes, and began to build their towns father uphill, enabling large city-states to emerge. Mesopotamia ended in 637 CE because of Muslim conquest.
Sumerian civilization rose in the southern part of Mesopotamia. They dominated Mesopotamia from 3000 BCE to the end of the third millennium BCE. In addition to successful agriculture and river management, such as the creation of irrigation canals, the Sumerians developed a form of writing known as cuneiform. Scribes used this form of writing to set down laws, treaties, and important social and religious customs; soon the use of cuneiform spread over the trade routes to many other parts of the region. Sumerians also developed a twelve-month calendar and math system. They were polytheistic, and they built temples, called ziggurats, which were terraced pyramids, to appease their gods. Disaster often struck, and no temple could stop the relentless flow of invasions of Sumer. And by around 1700 BCE, the civilization had been completely overthrown.
When Sumer fell, the city of Akkad rose. The Akkadians major contribution was they developed the first known code of laws, which they wrote in cuneiform. But by 1700 BCE, Akkad was overrun by Babylon. King Hammurabi expanded on this idea of a code of laws by developing an extensive code that dealt with every part of daily life. The Code of Hammurabi is often credited as a significant step toward our modern legal codes. It distinguished between major and minor offences, and applied laws towards nearly everyone. The code was created in 1750 BCE.
Babylon fell and by 1500 BCE, the Hittites dominated the region, especially because they learned how to use iron in their weapons. But within a hundred years, the Assyrians had learned to use iron, the very technology the Hittites had used to defeat them. This enabled them to establish a capital at Nineveh and, eventually build an empire that swept across the entire Fertile Crescent. The Assyrian army was cruel and was hated by those who it conquered, which enhanced cultural diffusion across the region and beyond. The Assyrians were defeated by the Medes and Chaldeans around 612 BCE.
Hebrews and Judaism
Within and near the Persian Empire, many smaller societies existed and kept their own identities. This included the Lydians, Phoenicians, and Hebrews. The Hebrews are significant because of their religious beliefs called Judaism. The Hebrews were the first Jews. In contrast to previous civilizations in the Fertile Crescent and beyond, the Hebrews were monotheistic. By 1000 BCE, the Hebrews had established Israel in Palestine on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Although they were frequently invaded by neighboring empires, they managed to keep their identity, in large part because they believed they were God’s chosen people. The ancient Hebrew civilization began around 2000 BCE, and is still around today.
The Phoenicians are important, first, because they established powerful naval city-states all along the Mediterranean, and, second, because they developed a simple alphabet that used only 22 letters as opposed to the much more complex cuneiform system. The Greeks later adopted the Phoenician alphabet, and from there it spread and changed, and eventually led to the system of letters you are reading on this