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Ancient Mesopotamia: The Land Between the Rivers

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Ancient Mesopotamia: The Land Between the Rivers

<p>Mesopotamia represents one of the cradles of civilization, associated today with the names of the great opulent cities of Nineveh and Babylon. Explore this ancient civilization, from its beginnings


Mesopotamia represents one of the cradles of civilization, associated today with the names of the great opulent cities of Nineveh and Babylon. Explore this ancient civilization, from its beginnings in the early 3rd millennium BC until the mid 1st millennium BC through a study of languages and writing systems, important textual sources, and the history of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Mesopotamia was the cradle for one of the world’s great ancient civilizations, that of the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. Based in the fertile plain created by the meandering Euphrates and Tigris rivers, this civilization flourished for three millennia, its greatest cities – Babylon and Nineveh – even today conjuring up visions of wealth, majesty and mystery. At first city-states characterised the landscape of the region, but later empires, the greatest being that of Assyria, became the dominant political feature. By the mid 2nd millennium BC Mesopotamian civilization was such a prevalent force in the Near East that its major language, the Akkadian language, and its associated cuneiform script, were used in international diplomacy throughout the region. In the early 1st millennium BC Assyria created an enormous empire, stretching from Egypt to the western parts of Iran. The Assyrian empire was succeeded by that of

Babylon, its most famous king being Nebuchadnezzar, who is perhaps best known from the Bible where he is recorded as being responsible for the destruction of the Temple of Solomon. Although this civilization is now long dead, we still owe it a cultural debt. Many of the basic principles of mathematics and astronomy were invented in Mesopotamia, and some words in English can be traced back to its languages.


  • Bourke, S., Browne, M. (2008). The Middle East: the cradle of civilization revealed. Thames and Hudson.
  • Podany, A. (2014). Ancient Near East: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • Roux, G. (1992). Ancient Iraq, Penguin Books, England, 3rd edition.


  • Introduction to the physical geography, chronology, languages and writing of ancient Mesopotamia.
  • Chronological survey of Mesopotamian history from the Sumerian civilization until the Neo-Babylonian period in the 6th century BC, but with emphasis being on the Assyria and Babylonian civilizations.

Emphasis will be given to how textual sources, both those derived from archaeological excavation in the region and the Classical Greco-Roman authors, as well as the Bible, have been used to reconstruct the history of Mesopotamia.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Appreciate the importance of written sources in the reconstruction of history.
  2. Learn how the chronology of ancient Mesopotamia has been established.
  3. See the different languages that were spoken in the ancient Near East and the scripts with which they were written.
  4. Explore the international world of the 2nd millennium, as illustrated by written correspondence between countries and the role of Akkadian as the lingua franca.
  5. Know the domination of the political history of the 1st millennium BC by the rise and fall of large empires, firstly that of Assyria, followed by that of the Neo-Babylonians, finally ending in rule by external powers (Persia, the Greeks etc).
  6. Discover some of the sites that were either significant in the history of the region, or simply through the findings of archaeology have proved significant.