Ancient Mesopotamia - Age of 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 and majesty. At first the political landscape was characterized by city-states, but later empires became the dominant political feature. 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.

In the early 1st millennium BC, Assyria created an enormous empire (the Neo-Assyrian empire), stretching from Egypt to the western parts of Iran. From their inscriptions, the Assyrians were ruthless in battle, often showing little mercy to their defeated enemies. In order to rule their empire they used governors, garrisons and roads for the conveyance of information. Although the city of Assur, which gave the name to Assyria, was the centre for the cult of the god Assur, the political capital was moved to other nearby cities – Calah, Dur-Sharrukin, but the most famous being Nineveh. In the mid 7th century BC Assyria seemed to be the unassailable world power, feared across the Near East and with a superb military.

The king Assurbanipal, who reigned supreme from Nineveh, took time to accumulate a large library of texts, demonstrating that there was a cultured side to his personality. However, this empire quickly collapsed and was succeeded by that of Babylon (the Neo-Babylonian empire), 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. Babylon itself is frequently associated with the famous Hanging Gardens, but our knowledge of these comes not from contemporary Babylonian texts but from later Greek authors. Although Babylon inherited most of the former Assyrian empire, its period of supremacy was short lived, succumbing to the Persians, who emerging from Iran became the new world power.

The course will essentially consist of two parts. The first part will constitute an introduction to the chronology, languages and writing of ancient Mesopotamia. The second part will concentrate on providing a survey of the political history of the Neo-Assyrian and then the Neo-Babylonian empires in the 1st millennium BC, but will touch briefly on other topics such as advances in science and engineering. In 539 BC Cyrus, king of Persia, captured Babylon and ended millennia of largely indigenous derived dynastic rule in Mesopotamia. Emphasis will be given to how textual sources, both those derived from archaeological excavation in the region and the Classical Greco-Roman authors, have been used to reconstruct the history.


  • 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.
  • Radner, K. (2015). Ancient Assyria: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press.

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

  1. Appreciate the importance of written sources in the reconstruction of history.
  2. Know how the chronology of ancient Mesopotamia has been established
  3. Discuss the different languages that were spoken in the ancient Near East and the scripts with which they were written, concentrating mainly on cuneiform
  4. Learn more about the domination of the political history of the 1st millennium BC Mesopotamia by the rise and fall of large empires, firstly that of Assyria, followed by that of Babylonia, finally ending in rule by an external power (Persia) of some sites that were significant in the history of the region.
$92 Limited / $83

<p>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

26 Oct

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