General information about Mesopotamia and its peoples
The ancient Greek geographers called Mesopotamia (Mesopotamia) the plain area between the Tigris and the Euphrates, located in their lower and middle reaches. From the north and east, Mesopotamia was bordered by the marginal mountains of the Armenian and Iranian highlands, in the west it bordered the Syrian steppe and the semi-deserts of Arabia, from the south it was washed by the Persian Gulf. Now almost the entire territory on which ancient Mesopotamia was located coincides with the territory of the state of Iraq.
The center of development of the most ancient civilization was located in the southern part of this territory – in ancient Babylonia. Northern Babylonia was called Akkad, and southern Babylonia was called Sumer. Assyria was located in northern Mesopotamia, which is a hilly steppe that turns into mountainous regions.
Even before the arrival of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, there was a kind of culture called Ubeid. It existed in the 6th – early 4th millennium BC. and it is believed that the tribes, carriers of this culture, were subarii and they came from the northeast, from the foothills of the Zagros ridgeback in the Neolithic era.
The arrival of the Sumerians
Not later than the 4th millennium BC in the extreme south of Mesopotamia, the first Sumerian settlements arose. As already mentioned, the Sumerians were not the first inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia, since many toponymic names existed thereafter the settlement of the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates by these people could not have come from the Sumerian language. The Sumerians found tribes in southern Mesopotamia who spoke a language ( “banana language” – the language of the Ubeid culture), different from Sumerian and Akkadian, and borrowed from them the most ancient toponyms. Gradually, the Sumerians occupied the entire territory of Mesopotamia (in the north – from the area where modern Baghdad is located, in the south – to the Persian Gulf). But where the Sumerians came to Mesopotamia, it has not yet been possible to find out. According to the tradition prevailing among the Sumerians themselves, they came from the islands of the Persian Gulf.
The Sumerians spoke a language whose kinship with other languages has not yet been established. Attempts to prove the kinship of Sumerian with Turkic, Caucasian, Etruscan or other languages did not give any positive results.
In the northern part of Mesopotamia from the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. e. the Semites lived. They were the pastoral tribes of ancient Asia Minor and the Syrian steppe. The language of the Semitic tribes who settled in Mesopotamia was called Akkadian. In southern Mesopotamia, the Semites spoke Babylonian, and to the north, in the middle of the Tigris Valley, the Assyrian dialect of Akkadian.
For several centuries, the Semites lived alongside the Sumerians, but then began to move south and by the end of the 3rd millennium BC. occupied all of southern Mesopotamia. As a result, the Akkadian language gradually replaced the Sumerian. However, the latter remained the official language of the state chancellery back in the 21st century. BC, although in everyday life it was increasingly replaced by Akkadian. By the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. Sumerian was already a dead language. Only in the deep swamps of the lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates, it could survive until the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, but then the Akkadian one took its place there. However, as a language of religious cult and science, Sumerian continued to exist and was studied in schools until the 1st century. AD, after which the cuneiform together with the Sumerian and Akkadian languages was completely forgotten. The displacement of the Sumerian language did not mean the physical destruction of its speakers.
At the end of the 3rd millennium BC. West Semitic cattle-breeding tribes began to penetrate into Mesopotamia from the Syrian steppe. The Babylonians called these tribes Amorites. In Akkadian, Amurru meant “west”, mainly in relation to Syria, and among the nomads of this region there were many tribes who spoke different but close dialects. Some of these tribes were called Sutis, which translated from Akkadian means “nomads”.
Kuti and Hurrians
From the III millennium BC in northern Mesopotamia, from the upper reaches of the Diyala River to Lake. Urmia, on the territory of modern Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, was inhabited by the tribes of the Kutii, or Gutians. Since ancient times, Hurrian tribes have lived in the north of Mesopotamia. Apparently, they were the autochthonous inhabitants of Northern Mesopotamia, Northern Syria and the Armenian Highlands. In Northern Mesopotamia, the Hurrians created the state of Mitanni, which in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. was one of the largest powers in the Middle East. Although the Hurrians were the main population of the Mitanni, Indo-Aryan tribes also lived there. In Syria, the Hurrians appear to be a minority of the population. By language and origin, the Hurrians were close relatives of the Urartian tribeswho lived in the Armenian Highlands. In the III-II millennium BC. The Hurrian-Urartian ethnic massif occupied the entire territory from the plains of Northern Mesopotamia to Central Transcaucasia. The Sumerians and Babylonians called the country and the Hurrian tribes Subartu. In some areas of the Armenian Highlands, the Hurrians survived as early as the 6th-5th centuries. BC. In the II millennium BC. the Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform, which they wrote in Hurrian and Akkadian.
In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC. a powerful wave of Aramaic tribes rushed from North Arabia to the Syrian steppe, to North Syria and northern Mesopotamia. At the end of the XIII century. BC. the Arameans created many small principalities in Western Syria and southwestern Mesopotamia. By the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. the Arameans almost completely assimilated the Hurrian and Amorite populations of Syria and northern Mesopotamia.
In the VIII century. BC. the Aramaic states were captured by Assyria. However, after that, the influence of the Aramaic language only increased. By the VII century. BC. all of Syria spoke Aramaic. This language began to spread in Mesopotamia. His success was facilitated by the large number of the Aramaic population, and the fact that the Arameans wrote in a writing that was convenient and easy to learn.
In the VIII-VII centuries. BC. The Assyrian administration pursued a policy of forcible resettlement of the conquered peoples from one region of the Assyrian state to another. The purpose of such “shuffling” is to hinder mutual understanding between different tribes, to prevent their revolts against the Assyrian yoke. In addition, the Assyrian kings sought to populate the territories devastated during endless wars. As a result of the inevitable mixing of languages and peoples in such cases, the winner was Aramaic, which became the dominant spoken language from Syria to the western regions of Iran, even in Assyria itself. After the collapse of the Assyrian state at the end of the VII century. BC. the Assyrians completely lost their language and switched to Aramaic.
Since the IX century. BC. In southern Mesopotamia, the Chaldean tribes, related to the Arameans, began to invade, and gradually occupied all of Babylonia. After the conquest of Mesopotamia by the Persians in 539 BC. Aramaic became the official language of the state chancellery in this country, and Akkadian remained only in large cities, but even there it was gradually replaced by Aramaic. The Babylonians themselves by the 1st century. AD completely merged with the Chaldeans and Arameans.
Early states of Sumer
At the turn of the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, approximately simultaneously with the emergence of the state in Egypt, the first state formations appeared in the southern part of the Tigris-Euphrates interfluve. At the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. on the territory of southern Mesopotamia, several small city-states developed. They were located on natural hills and surrounded by walls. Each of them was home to approximately 40-50 thousand people. In the extreme southwest of Mesopotamia was the city of Eridu, near it – the city of Ur, which was of great importance in the political history of Sumer. On the banks of the Euphrates, north of Ur, was the city of Larsa, and to the east of it, on the banks of the Tigris, was Lagash. The city of Uruk, which arose on the Euphrates, played an important role in the unification of the country. In the center of Mesopotamia on the Euphrates was Nippur, which was the main sanctuary of all of Sumer.
In the first half of the 3rd millennium BC. in Sumer, several political centers were created, the rulers of which bore the title lugal or ensi. Lugal means “big man” in translation. This is how kings were usually called. Ensi was called an independent ruler who ruled over any city with the nearest district. This title is of priestly origin and indicates that initially the representative of state power was also the head of the priesthood.
Rise of Lagash
In the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. Lagash began to claim a dominant position in Sumer. In the middle of the XXV century. BC. Lagash in a fierce battle defeated his constant enemy – the city of Umma, located to the north of him. Later, the ruler of Lagash, Enmeten (about 2360-2340 BC), victoriously ended the war with the Ummah.
The internal position of Lagash was not strong. The masses of the city were infringed upon in their economic and political rights. To rebuild them, they rallied around Uruinimgina, one of the city’s powerful citizens. He dismissed an ensie named Lugaland and took his place himself. During a six-year reign (2318-2312 BC), he carried out important social reforms, which are the oldest known legal acts in the field of socio-economic relations. He was the first to proclaim the slogan that later became popular in Mesopotamia: “Let the strong not offend widows and orphans!” Extortions from the priestly staff were canceled, the subsistence allowance of the forced temple workers was increased, the independence of the temple economy was restored from the tsarist administration. Certain concessions were made to the ordinary layers of the population:
In addition, Uruinimgina restored the judicial organization in rural communities and guaranteed the rights of the citizens of Lagash, protecting them from usurious bondage. Finally, polyandry was eliminated. All these reforms Uruinimgina presented as an agreement with the main god of Lagash, Ningirsu, and declared himself the executor of his will.
However, while Uruinimgina was busy with his reforms, a war broke out between Lagash and Ummah. The ruler of the Ummah Lugalzagesi enlisted the support of the city of Uruk, captured Lagash and canceled the reforms introduced there. Then Lugalzagesi usurped power in Uruk and Eridu and extended his rule to almost all of Sumer. Uruk became the capital of this state.
The economy and economy of the Sumerian states
The main branch of the economy of Sumer was agriculture based on a developed irrigation system. By the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. there is a Sumerian literary monument called “Agricultural Almanac”. It is clothed in the form of teaching given to his son by an experienced farmer and contains instructions on how to preserve the fertility of the soil and stop the process of its salinization. The text also provides a detailed description of the fieldwork in their time sequence. Cattle breeding was also of great importance in the country’s economy.
The craft developed. There were many housebuilders among the city’s artisans. Excavations at Ur of monuments dating back to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC show a high level of skill in Sumerian metallurgy. Among the grave goods were found helmets, axes, daggers, and spears made of gold, silver and copper, chasing, engraving, and granulation were found. Southern Mesopotamia did not have many materials at its disposal, and their findings at Ur indicate brisk international trade. Gold was delivered from the western regions of India, lapis lazuli – from the territory of modern Badakhshan in Afghanistan, stone for vessels – from Iran, silver – from Asia Minor. In exchange for these goods, the Sumerians sold wool, grain, and dates.
From local raw materials, artisans had only clay, reed, wool, leather and flax at their disposal. The god of wisdom Ea was considered the patron saint of potters, builders, weavers, blacksmiths and other artisans. Already in this early period, bricks were fired in kilns. Glazed bricks were used for facing the buildings. From the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. the potter’s wheel was used for the production of tableware. The most valuable vessels were covered with enamel and glaze.
Already at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. began to make bronze tools, which until the end of the next millennium, when the Iron Age began in Mesopotamia, remained the main metal tools.
To obtain bronze, a small amount of tin was added to the molten copper.