Seven Characteristics of Mesopotamia

by John London

Mesopotamia existed on the flood plain between two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, as the name Mesopotamia, derived from ancient Greek "between two rivers" suggests. Mesopotamia existed from about 5000 BC, believed to be the first evidence of human culture and ends with the rise of Achaemenid Persians around 1500 BC. A diverse, richly cultural civilization grew up over several thousand years and was shaped by many ethnic groups.

The City State

After about 3000 BC, several large cities were built in Mesopotamia. Each city had its own King and own God and was an independent city state. The lack of a centralized government meant there were frequent wars between the states and this may have contributed to the fall of Mesopotamia.

Calendar

The Mesopotamian solar calendar had two seasons, summer and winter. Each New Year began at the first visible lunar crescent, after the vernal equinox. Keen astronomers, the Mesopotamians understood the heliocentric model of planetary motion, knowing that the earth revolves on its own axis, and in turn, revolves around the sun.

Irrigation

Mesopotamia was located on a large flood plain and it built an extensive man-made irrigation system that enabled it to grow a surplus of food. Mesopotamia relied on the annual flooding of the two rivers for fertility but the silt became an obstacle to its irrigation systems, which consisted of hundreds of channels that watered the crops.

Religion

Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic, meaning there were many gods and goddesses, as well as henotheistic, meaning that certain gods are viewed superior to others. In the latter Mesopotamian period, the people began ranking the deities in order of importance. Every god has a priest, temple and a traditional ritual and there were hundreds of temples scattered throughout each city.

Division of Labor and Social Class

Mesopotamian social strata had three main classes; government officials, nobles and priests were at the top; second was a class comprised of merchants, artisans, craftsmen and farmers; on the bottom were the prisoners of war and slaves. Commoners were considered free citizens and were protected by the law.

Art

Mesopotamian artifacts reflected the lifestyle, customs and beliefs of the people and were usually made from stone, shells, alabaster and marble. The Mesopotamian civilization comprises of Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian cultural influences and the art reflects this.

Architecture

Mesopotamian palaces were highly decorated and contained solid ivory furniture. Palaces served as socioeconomic institutions and in later times were used as storehouses, workshops and shrines. Everyone in Mesopotamia lived in a house; smaller ones for the poorer people and larger two- story houses for the more wealthy. Houses were built from mud bricks, plaster and wood.

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