History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Mesopotamia




MapFeatures for Ancient MesopotamiaMesopotamian States

In Sumer and Akkad in southern Mesopotamia the first city states appeared in the fourth millennium, and by the third they were flourishing with creative ideas and large populations. The relatively few northern Mesopotamian (and Syrian) states which appeared in the third millennium BC differed somewhat from their southern contemporaries. Instead of relying on river irrigation, the agriculture of the north was rain-fed, so yields were lower and larger areas had to be cultivated (though with less labour). As a result, northern cities tended to be smaller with more people living in outlying settlements. Although they were still city states at heart, they had more of an appearance of being small kingdoms.

Amorites began to filter into Syria and Mesopotamia from around 2500 BC. The Akkadians called them Amurru, and groups of them arrived in Sumer where they eventually replaced the Sumerians as rulers in Mesopotamia. In the north they founded many new city states in areas which were much less developed or advanced than in the south. By 2100 BC non-Semitic Hurrians were filtering into these newly developed areas from the north, and between the indigenous population, the groups of Akkadians who had been there for some time, and the new arrivals, the population and culture in the north was extremely varied. Although most of the Syrian and northern Mesopotamian peoples spoke Semitic dialects by the first part of the second millennium BC, Hurrian names could be found as far south as Nippur, indicating a level of linguistic heterogeneity throughout much of Mesopotamia. Scribal practices were adopted from the south and were apparently taught by Babylonians.

(Additional information from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony.)

3700 - 3300 BC

In far south-eastern Europe, in the North Caucasus Mountains, spectacularly ostentatious chiefs suddenly appear amongst what had previously been very ordinary small-scale farmers. They display gold-covered clothing, gold and silver staffs, and great quantities of bronze weapons obtained from the newly formed cities of Middle Uruk Mesopotamia, through Anatolian middlemen. This is probably the first true contact between southern urban civilisations and the people of the steppe margins, taking place about 3700-3500 BC, and it forms the basis of the creation of Maikop culture.

Something less obvious to many is that cannabis may be travelling in the opposite direction to the gold and silver that is coming from the south - this time travelling from the Pontic-Caspian steppes to Mesopotamia and the early city states of Sumer. Greek kdnnabis and proto-Germanic *baniptx seem to be related to the Sumerian kuriibu. Sumerian dies out as a widely spoken language after around 2000 BC, so the connection must be a very ancient one. The international trade of the Late Uruk period (circa 3300-3100 BC) provides a suitable context for this trade.

c.3300 BC

The earliest civilisation flourishes in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia during the Uruk IV period. Making the most of new irrigation systems, the population expands rapidly and creates approximately a dozen city states.

Early Bronze Age pottery
This fragment of Early Bronze Age pottery was produced in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, as the early city-building movement there began to accelerate towards large-scale city states and a recorded history

c.2600 - c.2200 BC

By this date, Sumerian civilisation in the south is at its height. Although their creation is later than those of Sumer, the early Akkaddian or Amorite city states of the north are less well attested, and many of them are only known from later writings.

FeatureThose which can be identified by name include Apum, Ashnakkum (modern Tell Chagar Bazar), Nawar, and Urkesh in the Khabur region, Harran, Mari and Terqa along the Euphrates, and Arbel, Ashur, and Ninevah in the east (the early Assyrians). These states are in contact with each other through diplomatic and commercial means.

Some of these centres in northern, or upper, Mesopotamia - Mari, and Nawar - seem to be able to impose their will on surrounding states, but many of the details of their military actions are unknown.

c.2200 BC

Northern Mesopotamia is disrupted by invasions by barbarians from the north and by the cold, dry period in the Middle East which lasts for three hundred years.

c.2000s BC

During the flourishing of Ur's third dynasty in Sumer, Syrian states maintain friendly relations with the south. However, following the fall of Ur there is a reduction in the number and sizes of settlements in the north for reasons unknown. Documentation suffers a gap of almost two centuries before the start of the archives at Mari.

c.1850 - 1776 BC

Northern Mesopotamia has recovered fully and a wave of newer small states or fully urbanised cities become apparent, including Andarig, Apum, Karana, Qattara, Razama, Shushara (Shemshara), and Terqa, making up a system of kingdoms whose rulers keep large palace archives of diplomatic correspondence showing how vital it is that they remain informed. In about 1809 BC, Northern Mesopotamia and areas of Syria are conquered by the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia. But after the death of the kingdom's founder in about 1776 BC, it swiftly breaks up and the old order reasserts itself. Local rulers are constantly wary of the larger states, Babylon, Elam or Eshnunna, which can make or break them.

c.1800? BC

Yahdun-Lim of Mari sends troops to join those of Yamkhad to fight against several hostile Syrian 'states', including Tuttul, defeating their armies and attacking their towns. The other states which are allied to Tuttul and are defeated alongside it are as follows (all three are Yaminite towns located close by Terqa, under Mari's overall control, and headed by little more than tribal organisations):


Amorite king of the city of Samanum & the land of Ubrabu.


Amorite king of the city of Abattum & the land of Rabbum.

c.1770s BC

Bahdi-Lim, an official of the court of Zimri-Lim of Mari in the city of Tuttul, records the arrival of Dagan's entry into the city, accompanied by two persons. One of these is a Yaminite chief, and the other, Sumu-laba, may also be a chief.


Amorite chief of the tribe of Rabbeans.


Amorite chief (possibly) of the clan of the Uprapeans?

c.1760s BC

The city state of Babylon suddenly expands under Hammurabi to conquer huge swathes of southern, central, and northern Mesopotamia, including many of the states mentioned above.

c.1730 - 1720 BC

The Kassites invade Mesopotamia, penetrating deep into the south. There they are defeated by the Sealand Dynasty of Babylon and are expelled from southern Mesopotamia. They retreat north to take over the near-abandoned city of Mari, also expanding into nearby Terqa. By now the intensive palace system of the high number of states in Upper Mesopotamia has become unsustainable. Many cities are abandoned, perhaps due to a combination of popular opposition to the system and changes in rainfall patterns. The historical record for this region disappears.

c.1595 BC

Mursili's Hittites capture and destroy Alep on their way south to sack Babylon, ending the political situation that had characterised Syria and Mesopotamia for four centuries. Many states, such as Apum, all decline. The region enters a dark age which lasts for up to a century and a half in some areas. The power vacuum allows Hurrians to migrate westwards, and the Kassites to take control of Babylon.

c.1450 BC

The Hurrian state of Mitanni suddenly expands to encompass many northern Mesopotamian and Syrian cities.

c.1360 BC

The resurgent Assyrians throw off their overlords, the Hittites, and establish firm control over the heartland of Assyria - the Tigris Valley and the plains to the east, and from Ashur to the Taurus Mountains in the north.

c.1200 BC

In the face of a general collapse of authority in Syria and a marked decline in northern Mesopotamia, including within Assyria, Aramaean tribes migrate into both regions and begin to attack and take over many cities. Some cities are abandoned in the face of these attacks, such as Qattara.

Mesopotamian Empires

The first millennium BC was an age of empires in Mesopotamia. There was a succession of them that would continue to rule the region in one form or another for over a thousand years. First came the Assyrians and their successors, the Babylonians. Then the Persians from the east, the Greeks from the west, the Parthians from the east again, and finally the Islamic empire. Only when the last of these began to weaken did a situation of fragmented states arise to match that of the second millennium BC.

884 BC

As the dark age draws to a close, Assyria rises to become the dominant force in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

612 - 605 BC

Assyria falls and a resurgent Babylonia gains control of much of its former territory, including Syria, despite an attempt by Egypt to prevent this.

Persian & Greek Satraps

Between 550-539 BC, Persia rose from the Iranian Plateau as a formidable power, and swiftly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and much more. The new masters administered the captured regions as satrapies, with the post in Mesopotamia first going to one of Cyrus' generals. In the fourth century, the invading Greeks maintained the practise, replacing Persians with Greek or local satraps.

After 305 BC, Seleucid rule brought changes to Mesopotamia, especially in cities in which Greeks and Macedonians were settled. In these cities separate agreements were usually made with the Greek officials regarding civil and military authority, and immunity from taxes or levees and the like. Native cities continued to employ their old systems of local government, much as they had under the Achaemenids. Greek gods were worshiped in temples that were dedicated to them in the Greek cities, and native Mesopotamian gods had temples dedicated to them in the native cities.

However, although an enforced policy of Hellenisation was not followed, Greek ideas and practices did filter down and were gradually adopted. There is no evidence from the east to show that Greek religious beliefs were especially prevalent amongst the local population to the detriment of local forms of worship, but there is no record of persecution. On the contrary, the rulers seem to have favoured local religious practices, and ancient forms of worship continued. Cuneiform writing by priests, who copied incantations and old religious texts, continued into the Parthian period.

(Additional information from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Links: Encyclopędia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History.)

539 - 538 BC


First satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia) & Syria.

c. 500 BC


Satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia) & Syria.

332 - 323 BC

The region is conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. Mazaeus, the Persian satrap of Syria, initially plays his part by opposing Alexander, but he eventually surrenders, and Alexander makes him satrap of Mesopotamia.

Propyleum and cella of the Temple of Bel
The propyleum and cella of the Temple of Bel, which incorporates Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman elements and dates primarily to the first and second centuries AD

332 - 328 BC

Mazaeus / Mazdai

Persian satrap of Mesopotamia. Died 328 BC.

323 - 320 BC


Greek satrap of Babylonia.

323 - 320 BC


Greek satrap of northern Mesopotamia.

320 - 315 BC


Greek satrap of Babylonia.

315 - 312 BC

The Empire of Antigonus captures Babylonia during the period of the Diadochi Wars.

312 - 305 BC


Greek satrap of Babylonia.

305 - 126 BC

Seleucus declares himself king of Syria and Babylonia, and the Seleucid empire is created. Seleucus founds the city of Seleucia in Mesopotamia by massively rebuilding and expanding an existing settlement. Alternatively known as Seleucia-on-Tigris. The city soon provides nearby Babylon with a major competitor and the latter begins to decline and empty, leading to its eventual abandonment. Seleucid control of the region, first from Babylonia, then from Seleucia, and finally from Antioch in Syria, lasts until 126 BC.

129 - 126 BC

Although the Parthians have already conquered Seleucia and then Uruk in Mesopotamia, it takes them until now to conquer Babylonia from the weakening Seleucids. The Parthian empire retains its holdings in Mesopotamia until it eventually breaks up, leaving behind it a patchwork of kingdoms which remain in a loose alliance with one another for a further two hundred years.

Babylon in 3D
Despite its gradual relegation as a place of importance in the face of the Greek preference for Seleucia, the ancient and great city of Babylon was still of huge importance in Mesopotamia, as can be seen in this unknown artist's impression of the city (click on image to see full sized)

AD 637

Mesopotamia is conquered by Islam, and is part of the empire.