Sumerian City States

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Sumerian City States

As the Sumerian villages grew into large cities, they formed city-states. These city-states often fought each other. They built walls around their cities for protection. Farmland was outside the walls, but people would retreat to the city when invaders came.  The city walls and buildings were made of mud bricks.

Each city-state had its own ruler. The most famous king was Gilgamesh of Uruk who was the subject of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world's oldest surviving works of literature. 

Each city-state also had its own god. In the center of each city was a large temple to the city god called a ziggurat. The ziggurat looked like a step pyramid with a flat top. Here the priests would perform rituals and sacrifices. 


The city of Babylon had been a city-state in Mesopotamia for many years. The city began its rise to power in 1792 BC when King Hammurabi took the throne. He was a powerful and capable leader who wanted to rule more than just the city of Babylon. 

Not long after becoming King, Hammurabi began to conquer other city-states in the area. Within a few years, Hammurabi had conquered all of Mesopotamia.
King Hammurabi established firm laws called Hammurabi's Code. This was the first time in history that the law was written down. It was recorded on clay tablets and tall pillars of stones called steles. 

After Hammurabi died, his sons took over. However, they were not strong leaders and soon Babylon grew weak. 

The Assyrians rose to power from 1365 BC to 612 BC. The leaders built the empire into one of the most powerful empires in the world. They conquered much of the Middle East and Egypt. The Assyrians were perhaps most famous for their fearsome army. They were a warrior society where fighting was a part of life.

The early Assyrians were a warrior society. Every young man was expected to train as a warrior and be ready to fight. As the Assyrian Empire grew, they built a standing army. The Assyrians used a wide variety of weapons including swords, spears, bows and arrows, slings, and daggers. The Assyrians were the first to use iron to make their weapons.

The kings of the Assyrians were expected to be warriors themselves. They led the Assyrian army into battle and fought fiercely. 

One of the greatest strengths of the Assyrian army was its chariots. A chariot is a wheeled vehicle pulled by two to four horses. Riders would stand on the chariot. Typically there were two riders; a driver and a soldier armed with a spear and a bow and arrow. Sometimes a third man was added to protect the rear.

The Assyrians invented some of the first siege equipment to defeat fortified cities. They used battering rams to break down gates and siege towers to go over walls. This was the first time that such complicated siege equipment was used in battle.
The Assyrian army was one of the first to use cavalry.

Assyrians were more than just warriors, however. The last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, constructed a great library at the city of Nineveh.
He collected clay tablets from all over Mesopotamia. These included the stories of Gilgamesh, the Code of Hammurabi, and more.
Much of our knowledge of the Ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia comes from the remains of this library. Ashurbanipal’s library is the first in Mesopotamia.

New Babylonians
Around 616 BC a Chaldean king took advantage of the fall of the Assyrian Empire to bring the seat of the empire back to Babylon. It was his son Nebuchadnezzar II who led Babylon back to its former glory. 
The New Babylonian empire became a center of learning and science. Astronomers charted stars and measured the correct length of the year. Farmers raised bees for their honey. Many people came to Babylon to share ideas and discoveries.
Nebuchadnezzar II ruled for 43 years. He was a great military leader and expanded the empire to include much of the Middle East all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. This included the conquering of the Hebrews and taking them into slavery for 70 years as told in the Bible. 
Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This was a large series of terraces that rose to around 75 feet high. They were covered with all sorts of trees, flowers, and plants. The garden is considered one of the great wonders of the ancient world. 

Nebuchadnezzar had a moat built around the city of Babylon for defense. That must have been quite a sight in the desert!


The empire was founded by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus first conquered the Median Empire in 550 BC and then went on to conquer the Lydians and the Babylonians. Under later kings, the empire would grow to where it ruled Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Turkey. Its borders would eventually stretch over 3,000 miles from east to west making it the largest empire on Earth at the time. 
Under Cyrus the Great, the Persians allowed the peoples they conquered to continue their lives and cultures. They could keep their customs and religion as long as they paid their taxes and obeyed the Persian rulers.
After Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel and to rebuild their temple at Jerusalem This was different from how earlier conquerors such as the Assyrians had ruled. 

The Persian culture held the truth in high esteem. Telling a lie was one of the most disgraceful things a person could do.

The Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Starting in the year 334 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire from Egypt all the way to the borders of India. 
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