THE ANCIENT MIDDLE EAST: The Tigris and Euphrates River Valley

The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

1. ca. 4500 B.C.: Nomadic herders began to plant crops and build permanent settlements at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

* Very little is known about these early settlers.

2. Fourth Millenium B.C.: between 4,000 - 3,000 B.C. another nomadic group migrated from the Armenian Plateau and conquered the delta region.

* The Sumerians created the first known civilization in the Ancient Middle East.

3. The Tigris and Euphrates Valley: located in the eastern end ofthe Fertile Crescent (stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea).

* The Fertile Crescent (half moon shape) stretching from the Tigris-Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean in the West.

4. Crossroads of the World: it commands access to three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe.

a. The fertile crescent has few natural barriers.

b. Its position led to frequent migrations and invasions.

5. The rivers begin in the highlands of Armenia flowing southward.

a. The Tigris flows 1100 miles to the Persian Gulf.

b. The Euphrates flows 1700 miles:

* Rivers have created a delta at the Persian Gulf.

* 150 miles at its greatest distance between the two rivers.

6. Division of the River Valley:

a. Mesopotamia: land between the rivers name given by the Greeks.

b. Babylonia: southern portion below the neck of the two rivers.

7. The river current is much stronger and more violent than the Nile River -- at times inflicting enormous damage.

a. Canals and dikes were built for water control as the Egyptians did.

b. Canals were also used to carry off surplus water -- flood control.

c. Nature was viewed as hostile ------ their Gods seen as unreasonable and changeable.

Sumerian Civilization: Sumer

1. Located in the southern portion of Babylonia, some believe that this is the location of the Garden of Eden.

2. ca. 3,000 B.C.: prosperous city states had developed in this area.

a. City States: a town or city and surrounding land it controlled (cooperating for mutual defense).

b. Chief Cities: Ur, Erech, and Kish

c. Each city belonged to a god or a group of gods -- people believed they were dependent on the city's god for food and protection.

* Priests alone knew how to appease the gods, and acted as intermediaries between citizens and the gods.

* Theocracy - priests ruled in the name of the gods.

3. Sumerian City States: Constant Conflict

a. Disputes over land boundaries and water rights.

b. This division tended to weaken them.

c. Resulted in a rise of Military Leaders who gradually replaced the priests as rulers.

* Rulers were not worshiped as gods, but they were believed to be representatives of the gods on earth.

4. Social Classes:

a. Class of Nobles: Priests and governmental officials.

b. Merchants and Artisans.

c. Peasants and slaves.

Sumerian Writing:

1. Developed sometime after 3500 B.C. -- first a system of pictograms and ideograms eventually it was simplified with the addition of phonograms.

2. Scribes made marks pressed into clay which was baked to harden the clay.

a. They used a pointed stick called a stylus making a combination of wedge-like shapes.

b. Cuneiform: cuneus - Latin for wedge. 600 signs - picto, ideo, and phonograms.

c. Papyrus did not grow in Sumer, so they continued to write on clay tablets.

3. Mystery:

a. A Persian ruler, Darius the Great, suppressed a rebellion led by local chiefs.

b. Darius had the story carved in both pictures and writing on a limestone cliff at Behistun.

c. The Behistun Rock: Darius passing judgment was recorded in three languages.

1.) Old Persian which was partly known.

2.) Elamite - native to the region.

3.) Babylonian Cuneiform which is similar to Sumerian Writing.

d. Sir Henry C. Rawlison in 1846 was able to decipher cuneiform writing.

Commerce and Trade:

1. Agriculture: grains, vegetables, and dates.

2. Domestication of Animals:

a. Cows, sheep, and goats (dairy industry).

b. Oxen for plowing.

Donkeys for pulling carts.

* Beasts of burden.

Domesticate: the change (plant or animal) from a wild state to a tame or cultivated state.

3. Textile Industry: (wool into cloth; flax into linen).

4. Most of the land was worked for the god.

* It (the land) was controlled by the Privileged Nobility and some was rented.

5. Food production had allowed the development of trade and industry.

Sumerian Technology:

1. Building Materials: sun dried clay bricks; they did not last as long as Egyptian stone buildings.

2. Architecture:

a. The Arch - a curved structure over an opening; very strong supporting weight.

b. The Dome or Vault: rounded roof after combining several arches.

(use of ramps)

c. Sewers: built beneath their buildings covered with archers of bricks.

3. Ziggurats or Temples:

a. Constructed on man-made hills.

b. Built in layers, each one smaller, usually built in seven stories.

c. Top layer: shrine or a god.

4. Developed principles of Algebra.

5. Numbering system based on 60. (time and circles)

* 360 degrees

* degree - 60 minutes

* minute - 60 seconds

6. Developed a lunar calendar: forced to add a 13th month.


1. Boys of the Upper Class: conducted in temples by priests.

2. Curriculum: writing, spelling, history, math, languages, map making.

3. Advanced Education: law, medicine, and surgery.

4. Divination: (usually a function of the priests) being able to tell the future by signs and omens.

a. An omen might be any event.

b. A regular means to discover the will of the gods.

1.) Gods spoke through dreams.

2.) Examination of the liver and other internal organs. (ie. intestines)

* paid attention to coloring, shape and markings.

3.) Astrology - believed it was possible to forecast such important events as the death of a king or a victory in battle through the stars.

Religion: Polytheistic

1. Animism: The belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls or consciousness.

(ie. trees, stones, water, earth, stars.)

2. Gods were identified with forces of Nature.

a. Gods were like men: habits and needs. Not omnipotent and they could be irrational; they were viewed more as supermen.

b. Believed in demons --- ritual magic was used to control them.

3. Gods:

a. Anu - king of heaven (Anu's number was 60, the highest in the Sumerian System).

b. Enlil - the god of air and storms.

c. Ea - the god of waters.

d. Enki - god of the subterranean world.

Lower Deities:

a. Shamash - the sun god.

b. Sin - the moon god.

c. Ishtar - the goddess of love and war.

d. Adad - the god of weather.

e. Dumuzi (Tammuz) - the god of vegetation, spent half the year in the underworld.

4. Afterlife: Man separated from the life of the gods.

a. A place and time of misery and hardship where spirits of the dead lived in darkness and ate dirt. ie. a hopeless state.

b. The Epic of Gilgamesch: This view can be seen by one of the greatest pieces of Sumerian literature.

* Gilgamesch attempts to find a way of achieving immortality and concludes his quest is hopeless.

Legal System: Sumerian

1. Principle of retribution for damages -- usually enforced through payment in money or kind.

2. If a man injured a slave, he had to pay the slave's master for the damage.

* Repayment based on merit and worth.


1. ca. 2350 B.C.: Sargon of Akkad challenged Sumerian predominance.

* Following centuries saw intermittent fighting between the Semitic speaking Akkadians and Sumerians.

2. Built the city of Babylon on the Euphrates. By 1800 B.C. - their power was finally established.

3. The Babylonians were a result of the dominant Akkadians and Sumerians (merged into one people).

4. Adopted most of Sumerian institutions and culture.

5. Hammurabi: ca. 1700 B.C.

a. Conquered the Upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley.

b. Known as the great law giver.

1.) Law Code - oldest known written legal system.

2.) Influenced by Sumerian legal traditions.

c. Hammurabi's Law Code: (282 laws)

1.) Stern Sense of Justice: "an eye for an eye" demanding severe punishments for crimes -- bribery, theft, dishonest weights and measures, and damage to another's property.

2.) Sharp Division of Classes: harsher punishment for an offense against a noble or priest than a common person.

3.) Fair Treatment of Women: Permitted to own property and engage in business.

4.) An Advanced Business Society: established regulations for protecting property and business contracts, limiting interest on loans, and setting wages for workers.

6. Culture: adopted much from Sumer.

a. Social classes, writing, architecture, and science.

b. Traders: traveled throughout the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, India, and China.

c. Women: possessed legal and economic rights.

* Exception: a man could sell his wife and children to pay his debts.

7. Religion:

a. Marduk: god of Babylon and depicted as the creator of the world.

b. Borrowed many Sumerian gods.

c. Sacrificed for a good life now. Land of No Return: Hopeless life after death.

d. Priests: Important Role.

1.) Protection against evil spirits.

2.) Practice of Divination.

e. Religious Literature: describes the creation of the world, the first man and woman, building of an ark before the Great Flood.

* elements such as these are referred to as Religious Universals.


1. Invaded the Tigris-Euphrates Valley ca. 1600 B.C.

2. History remained a mystery for years - progress only since the 1940's.

3. Pictographic Script: one line written from left to right, next line from right to left.

* Learned cuneiform from the Babylonians.

4. Indo-Europeans: they came from north of the Black and Caspian Seas.

* ca. 2,000 B.C. - they migrated into Asia Minor.

5. First people to make extensive use of Iron.

a. Mined copper and silver which they traded.

b. Process of making iron was kept secret.

6. Expanded throughout most of Asia Minor.

a. Established their capital at Hattusas.

b. Achievement: Legal System

1.) Less brutal than Hammurabi's Code.

2.) Capital punishment for major crimes.

3.) Emphasized payment of damages not retribution.

4.) Concerned more about premeditation.

7. Decline: ca. 1200 B.C.

a. Iron processing learned by other people.

b. Had looted Babylon -- difficulty caused by being too far from their homeland.

Rise of the Assyrians:

1. Kassites: controlled the area of Babylonia until about 900 B.C.

2. ca. 1100 B.C. - the Assyrians rose to power in Mesopotamia.

a. Settled along the Tigris River, north west of Babylonia.

b. City State of Assur: Assur the god of war and patron god of the Assyrians.

Patron: one who guides and protects you (what does it tell us about the character of the Assyrians).

3. Policy of Expansion:

a. Learned about iron from the Hittites.

b. First to outfit armies entirely with iron weapons.

c. Used cavalry instead of chariots.

d. Invented movable towers and battering rams.

4. 8th Century B.C.: conquered Babylonia.

7th Century B.C.: conquered Egypt (only for a time).

* Largest Empire up to that time.

5. Annual Campaigns: Reputation for Cruelty.

a. Would annihilate everyone considered dangerous -- selling women and children into slavery.

b. Transporting entire populations to isolated areas.

c. Razed houses, palaces, and temples of their victims and stack their bodies by the road as a warning to others.

6. ca. 700 B.C.: Conquered Babylon and totally destroy the city changing the course of the Euphrates to flow over it.

Assyrian Government

1. Ruler was an autocrat with absolute power.

2. The Assyrian King was only responsible to the god Assur.

3. Created an effective system of imperial administration.

a. Built Roads: for the movement of troops.

b. Postal Service: helped the army to act quickly against rebellions.

c. Governors: ruled conquered areas; inspectors sent to check on their activities.

d. Army of Occupation: to keep conquered people under control-made up of paid soldiers or mercenaries from other conquered lands.

Rise and Decline:

1. Nineveh - capital built on the Tigris River.

2. Tried to make Nineveh a city of splendor -- from taxes collected in conquered lands.

3. Assurbanipal: built a great library containing thousands of clay tablets both Assyrian and Babylonian.

* These documents have enabled scholars to accurately reconstruct life in the Ancient Middle East.

4. Fortified City:

a. Double Walls: 50 feet thick and 100 feet high.

b. Fifteen Gates: water source from mountain streams.

5. 612 B.C.: the Chaldeans, Medes, and Persians joined forces.

a. Captured and destroyed Nineveh.

b. Eventually conquered the entire Assyrian Empire.

The Chaldeans: The Second Babylonian Empire

1. 616 B.C.: Semitic speaking nomads from the Arabian Desert seized Babylon and rebuilt it as their capital.

2. 612 B.C.: They took the largest share of the Assyrian Empire.

3. Nebuchanezzar: 605-562 B.C.

a. Conquered most of the Fertile Crescent.

b. Enclosed land within the city walls to provide a food supply especially in case of siege.

c. Hanging Gardens: built for one his wives, Cyaxare - daughter of the Median King. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

d. Ziggurat - near his palace believed by some to be the Biblical Tower of Babel.

"Man trying to make himself god-like, so he divides

men by language barriers, and scatters them abroad."


4. Achievement: Astronomy

* Chaldean priests acquired a vast store of knowledge about eclipses and the movement of heavenly bodies.

5. After Nebuchnezzar: Civil War and in 539 B.C. Babylon wa captured by the Persians.

Ancient Persia:

1. ca. 1800 B.C.: the Medes and Persians migrated to the high plateau of Iran.

2. United under the Medes and joined in the alliance to overthrow the Assyrians.

3. 612 B.C.: All of Iran and the northern part of the Tigris - Euphrates Valley.

4. ca. 550 B.C.: Cyrus, a Persian, led a revolt against the Medes and became ruler of both groups.

5. Power of the Persian Army: extensive use of horsemen and archers.

a. Cyrus: defeated the Chaldeans and captured Babylon gaining the rest of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.

b. Extended his empire into the rest of the Fertile Crescent and Asia Minor.

c. Cambyses, Cyrus' son, conquered Egypt in 525 B.C.

6. 5th Century B.C. -- Darius the Great extended the empire to the Indus River in India.

a. Both Darius and his son, Xerxes, attempted unsuccessful invasions of Greece.

b. The Persian Empire was at its peak under Darius.

Persian Government:

1. Absolute Ruler

a. Rule based on a recognition of the diversity of culture and national groups within the empire.

b. The emperor's power rested on a policy of toleration and on the support of an elite group who actually ruled the vast empire.

2. Fair Taxation (collection) and justice.

* Ensured laws would be applied equally.

3. Cyrus allowed the Hebrews (Jews) to return to Jerusalem who had been enslaved by the Chaldeans.

4. Adopted the Assyrian system of administration.

a. Governor (Satrap); Provinces (Satrapies) and his officials.

b. General and his troops -- occupation of conquered lands.

c. Inspectors: "The King's eyes and ears." to insure just government.

Persian Religion:

1. Originally Polytheistic.

2. Zoraster: One trains for a future life.

"The world was torn by a constant struggle between good and evil."

a. Forces of good - by light: led by Ahura Mazda, source of truth and purity.

b. Forces of evil - darkness: led by the spirit Ahriman.

c. Man would have to choose between them -- faced with an eventual last judgment as good would triumph and evil would then be punished.

* The earth (physical existence) would then disappear.

3. Zend Avesta - was the sacred book of Zorastrianism.

Importance: Zorastrianism emphasized ethical or moral conduct, a final day of judgment, and the individual's role in determining his or her salvation.

Decline: 331 B.C. -- fourth century B.C. conquered by Alexander the Great.

The Phoenicians:

1. Loose union of city states -- each with a king.

2. Sidon and Tyre were their two major seaports -- both became world famous.

3. History: Conquered by and forced to pay tribute to.

a. Egyptians

b. Hittites

c. Assyrians

d. Chaldeans

e. Persians

f. Greeks

4. Geography: less than 200 miles long and average 12 miles in width.

a. Little fertile land -- large scale farming was impossible.

b. Lebanon Mountains prevented expansion eastward.

c. Turned to the sea -- became the greatest traders of the Ancient World.

5. Believed to have traveled as far as Britain and around Africa.

6. Need for Trading:

a. Lack of minerals.

b. Cedar Trees of the Lebanon Mountains -- important in the production of their ships.

c. Skilled Artisans: made objects from metals obtained from Foreign Lands.

d. Murex: shellfish which they used to make purple dye.

1.) Woolen cloth dyed purple became a prized possession.

2. Very expensive: became known as royal purple.

Phoenician Colonies:

1. 1,000 - 700 B.C. -- factors in the Near East favored the Phoenicians.

a. The Hittite Empire had disappeared.

b. The Egyptian Empire was declining.

2. The Phoenicians united under Tyre and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea.

3. Purpose: Centers of Trade

a. Sicily

b. Sardinia

c. Malta

d. Southern Spain

e. Northern Africa: Carthage the most important (almost 300 cities).

Culture: Borrowed

1. Government and most of their culture from the Egyptians and Babylonians.

2. Indirectly: spread their knowledge through the Mediterranean.

3. Religion: harsh

a. Polytheistic.

b. Gods -- Baals, angry gods.

c. Practiced human sacrifice and at times their own children.

d. They had no belief in an afterlife.

4. Achievement: transmitted what became our alphabet.

a. Egyptians and Sumerians -- phonograms and signs for syllables.

b. Sinai Peninsula - a people developed signs for consonantsonly.

Semitic Family: Hebrew and Arabic are still written without vowels.

c. Phoenicians adopted this system and developed an alphabet of 22 consonants.

d. The Greeks improved it by adding symbols for vowels.

e. The Romans adopted the Greek alphabet altering some of theletters.

Alpha-Beta: Alphabet



5. Arameans - in the Western Fertile Crescent.

a. Developed an alphabet using cuneiform characters.

b. Traders - they influenced both Persian and Indian writing.

* Founders of Damascus.


1. After 1,000 B.C.: Indo-European speaking people who lived in Asia Minor.

2. First half of the 6th Century B.C. - they enjoyed great prosperity and power.

3. Croesus - a king of the Lydians - had the reputation of being the richest man in the world.

4. Contribution: A merchant trading people.

a. Need: a means of exchange that could replace barter.

b. First government to mint coins and guarantee their value.

ie. a money economy.


1. South of Phoenicia: 150 miles long.

2. Similar to Phoenicia

a. Lack of minerals.

b. Difference - no forests.

3. Northern Palestine:

a. Jordan Sea - fertile soil.

b. Crops: grain, olives, figs and grapes.

4. Southern Palestine:

a. Around the Dead Sea.

b. Desert: soil poor and rocky.

5. Between Africa and Asia:

a. Trade route between Egypt and the Tigris-Euphrates Valley.

b. Ideas of the two civilizations.

c. Invaded and forced to fight:

1.) Egyptians

2.) Hittites

3.) Assyrians

4.) Persians

5.) Later: the Greeks and Romans

Hebrews or Jews:

1. Abraham, founder of the Jewish People, had lived in Sumer.

a. Led his people to the borders of Northern Palestine.

b. Some remained there, and others moved on.

2. They crossed the Isthmus of Suez.

a. Settled east of the Nile Delta: "Land of Goshen" - a swampy country.

b. They improved the land and began to prosper.

3. The Jews and Egypt:

a. Jews believed to have entered Egypt with the Hyksos in the 1700's B.C.

b. 1500's B.C.: they Hyksos were forced out, and the Jews were forced to work as slaves.

4. Moses: destiny to free the Jewish people.

* ca. 1275 B.C. - he led the Jewish people out of Egypt -- in what is known as the Exodus.

5. Tradition:

a. Because of life in the desert -- some felt that life in Egypt as slaves was better.

b. Mt. Sinai: Moses returned with the Ten Commandments revealed to him by Yaweh or Jehovah.

c. Told of the Promised Land - ie. Palestine.

6. Joined the Jews who lived along the Northern border of Palestine.

a. Palestine was controlled by:

1.) Canaanites: held Northern Palestine.

2.) Philistines: held the coastal region of Palestine.

b. The Canaanites were conquered first and the Hebrews settled in the Jordan Valley.

c. They never completely conquered the Philistines.

Government and Customs:

1. Nomads - Hebrews were divided into 12 tribes -- each was headed by a religious leader called a Judge.

2. Fighting for Palestine: they had united the tribes under Kings.




3. ca. 933 B.C.: end of Solomon's reign.

a. Revolution.

b. The Kingdom was split in two.

1.) Kingdom of Israel in the North.

Capital - Samaria.

2.) Kingdom of Judah in the South.

Capital - Jerusalem.

4. 722 B.C. - Assyrians conquered Samaria and Israel.

5. 586 B.C. - Chaldeans conquered Judah and Jerusalem.


Ethical Monotheism - Yaweh

Mosaic Law (the Torah) - first five books of the Old Testament.

The Bible - Old Testament: history of the world as they knew it.

Impact on Christianity and Islam.