Chapter Summary and Key Concepts
After reading this chapter, students should be able to:
- generally characterize the major changes delineating the Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in Southwest Asia
- understand the transition from sedentary farming societies of the Halaf period to the complex societies of the Ubaid
- trace the development of the Ubaid into the Uruk period and its “world system”
- describe the key features of true cities and large agglomerated communities
- relate the various theories on the origins of state level societies
- define a city, a state, and an empire
- discuss the organization of Mesopotamian city states
- understand the implications of the ability to create surplus produce and goods
- understand the role of religion in the development of complex societies
- describe the various methods through which elites control large urban populations
- trace the development of administrative technology, record-keeping, and writing
- characterize the polities of the Bronze Age and understand the factors important in their rise, florescence, and fall
- discuss the role and scope of trade and commerce in the Bronze Age, within Southwest Asia and beyond
- characterize the polities of the Iron Age and the continuities and discontinuities with their Bronze Age predecessors
- describe the regional collapses that occurred in the Bronze and Iron Ages
- describe the use of iconography and symbolism in maintaining the legitimacy of rulers and elites
- characterize the similarities and differences in the actions and ideologies of states and empires across time and space.
FARMERS OF THE EARLY CHALCOLITHIC: THE HALAF AND UBAID PERIODS
Around 6000 bc Southwest Asian communities developed irrigation agriculture to farm the fertile soils of southern Mesopotamia where insufficient rain falls for farming. This led to the development of literate, urban complex societies.
In the Halaf period (after Tell Halaf, Syria), settlements in the “Fertile Crescent” were supported by dry, or rainfall, farming. Small sites, home to 20–150 people, are characterized by circular buildings, painted pottery, female figurines, stone stamp seals, obsidian objects, and clay sling bullets. Draft animals enabled deep plowing, a dairy-rich diet may have increased female fertility, while increased morbidity from infectious diseases in the warmer climate may have encouraged higher birthrates.
A few sites are much larger. Evidence for trade includes pottery production centers at Arpachiyah (Iraq) and Chagar Bazar (Syria), and obsidian from sources in central and eastern Turkey.
Evidence for warfare is minimal, but stone wrist-guards and sling missiles indicate either hunting or conflict, or both.
There are no clear Halaf ritual buildings, and burial treatments vary widely. Female figurines may indicate fertility concerns. Social stratification is minimal. Early stone stamp seals and sealings suggest that some people felt it necessary to control or proclaim ownership, a trend that increased through time.
Simultaneous with Halaf development, Lower Mesopotamia was first settled, aided by 5900 bc by irrigation canals leading from the Euphrates. Sites from this era, the Ubaid period (after Tell al-Ubaid, Iraq) are found earliest in Lower Mesopotamia, later spreading into adjacent regions, exemplified by substantial buildings, grain storage, and pottery.
Many aspects of later Mesopotamian civilization originate in the Ubaid: the temple as community focus, seals and sealings for economic and religious administration, long-distance exchange, and material culture shared over large areas.
URBAN COMMUNITIES OF THE LATE CHALCOLITHIC: THE URUK PERIOD
By 3200 BC, large, literate urban communities had developed, the first in human history. Surpluses of cereals, flour, fish, wool, and textiles were consumed by temples as offerings or redistributed to temple-workers, or used as capital by temple-sponsored commercial and trade entrepreneurs. By the later 4th millennium bc, tens of thousands of people at Uruk were served by temples, administrative buildings occupied by priests and officials, open spaces for gatherings or worship, specialized craft production zones, and ordinary housing. This large functional size distinguishes earlier agglomerated settlements like Çatalhöyük from true cities.
The Invention of Writing
Pre-writing systems involved tokens and seals, slowly developing into an accounting system. More than 5000 clay tablets contain proto-cuneiform, with some 850 signs including pictographs, numerical/counting signs, and a calendar system. Texts include economic and administrative records dealing with grain, flocks, and land; lists of professions, city or place names, and types of animals. The earliest are found only at Uruk, suggesting its origin place. Cuneiform remained in use until around the time of Christ.
Another administrative technology was the cylinder seal, impressed into clay to identify parties in administrative activity and control access to containers and storerooms.
CITY-STATES, KINGDOMS, AND EMPIRES OF THE EARLY BRONZE AGE
Urbanism, literacy, religious administration, and interregional trade continued in the 3rd millennium bc during times of peace and warfare.
During the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 bc), independent city-states each controlled an agricultural hinterland. Cuneiform king-lists first appear, as do economic, religious, literary, and lexical texts in the Sumerian language. Canal construction and maintenance was performed by urban authorities. Food and textiles comprised local trade, while metals, semi-precious stones, and woods were obtained from Iran, Anatolia, the Levant, and the Persian Gulf. City-states each had a “king” with secular and religious authority, and a principal patron deity in addition to a large region-wide pantheon. Despite independent status, these interactive Sumerian polities shared similar material culture.
Kingdoms and Empires of the Later 3rd Millennium BC
Akkad was the first empire: a state ruling subject areas. Sargon of Akkad (2334–2279 bc) created this empire by conquering Sumerian cities, Upper Mesopotamia, southeast Anatolia, and southwest Iran. The Akkadian empire collapsed into a period of regionalization, out of which the Third Dynasty of Ur, or Ur III Empire, emerged, controlling the region from 2112 to 2004 bc, reviving Sumerian culture with a ziggurat, temples, royal tombs, and a large bureaucratic administration.
The Ur III Empire fell to the Elamites at the end of the 3rd millennium bc. Ruling from Susa, where monumental buildings and inscriptions were produced, Elamite kings held control for some decades.
A region-wide disintegration affected Southwest Asia at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. This suggests a common factor, possibly climate change. Additionally, the high degree of economic integration between these early polities may have created a domino effect.
COMMERCE AND CONFLICT IN THE MIDDLE BRONZE AGE
The Amorites and the Hurrians appeared in Southwest Asia at the start of the 2nd millennium BC, taking advantage of, or partly causing, the collapse of earlier states.
Mesopotamian kings, including Hammurabi of Babylon, traced their origins to the Amorites, Semitic desert intruders. The Hurrians’ origins are less clear, but their language is Caucasian. Transcaucasian migrations began in the early 3rd millennium bc and by 2000 bc, Hurrian communities of the Mittani state dotted Upper Mesopotamia.
Amorite kingdoms were established at Babylon, Kish, and Uruk. Larsa, ruled by king Rim-Sin (1822–1763 bc), at first dominated them. Through the 1780s BC, Hammurabi of Babylon (1792–1750 bc) conquered Uruk and Isin, then the Elamites, Guti, Subartu, Larsa, and finally Mari. Hammurabi’s Babylon lies inaccessible beneath Iron Age Babylon, but contemporary urban life is known through excavations at Ur and Mashkan-shapir.
Upper Mesopotamia and the Levant
The city of Mari, before its destruction by Hammurabi, lay at a key position on east–west and north–south trade routes. The site’s main feature is the palace of Zimri-Lim (1775–1761 bc), a multi-storied residence preserved by fire.
The Levantine Middle Bronze Age saw a reversal of earlier urban decline, with evidence for fortification and temple-building, trade and commerce.
EMPIRES AND STATES AT WAR AND PEACE: THE LATE BRONZE AGE
During the Late Bronze Age, many states, kingdoms, and empires occupied Southwest Asia, each based on earlier foundations.
Archaeological investigation of the Hittite capital, Hattusa (Turkey), is ongoing. Over 10,000 texts have come from temples and the royal citadel. The proto-Hittites arrived around 2300 bc, when there is evidence for incursions of new peoples. The Hittite empire collapsed c. 1200–1185 bc, as signs of destruction and abandonment spread across Southwest Asia.
Ugarit lies on Syria’s Mediterranean coast where trade and communication routes converge. Excavations uncovered a palace, clay tablets, an acropolis with two temples, and a city with two-storied elite houses. Ugarit’s cosmopolitan aspect is reflected in the many languages used, and cuneiform tablets preserve the earliest known alphabetic system. Regional conflicts and piracy led to Ugarit’s total destruction around 1185 bc.
By the later 3rd–early 2nd millennia BC, Hurrian states occupied Upper Mesopotamia, northwest Iran, and southeast Anatolia. For 200 years, the Mittani state was regionally dominant, populated largely by ethnic Hurrians.
The Rise of Assyria
The city of Ashur traded with Anatolia in the Middle Bronze Age, until 1760 bc. From then until the late 14th century bc, little is known. After this, Ashur rose to dominance as the Assyrian capital. By c. 1330 bc, Assyria was treated as an equal by the Hittites, Babylonia, and Egypt. A series of powerful rulers extended territory, trade, and control.
Lower Mesopotamia: Kassite Babylonia
After Babylon fell in 1595 bc, the Kassites rose there, and Babylon was capital of a larger region called Babylonia. Under Kassite rule (1530–1155 bc), Babylonia was stable. Conflicts with Assyria and Elam and raids by Aramaean pastoralists led to end of the Kassites between 1100 to 900 bc.
The End of the Late Bronze Age
Beginning around 1200 bc, collapse occurred among states in the Levant, Anatolia, Upper and Lower Mesopotamia, Mycenae, Cyprus, and Egypt lost control of Canaan. A dark age lasted up to 300 years. Mass movement occurred among Israelites, Aramaeans, Phrygians, and the “Sea Peoples.” These new peoples eventually founded the successor-states of Iron Age Southwest Asia.
NEW AND RESURGENT POWERS OF THE IRON AGE
The Iron Age Neo-Hittites and the Assyrians continued Bronze Age traditions, while Urartu and Phrygia created polities rooted in the circumstances of the Iron Age. Iron was scarce until about 900 bc, when steel technology was adopted.
Among the Sea Peoples active c. 1200 bc were the Philistines. Their Aegean origins are seen in locally made but Mycenaean-style pottery found in early site levels. Philistine cities engaged in large-scale trade, especially with Egypt.
Phoenician cities in the central Levant such as Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon) exported produce, timber, purple dye and supplied elite manufactured goods to Assyrian and Israelite rulers, and beyond. They developed an alphabet before 1000 bc that inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
In the northern Levant and southern Anatolia, Neo-Hittite kingdoms dominated the Early Iron Age (1200 to 700 bc). They maintained Late Bronze Age architectural traditions, royal names, and hieroglyphic script. As elsewhere, increasing dominance by Assyria was a concern, and in the late 8th century bc all the Neo-Hittite states were destroyed or conquered by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III.
The kingdoms of Israel and Judah lay in the southern Levant. Archaeologists increasingly suggest they formed as previously mobile pastoral people who became sedentary in the 12th–11th centuries bc, rather than from an influx of new peoples. At the end of the 11th century bc highland communities united to form the United Monarchy that soon broke down to the kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem, and the Israelite kingdom centered on Schechem. As elsewhere, Assyria grew more threatening over time, culminating with their destruction of the Israelite Kingdom in 722 bc and the deportation of the Samarians to Babylon.
The Assyrian Empire
Assyria suffered decline after the Late Bronze Age regional collapse, but in the 10th and 9th centuries bc several strong kings reestablished Assyrian control. Several subsequent kings also created new capitals to display their power. Iron weapons and training of a highly organized army maintained regional dominance. The Assyrian empire collapsed in 612 bc.
East of the Neo-Hittites lay Urartu, a serious rival of the Assyrian empire, rising in challenge to Assyrian power and incorporating aspects of their culture: cuneiform script, military tactics, architecture, and ideological expression.
In central Anatolia, Phrygia controlled the former Hittite heartland by 800 bc, bringing traditions from southeast Europe. Excavations at Gordion, Phrygia’s capital, have uncovered palaces, temples, and fortifications and 85 large burial mounds. In 547 bc Gordion was captured by Cyrus the Great, and Phrygia became part of the Achaemenid Persian empire.
Relations between Babylon and Assyria alternated between quiet respect and open warfare. Following the Assyrian collapse 612 BC, the Babylonian empire inherited regional power, campaigning against Egypt, Judah and Elam, but fell to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 bc.
The Achaemenid Empire and the Conquest of Southwest Asia
Cyrus became ruler of the Persians in 559 bc, creating the greatest empire yet, the Achaemenid Persian empire. Darius I (died 486 bc) founded a new capital at Susa (Iran) and tried to extend his power into Europe, but was defeated in the 5th century bc by Greek armies.
Alexander the Great invaded in 334 bc, and the Achaemenid empire collapsed. The world of ancient Southwest Asia now became subject to the powers of Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic times.
Key Controversy: Iraq’s Archaeological Heritage Under Threat
Key Discovery: Early Steps Toward Social Complexity on the Iranian Plateau
Key Discovery: On the March with the Hittite Army in North-Central Turkey
Key Discovery: The Uluburun Shipwreck
Key Site: Tepe Yahya
Key Site: Troy
Key Site: Ebla
Key Site: Hattusa, Capital of the Hittites
Key words and terms
Periods and phases
- Neolithic (c. 10,000–6000 bc)
- Chalcolithic (c. 6000–3000 bc)
- Halaf (c. 6000–5400 bc)
- Ubaid (c. 5900–4200 bc)
- Uruk (c. 4200–3000 bc)
- Bronze Age (c. 3000–1200 bc)
- Early Dynastic (c. 2900–2350 bc)
- Iron Age (c. 1200–334 bc)
Geography and geographic features
- Fertile Crescent
- Highland zone: Turkey (Anatolia), Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon
- Lowland zone: Mesopotamia
- Lake Van
- Lake Urmia
- Lake Sevan
- Euphrates and Tigris Rivers
- Khabur River
- Diyala River
- Upper and Lower Mesopotamia
- Akkad; Sumer
- Zagros Mountains
- Taurus Mountains
- Amanus Mountains
- The Levant
- The Persian Gulf
- Dilmun, Magan, and Meluhha (Bahrain, Oman, and the Indus Valley)
- Tell Halaf (Syria)
- Arpachiyah (Iraq)
- Chagar Bazar (Syria)
- Tilkitepe (Turkey)
- Tell al-Ubaid (Iraq)
- Tell Awayli/Tell el-Oueili (Iraq)
- Hajji Muhammed (Iraq)
- Eridu (Iraq)
- Tell Madhhur (Iraq)
- Tell Abadeh (Iraq)
- Kheit Qasim (Iraq)
- Tepe Gawra (Iraq)
- Susa (Iran)
- Uruk (Iraq)
- Nippur (Iraq)
- Tell Uqair (Iraq)
- Godin Tepe (Iran)
- Tepe Sialk (Iran)
- Tepe Hissar (Iran)
- Tal-i Iblis (Iran)
- Habuba Kabira (Syria)
- Jebel Aruda (Syria)
- Hacinebi Tepe (Turkey)
- Arslantepe (Turkey)
- Jemdet Nasr (Iraq)
- Abu Salabikh, ancient Eresh (Iraq)
- Al-Hiba, ancient Lagash (Iraq)
- Ur (Iraq)
- Fara, ancient Shuruppak (Iraq)
- Abu Salabikh (Iraq)
- Nineveh (Iraq)
- Nimrud, ancient Kalhu (Iraq)
- Ebla (Syria)
- Tell Leilan (Syria)
- Tell Beydar (Syria)
- Tell Brak, ancient Nagar (Syria)
- Jiroft (Iran)
- Alaçahöyük (Turkey)
- Troy (Turkey)
- Babylon (Iraq)
- Kish (Iraq)
- Saar (Bahrain)
- Kültepe, ancient Kanesh (Turkey)
- Bogazköy (Turkey)
- Ortaköy (Turkey)
- Tell el-Amarna (Egypt)
- Ras Shamra (Syria)
- Ras Ibn Hani (Syria)
- Tell Mozan, ancient Urkesh (Syria)
- Nuzi (Iraq),
- Alalakh (Turkey)
- Sabi Abyad (Syria)
- Tell Sheikh Hamad (Syria)
- Haft Tepe (Iran)
- Chogha Zanbil (Iran)
- Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (Pentapolis) (Israel)
- Tyre (Lebanon)
- Sidon (Lebanon)
- Zincirli (Turkey)
- Melid (Turkey)
- Israel (Israel)
- Judah (Israel)
- Tushpa (Turkey)
- Toprakkale (Turkey)
- Ayanis (Turkey)
- Ninevite 5
Cities, States, Empires
- Sumer, Sumeria
- Akkad, Akkadian empire
- Third Dynasty of Ur, Ur III
- Amorite; Isin, Larsa
- Hurrian; Mittani
- Hittites; Hattusa
- Dur Kurigalzu
- The United Monarchy
- Achaemenid Persian empire
- Sargon (Akkad)
- Hammurabi (Babylon)
- Rim-Sin (Larsa)
- Ibal-pi-El (Eshnunna)
- Amut-pi-El (Qatna)
- Yarim-Lim (Yamhad)
- Zimri-Lim (Mari)
- Yasmah-Adad (Mari)
- Labarna (Hittites)
- Hattusili I (Hittites)
- Mursili I (Hittites)
- Tudhaliya (Hittites)
- Shuppiluliuma I (Hittites)
- Akhenaten (Egypt)
- Ramesses II (Egypt)
- Tushratta (Mittani)
- Idrimi (Alalakh)
- Saushtatar (Mittani)
- Amenhotep III (Egypt)
- Shattiwaza (Mittani)
- Burnaburiash II (Babylonia)
- Ashuruballit (Assyria)
- Adadnirari I (Assyria)
- Shalmaneser I (Assyria)
- Tukulti-Ninurta I (Assyria)
- Tiglathpileser I (Assyria)
- Ashurnasirpal I (Assyria)
- Thutmose III (Egypt)
- Kurigalzu (Kassite Babylon)
- Tepti-ahar (Elam)
- Untash-Napirisha (Elam)
- Napir-Asu (queen, Elam)
- Shutruk-Nahhunte (Elam)
- Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonia)
- Esarhaddon (Assyria)
- Ashurnasirpal II,(Assyria)
- Sargon II (Assyria)
- Sennacherib (Assyria)
- Midas (Phrygia)
- Tiglathpileser III (Assyria)
- Shalmaneser V (Assyria)
- Cyrus (Persia)
- Darius I (Persia)
- Alexander the Great (Greece)
Artifacts, features, structures
- seals, sealings
- sling stones, wrist-guards
- female figurines
- polychrome pottery
- Eanna precinct
- Temple D
- Anu temple complex
- White Temple
- baked-clay cones
- Warka vase
- Royal Cemetery of Ur
- Khirbet Kerak ware
- stele of Naram-Sin
- Law Code of Hammurabi
- palace of Zimri-Lim
- palaces of Acemhöyük
- Amarna Letters
- Shattiwaza treaty
- tomb complex of King Tepti-ahar
- statue of Marduk
- Ashurbanipal’s library
- temple of Haldi at Musasir (Turkey)
- Phrygian tumuli
- Northern, Southern, and Summer Palaces of Babylon
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Processional Way, Ishtar Gate, temple of Marduk, Babylon
- draft animals
- dairy production
- administrative record-keeping
- cylinder seals, sealings
- clay tablets, stylus, cuneiform
- sexagesimal system: discrete objects
- bisexagesimal system: grain rationings
- surplus production (staple and/or prestige goods)
- copper, bronze, iron metallurgy
- purple murex shell dye
- alphabet, alphabetic script
- cities; increase in functional size
- temple complexes; craft production, land ownership
- Lowland-Highland trade
- city-states, states, empires
- craft specialization
- long-distance trade and communication routes
- Uruk World-system
- development of kings
- Assyrianization (conquest, colonization and deportation)