Ancient Near East

Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (in modern day Iraq), is often referred to as the cradle of civilization because it is the first place where complex urban centers grew. The history of Mesopotamia, however, is inextricably tied to the greater region, which is comprised of the modern nations of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf states and Turkey. We often refer to this region as the Near or Middle East.

Sasanian grid
The Sasanians were the last pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty who ruled an expansive empire stretching across western and central Asia.

Sasanian art, an Introduction

Ashurbanipal taking aim at a lion (detail), Lion Hunts of Ashurbanipal (ruled 669-630 B.C.E.), c. 645 B.C.E., gypsum,Neo-Assyrian, hall reliefs from Palace at Ninevah across the Tigris from present day Mosul, Iraq (British Museum)
Led by aggressive warrior kings, Assyria dominated the fertile crescent for half a millennia, amassing vast wealth.

Assyria, an introduction

Standing female worshiper,
Sumer was home to some of the oldest known cities, supported by a focus on agriculture.

Sumer, an introduction

Warka (Uruk) Vase, Uruk, Late Uruk period, c. 3500-3000 B.C.E., 105 cm high (National Museum of Iraq)
One of the most precious artifacts from Sumer, the Warka Vase was looted and almost lost forever.

Warka Vase

Early Writing Tablet recording the allocation of beer, 3100-3000 B.C.E, Late Prehistoric period, clay, probably from southern Iraq. © Trustees of the British Museum.
One of the oldest known forms of writing, cuneiform was the writing system for fifteen languages over 3,000 years.

Cuneiform, an introduction

Leveraging their enormous wealth, the Assyrians built great temples and palaces full of art, all paid for by conquest.

Assyrian Sculpture

The “Queen of the Night” Relief, 1800-1750 B.C.E., Old Babylonian, baked straw-tempered clay, 49 x 37 x 4.8 cm © Trustees of the British Museum
For two thousand years, Babylon’s lost Tower and Hanging Gardens have haunted European imagination.

Babylonia, an introduction

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, 1563, oil on panel, 114 × 155 cm (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Artists have depicted the Tower of Babel throughout the ages, a symbol of the extraordinary—but it did exist.

Towers of Babel

The Liver Tablet, tablet, Old Babylonian, Sippar
What do the 60-minute clock and the zodiac have in common? The answer lies in ancient Babylon.

The Babylonian mind

These records tell us a great deal about the ancient world, with topics ranging from receipts to school assignments.

Cuneiform Tablets

Writing Cuneiform, a video from The British Museum
Unlike modern writing, cuneiform wasn’t written in ink—but was instead pressed into the surface of clay.

Writing Cuneiform