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.




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




, The Standard of Ur, 2600-2400 B.C.E., shell, red limestone, lapis lazuli, and bitumen (original wood no longer exists), 21.59 x 49.53 x 12 cm, Ur © Trustees of the British Museum
Intentionally buried as part of an elaborate ritual, this ornate object tells us so much, but also too little.

Standard of Ur