How often did city-destroying floods happen in Mesopotamia?

How often did city-destroying floods happen in Mesopotamia?

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I keep seeing Mesopotamia described as a floodplain, and I'm finding inklings of evidence that some cities in ancient Mesopotamia were actually destroyed by floods. But how common of an occurrence was this? And when did these floods stop, since I've never heard of modern Iraqi cities being wiped out by floods?

Ideally, I'm looking for an answer that would cover Mesopotamia during the 4th and 3rd millenia BC. And, as always, evidence is preferred over conjecture.

This is a great question, but I am finding it to be very difficult to answer. The 4th and 3rd millennia's are proving to be very challenging in terms of finding historical documentation relating to specific cities (as this timeframe is often considered Pre-History). That being said, it does seem that archaeology has provided us with some clues as to how often flooding occurred. There are several large clay deposits, which can be dated to several periods, varying from the Late Ubaid period (in Ur) to the Early Dynastic III period (Kiš). Devastating floods were not unheard-of during the first half of the third millennium BCE. The rivers sustained life in Mesopotamia, but they also destroyed it by frequent flooding.

I believe the best place to start would be archaeological evidence. For this we begin with Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. Woolley was a British archaeologist best known for his excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia. He is considered to have been one of the first "modern" archaeologists, and was knighted in 1935 for his contributions to the discipline of archaeology. Woolley does appear to try to tie together ancient "stories/traditions" with his archaeological finds. For the purposes of my answer I am staying away from this portion of his research as this is where things get very tough in regards to accuracy and factual evidence. Regardless it does appear that the city of Ur did experience a dramatic flood around 3100 BC during the Uruk Period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC). The clay deposits found by Woolley were 3.75 meter thick. This is to say that post flood at least (likely much more) 3.75 meters of sediment were found in the area. For that much sediment to be laid down you could expect that said flood consisted of a lot of water. However, this flood (much like the others that follow) does not seem to have been a "world" flood. In this particular case no archealogical evidence of flood residue, of the same time period, was found just 23 kilometers (12 kilometers depending on source) from the city of Ur in the Sumerian city of Eridu. Note: Ur was established during the Ubaid Period ca. 6500 to 3800 BC (Sidenotes: Ubadian Culture & meaning of Ubaid).

Woolley's team found evidence of several more floods. The city of Kish (Kiš) which would have been occupied during the Jemdet Nasr Period (3100 -2900 BC) experience large flooding. Also archaeological evidence of flooding was found in the Sumerian city of Shuruppak (Shuruppag/Šuruppak) which would have been occupied during the end of the Early Dynastic I period (c. 2750). As well as, In the city of Uruk during the beginning of the Early Dynastic I Period. Note: This flood was not during the the Uruk Period, but the city of Uruk was still occupied. Lastly Woolley's team also found archealogical evidence for another flood in Kish during the Early Dynastic III Period (c. 2450 BC).


As previously stated "this timeframe is often considered Pre-History" therefore it is very difficult to suggest, aside from using "stories/tradition", that any of the above mentioned floods "wiped" out any one of the cities mentioned above. However, it would be accurate to suggest that due to the archaeological evidence that the flooding was indeed significant. Thus, one could say that possibly a city or cities underwent dramatic change post flooding. One may even suggest that one or more of these floods were reasons for the "changes of power" resulting in "new periods" though this would likely be considered conjecture.


I find the following passage very interesting, however, I could not find verification outside of Sumerian tradition. And in this case it is very unlikely that any archeological evidence can be found.

The delta could only be made habitable by large-scale irrigation and flood control, which was managed first by a priestly class and then by godlike kings. Except for the period 2370-2230 B. c., when the Sumerian city-states were subdued by the rulers of Akkad , the region immediately to the north

Map of Ancient Mesopotamia:


As for why the area doesn't flood now or in recent history. It does, Iraq, to this day still experiences flooding.

The Tigris River winds its way from its birthplace in the mountains of eastern Turkey through Iraq to the Shatt al Arab and the Persian Gulf. Fed by mountain snow and rainfall, the river is prone to springtime flooding…

As for why cities in this area are no longer destroyed by floods, I would have to say that this is a result of geographical surveying and other prior planning in city design. Also beginning in the 1950's Mesopotamian Marshes have undergone planned/designed draining.

The Fertile Crescent actually gets a respectable amount of rain. However, it tends to get it all in 4 months in the Winter. The rest of the year it is bone-dry. Then in the spring they get runoff from however much snow the Zagros and Taurus mountains managed to accumulate in those 4 months, again all at once.

So, unlike the Nile valley, the Tigris and Euphrates floods were not predictable at all. When they did flood, the floods tended to be really, really bad. This is generally held to have had an effect on the psychology of Mesopotamian society, making the people quite anxious and pessimistic.

The Atrahasis Epic: The Great Flood & the Meaning of Suffering

The Atrahasis is the Akkadian/Babylonian epic of the Great Flood sent by the gods to destroy human life. Only the good man, Atrahasis (his name translates as `exceedingly wise') was warned of the impending deluge by the god Enki (also known as Ea) who instructed him to build an ark to save himself. Atrahasis heeded the words of the god, loaded two of every kind of animal into the ark, and so preserved life on earth.

Written down in the mid-17th century BCE, the Atrahasis can be dated by the colophon to the reign of the Babylonian King Hammurabi's great-grandson, Ammi-Saduqa (1646-1626 BCE) though the tale itself is considered much older, passed down through oral transmission. The Sumerian Flood Story (known as the `Eridu Genesis') which tells the same story, is certainly older (composed c. 2300 BCE) and Tablet XI of The Epic of Gilgamesh, which also relates the tale of the Great Flood, is even older than that.


The Epic of Gilgamesh was written c. 2150-1400 BCE but the Sumerian Flood story it relates is older, passed down orally until it appeared in writing. While the story itself concerns a flood of universal proportions (even scaring the gods who unleashed it) most scholars recognize that it was probably inspired by a local event: flooding caused by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers overflowing their banks.

While archaeological and geological evidence has shown such flooding was a fairly common occurrence, it is speculated that a particularly memorable flood , c. 2800 BCE, served as the basis for the story. No recognized scholar working in the present day maintains the argument that there was ever a world-wide flood such as Atrahasis and the other accounts depict (including the story of Noah and his Ark in the Biblical book of Genesis). The Mesopotamian scholar Stephanie Dalley writes:


No flood deposits are found in third-millennium strata, and Archbishop Ussher's date for the Flood of 2349 BC, which was calculated by using numbers in Genesis at face value and which did not recognize how highly schematic Biblical chronology is for such early times, is now out of the question. (5)

The cleric Dalley references is Archbishop James Ussher (l. 1581-1656 CE), famous for his Ussher Chronology which dates the creation of the world to 22 October 4004 at 6:00 pm based on his dating of events in the Bible. Although Ussher's Chronology is still considered valid by Christians who uphold the Young Earth Theory of the age of the world, his work has been discredited by irrefutable evidence in a number of different disciplines since the 19th century CE.

The Atrahasis

The Atrahasis begins after the creation of the world but before the appearance of human beings:

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When the gods, instead of man
Did the work, bore the loads
The god's load was too great, the work too hard, the trouble too much. (Tablet I, Dalley, 9)

The elder gods made the younger gods do all the work on the earth and, after digging the beds for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the young gods finally rebel. Enki, the god of wisdom, suggests the immortals create something new, human beings, who will do the work instead of the gods. One of the gods, We-Ilu (also known as Ilawela or Geshtu/Geshtu-e) known as "a god who has sense" offers himself as a sacrifice to this endeavor and is killed. The goddess Nintu (the mother goddess, also known as Ninhursag) adds his flesh, blood and intelligence to clay and creates seven male and seven female human beings.

At first the gods enjoy the leisure the human workers afford them but, in time, the people become too loud and disturb the gods's rest. Enlil, the king of the gods, is especially annoyed by the constant disturbance from below and so decides to lessen the population by sending first a drought, then pestilence and then famine down upon the earth.


After each of these plagues, the humans appeal to the god who first conceived of them, Enki, and he tells them what to do to end their suffering and return the earth to a natural, productive state. Enlil, finally, can stand no more and persuades the other gods to join him in sending a devastating flood to earth which will completely wipe out the human beings.

Enki takes pity on his servant, the kind and wise Atrahasis, and warns him of the coming flood, telling him to build an ark and to seal two of every kind of animal within. Atrahasis does as he is commanded and the deluge begins:

The flood came out. No one could see anyone else
They could not be recognized in the catastrophe
The Flood roared like a bull
Like a wild ass screaming, the winds howled
The darkness was total, there was no sun. (Tablet III,Dalley 31)

The mother goddess, Nintu, weeps for the destruction of her children ("she was sated with grief, she longed for beer in vain") and the other gods weep with her.


After the waters subside Enlil and the other gods realize their mistake and regret what they have done yet feel there is no way they can un-do it. At this point Atrahasis comes out of his ark and makes a sacrifice to the gods. Enlil, though only just before wishing he had not destroyed humanity, is now furious at Enki for allowing any one to escape alive.

Enki explains himself to the assembly, the gods descend to eat of Atrahasis' sacrifice, and Enki then proposes a new solution to the problem of human overpopulation: create new creatures who will not be as fertile as the last. From now on, it is declared, there will be women who cannot bear children, demons who will snatch infants away and cause miscarriages, and women consecrated to the gods who will have to remain virgins. Atrahasis himself is carried away to paradise to live apart from these new human beings whom Nintu then creates.

Other Versions of the Story

The Epic of Gilgamesh retells the story, with more or less the same details, but the hero is Utnapishtim ("He Found Life") who is spirited away by the gods with his wife and lives forever in the land across the seas. Gilgamesh's quest for immortality leads him eventually to Utnapishtim but his journey does him no good as everlasting life is denied to mortals. The Sumerian version of the tale has Ziusudra ("The Far Distant") as the hero but tells the same story.


The best known tale of the Great Flood, of course, is from the biblical Book of Genesis 6-9 in which God becomes incensed with the wickedness of humanity and destroys them with a flood, except for the righteous Noah and his family. The biblical work draws on the earlier oral version of the Mesopotamian flood story which is echoed in the works cited above and which may also have influenced an Egyptian text known as The Book of the Heavenly Cow, a part of which dates to Egypt's First Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE).

The Book of the Heavenly Cow tells how, after the sun god Ra had created humans, they rebeled against him and he decided to destroy them. He sent the goddess Hathor as an extension of himself (known as The Eye of Ra) to slaughter humanity but, after she had killed many, he repented of the decision. He then had massive quantities of beer dyed red to look like blood and ordered it placed in Hathor's path. She drank the beer, fell asleep, and later woke up as the loving goddess and friend to humanity she is usually depicted as.

Almost every culture has some form of a Great Flood story and this is often cited as proof that there must have been some cataclysmic deluge at some point. This is not necessarily so, however, as it is just as possible that a popular flood story, repeated down through the ages, inspired storytellers in different regions. Dalley comments:

All these flood stories may be explained as deriving from the one Mesopotamian original, used in traveler's tales for over two thousand years, along the great caravan routes of Western Asia: translated, embroidered, and adapted according to local tastes to give a myriad of divergent versions, a few of which have come down to us. (7)

Atrahasis, as noted, is not the oldest version of the Mesopotamian flood story and the earlier, oral version almost certainly influenced other culture's versions including the Egyptian and Hebrew. In the Egyptian version, humanity's rebellion and Ra's mercy leads to a closer relationship with the gods and in the biblical version the same is suggested by God's covenant with Noah after the flood waters subside. In the Atrahasis, the gods allow humans continued existence with the stipulation that they will not live forever nor will they be allowed to reproduce as bounteously as before.


The story would have served, besides simply as entertainment, to explain human mortality, those misfortunes attendant on childbirth, even the death of one's child. Since overpopulation and the resultant noise had once brought down the terrible deluge which almost destroyed humanity, the loss of one's child could, perhaps, be more easily borne with the knowledge that such a loss helped to preserve the natural order of things and kept peace with the gods.

The myth would have served the same basic purpose which such stories always have: the assurance that individual human suffering has some greater purpose or meaning and is not simply random, senseless pain. The Atrahasis, like the story of Noah's Ark, is finally a tale of hope and of faith in a deeper meaning to the tragedies of the human experience.

Before Noah’s Great Flood: Here Are 3 Flood Stories That Predate The Bible

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Evidence has been brought forward by a number of archaeologists who argue that a massive deluge swept across the Earth between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago.

Some argue that the historic flood may have happened, but not on a global scale, as there are those who argue that a flooding occurred in the area of what is today the Black Sea, an area many refer to as the ‘cradle of civilization’.

And while Noah’s story of the Flood may be one of the most popular ones, the truth is that it isn’t the only flood story out there.

In fact, there are a number of flood stories that predate the flood described in the Bible.

Flood myths can be traced back into the Bronze Age and Neolithic prehistory. Flood stories are often referred to as new starting points in human history.

Ancient Cuneiform Tablets and the Mesopotamian Flood

Translation of ancient cuneiform tablets discovered in the 19th century suggests the Mesopotamia Flood may have been an antecedent of Noah’s flood mentioned in the bible. The ancient Sumerian Nippur tablet is believed to describe the oldest account of the Great Flood and the creation of both humans and animals on Earth. It also records the names of Antediluvian cities on earth and their respective rulers.

In ancient Mesopotamian mythology, we find flood stories concerning the epics of Ziusudra, Gilgamesh, and Atrahasis.

In fact, the Sumerian King List divides its history into preflood (antediluvian) and postflood periods.

Before the flood had swept across the land, Earth was ruled by kings who had monstrous lifespans. In postflood myths, these lifespans were drastically reduced.

The Sumerian Flood Myth is described in the Deluge Tablet. It narrates the epic of Ziusudra, who, after finding out that the Gods plan to destroy humanity with a great flood, constructs a massive vessel which eventually saves him from the rising waters.

In the Sumerian King List, we read about the history of mankind, its Gods and rulers before the flood.

The Sumerian King list suggests how Eridu was the first city on Earth. In fact, according to Sumerian mythology, Eridu was one of the five ancient cities that were built on Earth before the Great Deluge.

“After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king he ruled for 28,800 years. Alaljar ruled for 36,000 years. 2 kings they ruled for 64,800 years. Then Eridug fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. In Bad-tibira, En-men-lu-ana ruled for 43,200 years. En-men-gal-ana ruled for 28,800 years. Dumuzid, the shepherd, ruled for 36,000 years. 3 kings they ruled for 108,000 years… Then the flood swept over.”

“After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kish.” A total of twenty-two kings ruled for a period of 16, 480 years, which make up the first dynasty of Kish.

The Aztec Story of the great flood

According to the ancient Aztecs, a massive flood swept across the lands.

No matter where we look, we find descriptions of a massive deluge that swept across the Earth in the distant past.

With a few differences, we can say that nearly all flood stories are similar in one way or another.

The Great Flood was supposedly sent by God or the gods upon the earth in order to destroy civilization as an act of divine punishment.

According to ancient mythology:

“Before the great flood which took place 4,800 years after the creation of the world, the country of Anahuac was inhabited by giants, all of whom either perished in the inundation or were transformed into fishes, save seven who fled into caverns. When the waters subsided, one of the giants, the great Xelhua, nicknamed the ‘Architect,’ traveled to Cholula, where, as a memorial of the Tlaloc which had served for an asylum to himself and his six brethren, he built an artificial hill in the form of a pyramid…”

Not far from the Aztecs we find another flood story sent by the Gods.

The Unu Pachakuti is, according to Incan mythology, a flood sent by the God Viracocha to destroy the people near Lake Titicaca. This great flood is said to have lasted for 60 days and 60 nights.

Before creating humans, Viracocha created a race of giants that inhabited Earth, but he destroyed them in a flood as they proved to be unruly. The giants were eventually turned into stone.

Viracocha, one of the most prominent Andean deities decides to save only two people, in the massive flood, giving mankind a fresh start, and bringing ‘civilization’ to the rest of the world.


The structure of the Ark (and the chronology of the flood) are homologous with the Jewish Temple and with Temple worship. [7] Accordingly, Noah's instructions are given to him by God (Genesis 6:14–16): the ark is to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. Commonly believed is the notion that a 'cubit' is equal to 18 inches, or the length of a man's arm from elbow to fingertip. Scripture, on the other hand, in conformity with its parallel to the Temple, prescribes unique measurements for such a 'sacred,' or 'long,' cubit. In Ezekiel 43:13, the dimensions for the sacred altar are noted to be in such cubits as "that cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth," or 21 to 25 inches. This would result in ark dimensions of 525-624 ft. x 87.5-104 ft. x 52.5-62.4 ft., or roughly the size of the aircraft carrier USS Independence. [8] Some assert that these dimensions are based on a numerological preoccupation with the number sixty, the same number characterizing the vessel of the Babylonian flood-hero. [1] Its three internal divisions reflect the three-part universe imagined by the ancient Israelites: heaven, the earth, and the underworld. [9]

Each deck is the same height as the Temple in Jerusalem, itself a microcosmic model of the universe, and each is three times the area of the court of the tabernacle, leading to the suggestion that the author saw both Ark and tabernacle as serving for the preservation of human life. [10] [11] It has a door in the side, and a tsohar, which may be either a roof or a skylight. [12] It is to be made of Gopher wood, a word which appears nowhere else in the Bible - and divided into qinnim, a word which always refers to birds' nests elsewhere in the Bible, leading some scholars to emend this to qanim, reeds. [13] The finished vessel is to be smeared with koper, meaning pitch or bitumen: in Hebrew the two words are closely related, kaparta ("smeared") . bakopper. [13]

Mesopotamian precursors Edit

For well over a century, scholars have recognized that the Bible's story of Noah's Ark is based on older Mesopotamian models. [14] Because all these flood stories deal with events that allegedly happened at the dawn of history, they give the impression that the myths themselves must come from very primitive origins, but the myth of the global flood that destroys all life only begins to appear in the Old Babylonian period (20th–16th centuries BCE). [15] The reasons for this emergence of the typical Mesopotamian flood myth may have been bound up with the specific circumstances of the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur around 2004 BCE and the restoration of order by the First Dynasty of Isin. [16]

There are nine known versions of the Mesopotamian flood story, each more or less adapted from an earlier version. In the oldest version, inscribed in the Sumerian city of Nippur c.1600 BCE, the hero is King Ziusudra. This story, the Sumerian flood myth, probably derives from an earlier version. The Ziusudra version tells how he builds a boat and rescues life when the gods decide to destroy it. This basic plot is common in several subsequent flood-stories and heroes, including Noah. Ziusudra's Sumerian name means "He of long life." In Babylonian versions, his name is Atrahasis, but the meaning is the same. In the Atrahasis version, the flood is a river flood. [17] : 20–27

The version closest to the biblical story of Noah, as well as its most likely source, is that of Utnapishtim in the Epic of Gilgamesh. [18] A complete text of Utnapishtim's story is a clay tablet dating from the 7th century BCE, but fragments of the story have been found from as far back as the 19th-century BCE. [18] The last known version of the Mesopotamian flood story was written in Greek in the 3rd century BCE by a Babylonian priest named Berossus. From the fragments that survive, it seems little changed from the versions of two thousand years before. [19]

The parallels between Noah's Ark and the arks of Babylonian flood-heroes Atrahasis and Utnapishtim have often been noted. Atrahasis' Ark was circular, resembling an enormous quffa, with one or two decks. [20] Utnapishtim's ark was a cube with six decks of seven compartments, each divided into nine subcompartments (63 subcompartments per deck, 378 total). Noah's Ark was rectangular with three decks. There is believed to be a progression from a circular to a cubic or square to rectangular. The most striking similarity is the near-identical deck areas of the three arks: 14,400 cubits 2 , 14,400 cubits 2 , and 15,000 cubits 2 for Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, and Noah, only 4% different. Professor Finkel concluded that "the iconic story of the Flood, Noah, and the Ark as we know it today certainly originated in the landscape of ancient Mesopotamia, modern Iraq." [21]

Linguistic parallels between Noah's and Atrahasis' arks have also been noted. The word used for "pitch" (sealing tar or resin) in Genesis is not the normal Hebrew word, but is closely related to the word used in the Babylonian story. [22] Likewise, the Hebrew word for "ark" (tevah) is nearly identical to the Babylonian word for an oblong boat (ṭubbû), especially given that "v" and "b" are the same letter in Hebrew: bet (ב). [21]

However, the causes for God or the gods sending the flood differ in the various stories. In the Hebrew myth, the flood inflicts God's judgment on wicked humanity. The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh gives no reasons, and the flood appears the result of divine caprice. [23] In the Babylonian Atrahasis version, the flood is sent to reduce human overpopulation, and after the flood, other measures were introduced to limit humanity. [24] [25] [26]

Composition Edit

There is consensus among scholars that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, beginning with Genesis) was the product of a long and complicated process that was not completed until after the Babylonian exile. [27] Since the 18th century the Flood narrative has been analysed as a paradigm example of the combination of two different versions of a story into a single text, with one marker for the different versions being a consistent preference for different names "Elohim" and "Yahweh" to denote God. [28]

The city of Babylon appears in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Christian scriptures portray Babylon as a wicked city. Hebrew scriptures tell the story of the Babylonian exile, portraying Nebuchadnezzar as a captor.

Famous accounts of Babylon in the Bible include the story of the Tower of Babel. According to the Old Testament story, humans tried to build a tower to reach the heavens. When God saw this, he destroyed the tower and scattered mankind across the Earth, making them speak many languages so they could no longer understand each other.

Some scholars believe the legendary Tower of Babel may have been inspired by a real-life ziggurat temple built to honor Marduk, the patron god of Babylon.

How often did city-destroying floods happen in Mesopotamia? - History

Ancient Mesopotamia and the Sumerians

The word Mesopotamia comes from Greek words meaning "land between the rivers." The rivers are the Tigris and Euphrates. The first settlers to this region did not speak Greek, it was only thousands of years later that the Greek-speaking Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, conquered this land and carried with him his culture.

The Sumerians were the first people to migrate to Mesopotamia, they created a great civilization. Beginning around 5,500 years ago, the Sumerians built cities along the rivers in Lower Mesopotamia, specialized, cooperated, and made many advances in technology. The wheel, plow, and writing (a system which we call cuneiform) are examples of their achievements. The farmers in Sumer created levees to hold back the floods from their fields and cut canals to channel river water to the fields. The use of levees and canals is called irrigation, another Sumerian invention. (You can play an irrigation simulation game at the British Museum Mesopotamia website by opening the link at the bottom of this page.)

The Sumerians had a common language and believed in the same gods and goddesses. The belief in more than one god is called polytheism. There were seven great city-states, each with its own king and a building called a ziggurat, a large pyramid-shaped building with a temple at the top, dedicated to a Sumerian deity. Although the Sumerian city-states had much in common, they fought for control of the river water, a valuable resource. Each city-state needed an army to protect itself from its neighbors.

Watch the video clip below from Discovery Education, as Nissaba, a young Sumerian girl, talks about her people's accomplishments. (This clip is no longer available)

( By clicking on any links the user is leaving the Penfield School District website, the district is not responsible for any information associated with these links.)

In 1922, English archaeologist, C. Leonard Woolley went to Southern Iraq in hopes of finding the Sumerian city-state of Ur. Woolley learned archaeology from some of the best of his day, and now he was ready to strike off on his own. Many people felt that Ur was only a myth, but Woolley, the son of a clergyman, was fascinated by the stories his father told about Ur, which, according to the Bible, was the birth place of Abraham. Abraham is a central figure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, three monotheistic religions.

Woolley decided to excavate near the ruins of a ziggurat and began to dig two trenches. Here, Woolley confirmed that the site was the ancient Sumerian city-state of Ur. Woolley's discovery of Ur along with the artifacts and burials there give us a glimpse of life in Sumer 4,500 years ago. Woolley discovered graves of common people, but also royal graves, including that of a Sumerian queen named Pu-Abi.

Around 2,300 BC, the independent city-states of Sumer were conquered by a man called Sargon the Great of Akkad, who had once ruled the city-state of Kish. Sargon was an Akkadian, a Semitic group of desert nomads who eventually settled in Mesopotamia just north of Sumer. The Sumerian king, Lugal-Zaggisi, tried to form a coalition of Sumerian city-states against Sargon, but he was defeated by the Akkadian. Sargon is considered the first empire builder. Sargon made Agade the capital city of his empire.

Sargon's daughter, Enheduanna, was first world's first credited author because she signed her name to a set of poems she wrote about her gods and goddesses. Sargon's son and grandson ruled after him, but eventually the Akkadian Empire fell, and was replaced by the Old Babylonian Empire. We will learn more about the Babylonians in the next chapter.


The regional toponym Mesopotamia ( / ˌ m ɛ s ə p ə ˈ t eɪ m i ə / , Ancient Greek: Μεσοποταμία '[land] between rivers' Arabic: بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ‎ Bilād ar-Rāfidayn or Arabic: بَيْن ٱلنَّهْرَيْن ‎ Bayn an-Nahrayn Persian: میان‌رودان ‎ miyân rudân Syriac: ܒܝܬ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ ‎ Beth Nahrain "land of rivers") comes from the ancient Greek root words μέσος (mesos, 'middle') and ποταμός (potamos, 'river') and translates to '(land) between rivers'. It is used throughout the Greek Septuagint (c. 250 BC ) to translate the Hebrew and Aramaic equivalent Naharaim. An even earlier Greek usage of the name Mesopotamia is evident from The Anabasis of Alexander, which was written in the late 2nd century AD, but specifically refers to sources from the time of Alexander the Great. In the Anabasis, Mesopotamia was used to designate the land east of the Euphrates in north Syria. Another name that was in use was ”Ārām Nahrīn” (Classical Syriac: ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ), this term for Mesopotamia was mainly used by the jews [6] (Hebrew: ארם נהריים Aram Naharayim). [7] This word is also used multiple times in the Old Testament of the Bible to describe ”Aram between the (two) rivers”. [8] [9] [10] [11]

The Aramaic term biritum/birit narim corresponded to a similar geographical concept. [12] Later, the term Mesopotamia was more generally applied to all the lands between the Euphrates and the Tigris, thereby incorporating not only parts of Syria but also almost all of Iraq and southeastern Turkey. [13] The neighbouring steppes to the west of the Euphrates and the western part of the Zagros Mountains are also often included under the wider term Mesopotamia. [14] [15] [16]

A further distinction is usually made between Northern or Upper Mesopotamia and Southern or Lower Mesopotamia. [17] Upper Mesopotamia, also known as the Jazira, is the area between the Euphrates and the Tigris from their sources down to Baghdad. [14] Lower Mesopotamia is the area from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf and includes Kuwait and parts of western Iran. [17]

In modern academic usage, the term Mesopotamia often also has a chronological connotation. It is usually used to designate the area until the Muslim conquests, with names like Syria, Jazira, and Iraq being used to describe the region after that date. [13] [18] It has been argued that these later euphemisms are Eurocentric terms attributed to the region in the midst of various 19th-century Western encroachments. [18] [19]

Mesopotamia encompasses the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, both of which have their headwaters in the Taurus Mountains. Both rivers are fed by numerous tributaries, and the entire river system drains a vast mountainous region. Overland routes in Mesopotamia usually follow the Euphrates because the banks of the Tigris are frequently steep and difficult. The climate of the region is semi-arid with a vast desert expanse in the north which gives way to a 15,000-square-kilometre (5,800 sq mi) region of marshes, lagoons, mudflats, and reed banks in the south. In the extreme south, the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf.

The arid environment ranges from the northern areas of rain-fed agriculture to the south where irrigation of agriculture is essential if a surplus energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is to be obtained. This irrigation is aided by a high water table and by melting snows from the high peaks of the northern Zagros Mountains and from the Armenian Highlands, the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that give the region its name. The usefulness of irrigation depends upon the ability to mobilize sufficient labor for the construction and maintenance of canals, and this, from the earliest period, has assisted the development of urban settlements and centralized systems of political authority.

Agriculture throughout the region has been supplemented by nomadic pastoralism, where tent-dwelling nomads herded sheep and goats (and later camels) from the river pastures in the dry summer months, out into seasonal grazing lands on the desert fringe in the wet winter season. The area is generally lacking in building stone, precious metals, and timber, and so historically has relied upon long-distance trade of agricultural products to secure these items from outlying areas. In the marshlands to the south of the area, a complex water-borne fishing culture has existed since prehistoric times and has added to the cultural mix.

Periodic breakdowns in the cultural system have occurred for a number of reasons. The demands for labor has from time to time led to population increases that push the limits of the ecological carrying capacity, and should a period of climatic instability ensue, collapsing central government and declining populations can occur. Alternatively, military vulnerability to invasion from marginal hill tribes or nomadic pastoralists has led to periods of trade collapse and neglect of irrigation systems. Equally, centripetal tendencies amongst city-states have meant that central authority over the whole region, when imposed, has tended to be ephemeral, and localism has fragmented power into tribal or smaller regional units. [20] These trends have continued to the present day in Iraq.

The pre-history of the Ancient Near East begins in the Lower Paleolithic period. Therein, writing emerged with a pictographic script in the Uruk IV period (c. 4th millennium BC), and the documented record of actual historical events — and the ancient history of lower Mesopotamia — commenced in the mid-third millennium BC with cuneiform records of early dynastic kings. This entire history ends with either the arrival of the Achaemenid Empire in the late 6th century BC or with the Muslim conquest and the establishment of the Caliphate in the late 7th century AD, from which point the region came to be known as Iraq. In the long span of this period, Mesopotamia housed some of the world's most ancient highly developed, and socially complex states.

The region was one of the four riverine civilizations where writing was invented, along with the Nile valley in Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization in the Indian subcontinent, and the Yellow River in Ancient China. Mesopotamia housed historically important cities such as Uruk, Nippur, Nineveh, Assur and Babylon, as well as major territorial states such as the city of Eridu, the Akkadian kingdoms, the Third Dynasty of Ur, and the various Assyrian empires. Some of the important historical Mesopotamian leaders were Ur-Nammu (king of Ur), Sargon of Akkad (who established the Akkadian Empire), Hammurabi (who established the Old Babylonian state), Ashur-uballit II and Tiglath-Pileser I (who established the Assyrian Empire).

Scientists analysed DNA from the 8,000-year-old remains of early farmers found at an ancient graveyard in Germany. They compared the genetic signatures to those of modern populations and found similarities with the DNA of people living in today's Turkey and Iraq. [21]


    (16th to 11th century BC) (c. 1365–1076 BC) in Babylon, (c. 1595–1155 BC) (12th to 11th century BC)
    (11th to 7th century BC) (10th to 7th century BC) (7th to 6th century BC)
    , Achaemenid Assyria (6th to 4th century BC) Mesopotamia (4th to 3rd century BC) (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD) (2nd century BC to 3rd century AD) (1st to 2nd century AD) (1st to 2nd century AD) (2nd to 7th centuries AD), Roman Assyria (2nd century AD)
    (3nd century AD) (3rd to 7th century AD) (mid-4th century AD to 7th century AD) (mid-7th century AD)

The earliest language written in Mesopotamia was Sumerian, an agglutinative language isolate. Along with Sumerian, Semitic languages were also spoken in early Mesopotamia. [23] Subartuan [24] a language of the Zagros, perhaps related to the Hurro-Urartuan language family is attested in personal names, rivers and mountains and in various crafts. Akkadian came to be the dominant language during the Akkadian Empire and the Assyrian empires, but Sumerian was retained for administrative, religious, literary and scientific purposes. Different varieties of Akkadian were used until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period. Old Aramaic, which had already become common in Mesopotamia, then became the official provincial administration language of first the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and then the Achaemenid Empire: the official lect is called Imperial Aramaic. Akkadian fell into disuse, but both it and Sumerian were still used in temples for some centuries. The last Akkadian texts date from the late 1st century AD.

Early in Mesopotamia's history (around the mid-4th millennium BC) cuneiform was invented for the Sumerian language. Cuneiform literally means "wedge-shaped", due to the triangular tip of the stylus used for impressing signs on wet clay. The standardized form of each cuneiform sign appears to have been developed from pictograms. The earliest texts (7 archaic tablets) come from the É, a temple dedicated to the goddess Inanna at Uruk, from a building labeled as Temple C by its excavators.

The early logographic system of cuneiform script took many years to master. Thus, only a limited number of individuals were hired as scribes to be trained in its use. It was not until the widespread use of a syllabic script was adopted under Sargon's rule [25] that significant portions of the Mesopotamian population became literate. Massive archives of texts were recovered from the archaeological contexts of Old Babylonian scribal schools, through which literacy was disseminated.

During the third millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerian and the Akkadian language users, which included widespread bilingualism. [26] The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. [26] This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the third millennium as a sprachbund. [26] Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as the spoken language of Mesopotamia somewhere around the turn of the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BC (the exact dating being a matter of debate), [27] but Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary, and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD.


Libraries were extant in towns and temples during the Babylonian Empire. An old Sumerian proverb averred that "he who would excel in the school of the scribes must rise with the dawn." Women as well as men learned to read and write, [28] and for the Semitic Babylonians, this involved knowledge of the extinct Sumerian language, and a complicated and extensive syllabary.

A considerable amount of Babylonian literature was translated from Sumerian originals, and the language of religion and law long continued to be the old agglutinative language of Sumer. Vocabularies, grammars, and interlinear translations were compiled for the use of students, as well as commentaries on the older texts and explanations of obscure words and phrases. The characters of the syllabary were all arranged and named, and elaborate lists were drawn up.

Many Babylonian literary works are still studied today. One of the most famous of these was the Epic of Gilgamesh, in twelve books, translated from the original Sumerian by a certain Sîn-lēqi-unninni, and arranged upon an astronomical principle. Each division contains the story of a single adventure in the career of Gilgamesh. The whole story is a composite product, although it is probable that some of the stories are artificially attached to the central figure.


Mesopotamian mathematics and science was based on a sexagesimal (base 60) numeral system. This is the source of the 60-minute hour, the 24-hour day, and the 360-degree circle. The Sumerian calendar was lunisolar, with three seven-day weeks of a lunar month. This form of mathematics was instrumental in early map-making. The Babylonians also had theorems on how to measure the area of several shapes and solids. They measured the circumference of a circle as three times the diameter and the area as one-twelfth the square of the circumference, which would be correct if π were fixed at 3. The volume of a cylinder was taken as the product of the area of the base and the height however, the volume of the frustum of a cone or a square pyramid was incorrectly taken as the product of the height and half the sum of the bases. Also, there was a recent discovery in which a tablet used π as 25/8 (3.125 instead of 3.14159

). The Babylonians are also known for the Babylonian mile, which was a measure of distance equal to about seven modern miles (11 km). This measurement for distances eventually was converted to a time-mile used for measuring the travel of the Sun, therefore, representing time. [29]


From Sumerian times, temple priesthoods had attempted to associate current events with certain positions of the planets and stars. This continued to Assyrian times, when Limmu lists were created as a year by year association of events with planetary positions, which, when they have survived to the present day, allow accurate associations of relative with absolute dating for establishing the history of Mesopotamia.

The Babylonian astronomers were very adept at mathematics and could predict eclipses and solstices. Scholars thought that everything had some purpose in astronomy. Most of these related to religion and omens. Mesopotamian astronomers worked out a 12-month calendar based on the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into two seasons: summer and winter. The origins of astronomy as well as astrology date from this time.

During the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Babylonian astronomers developed a new approach to astronomy. They began studying philosophy dealing with the ideal nature of the early universe and began employing an internal logic within their predictive planetary systems. This was an important contribution to astronomy and the philosophy of science and some scholars have thus referred to this new approach as the first scientific revolution. [30] This new approach to astronomy was adopted and further developed in Greek and Hellenistic astronomy.

In Seleucid and Parthian times, the astronomical reports were thoroughly scientific how much earlier their advanced knowledge and methods were developed is uncertain. The Babylonian development of methods for predicting the motions of the planets is considered to be a major episode in the history of astronomy.

The only Greek-Babylonian astronomer known to have supported a heliocentric model of planetary motion was Seleucus of Seleucia (b. 190 BC). [31] [32] [33] Seleucus is known from the writings of Plutarch. He supported Aristarchus of Samos' heliocentric theory where the Earth rotated around its own axis which in turn revolved around the Sun. According to Plutarch, Seleucus even proved the heliocentric system, but it is not known what arguments he used (except that he correctly theorized on tides as a result of Moon's attraction).

Babylonian astronomy served as the basis for much of Greek, classical Indian, Sassanian, Byzantine, Syrian, medieval Islamic, Central Asian, and Western European astronomy. [34]


The oldest Babylonian texts on medicine date back to the Old Babylonian period in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. The most extensive Babylonian medical text, however, is the Diagnostic Handbook written by the ummânū, or chief scholar, Esagil-kin-apli of Borsippa, [35] during the reign of the Babylonian king Adad-apla-iddina (1069-1046 BC). [36]

Along with contemporary Egyptian medicine, the Babylonians introduced the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis, physical examination, enemas, [37] and prescriptions. In addition, the Diagnostic Handbook introduced the methods of therapy and aetiology and the use of empiricism, logic, and rationality in diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. The text contains a list of medical symptoms and often detailed empirical observations along with logical rules used in combining observed symptoms on the body of a patient with its diagnosis and prognosis. [38]

The symptoms and diseases of a patient were treated through therapeutic means such as bandages, creams and pills. If a patient could not be cured physically, the Babylonian physicians often relied on exorcism to cleanse the patient from any curses. Esagil-kin-apli's Diagnostic Handbook was based on a logical set of axioms and assumptions, including the modern view that through the examination and inspection of the symptoms of a patient, it is possible to determine the patient's disease, its aetiology, its future development, and the chances of the patient's recovery. [35]

Esagil-kin-apli discovered a variety of illnesses and diseases and described their symptoms in his Diagnostic Handbook. These include the symptoms for many varieties of epilepsy and related ailments along with their diagnosis and prognosis. [39]


Mesopotamian people invented many technologies including metal and copper-working, glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and irrigation. They were also one of the first Bronze Age societies in the world. They developed from copper, bronze, and gold on to iron. Palaces were decorated with hundreds of kilograms of these very expensive metals. Also, copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor as well as for different weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, and maces.

According to a recent hypothesis, the Archimedes' screw may have been used by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, for the water systems at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Nineveh in the 7th century BC, although mainstream scholarship holds it to be a Greek invention of later times. [40] Later, during the Parthian or Sasanian periods, the Baghdad Battery, which may have been the world's first battery, was created in Mesopotamia. [41]

Ancient Mesopotamian religion was the first recorded. Mesopotamians believed that the world was a flat disc, [42] surrounded by a huge, holed space, and above that, heaven. They also believed that water was everywhere, the top, bottom and sides, and that the universe was born from this enormous sea. In addition, Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic. Although the beliefs described above were held in common among Mesopotamians, there were also regional variations. The Sumerian word for universe is an-ki, which refers to the god An and the goddess Ki. [ citation needed ] Their son was Enlil, the air god. They believed that Enlil was the most powerful god. He was the chief god of the pantheon.


The numerous civilizations of the area influenced the Abrahamic religions, especially the Hebrew Bible its cultural values and literary influence are especially evident in the Book of Genesis. [43]

Giorgio Buccellati believes that the origins of philosophy can be traced back to early Mesopotamian wisdom, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogues, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose works, and proverbs. Babylonian reason and rationality developed beyond empirical observation. [44]

The earliest form of logic was developed by the Babylonians, notably in the rigorous nonergodic nature of their social systems. Babylonian thought was axiomatic and is comparable to the "ordinary logic" described by John Maynard Keynes. Babylonian thought was also based on an open-systems ontology which is compatible with ergodic axioms. [45] Logic was employed to some extent in Babylonian astronomy and medicine.

Babylonian thought had a considerable influence on early Ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy. In particular, the Babylonian text Dialogue of Pessimism contains similarities to the agonistic thought of the Sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of dialectic, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the Socratic method. [46] The Ionian philosopher Thales was influenced by Babylonian cosmological ideas.


Ancient Mesopotamians had ceremonies each month. The theme of the rituals and festivals for each month was determined by at least six important factors:

  1. The Lunar phase (a waxing moon meant abundance and growth, while a waning moon was associated with decline, conservation, and festivals of the Underworld)
  2. The phase of the annual agricultural cycle and solstices
  3. The local mythos and its divine Patrons
  4. The success of the reigning Monarch
  5. The Akitu, or New Year Festival (First full moon after spring equinox)
  6. Commemoration of specific historical events (founding, military victories, temple holidays, etc.)


Some songs were written for the gods but many were written to describe important events. Although music and songs amused kings, they were also enjoyed by ordinary people who liked to sing and dance in their homes or in the marketplaces. Songs were sung to children who passed them on to their children. Thus songs were passed on through many generations as an oral tradition until writing was more universal. These songs provided a means of passing on through the centuries highly important information about historical events.

The Oud (Arabic:العود) is a small, stringed musical instrument used by the Mesopotamians. The oldest pictorial record of the Oud dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago. It is on a cylinder seal currently housed at the British Museum and acquired by Dr. Dominique Collon. The image depicts a female crouching with her instruments upon a boat, playing right-handed. This instrument appears hundreds of times throughout Mesopotamian history and again in ancient Egypt from the 18th dynasty onwards in long- and short-neck varieties. The oud is regarded as a precursor to the European lute. Its name is derived from the Arabic word العود al-‘ūd 'the wood', which is probably the name of the tree from which the oud was made. (The Arabic name, with the definite article, is the source of the word 'lute'.)


Hunting was popular among Assyrian kings. Boxing and wrestling feature frequently in art, and some form of polo was probably popular, with men sitting on the shoulders of other men rather than on horses. [47] They also played majore, a game similar to the sport rugby, but played with a ball made of wood. They also played a board game similar to senet and backgammon, now known as the "Royal Game of Ur".

Family life

Mesopotamia, as shown by successive law codes, those of Urukagina, Lipit Ishtar and Hammurabi, across its history became more and more a patriarchal society, one in which the men were far more powerful than the women. For example, during the earliest Sumerian period, the "en", or high priest of male gods was originally a woman, that of female goddesses, a man. Thorkild Jacobsen, as well as many others, has suggested that early Mesopotamian society was ruled by a "council of elders" in which men and women were equally represented, but that over time, as the status of women fell, that of men increased. As for schooling, only royal offspring and sons of the rich and professionals, such as scribes, physicians, temple administrators, went to school. Most boys were taught their father's trade or were apprenticed out to learn a trade. [48] Girls had to stay home with their mothers to learn housekeeping and cooking, and to look after the younger children. Some children would help with crushing grain or cleaning birds. Unusually for that time in history, women in Mesopotamia had rights. They could own property and, if they had good reason, get a divorce. [49] : 78–79


Hundreds of graves have been excavated in parts of Mesopotamia, revealing information about Mesopotamian burial habits. In the city of Ur, most people were buried in family graves under their houses, along with some possessions. A few have been found wrapped in mats and carpets. Deceased children were put in big "jars" which were placed in the family chapel. Other remains have been found buried in common city graveyards. 17 graves have been found with very precious objects in them. It is assumed that these were royal graves. Rich of various periods, have been discovered to have sought burial in Bahrein, identified with Sumerian Dilmun. [50]

Sumerian temples functioned as banks and developed the first large-scale system of loans and credit, but the Babylonians developed the earliest system of commercial banking. It was comparable in some ways to modern post-Keynesian economics, but with a more "anything goes" approach. [45]


Irrigated agriculture spread southwards from the Zagros foothills with the Samara and Hadji Muhammed culture, from about 5,000 BC. [51]

In the early period down to Ur III temples owned up to one third of the available land, declining over time as royal and other private holdings increased in frequency. The word Ensi was used [ by whom? ] to describe the official who organized the work of all facets of temple agriculture. Villeins are known to have worked most frequently within agriculture, especially in the grounds of temples or palaces. [52]

The geography of southern Mesopotamia is such that agriculture is possible only with irrigation and with good drainage, a fact which had a profound effect on the evolution of early Mesopotamian civilization. The need for irrigation led the Sumerians, and later the Akkadians, to build their cities along the Tigris and Euphrates and the branches of these rivers. Major cities, such as Ur and Uruk, took root on tributaries of the Euphrates, while others, notably Lagash, were built on branches of the Tigris. The rivers provided the further benefits of fish (used both for food and fertilizer), reeds, and clay (for building materials). With irrigation, the food supply in Mesopotamia was comparable to that of the Canadian prairies. [53]

The Tigris and Euphrates River valleys form the northeastern portion of the Fertile Crescent, which also included the Jordan River valley and that of the Nile. Although land nearer to the rivers was fertile and good for crops, portions of land farther from the water were dry and largely uninhabitable. Thus the development of irrigation became very important for settlers of Mesopotamia. Other Mesopotamian innovations include the control of water by dams and the use of aqueducts. Early settlers of fertile land in Mesopotamia used wooden plows to soften the soil before planting crops such as barley, onions, grapes, turnips, and apples. Mesopotamian settlers were some of the first people to make beer and wine. As a result of the skill involved in farming in the Mesopotamian region, farmers did not generally depend on slaves to complete farm work for them, but there were some exceptions. There were too many risks involved to make slavery practical (i.e. the escape/mutiny of the slaves). Although the rivers sustained life, they also destroyed it by frequent floods that ravaged entire cities. The unpredictable Mesopotamian weather was often hard on farmers crops were often ruined so backup sources of food such as cows and lambs were also kept [ by whom? ] . Over time the southernmost parts of Sumerian Mesopotamia suffered from increased salinity of the soils, leading to a slow urban decline and a centring of power in Akkad, further north.


Mesopotamian trade with the Indus Valley civilisation flourished as early as the third millennium BC. [54] For much of history, Mesopotamia served as a trade nexus - east-west between Central Asia and the Mediterranean world [55] (part of the Silk Road), as well as north-south between the Eastern Europe and Baghdad (Volga trade route). Vasco da Gama's pioneering (1497-1499) of the sea route between India and Europe and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 impacted on this nexus. [56] [57]

The geography of Mesopotamia had a profound impact on the political development of the region. Among the rivers and streams, the Sumerian people built the first cities along with irrigation canals which were separated by vast stretches of open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and, at times, dangerous. Thus, each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence. At times one city would try to conquer and unify the region, but such efforts were resisted and failed for centuries. As a result, the political history of Sumer is one of almost constant warfare. Eventually Sumer was unified by Eannatum, but the unification was tenuous and failed to last as the Akkadians conquered Sumeria in 2331 BC only a generation later. The Akkadian Empire was the first successful empire to last beyond a generation and see the peaceful succession of kings. The empire was relatively short-lived, as the Babylonians conquered them within only a few generations.


The Mesopotamians believed their kings and queens were descended from the City of Gods, but, unlike the ancient Egyptians, they never believed their kings were real gods. [58] Most kings named themselves "king of the universe" or "great king". Another common name was "shepherd", as kings had to look after their people.


When Assyria grew into an empire, it was divided into smaller parts, called provinces. Each of these were named after their main cities, like Nineveh, Samaria, Damascus, and Arpad. They all had their own governor who had to make sure everyone paid their taxes. Governors also had to call up soldiers to war and supply workers when a temple was built. He was also responsible for enforcing the laws. In this way, it was easier to keep control of a large empire. Although Babylon was quite a small state in the Sumerian, it grew tremendously throughout the time of Hammurabi's rule. He was known as "the lawmaker", and soon Babylon became one of the main cities in Mesopotamia. It was later called Babylonia, which meant "the gateway of the gods." It also became one of history's greatest centers of learning.


With the end of the Uruk phase, walled cities grew and many isolated Ubaid villages were abandoned indicating a rise in communal violence. An early king Lugalbanda was supposed to have built the white walls around the city. As city-states began to grow, their spheres of influence overlapped, creating arguments between other city-states, especially over land and canals. These arguments were recorded in tablets several hundreds of years before any major war—the first recording of a war occurred around 3200 BC but was not common until about 2500 BC. An Early Dynastic II king (Ensi) of Uruk in Sumer, Gilgamesh (c. 2600 BC), was commended for military exploits against Humbaba guardian of the Cedar Mountain, and was later celebrated in many later poems and songs in which he was claimed to be two-thirds god and only one-third human. The later Stele of the Vultures at the end of the Early Dynastic III period (2600–2350 BC), commemorating the victory of Eannatum of Lagash over the neighbouring rival city of Umma is the oldest monument in the world that celebrates a massacre. [59] From this point forwards, warfare was incorporated into the Mesopotamian political system. At times a neutral city may act as an arbitrator for the two rival cities. This helped to form unions between cities, leading to regional states. [58] When empires were created, they went to war more with foreign countries. King Sargon, for example, conquered all the cities of Sumer, some cities in Mari, and then went to war with northern Syria. Many Assyrian and Babylonian palace walls were decorated with the pictures of the successful fights and the enemy either desperately escaping or hiding amongst reeds.

City-states of Mesopotamia created the first law codes, drawn from legal precedence and decisions made by kings. The codes of Urukagina and Lipit Ishtar have been found. The most renowned of these was that of Hammurabi, as mentioned above, who was posthumously famous for his set of laws, the Code of Hammurabi (created c. 1780 BC), which is one of the earliest sets of laws found and one of the best preserved examples of this type of document from ancient Mesopotamia. He codified over 200 laws for Mesopotamia. Examination of the laws show a progressive weakening of the rights of women, and increasing severity in the treatment of slaves [60]

The art of Mesopotamia rivalled that of Ancient Egypt as the most grand, sophisticated and elaborate in western Eurasia from the 4th millennium BC until the Persian Achaemenid Empire conquered the region in the 6th century BC. The main emphasis was on various, very durable, forms of sculpture in stone and clay little painting has survived, but what has suggests that painting was mainly used for geometrical and plant-based decorative schemes, though most sculpture was also painted.

The Protoliterate period, dominated by Uruk, saw the production of sophisticated works like the Warka Vase and cylinder seals. The Guennol Lioness is an outstanding small limestone figure from Elam of about 3000–2800 BC, part man and part lion. [61] A little later there are a number of figures of large-eyed priests and worshippers, mostly in alabaster and up to a foot high, who attended temple cult images of the deity, but very few of these have survived. [62] Sculptures from the Sumerian and Akkadian period generally had large, staring eyes, and long beards on the men. Many masterpieces have also been found at the Royal Cemetery at Ur (c. 2650 BC), including the two figures of a Ram in a Thicket, the Copper Bull and a bull's head on one of the Lyres of Ur. [63]

From the many subsequent periods before the ascendency of the Neo-Assyrian Empire Mesopotamian art survives in a number of forms: cylinder seals, relatively small figures in the round, and reliefs of various sizes, including cheap plaques of moulded pottery for the home, some religious and some apparently not. [64] The Burney Relief is an unusual elaborate and relatively large (20 x 15 inches) terracotta plaque of a naked winged goddess with the feet of a bird of prey, and attendant owls and lions. It comes from the 18th or 19th centuries BC, and may also be moulded. [65] Stone stelae, votive offerings, or ones probably commemorating victories and showing feasts, are also found from temples, which unlike more official ones lack inscriptions that would explain them [66] the fragmentary Stele of the Vultures is an early example of the inscribed type, [67] and the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III a large and solid late one. [68]

The conquest of the whole of Mesopotamia and much surrounding territory by the Assyrians created a larger and wealthier state than the region had known before, and very grandiose art in palaces and public places, no doubt partly intended to match the splendour of the art of the neighbouring Egyptian empire. The Assyrians developed a style of extremely large schemes of very finely detailed narrative low reliefs in stone for palaces, with scenes of war or hunting the British Museum has an outstanding collection. They produced very little sculpture in the round, except for colossal guardian figures, often the human-headed lamassu, which are sculpted in high relief on two sides of a rectangular block, with the heads effectively in the round (and also five legs, so that both views seem complete). Even before dominating the region they had continued the cylinder seal tradition with designs which are often exceptionally energetic and refined. [69]

The study of ancient Mesopotamian architecture is based on available archaeological evidence, pictorial representation of buildings, and texts on building practices. Scholarly literature usually concentrates on temples, palaces, city walls and gates, and other monumental buildings, but occasionally one finds works on residential architecture as well. [70] Archaeological surface surveys also allowed for the study of urban form in early Mesopotamian cities.

Brick is the dominant material, as the material was freely available locally, whereas building stone had to be brought a considerable distance to most cities. [71] The ziggurat is the most distinctive form, and cities often had large gateways, of which the Ishtar Gate from Neo-Babylonian Babylon, decorated with beasts in polychrome brick, is the most famous, now largely in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

The most notable architectural remains from early Mesopotamia are the temple complexes at Uruk from the 4th millennium BC, temples and palaces from the Early Dynastic period sites in the Diyala River valley such as Khafajah and Tell Asmar, the Third Dynasty of Ur remains at Nippur (Sanctuary of Enlil) and Ur (Sanctuary of Nanna), Middle Bronze Age remains at Syrian-Turkish sites of Ebla, Mari, Alalakh, Aleppo and Kultepe, Late Bronze Age palaces at Hattusa, Ugarit, Ashur and Nuzi, Iron Age palaces and temples at Assyrian (Kalhu/Nimrud, Khorsabad, Nineveh), Babylonian (Babylon), Urartian (Tushpa/Van, Kalesi, Cavustepe, Ayanis, Armavir, Erebuni, Bastam) and Neo-Hittite sites (Karkamis, Tell Halaf, Karatepe). Houses are mostly known from Old Babylonian remains at Nippur and Ur. Among the textual sources on building construction and associated rituals are Gudea's cylinders from the late 3rd millennium are notable, as well as the Assyrian and Babylonian royal inscriptions from the Iron Age.

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  • Atlas de la Mésopotamie et du Proche-Orient ancien, Brepols, 1996 2-503-50046-3.
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  • Liverani, Mario 1991. Antico Oriente: storia, società, economia. Editori Laterza: Roma.
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  • Oppenheim, A. Leo 1964. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a dead civilization. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London. Revised edition completed by Erica Reiner, 1977.
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    – timeline, definition, and articles at World History Encyclopedia – introduction to Mesopotamia from the British Museum , a narrative of journeys in Egypt and Mesopotamia on behalf of the British museum between the years 1886 and 1913, by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, 1920 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries DjVu & layered PDF format) , being the adventures of an official artist in the Garden of Eden, by Donald Maxwell, 1921 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries DjVu &
  • "layered PDF" (PDF) . Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 September 2005. (7.53 MB) format)
  • , by Percy S.P. Pillow, 1912 (a searchable facsimile at the University of Georgia Libraries DjVu &
  • "layered PDF" (PDF) . (12.8 MB) format)
  • , 1920

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Common causes of dam failure include:

  • Sub-standard construction materials/techniques (Gleno Dam) design error (near failure of Glen Canyon Dam)
  • Lowering of dam crest height, which reduces spillway flow (South Fork Dam[4] )
  • Geological instability caused by changes to water levels during filling or poor surveying (Malpasset Dam).
  • Sliding of a mountain into the reservoir (Vajont Dam – not exactly a dam failure, but caused nearly the entire volume of the reservoir to be displaced and overtop the dam)
  • Poor maintenance, especially of outlet pipes (Lawn Lake Dam, Val di Stava dam collapse) [5]
  • Extreme inflow (Shakidor Dam)
  • Human, computer or design error (Buffalo Creek Flood, Dale Dike Reservoir, Taum Sauk pumped storage plant) or piping, especially in earthen dams (Teton Dam)

Deliberate breaching Edit

A notable case of deliberate dam breaching was the British Royal Air Force Dambusters raid on Germany in World War II (codenamed "Operation Chastise"), in which six German dams were selected to be breached in order to impact German infrastructure and manufacturing and power capabilities deriving from the Ruhr and Eder rivers. This raid later became the basis for several films.

Attacks on dams were restricted in Article 56 of the 1977 Protocol I amendment to the Geneva Conventions. Dams may not be lawfully attacked "if such attack may cause the release of dangerous forces from the works or installations and consequent severe losses among the civilian population", unless "it is used for other than its normal function and in regular, significant and direct support of military operations and if such attack is the only feasible way to terminate such support". Similar provisions apply to other sources of "dangerous forces", such as nuclear power plants. [6]

Other cases include the Chinese bombing of multiple dams during Typhoon Nina (1975) in an attempt to drain them before their reservoirs overflowed. The typhoon produced what is now considered a 1-in-2000 years flood, which few if any of these dams were designed to survive.

How often did city-destroying floods happen in Mesopotamia? - History

As we begin our discussion, I would first like to discuss Genesis 4 and 5. These two chapters give us the story of Cain and Abel, and provide the genealogy leading to Noah.
The beginning of civilization may be traced to Cain. According to Genesis 4:16-18, he built a city and named it after his son.
Chapter four continues with the line of Cain for a short while, and then the narrative picks up with the line of Seth through Noah. It is interesting to compare this genealogy with the ancient Sumerian King list.

In his book, The Sumerian King List (AS, No. 11), Thorkild Jacobson offers a critical edition of the entire text. On the basis of a systematic study of the numerous variant readings, Jacobson has shown that all the "manuscripts" -- i.e. tablets -- go back to one single original written in the time of Utu-hegel, king of Uruk, the liberator of Sumer from the yoke of the Guti domination (reigned from c. 2116-2110 BC).
To demonstrate that his country had always been united under one king -- though these kings were ruling successively in different capitals -- the author compiled this document from two types of literary sources:

This literary material is referred to in very succinct sentences scattered throughout the monotonous enunciation of royal names, figures, and place names.
To this work has later been added a section dealing with the events before the flood.
When you read this list it is interesting to note that the length of the reigns given to these early kings are extremely long.
Needless to say, there have been a lot of discussions about the reason for these long reigns.

Are these real names of real people -- or are they just made up?

The Sons of God: who are they, what are they, what is going on here?

1. Sons of God = the line of Seth
2. The daughters of men = the line of Cain
3. Sin = the marriage of holy to unholy (unequally yoked)
4. Supporters: Leupold, Stigers
5. Evidence:

1. Sons of God = Dynastic rulers
2. Daughters of men = commoners
3. Sin = polygamy
4. Supporters: Aramaic targums, Rashi, Rambam, Jacob
5. Evidence:

1. Sons of God = fallen angels
2. Daughters of Men = mortal woman
3. Sin = marriage between supernatural and natural
4. Supporters: Philo, Josephus, Justin, Ambrose, Book of Enoch, Delitzsch, Driver, Cassuto, H. Morris, von Rad, Speiser, Nettelhorst
5. Evidence:

"A hundred and twenty years". Cf. 1 Peter 3:20. This is probably a reference to how long before the flood occurs, rather than a limitation on human longevity.
Part of the reason for sending the flood, some have argued, could have been to eliminate the demon contamination from the race they point out that this might have been an early attempt on Satan's part to prevent the coming of the Messiah (alternatively, it might have been an attempt to make redemption possible for the demons, by linking them, even obliquely with the human race). According to the NT, the demons responsible for this have been put away permanently so they would not be able to do such a thing again.
However, the passage in Genesis 6 also seems to tell us that this intermarriage between demons and humans still occurs, and it is demonstrable that the Nephalim keep showing up in the biblical narrative. For instance, David's opponent, Goliath, is a member of the Nephalim (the word most commonly rendered "giant", elsewhere in the Bible).

The most remarkable parallels between the OT and the entire corpus of cuneiform inscriptions from Mesopotamia occur in connection with the story of the Flood as preserved in the recovered literature of the ancient inhabitants of the region, the non-semitic Sumerians, and their successors, who appropriated their culture and traditions, the Semitic speaking Babylonians and Assyrians (collectively called the Akkadians).
The story of the Flood was well-known in Mesopotamia and enjoyed great popularity, as the different forms of it, either alone or attached to other literary compositions, which have survived, indicate.
At least one Sumerian and four Akkadian recensions are known to us, if we include the Greek account of Berossus among the latter.
The oldest version of the Flood is the Sumerian, of course, recorded on a fragment of a tablet discovered in ancient Nippur, midway between Kish and Shuruppak in north central Babylonia. It dates most probably before 2000 BC, and it is inscribed on both sides, with three columns to the side. The first column tells of a previous destruction of humankind and how both humans and animals were created.
The second column relates how a certain deity founded five cities, including Eridu, Sippar, and Shuruppak, and how he assigned a god to each and established the irrigation canals.
The third column introduces the Flood, which, according to the tablet, "made Ninhursag groan" for her people.
At the time of the Flood, Ziusuddu was king-priest. When he got the frightening news of the coming deluge, he built an idol of wood, representing the chief deity, and then worshipped it every day.
In the next column, Ziusuddu receives instruction to stand beside a wall where he will receive a divine communication concerning the impending disaster. When he stands where he was told, a god tells him that the gods are going to destroy the human race in a flood.
In column five, the Flood has begun and Ziusuddu is riding it out in a huge boat, when the badly damaged tablet once again becomes legible enough to translate:

The rain storms, might winds all of them, they sent
The floods came upon the.
When for seven days and seven nights
The Flood had raged over the Land
And the huge boat had been tossed on the great waters by the storm,
The Sun-god arose shedding light in Heaven and on Earth.
Ziussudu made an opening in the side of the great ship,
Ziussudu the king
Before Sun-god he bowed his face to the ground.
The king slaughtered an ox
Sheep he sacrificed in great numbers.

The fearful storm having passed, column six of the tablet ends with Ziusuddu receiving the gift of immortality and being taken to a paradise-like abode, called "the mountain of Dilmun", where he would now live forever.

Ziusuddu, the king,
Before Enlil he bowed his face to the earth,
To him he gave life like a god,
An eternal soul like that of a god he bestowed on him.
At that time, Ziusuddu, the king,
Named, "Savior of living things and the seed of humanity"
They caused to dwell in the inaccessible mountain, the mountain of Dilmun.

The Flood: Babylonian Account

Based on the earlier Sumerian tradition, but much more fully developed, the Babylonian version of the Flood constitutes the eleventh tablet of the famous Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh.
The text in its extant form comes from the library of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanippal (669-626 BC), but it is a transcription of a much older original.
The Flood tablets were discovered in 1853 at Kuyunjik (Nineveh) by Homuzd Rassam they were not recognized for what they were until 1872, when George Smith deciphered them. Of all the ancient traditions which bear upon the Old Testament, the Babylonian Flood story, incorporated into the Epic of Gilgamesh, has the greatest similarity to the biblical version of the story.
The Sumerian Noah, Ziusuddu appears in the Babylonian account as Utnapishtim (which name, in both Sumerian and Akkadian means "Day of Life"). In contrast, Noah's name means simply "Rest".
The Adventure of Gilgamesh, in his search for immortality, leads him at last to Utnapishtim, who had been given eternal life for his part in the Flood.
In the Epic, Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk (Gen 10:10 = Erech) has a friend named Enkidu, his faithful companion through numerous adventures. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is thrown into such a desperate, unhappy state of mind that he undertakes a hazardous journey across untraveled mountains and dangerous waters to find the immortal Utnapishtim, to learn from him the nature of life beyond death, and the possibility of obtaining immortality for himself.
On the eleventh tablet of the epic, Utnapishtim explains his immortality to Gilgamesh by giving him an account of the Flood.
After the gods determined to send the Flood because they were tired of all the noise that human beings were making, Ea, the god of wisdom, slyly warns Utnapishtim of the approaching flood -- telling his house the news rather than Utnapishtim, so that he couldn't be accused of warning a human being and violating the oath all the gods had taken.
The boat was not the size or dimensions of the ark in the Bible. The ark Utnapishtim built was hardly seaworthy, standing 120 cubits square (about 180 feet square), like a giant ice cube.
Besides food, animals, and his family, Utnapishtim also brought gold, silver, and craftsmen with him.
The flood is so bad that the gods themselves were afraid of it. They become ashamed and sad that they ever brought the flood, which lasts a total of seven days and nights.
Utnapishtim sends out a dove, a swallow, and finally a raven. The raven doesn't return.
Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice, then, which the gods swarm around "like flies".
Then the gods argue among themselves about which one is to blame for sending the flood. They finally fix the blame on Enlil, who, to cleanse his sin, bestows immortality on Utnapishtim and his wife.

I. Resemblances between the two accounts

1. Both accounts indicate that the flood is divinely planned.
2. Both accounts indicate that the impending flood was divinely revealed to the hero of the story.
3. Both accounts tell of the deliverance of the hero and his family.
4. Both accounts assert that the hero of the flood was divinely instructed to build a large ship in order to preserve his life and the lives of the animals.
5. Both accounts indicate a physical cause for the flood.
6. Both accounts indicate the duration of the flood.
7. Both accounts name the landing place of the ship.
8. Both describe an act of sacrificial worship by the hero after his deliverance.
9. Both have several details in common:

10. Both accounts allude to the bestowment of special blessings on the hero after the disaster.

II. Difference Between the Two Flood Accounts

1. The two accounts are diametrically opposed in their theological conceptions: polytheism vs. monotheism
2. The two accounts are diametrically opposed in their moral conceptions

3. Differences in details are significant

III. Explanation of the Similarities

That there is some relationship between the cuneiform versions and the Genesis version, in view of the numerous parallels, is obvious.
There are three general explanations for these similarities.

1. The Babylonians borrowed from the Hebrew account.

This is unlikely, since the earliest tablets (Sumerian) predate the book of Genesis. The earliest Babylonian accounts of the flood probably go back to the third millennium BC.

2. The Hebrews borrowed from the Babylonian account.

This has been widely held, but seems unlikely based on the number of significant differences between the accounts. It is difficult to see how the Biblical account would have developed from the Babylonian version.
Those who reject a Mosaic authorship for the pentateuch postulate that the Jews got the flood story while they were captive in Babylon.

3. Both the Hebrew and Babylonian account go back to a common source.

This position is becoming more widely held as time goes by. Evangelicals would argue that not only does it go back to some third source, the stories reflect an actual incident.

1. The construction, outfitting, and stocking of the ark would have been absurd if the flood were local that is, why build this huge ship if one could simply move?
2. After the flood had ended, God promised that he would never again destroy the world by flood (Genesis 8:21-22 9:11, 15). These promises by God would be false if the Flood were merely a local occurrence, as there have been numerous local and devastating floods since then.
3. In later chapters of Genesis, the Bible traces all the peoples on the planet back to Noah and his three sons. (Genesis 9:18-10:32).
4. Other biblical references to the Flood presuppose its universality, or at least do not oppose that interpretation.
See Job 2215, 16, Psalm 104:5-9, Isaiah 54:9, Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 2:5, 3:5-6, Matthew 24:37-41, and Luke 17:26-27.
The Flood's universality is important because it is a historical demonstration of God's inescapable judgment it is a type of the final, universal judgment.

1. Universal terms do not in themselves prove universal destruction. Cf. "all Israel stoned him".
2. Sodom and Gomorrah, an admittedly local event, like the Flood, is used as a picture of God's final judgment on the human race.
3. There are often other alternatives to a given problem, as Israel had more than one route to travel in escaping from Egypt -- but God chose a certain and specific way for them to go, so they wouldn't be discouraged by having to fight right away. Likewise, though Noah and his family might have moved, there was a divine purpose in the building of the ark and the assembling of the animals. This is revealed in the New Testament, where the ark is compared to the saving work of Christ.

4. Although there have been other local floods, there have been none like the flood of Noah, which had a specific and spiritual significance, and which God had warned a man about ahead of time. Certainly, there have been no floods like that, where God warned of them ahead of time, or where a boat was built and filled with all sorts of animals.
5. There is not sufficient water on the planet to cover all the mountains. Even if the polar caps melted and every drop precipitated out of the atmosphere, most of the Earth's surface would not be covered with water.

Possible solution to the problem:

The biblical account of the flood is relatively lacking in details, so considerable speculation is possible. One potential solution to the shortage of water would be to question the need for the water to cover the entire planet all at the same time. That is, had the earth been struck by a sufficiently large asteroid impacting somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, theoretically one could get an incredibly huge tsunami. The question, for which I have no answer at the moment, would be: could a sufficiently large tidal wave be generated that would sweep around the globe, inundating everywhere?
One additional mark in favor of such a solution to the question, is that such a disaster explains the sustained rainfall of "forty days and forty nights", the utter destruction of all evidence of any civiliation in the ancient past, and the destruction of all other potential survivors (consider, if it was a peaceful storm, shouldn't others have survived who just happened to be in the water in their boats and ships when the rain started?) Admittedly this is all highly speculative, but perhaps the possibility needs to be checked out.

Importance of parallel accounts

The importance of the Babylonian flood account, part of what is now known as the Gilgamesh epic, is not merely that it is an independent testimony to the fact of an ancient flood, though it is that. It is also one of the many similar accounts to be found in the historical legends of literally hundreds of people scattered across the globe.
This fact is not usually fully appreciated. Hundreds of flood stories abound throughout the world in various cultures and are therefore evidence, not merely of the historicity of the Flood but of its universal extent, since the people having these stories presumably have them because of their descent from the Flood's survivors.
Hugh Miller, a careful investigator of these flood stories in the 1800's wrote:

Genesis as a book of beginnings not only recounts the origin of the physical cosmos, including all plant, animal and human life, as well as the commencement of human sin and redemption, but it also describes the rise of all human institutions and social relationships. It also catalogues the beginnings of the nations, and that is what we will examine today.
Genesis 9:18-27 is inseparably connected with the ethnographical table of Genesis 10 and furnishes an indispensable introduction to it. It contains both history and prophesy, the history containing the occasion for the prophecy. the history embraces the fact that the post-flood world was repopulated by the descendants of Noah's three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 9:18-19), and includes the episode of Noah's drunkenness. this incident, besides teaching us that sin did not end with the flood, and that even the redeemed are imperfect, reveals the general moral character that was to be manifested in the descendants of Noah's sons (Gen. 9:20-24).

I. The Prophesy of the Moral and Spiritual History of the Nations:

The prophecy growing out of the history recounted in Genesis 9:18-24 is contained in verses 25-27. the passage is one of the most remarkable predictions to be found in all the Bible. From a redemptive standpoint it presents in panoramic sweep the whole spiritual career of the nations in relation to God's ways of grace. Noah in an unguarded moment dishonors himself. In turn his son Ham, revealing the licentious bent of his character, shamefully dishonors his father. The Patriarch Noah then foretells the inevitable outworking of this lascivious tendency in the curse that lights upon Ham's son Canaan, who represents the progenitor of that branch of the Hamitic peoples which later occupied Palestine before Israel's conquest (Gen. 10:15-20).
The curse does not involve the infliction of a grievous disability on a large portion of the human race either by God or Noah. It is limited to Ham's fourth son, Canaan and his descendants (Ham's other three sons, Cush, Put and Mizraim) were left untouched).
The purpose of this prophesy was to clearly show the origin of the Canaanites and to set forth the source of their moral pollution. H.C. Leupold notes:

In their religion the Canaanites were enslaved by one of the most terrible and degrading forms of idolatry, which abetted rather than restrained their immorality. That Canaan's curse was basically religious has been amply demonstrated by archeology, particularly by the discovery of the Canaanite religious texts from ancient Ugarit in North Syria, 1929-1937. One scholar, Lenormant, said of the Canaanite religion: "No other people ever rivaled them in the mixture of bloodshed and debauchery with which they thought to honor the Deity."
W.F. Albright writes:

The abject servitude of Canaan to Shem and later to Japheth, repeated three times in Noah's prophecy (Gen 9:25, 26, 27), was realized not only in the partial extermination of the Canaanites by Joshua and the subjection of those who still remained to slavery, for example by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20, 21) -- but also in such later events as the capture of Tyre by Alexander the Great and later the Roman conquest of Carthage (a Phoenician colony).
As important as the curse on Canaan, is the blessing on Shem and Japheth, indicating God's special dealings with these peoples, especially the descendants of Shem, among whom would be the citizens of Israel.
The prophesy of the moral and spiritual history of the nations in Genesis 9 furnishes an indispensable introduction to the principle that underlies the table of the nations in Genesis 10. The principle is that in divine dealings the moral character of a thing cannot be understood unless its source is known. Israel was in God's mind the medium of redemptive blessing to the world, and it was necessary for the nation to understand the source from which the various nations that surrounded her sprang, in order that she might have an insight into their character, thereby to guide her attitude and conduct toward them. This moral and spiritual principle underlying Genesis 10 makes it unique.
But this ancient document describing the distribution of the nations is unique from a literary standpoint as well. W.F. Albright writes:

Commenting on the accuracy of these genealogies, Albright writes:

Although numerous names of places and peoples included in the Table were known from ancient literary sources, notably Greek and Roman, many have been discovered for the first time by modern archaeology. Now nearly all the names in this chapter of Genesis may be elucidated by the archaeological discoveries of the past century and a half.

The descendants of Japheth, the youngest son of Noah, are given first, those of Ham next, and those of Shem, the oldest son, last. This is in accord with the plan of the book of Genesis, in which the families which branched off the main line are noticed first. When these have been dealt with, the writer returns to the family in the main line to describe it more elaborately and to carry forward the redemptive history.
The Japhetic or northern peoples, originally concentrated in the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, spread from there toward the east and west.

1. Gomer: Assyrian Gimirraya . Represents the Cimmerians of classical antiquity. With Togarmah, Gomer is listed by Ezekiel as residing "in the uttermost parts of the north" (Ezek. 38:6). Coming into Asia from the regions beyond the Caucasus, the Cimmerians settled in the general region of Cappadocia and are known from the Assyrian records as Gimirrai. Esarhaddon (681-668 BC) defeated them. Ashurbanipal (668-625 BC) mentions their invasion of the kingdom of Lydia, in the days of the famous king Gugu (Gyges), whose name is perhaps preserved in Scripture as Gog (Ezek. 38:2).

Magog is a land and a people in the "uttermost parts of the north" whose ruler, God, chief prince of "Meshech and Tubal" has Gomer and Togarmah among his allies (Ezek. 38:2 and 39:6). Josephus identified them with the Sythians, but it is more likely simply a comprehensive term for northern barbarian hordes.

Madai represents the Medes who peopled the mountainous country east of Assyria and south of the Caspian Sea. They are well known in the Old Testament (2 Kings 17:6, 18:11, Isa. 21:2, etc.) and their history is further elucidated by the Assyrian inscriptions from the ninth century BC on till the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the late seventh century BC. It was Cyaxares, the Mede, in an alliance with Nabopolasar of Babylon, who besieged and destroyed Ninevah in 612 BC.

Javan , the name of the Greeks, more exactly the Ionians of Homer, and more particularly the Asiatic Ionians who dwelt on the coasts of Lydia and Caria, and whose cities were important commercial emporiums two centuries before those of Greece itself. Javan was the name under which the Jews first became acquainted with the Greeks. It is the name by which they are known throughout the Old Testament (Ezek. 27:13, Isa. 66:19, Joel 3:6, Zech. 9:13, Dan. 8:21, 10:20)

Tubal and Mesheck (Ezek. 27:13, 32:26, 38:2, 39:1, Isa. 66:19). These are the Tabali and the Mushki of the Assyrian records. The Tabali are first mentioned in the frontier campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser I (c. 1100 BC) and Mushki by Shalmaneser III (860-825 BC), and both names occur prominently later. The notices of them in the Assyrian period place their home northeast of Cilicia (Hilakku) and east of Cappadocia (Gimirrai), but by Herodotus' time they had removed further north to the mountainous region southeast of the Black Sea.

Tiras: Perhaps this is the Tursenoi, a people dwelling on the north shores and islands off the Aegean Sea and greatly dreaded by the Greeks as pirates.

2. The Descendants of Gomer.

Ashkenaz is equivalent to Assyrian Ashkuz, the Scythians. In the time of Jeremiah they dwelt in the vicinity of Ararat and Minni (the Mannai of the Assyrian inscriptions southeast of Lake Van).

Riphath: Occurs in 1 Chronicles 1:6 as Diphah, which is explained by the similarity of resh and daleth. The names seems to be preserved in the Riphaean Mountains.

Togarmah is Tegarama in southwestern Armenia. It is probably to be identified with the Armenians (Cf. Ezek. 27:14, 38:6)

3. The Descendants of Javan.

These, four in number,embrace the most southerly and westerly peoples of the Japhetic group who occupied the ports of commerce on the Mediterranean.

Elishah: Kittim or Cyprus. These people are called Alashia in the Amarna letters. Perhaps they are to be identified with Sicily.

Tarshish : a name of the Phoenician smelting center located at Tartessus in southern Spain near Gibraltar.

Kittim: the Kitians, or Kiti (in Phoenician inscriptions). Cyprus.

Dodanim: May be the Dardana of Asia Minor.

The descendants of Ham comprise the eastern and southern people who settled originally in lower Mesopotamia and subsequently in south Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Canaan (Gen. 10:6-14). As the second son of Noah, Ham is regarded as the ancestor of the African peoples, to some extent.

In the Hamitic line is traced the rise of earliest imperial world power, first under Nimrod in Babylonia and later in Nineveh and in Egypt.

2. The descendants of Cush:

Seba is mentioned first and it is connected with south Arabia through the southwestward migration of the original Chusites from lower Mesopotamia. According to the Assyrian inscriptions this people had migrated to northwest Arabia in the eight century BC. Cf. Queen of Sheba.

Havilah: A district of central or southern Arabia.

Sabtah -- generally indentified with Shabwat, the ancient metropolis of Hazarmaveth (Gen. 10:26) in south Arabia which is still called Hadramaut by the Arabs.

Raamah, Sabteca, and the descendants of Raamah, Sheba and Dedan , all represent Cushite tribes of the Arabian peninsula.

Nimrod was the founder of a kingdom in Babylon. His name is apparently Sumerian, which is what would be expected, since Sumerians controlled Babylon and Mesopotamia first. Nimrod is explained as Nin-Maradda "Lord of Marad", a town southwest of Kish. And if Cush is to be traced in the ancient city-kingdom of Kish, founded 3200-3000 BC took their royal titles as kings of the world, archaeological light is thrown on this primeval imperial period preserved in the name Nimrod. It is significant that the Sumerian King List names the dynasty of Kish with twenty-three kings first in the enumeration of Mesoptamian dynasties which reigned after the flood.
The cities of Babel, Erech, and Akkad are now known through archaeology and are among the earliest great capitals of the civilized world. They are in the land of Shinar.

If the brief account of post-flood humanity was to be complete for its purpose in the history of human redemption, it had to deal with all the major factors that help to explain the present state of the world. The origin and distribution of the various nations of antiquity having been outlined and prefaced with a prophetic survey of the general moral relation of these peoples to God's purposes of redemption, one necessary consideration remains: how and why did the many languages and dialects that are found in the world originate? When this item of essential background material is disposed of, the author of Genesis will be free to leave the general history of humanity and concentrate on the redemptive promise in Shem.

1. The confusion of tongues:

It is evident that it was the author's intention all along to treat this subject, as appears from genesis 10:25, where in connection with Peleg, the son of Eber, it is noted that "in his day the earth was divided". This division of the earth into different nations of various languages and dialects is recounted in Chapter 11, and chronologically is to be placed before the distribution of the nations.
If all the inhabitants of the post-flood world are descended from Noah, they must of necessity have possessed one and the same language. The writer of Genesis clearly sets forth this fact: "and the whole earth was of one language and one speech". Noah's family and their descendants are, moreover, pictured as moving nomadically eastward, till "they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there" (Gen. 11:2).
About one hundred years after the flood, in this location, they began to build a tower "with its top in heaven", an idiom meaning simply "a very tall tower". Their purpose in building: "Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole Earth." (Gen. 11:4) They would spare no effort. Since stones were lacking, they used the material at hand ( they were still industrious and inventive, if technically limited). Cf. Gen. 9:1 as regards their desire not to be scattered: they were disobeying God.
Such apostasy of early post-diluvian humanity demanded divine judgment. He would further slow their technical redevelopment (note God's reason for confusing their language). The idea that they were a technologically advanced society before the flood is not completely without scriptural foundations. You get hints for that idea if you've already made up your mind for that position.

Often you will hear it described as being a zigurrat (from Akk. ziqquratu), which was a temple tower. One problem: it is not called a ziggurrat in the Bible! Besides, everything seems to indicate that this is the first city and tower attempted after the flood. they had no models, except perhaps memory of what had been before (skyscrapers?). A thing to keep in mind, too, is that they wanted not only to build a tower, but more importantly, a city (Gen. 11:3-4). The word for tower in Hebrew "migdal" refers to watchtowers that would sit on the city walls.

Together, these standards and essential elements identify the most important ideas in the study of geography. The six essential elements are The World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and The Uses of Geography. On the chart, they are shown in purple.

Physical geography was conventionally subdivided into geomorphology, climatology, hydrology, and biogeography, but is now more holistic in systems analysis of recent environmental and Quaternary change.