History Files History Files
Donate add-in

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Mesopotamia


MapFeatures for Ancient MesopotamiaMesopotamian States

Mesopotamia saw the appearance of one of the earliest-known modern human cultures outside of Africa, in the form of the Baradostian. In the thirty thousand years since then the region had usually been at the forefront of human cultural progression, By the fourth millennium BC, the first city states had appeared in Sumer and Akkad in southern Mesopotamia, and by the third they were flourishing with creative ideas and large populations. The relatively few northern Mesopotamian (and Syrian) states which appeared in the third millennium BC differed somewhat from their southern contemporaries. Instead of relying on river irrigation, the agriculture of the north was rain-fed, so yields were lower and larger areas had to be cultivated (though with less labour). As a result, northern cities tended to be smaller with more people living in outlying settlements. Although they were still city states at heart, they had more of an appearance of being small kingdoms.

Amorites began to filter into Syria and Mesopotamia from around 2500 BC. The Akkadians called them Amurru, and groups of them arrived in Sumer where they eventually replaced the Sumerians as rulers in Mesopotamia. In the north they founded many new city states in areas which were much less developed or advanced than in the south. By 2100 BC non-Semitic Hurrians were filtering into these newly developed areas from the north, and between the indigenous population, the groups of Akkadians who had been there for some time, and the new arrivals, the population and culture in the north was extremely varied. Although most of the Syrian and northern Mesopotamian peoples spoke Semitic dialects by the first part of the second millennium BC, Hurrian names could be found as far south as Nippur, indicating a level of linguistic heterogeneity throughout much of Mesopotamia. Scribal practices were adopted from the south and were apparently taught by Babylonians.

(Additional information from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony.)

3700 - 3300 BC

In far south-eastern Europe, in the North Caucasus Mountains, spectacularly ostentatious chiefs suddenly appear amongst what had previously been very ordinary small-scale farmers. They display gold-covered clothing, gold and silver staffs, and great quantities of bronze weapons obtained from the newly formed cities of Middle Uruk Mesopotamia, through Anatolian middlemen. This is probably the first true contact between southern urban civilisations and the people of the steppe margins, taking place about 3700-3500 BC, and it forms the basis of the creation of Maikop culture.

Something less obvious to many is that cannabis may be travelling in the opposite direction to the gold and silver that is coming from the south - this time travelling from the Pontic-Caspian steppes to Mesopotamia and the early city states of Sumer. Greek kdnnabis and proto-Germanic *baniptx seem to be related to the Sumerian kuriibu. Sumerian dies out as a widely spoken language after around 2000 BC, so the connection must be a very ancient one. The international trade of the Late Uruk period (circa 3300-3100 BC) provides a suitable context for this trade.

c.3300 BC

The earliest civilisation flourishes in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia during the Uruk IV period. Making the most of new irrigation systems, the population expands rapidly and creates approximately a dozen city states.

Early Bronze Age pottery
This fragment of Early Bronze Age pottery was produced in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, as the early city-building movement there began to accelerate towards large-scale city states and a recorded history

c.2600 - c.2200 BC

By this date, Sumerian civilisation in the south is at its height. Although their creation is later than those of Sumer, the early Akkaddian or Amorite city states of the north are less well attested, and many of them are only known from later writings.

FeatureThose which can be identified by name include Apum, Ashnakkum (modern Tell Chagar Bazar), Nawar, and Urkesh in the Khabur region of what is now north-eastern Syria, Harran, Mari and Terqa along the Euphrates, Kunara of the Lullubi in modern Kurdistan, and Arbel, Ashur, and Ninevah in the east (the early Assyrians). These states are in contact with each other through diplomatic and commercial means.

Some of these centres in northern, or upper, Mesopotamia - Mari, and Nawar - seem to be able to impose their will on surrounding states, but many of the details of their military actions are unknown.

c.2200 BC

Northern Mesopotamia is disrupted by invasions by barbarians from farther north - such as the Gutians - and by the cold, dry period in the Middle East which lasts for three hundred years.

c.2000s BC

During the flourishing of Ur's third dynasty in Sumer, Syrian states maintain friendly relations with the south. However, following the fall of Ur there is a reduction in the number and sizes of settlements in the north for reasons unknown. Documentation suffers a gap of almost two centuries before the start of the archives at Mari.

c.1850 - 1776 BC

Northern Mesopotamia has recovered fully and a wave of newer small states or fully urbanised cities become apparent, including Andarig, Apum, Karana, Qattara, Razama, Shushara (Shemshara), and Terqa, making up a system of kingdoms whose rulers keep large palace archives of diplomatic correspondence showing how vital it is that they remain informed. In about 1809 BC, Northern Mesopotamia and areas of Syria are conquered by the kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia. But after the death of the kingdom's founder in about 1776 BC, it swiftly breaks up and the old order reasserts itself. Local rulers are constantly wary of the larger states, Babylon, Elam or Eshnunna, which can make or break them.

c.1800? BC

Yahdun-Lim of Mari sends troops to join those of Yamkhad to fight against several hostile Syrian 'states', including Tuttul, defeating their armies and attacking their towns. The other states which are allied to Tuttul and are defeated alongside it are as follows (all three are Yaminite towns located close by Terqa, under Mari's overall control, and headed by little more than tribal organisations):


Amorite king of the city of Samanum & the land of Ubrabu.


Amorite king of the city of Abattum & the land of Rabbum.

c.1770s BC

Bahdi-Lim, an official of the court of Zimri-Lim of Mari in the city of Tuttul, records the arrival of Dagan's entry into the city, accompanied by two persons. One of these is a Yaminite chief, and the other, Sumu-laba, may also be a chief.


Amorite chief of the tribe of Rabbeans.


Amorite chief (possibly) of the clan of the Uprapeans?

c.1760s BC

The city state of Babylon suddenly expands under Hammurabi to conquer huge swathes of southern, central, and northern Mesopotamia, including many of the states mentioned above.

c.1730 - 1720 BC

The Kassites invade Mesopotamia, penetrating deep into the south. There they are defeated by the Sealand Dynasty of Babylon and are expelled from southern Mesopotamia. They retreat north to take over the near-abandoned city of Mari, also expanding into nearby Terqa. By now the intensive palace system of the high number of states in Upper Mesopotamia has become unsustainable. Many cities are abandoned, perhaps due to a combination of popular opposition to the system and changes in rainfall patterns. The historical record for this region disappears.

c.1595 BC

Mursili's Hittites capture and destroy Alep on their way south to sack Babylon, ending the political situation that had characterised Syria and Mesopotamia for four centuries. Many states, such as Apum, all decline. The region enters a dark age which lasts for up to a century and a half in some areas. The power vacuum allows Hurrians to migrate westwards, and the Kassites to take control of Babylon.

c.1450 BC

The Hurrian state of Mitanni suddenly expands to encompass many northern Mesopotamian and Syrian cities.

c.1360 BC

The resurgent Assyrians throw off their overlords, the Hittites, and establish firm control over the heartland of Assyria - the Tigris Valley and the plains to the east, and from Ashur to the Taurus Mountains in the north.

c.1200 BC

In the face of a general collapse of authority in Syria and a marked decline in northern Mesopotamia, including within Assyria, Aramaean tribes migrate into both regions and begin to attack and take over many cities. Some cities are abandoned in the face of these attacks, such as Qattara.

This is also the period of Israelite settlement after the exodus from Egypt. At this time, there is general instability in the region: the Hittite empire is destroyed in Anatolia, the Canaanites begin to be reduced to owning the shores of what is now Lebanon (eventually to become the sea traders known as the Phoenicians), the Philistines and other Sea Peoples are first settling on the lower coast of the Levant, and various neo-Hittite city states are arising in northern Syria, many of which come into contact with the Israelites.

Mesopotamian Empires

The first millennium BC was an age of empires in Mesopotamia. There was a succession of them that would continue to rule the region in one form or another for over a thousand years. First came the Assyrians and their successors, the Babylonians. Then the Persians from the east, the Greeks from the west, the Parthians from the east again, and finally the Islamic empire. Only when the last of these began to weaken did a situation of fragmented states arise to match that of the second millennium BC.

(Additional information from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), and from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897).)

c.900 BC

From around this date, rich, well-organised 'kingdoms' or 'chiefdoms' develop in the Caucuses. They interact with civilisations to their south, in Anatolia and Mesopotamia, usually by raiding into their territory. Typical horse bits and cheek-pieces of an early Thraco-Cimmerian type are found by archaeologists in the same region of the Caucuses.

Cimmerian warriors
This image shows Cimmerians battling early Greeks - prior to the advent of accepted 'Classical' Greece - with the mounted Cimmerians warriors apparently being accompanied by their dogs

884 BC

As the dark age draws to a close, Assyria rises to become the dominant force in northern Mesopotamia and Syria.

714 - 713 BC

Much to the shock of Sargon of Assyria, while his main army is occupied in the east, Ambaris of Tabal allies himself with Midas of Phrygia and Rusa of Urartu (possibly immediately before the latter's suicide), as well as the local Tabalean rulers in an attempt to invade Que. Sargon reacts quickly, invading Tabal and capturing Ambaris, his family and the nobles of his country, all of whom are taken to Assyria. Tabal is annexed as an Assyrian province. Sargon is noted for using Cimmerians within his army on this campaign, possibly for their knowledge of the Urartuan hills as much as their ability as mounted warriors. Cimmerians have been raiding into Mesopotamia for decades.

653 BC

Tugdamme of the Cimmerians begins to threaten the borders of the powerful Assyrian empire during the reign of Ashurbanipal. Assyrian inscriptions record him as being 'King of the Saka and Qutium'. This is very telling, because it suggests that he rules not only over his own Cimmerian people (which is so obvious that it need not be mentioned), but also the Scythians. The 'Qutium' in point would seem to be 'Gutium', homeland in the Zagros Mountains between modern Iran and Iraq of the nomadic Gutians (often thought to be the precursors of the Kurds). Clearly Tugdamme has already conquered territory very close to the heartland of the Assyrian empire, making it more possible that the Scythian masters of the Medes at this time are in fact the Cimmerians.

Assyrian inscriptions also refer to Tugdamme as 'Sar Kissati' which translates as 'King of Kish' or 'King of the World'. Kish is an ancient and highly important city state in southern Mesopotamia, which suggests that Tugdamme now rules a vast area of land to the east and south of the Assyrians.

612 - 605 BC

Assyria falls and a resurgent Babylonia gains control of much of its former territory, including Syria, despite an attempt by Egypt to prevent this.

Persian & Greek Satraps

Small Nav - Persian & Greek Empires

Between 550-539 BC, Persia rose from the Iranian Plateau as a formidable power, and swiftly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and much more. The new masters administered the captured regions as satrapies, with the post in Mesopotamia first going to one of Cyrus' generals. In the fourth century, the invading Greeks maintained the practise, replacing Persians with Greek or local satraps.

At the heart of southern Mesopotamia, Babylonia was not unknown to the Greeks. Even during the Achaemenid period many Greeks travelled here, some as traders, some as Persian military allies and some, like Herodotus, on journeys of exploration. There seems not to have been a Greek community in Babylon before the Argead conquest, however. Herodotus appears to have had trouble in finding enough information to properly fill out his Babylonian entry (such as an account of the city's past kings). Babylonian business documents bear this out. People they often call Greeks in fact have Anatolian names. Nomenclature also bears this out, as the Greeks do not know the two great rivers of Mesopotamia by their universal regional names, Purat and Deklath, but from the Medo-Persian corruptions of them - Ufratush and Tigra (the modern Euphrates and Tigris).

Where these are known, the Old Persian names of the satraps are shown first, followed by Greek and other various interpretations. The Babylonian satraps are poorly attested, especially after the post appears to become less important in the fifth century BC. After 305 BC, Seleucid rule brought changes to Mesopotamia, especially in cities in which Greeks and Macedonians were settled. In these cities separate agreements were usually made with the Greek officials regarding civil and military authority, and immunity from taxes or levees and the like. Native cities continued to employ their old systems of local government, much as they had under the Achaemenids. Greek gods were worshiped in temples that were dedicated to them in the Greek cities, and native Mesopotamian gods had temples dedicated to them in the native cities.

However, although an enforced policy of Hellenisation was not followed, Greek ideas and practices did filter down and were gradually adopted. There is no evidence from the east to show that Greek religious beliefs were especially prevalent amongst the local population to the detriment of local forms of worship, but there is no record of persecution. On the contrary, the rulers seem to have favoured local religious practices, and ancient forms of worship continued. Cuneiform writing by priests, who copied incantations and old religious texts, continued into the Parthian period.

(Additional information from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from The Persian Empire, J M Cook (1983), from The Histories, Herodotus (Penguin, 1996), from the Cyropaedia, Xenophon of Athens, from The Cambridge Ancient History, John Boardman, N G L Hammond, D M Lewis, & M Ostwald (Eds), and from External Links: Encyclopćdia Britannica, and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Iranica, and the Nabonidus Chronicle, contained within Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, A K Grayson (Translation, 1975 & 2000, and now available via Livius in an improved version).)

539 - 537? BC


Babylonian satrap of Mesopotamia & Syria.

539 BC

Despite the fall of Babylon itself to the Persians, it is entirely possible that pockets of resistance remain - or at least areas in which Persian overlordship is tacitly acknowledged while local rule is maintained on a semi-independent basis, at least for a time. The Chaldeans who had provided Babylon's last dynasty of kings may be one such case. Although specific details are not recorded, the Book of Daniel seems to retain a memory of this in Belshar-uzur.

fl c.539 BC

Belshar-uzur / Bel-ŝarra-Uzur

Son of Nabonidus. The Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel.

539 BC

Belshar-uzur is the son of Nabonidus and may legitimately claim to be the true successor to the throne even though he holds no power and doesn't have the resources to enforce his claim. He is apparently killed by Cyrus the Great even though his father is allowed to live, so he cannot be the otherwise unknown Babylonian satrap for the first couple of years before being replaced by Gaubaruva. Instead, as Cyrus allows existing offices to be retained at first, this post is probably still filled by its Neo-Babylonian incumbent.

537? - 522 BC

Gaubaruva / Gobryas / Gobares

Persian satrap of Abarnahara/Mesopotamia, Babylonia & Syria.

537? BC

Gaubaruva is appointed as the first Persian satrap of Babylonia. He is known by a whole host of interpretations of his name, from the Old Persian Gaubaruva or the Akkadian Gubaru, to the Greek Gobryas, and the Latin Gobar(es). He can also be equated with the Cyaxares of the Cyropaedia, but should not be confused with the General Ugbaru (Old Persian) or Gobryas (Greek) who aids Cyrus the Great in the conquest of Mesopotamia (a mistake made in the Grayson version of the Nabonidus Chronicle). Ugbaru may in fact govern the district or province of Gutium for a short time before dying, having already reached an advanced age.

539 - 538 BC

Ugbaru / Gobryas

Satrap of Gutium. General who helped conquer Babylon. Died.

524? - 516 BC

Uštani / Ushtanni

Satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia) & Syria.

fl c.420 BC


Satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia).

fl mid-300s BC


Satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia).

332 - 323 BC

The region is conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. Mazaeus, the Persian satrap of Syria, initially plays his part by opposing Alexander, but he eventually surrenders, and Alexander makes him satrap of Mesopotamia.

Propyleum and cella of the Temple of Bel
The propyleum and cella of the Temple of Bel, which incorporates Mesopotamian, Greek and Roman elements and dates primarily to the first and second centuries AD

332 - 328 BC

Mazaeus / Mazdai

Persian satrap of Bablylonia. Died 328 BC.

323 - 320 BC


Greek satrap of northern Mesopotamia.

315 - 312 BC

The Empire of Antigonus captures Babylonia during the period of the Wars of the Diadochi.

305 - 126 BC

Seleucus declares himself king of Syria and Babylonia, and the Seleucid empire is created. Seleucus founds the city of Seleucia in Mesopotamia by massively rebuilding and expanding an existing settlement. Alternatively known as Seleucia-on-Tigris. The city soon provides nearby Babylon with a major competitor and the latter begins to decline and empty, leading to its eventual abandonment. Seleucid control of the region, first from Babylonia, then from Seleucia, and finally from Antioch in Syria, lasts until 126 BC.

129 - 126 BC

Although the Parthians have already conquered Seleucia and then Uruk in Mesopotamia, it takes them until now to conquer Babylonia from the weakening Seleucids. The Parthian empire retains its holdings in Mesopotamia until it eventually breaks up, leaving behind it a patchwork of kingdoms which remain in a loose alliance with one another for a further two hundred years.

Babylon in 3D
Despite its gradual relegation as a place of importance in the face of the Greek preference for Seleucia, the ancient and great city of Babylon was still of huge importance in Mesopotamia, as can be seen in this unknown artist's impression of the city (click or tap on image to view full sized)

c.124 - 113 BC

The Parthian empire is looking somewhat shaky following the deaths of two kings in battles and the loss of large areas of Mesopotamia to the kingdom of Characene. The first notable act by the new king is to put Hyspaosines of Characene in his place. Then he forces the northern Mesopotamian states of Adiabene, Gordyene, and Osrhoene to accept vassal status. The Seleucid city of Dura-Europas is conquered in 113 BC.

AD 637

Mesopotamia is conquered by Islam, and is part of the empire.