Ep. #10: Double hello’s to you on this Sunday as we prepare to learn about the land between two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates -- yes we’re talking Mesopotamia today (6th grade episode, Standards 6.1 and 6.2). The ground is fertile for learning - lets get going.
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"Mesopotamia". What does it mean? The word does not refer to one specific country in the ancient world, but an area in the MIddle East (according to our Western perspective) that included civilizations that developed and changed through centuries.
Meaning of Mesopotamia
What do we mean when we say Mesopotamia? The word itself means the land between the rivers. Out 6th graders just had an in-class drawing activity creating billboards to attract settlers to the region.
Two rivers meant twice the blessings for the settlers here.
Between 3000 b.c.e. and 300 b.c.e. civilizations began to thrive in Mesopotamia, a large region centered between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern-day Iraq, laid the foundation for customs and civilizations that still affect us today.
People began to specialize, develop, and grow from inventions and innovations. Though many different societies emerged and organized cities, states, and empires in Mesopotamia, historians study these cultures together because they lived near each other and had many similarities. The main civilizations were the Sumerians (3000–2000 b.c.e.), Akkadians (2350–2218 b.c.e.), the Babylonians (1894–1595 b.c.e.), Assyrians (1380–612 b.c.e.), and the Persians (550–330 b.c.e.).
With water present, Some of the cities grew to have populations near 35,000 citizens. Although most Sumerians made their living by farming, professionals, such as doctors, organized into powerful associations.
Both rich and poor Sumerians were considered citizens, and slaves could earn money and buy their freedom. While we know not all cultural practices were advanced, this is one area where it seemed the rights of man held a higher importance than many cultures that would follow and grow to much larger empires.
While men enjoyed the most power in society, women in Sumeria held power in their families and a ruler's wife had authority in the government of a city-state. Girls were often considered ready to marry at age 12.
Under the restored Sumerian rule, Mesopotamia was again dominated by thriving agriculturally-based cities. Trade meant influence, and the cultural diffusion of ideas along trade routes.
By 1894 b.c.e., the Babylonians had risen to power in Mesopotamia. Babylonians created a thriving, organized society. Under the rule of Hammurabi (1792–1750 b.c.e.), the king of Babylon, a code of laws was developed and written down. Although evidence exists that Babylonians sold clothing and perfumes in stores, little is known about what Babylonians actually wore. While there are some depictions of the king, which indicate that he dressed in styles very similar to the Sumerians, no pictures of Babylonian women exist. The Babylonian Empire fell in about 1595 b.c.e.
Assyrians had prospered in Mesopotamia for many centuries, but by 911 b.c.e. the society began conquering surrounding areas and united Mesopotamia into one enormous empire that encompassed the Taurus Mountains of modern-day Turkey, the Mediterranean coast, and portions of Egypt. To hold their empire together, the Assyrians aggressively protected their territory and battled constantly with enemies. At the same time as they multiplied and defended their conquests, Assyrians built cities with large buildings and statues. Assyrian society was controlled by men, and women were legally inferior to them. Although the Assyrians built strong economic ties over a vast territory, they ruled brutally and the conquered nations celebrated when the Assyrians were overthrown in 612 b.c.e.
After the Assyrians were conquered, the Persian Empire rose to prominence. The Persian Empire, which united approximately twenty different societies, became known for its efficiency and its kindness to its citizens. Under Persian rule products such as clothing, money, and furniture were made in vast quantities.
How much do we really know?
The artifacts left by these cultures include clay and stone statues, carvings on palace walls, carved ivory, some wall paintings, and jewelry. These items illustrate the clothing, hairdressing, and body adornment of these cultures as well as how these cultures idealized the human form. While these visual forms provide costume historians with a great deal of information, of even greater interest are the written tablets that have been discovered. The development of written language in Mesopotamia provides historians and archeologists, scientists who study past cultures, with information about daily life in the distant past. Descriptions of how the people of Mesopotamia acted toward one another, how they dressed and cleaned themselves, how they prepared for weddings, how they organized businesses, and how they ruled by law are among the things that are recorded in written language.
But even with this information, it is impossible to know if we truly understand what the people of Mesopotamia looked like or exactly what they wore. The statues made by sculptors offer simplified depictions of people and their clothing, making it difficult to know the type of fabric used in a particular garment. In addition, different cultures portrayed people in different ways. The Sumerians created statues and pictures of stocky, large-eyed people while the Assyrians depicted people as lean, strong, and hairy. It is impossible to know if these people actually looked different from one another or if these artifacts represent the idealized version of different cultures.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume: From the Ancient Egyptians to the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.
Produced by Danny Hauger at www.dannyhauger.com