Iraq Early Archeology

By | December 19, 2021

The current Iraq includes most of ancient Mesopotamia, which, although it has never been a region with precise political limits, has represented in its orographic borders the site of an exceptional development of various aspects of civilization since the prehistoric age. The hunters and gatherers of the Paleolithic documented by the caves in the Kurdistan region (Shanidar) are followed, at the beginning of the Neolithic, by the first farmers, among the protagonists of the “agricultural revolution” in the area of ​​the fertile crescent; they are located in small villages in the north of the country (Giarmo) which testify to an early architecture, the beginning of terracotta sculpture and the domestication of many species of animals.

A qualitative leap in the development of civilization occurs with the introduction of irrigation which is responsible for the extension of cultivated areas and the security of crops. The exploration of a settlement of the 6th-5th millennium in north-central Mesopotamia (Tell es-Sawān, near Sāmarrā), due to the presence of flax, which in the area could not be born and grow without irrigation, proved the introduction of this cultivation method since a very remote time. Irrigation involves a profound transformation of society due to the need for an organization and a specialization of tasks and powers among the members of the community. The birth of the city is due to this transformation, not intended as an allocation of larger dimensions, but as the center of a more articulated and complex associated life. It follows a different aspect of civilization in Mesopotamia, the urban civilization that was first witnessed to us in the south of the country and which had presumeric peoples as protagonists, if not Sumerians are the names of many cities. Eridu, Ur and especially Uruk are the most important centers. Uruk in the last quarter of the 4th millennium documents the flourishing of a splendid culture that we can now call Sumerian and which, alongside a grandiose architecture, a sculpture in a subtle refined balance between abstraction and naturalism, knows the invention of writing. The first ideograms are evidence of an exceptional process of abstraction and synthesis and, moreover, of advanced and complex life forms. The political organization is that of the city-state which flourishes in the so-called dynastic period which occupies the first half of the 3rd millennium approximately and which sees a wide diffusion of a very high level of culture. Kish (el Oḥeimir), Ur (Muqayyar), Lagash (Tellō), Umma (Giokha), Larsa (Senkere) are the centers that have given us the most conspicuous documentation. For Iraq society, please check

At the beginning of the last third of the 3rd millennium we have the establishment of the first great unitary state in Mesopotamia with the advent of Sargon of Akkad and his dynasty, which marks the first affirmation of the Semitic component of the Mesopotamian populations, which took place in the course of the 30 millennium more and more conspicuous. This means the shift of the political center into Iraq central (even if the place of Akkad has not been identified, its location in an area just S of Baghdād seems certain), and the birth of that myth of the great kingdom that will return several times in Mesopotamian history. The art documents show us an exceptional naturalism in sculpture (especially in bronze) and a centralizing organicity in planimetric themes in architecture. L’ attack by peoples extraneous to Mesopotamia, the Gutei, coming from the Iranian mountains, put an abrupt end to the Akkadian dynasty and gave rise to a troubled period from which the so-called Sumerian revival re-emerged, with the return to the city-states, among which Ur has a ‘preponderant importance, especially for architectural manifestations, and Lagash for sculptural ones. The most characteristic building of Mesopotamian architecture takes on a monumental form, although it has much more ancient origins, the and Lagash for the sculptural ones. The most characteristic building of Mesopotamian architecture takes on a monumental form, although it has much more ancient origins, the and Lagash for the sculptural ones. The most characteristic building of Mesopotamian architecture takes on a monumental form, although it has much more ancient origins, the ziqqurat, the tower temple: right in Ur, at the time of King Urnammu (about 2100 BC) we have the most preserved of the ziqqitrat. A ruler of Lagash, Gudea, left us a conspicuous series of diorite statues which, before recent discoveries for other periods, were among the most significant documents of Mesopotamian sculpture.

The beginning of the 2nd millennium sees the affirmation of the Western Semites, the Amorites, with the creation of new city states, Isin, Larsa, Mari (which however is in present-day Syria) and above all Babylon. The latter acquires importance managing, with a dynasty among which Hammurabi particularly stands out, the ruler of the famous stele of laws, to constitute a vast kingdom that will last until about the middle of the millennium. The civilization of this period, which is usually called Paleo-Babylonian, is little known to us from Babylon itself, whose deeper levels have not yet been explored because they are below the water table; our documentation comes from other centers which extensively illustrate architecture and sculpture. The end of the Paleo-Babylonian period is marked by advent of the first Indo-European populations that assert themselves as a ruling class in Mesopotamia: Hurrites in the north and Kassites in the center-south. The former have their center in Nuzi (Yorgan tepe), the latter become the rulers of central Mesopotamia by absorbing the Babylonian culture and founding a new capital, Dur Kurigalzu (Aqar Qūf), on the northwestern outskirts of Baghdād. Towards the end of the 2nd millennium the Assyrians take on political importance with the creation of an empire which, after a recession at the beginning of the first millennium, expands with particular vigor starting from the second half of the 9th century. It is the period called Neo-Assyrian, whose main centers are in the north of the country: Assur (Qal‛at Sherqāt), Nineveh (Qūyungīq), Kalakh (Nimrud), Dūr Sarrukīn (Khorsabad); during this period the conquests extend to the Egypt (under King Ashurbanipal). To it belong the grandiose palaces that have given us the collections of reliefs that decorated the plinths of the walls of the rooms, and of the sculptures that adorned the doorposts. The reliefs represent one of the highest testimonies of the narrative art of all antiquity.

The fall of Nineveh in 612, by the Babylonians and the Medes, marks the end of Assyria and corresponds to the beginning of the flowering of Babylon during what is precisely called the Neo-Babylonian period (7th-6th century BC). It is the moment of the splendor of Babylon, in the phase of life of the city we know best: the palaces, the procession street with the Ishtar gate, the walls with the double curtain and the moat in front, the temple of the Esagila and the ziqqurat Etemenanki, the dwelling houses.

The Achaemenid conquest, with Ciro the great, in 539 a. C. puts an end to the Neo-Babylonian dynasty and the political autonomy of Mesopotamia which becomes a satrapy of the Persian empire. However, Babylon still remains one of the most famous cities of the ancient world and Alexander, heir of the Achaemenid rulers, stayed there in the last period of his life and died there (323 BC).

Alexander’s successors, the Seleucids, founded at the beginning of the 3rd century BC. C. the largest Greek city in the east: Seleucia (about 35 km S of Baghdād), on the Tigris, whose exceptional urban layout and whose art documents, testify to an evocative meeting of Greek culture and Mesopotamian tradition, we know now very well thanks to the excavations of an Italian mission. In 142 a. C. Mesopotamia is occupied by the Arsacids, the new rulers of Iran, to whose events it remains linked even when, in 226 d. C., the advent of the new dynasty, the Sassanid one, is recorded. From the period that includes the last century BC. C. and the first two of the Common Era we have a testimony of particular value in the grandiose remains of Hatra (al-Hadr), a city that is a document of the civilization of the first Arab tribes cultured by Hellenism. For the Sassanid age some monuments, in particular the Taq-i Kisra of Ctesiphon, are proof of a new vigor of the Mesopotamian civilization stimulated by external contributions.

The battle of Qādisiyya (637 AD) marks the end of the Sassanid empire, the advent of the Arabs and the rapid Islamization of the country. In 672 al-Manṣūr founded Baghdād according to a typical circular plan. But the city will know its splendid flowering with the Abbotid caliphs, who in the mid-8th century supplanted the Umayyads, especially between the 9th and 11th centuries. The other great city of Iraq in the Abassid age it was Sāmarrā, conceived with a grandiose urban planning and which still retains palaces, mosques, and the minaret with the external spiral staircase (Malwiyya) which is thought to be inspired by the ziqqurat of Babylon, the legendary tower of Babel, moreover at the time Bassaide already completely destroyed.

Iraq Early Archeology