Mesopotamia is the geographic region roughly corresponding to modern Iraq, parts of Syria, South-Eastern Turkey and Western Iran. The name itself, a Greek designation meaning “between the rivers,” defines the most salient characteristic of the area: the alluvial plain created by the course of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers from Eastern Turkey to the Persian Gulf. This two river’s valley witnessed some of the very first permanent settlements in human history from ca. 10,000 BCE. Over the course of several millennia it was inhabited by different groups of peoples of distinct cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins.
In the 4th millennium BCE one of these, the Sumerians, created a highly complex civilization in the south of Mesopotamia, arguably the first civilization in human history. Using the new tool of writing, they began to record their language, something that humans have been doing ever since. Many of those inscribed objects still survive, allowing scholars to reconstruct the history of this region using original sources, a unique circumstance in the study of ancient societies. What emerged is a long and complex history spanning three millennia. Babylonians dominated the scene in the first half (Old-Babylonian period) and, to a certain extent, also in the second half (Middle-Babylonian period) of the second millennium BCE, interwoven in a network of international relations with their neighbors outside of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians, in the north, controlled the region in the first four centuries of the I millennium BCE (Neo-Assyrian period), but their empire fell in 612 BCE, when the last Mesopotamian dynasty of kings, the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, destroyed their capital, and reorganized the land into an empire (6th c. BCE). At the end of the 6th c. BCE the Persian Cyrus entered Babylon and from that time on the land between the rivers was led by non-native rulers.