Ancient Persia from the Achaemenids to the Sassanians

From their earliest days of the Achaemenid Empire, the Persians introduced a number of novel concepts in innovations and inventions. Introduction Ancient Persian culture exerted a powerful influence throughout the Near East, and beyond, for over a thousand years between c. 550 BCE – 651 CE and many aspects of their culture continued to influence[…]

Ancient Mesopotamia: A First of Many Firsts

Many of the most common aspects of daily life, as well as theological paradigms and political systems, developed first in Mesopotamia. Introduction Mesopotamia is the ancient Greek name (meaning “the land between two rivers”, the Tigris and Euphrates) for the region corresponding to modern-day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey. It is considered[…]

Love, Sex, and Marriage in Ancient Mesopotamia

Marriage in ancient Mesopotamia was of vital importance to the society for the continuation of the family line and social stability. Introduction Medical texts from ancient Mesopotamia provide prescriptions and practices for curing all manner of ailments, wounds, and diseases. There was one malady, however, which had no cure: passionate love. From a medical text[…]

Brewing Beer in Ancient Mesopotamia

Beer was extremely popular in ancient Mesopotamia. Sipped through straws, it was enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Introduction People have been gathering over a beer for thousands of years. As an archaeologist, I can tell you the history of beer stretches deep into the human past – and the history of bars[…]

Rulership and Justice: The Law Codes of Ancient Mesopotamia

Rulers used law codes either to justify their rule or to demonstrate examples of justice and due process during a successful reign. While most people know of Hammurabi as the author of his famous “law code,” few know that the tradition of the ruler as the guardian and administrator of justice began much earlier in[…]

Eridu Genesis: The Sumerian, and Oldest, Flood Story in Ancient Texts

It would appear in later works such as the Atrahasis, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and – most famously – the story of Noah and his ark. Introduction The Sumerian Flood Story (also known as the Eridu Genesis, Sumerian Creation Myth, Sumerian Deluge Myth) is the oldest Mesopotamian text relating the tale of the Great Flood[…]

The Amarna Letters: Communication in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia

The Amarna letters reveal a treasury of knowledge concerning the political relations and social customs of their times. Introduction The Amarna letters (sometimes “Amarna tablets”) are an archive of correspondence on clay tablets, mostly diplomatic, between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Mesopotamia. The letters were found in Upper Egypt at Amarna,[…]

Tiamat: Ancient Mesopotamian Mother Goddess

The author of Enuma Elish drew on the earlier Sumerian goddesses, Nammu and Inanna, to create the goddess of chaos. Introduction Tiamat is the Mesopotamian goddess associated with primordial chaos and the salt sea best known from the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish. In all versions of the myth, following the original, Tiamat always symbolizes the[…]

The Glory of Ancient Persia in the Behistun Inscription of King Darius

The text of the inscription is a statement by Darius I of Persia, written three times in three different scripts and languages. Introduction The Behistun Inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: The document most crucial in the deciphering of a previously lost script. It is located in the Kermanshah[…]

The Hittite Empire, 1680-1180 BCE

The Hittite civilization was one of the cradles of human culture. Introduction “Hittites” is the conventional English-language term for an ancient people who spoke an Indo-European language and established a kingdom centered in Hattusa (the modern village of Boğazköy in north-central Turkey), through most of the second millennium B.C.E. The Hittite kingdom, which at its[…]

Ten Interesting Facts about Ancient Egypt

For thousands of years, the civilization of Egypt was among the most significant in the ancient world. Introduction Ancient Egypt is defined as the civilization which flourished in North Africa between c. 6000-30 BCE – from the Predynastic Period in Egypt (c. 6000 – c. 3150 BCE) through the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BCE) before Egypt became[…]

Asherah: Ancient Canaanite Mother Goddess, Consort to Yahweh

Together, El (sometimes Yahweh) and Ashera were viewed as the father and mother of the gods. Introduction Asherah was a major northwest Semitic mother goddess, appearing also in Akkadian sources as Ashratu, in Hittite as Asherdu and in Ugaritic as Athirat. She was the consort of the chief deity El and the mother of 70[…]

‘When On High’: The Ancient Akkadian Enuma Elish Creation Epic

As warlike nomadic herdsmen began to dominate in Mesopotamian culture, they imposed their mythologies on preexisting legends. Introduction Enûma Eliš (also transliterated Enuma Elish) is the Babylonian or Mesopotamian creation epic, composed probably in the eighteenth century B.C.E. A fragmentary copy written in the seventh century B.C.E. was first discovered by modern scholars in the[…]

Ancient Mesopotamian Cosmology and Mythology

Mesopotamian myths appear to have had a more practical purpose and were used to cure and prevent various physical ailments. Introduction In order to understand the place of myth in Mesopotamian culture, it is first necessary to give a general introduction to Mesopotamian religion. First, there is no single Mesopotamian ‘religion.’ The region known by[…]

Inventions and Innovations of Ancient Persia

While these contributions may be understood as commonplace in the present day, they were entirely novel in their time. Introduction Ancient Persian culture contributed many of the aspects of the modern world which people simply take for granted as having always existed. The designation “Persia” comes from the Greeks – primarily standardized by the historian[…]

Children in the Ancient Middle East – Valued and Vulnerable

Exploring data from archaeology, letters, contracts, laws, material culture, ancient stories, and religious practices. Introduction The choices that societies make concerning the treatment of children can bring about the greatest of debates and prompt significant political action. Our research teaches us that the question of a how a child should be treated — what value[…]

Zoroastrianism: Monotheism in Ancient Persia

Zoroastrianism was adopted by the Achaemenid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and found its fullest expression under the Sassanian Empire. Introduction Zoroastrianism is the monotheistic faith established by the Persian prophet Zoroaster (also given as Zarathustra, Zartosht) between c. 1500-1000 BCE. It holds that there is one supreme deity, Ahura Mazda (Lord of Wisdom), creator and[…]

Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Persia

Ancient Persia had the same interest in what happens after death as any culture in the present day. Introduction A vision of the afterlife is articulated by every culture, ancient or modern, in an effort to answer the question of what happens after death, and this was as true for the ancient Persian view of[…]

Architecture of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

The Achaemenid Empire was a period of artistic growth that left an extraordinary architectural legacy. Introduction Achaemenid architecture includes all architectural achievements of the Achaemenid Persians manifesting in construction of spectacular cities used for governance and inhabitation (Persepolis, Susa, Ecbatana), temples made for worship and social gatherings (such as Zoroastrian temples), and mausoleums erected in[…]

Persepolis: Capital of the Ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire

Persepolis has a long and complex history, designed to be the central city of the ever expanding Persian empire. Introduction Persepolis was an ancient ceremonial capital of the second Iranian dynasty, the Achaemenid Empire, situated some 70 km northeast of modern city of Shiraz. It was built by Darius the Great, beginning around 518 B.C.E.[…]

Key Elements of Persian Architecture since Ancient Mesopotamia

Iran has inherited numerous architectural traditions over the course of history. Introduction From the Islamic period the architectural achievements of the Seljuq, Il-Khanid, and Safavid dynasties are particularly noteworthy. During that time Iranian cities such as Neyshabur, Isfahan, and Shiraz came to be among the great cities of the Islamic world, and their many mosques,[…]

Sumerian Temple Architecture in Early Mesopotamia

This period is characterized by major cultural and political changes. Historical Overview During the Early Dynastic period (2900–2350 BCE) (fig. 1), southern Mesopotamia was split into two regions, Akkad in the north and Sumer in the south. The Early Dynastic (ED) period can be divided into four phases: EDI (2900–2700) EDII (2700–2600) EDIIIa (2600–2450) EDIIIb[…]

The Immortals: Ancient Persia’s Elite Fighting Force

Introduction The Ten Thousand Immortals were the elite force of the Persian army of the Achaemenid Empire (c. 550-330 BCE). They formed the king’s personal bodyguard and were also considered the shock troops of the infantry in Persian warfare. Their name comes from the policy of always keeping their number at exactly 10,000; if one[…]

The Atrahasis Epic: One of the Oldest Ancient Mesopotamian Flood Myths

Written down in the mid-17th century BCE, the Atrahasis can be dated to the reign of the Babylonian King Hammurabi’s great-grandson. Introduction 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[…]

Dogs in Ancient Persia

Dogs played a major role in religious rituals as recorded by Zoroastrian texts. Introduction Dogs have been an integral aspect of the human condition in virtually every world culture for thousands of years. Some of the greatest civilizations of the past have kept dogs as companions, for various chores, and featured dogs in their art,[…]

Truths Wrapped in Fiction: Ancient Mesopotamian Naru Literature

The myth, in time, became the reality. Introduction Originality in literary compositions in the ancient world did not carry the same weight and value as it does in the present day. In recent centuries, authors have been applauded for the creation of original works, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have been derided for plagiarism or[…]

Nebuchadnezzar: Warrior King, Rebuilder of Cities, and Musical Muse

Thousands of years after his rule, Nebuchadnezzar’s name lives on in his buildings and in ancient literature. Introduction Kanye West’s first operatic work, Nebuchadnezzar, has just premiered at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Set in the 6th century BCE, the opera is based on the biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar II, a powerful ruler and[…]