M esopotamian art - Mesopotamia is a Greek word meaning "between the rivers," and always refers to the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, an area which is today in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. In ancient times, this region passed through a succession of historical periods. involving numerous groups, among whom were the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Amorites, Kassites, Elamites, Hammurabi, Mitanni, Chaldeans, Aramaeans, Persians, Greeks. Parthians, and Sassanians. All of these powers passed this land to the Arabs who reside in Mesopotamia today.
In a region that gets little rainfall, access to the water from these two rivers has always been crucial. About 3500 BCE. the rivers having flooded every year, people were building dams and growing increasing quantities of food in the area's rich soil. Mesopotamians built canals to distribute water throughout the land, uniting thousands of villagers. People raised cattle and sheep. The plough was invented here, and the potter's wheel evolved into the wheels that let carts transport goods to markets, and to carry officials in ceremonial processions. The Mesopotamians' need to control the water for these uses gave strength to their political leaders, and led to the development of the city-state — among them were Ur, Ashur, Ninevah, Nimrud, Emech, Kish, Umma, Erech, Lagash, Tello, Nippur, Larsa, and Babylon.
Ur, near today’s Persian Gulf, became a major storage center where goods were distributed by ship.
These and caravans across the lands to the north and west carried the treasures of many lands: silver. iron and lead from present day Turkey, timber from Syria, semiprecious gemstones such as lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and gold and incense from Egypt and Arabia. The Mesopotamians left us the earliest written records known, when they devised a system of cuneiform writing (marks on clay tablets made by impressing this plastic material with wedge -shaped ends of carved sticks). They invented arithmetic (useful in keeping records of sales and purchases of goods), built schools, businesses, temples, palaces, workshops, and devised a system for the collection of taxes.
Mesopotamia was the setting for such famous Bible stories as the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel (Babylon), and the journey of Abraham from the city of Ur.
We actually know little about the Mesopotamians' religion, but much of what we know was learned from their poetry -- "The Epic of Gilgamesh " is their most imortant poem — and from the History of Herodotus (Anatolian Greek, fifth century BCE). The Sumerians were a religious people and had what is called a theocratic culture. They believed gods ruled the earth and that men were created to serve them.
They practiced tithing: 10% of their goods went to the gods. The leader of each city-state was considered a local god who talked to the head gods. Ur, like every other city-state, had its own head god whose earthly home was the city’s ziggurat. These temples were
built up in layers and would tower above the flat land of the area, reaching to the heavens. The cella. the very top of the ziggurat, is where the communication would take place between the king and the gods. Elaborate rituals would take place at these temples with priests, servants, and worshippers coming and going to take care of the god’s every wish. The ziggurat at Ur was built around 2100 BCE to honor the moon god Nanna.
The statues found at the Abu Temple in Tell Asmar from c. 2700 BCE are fine examples of the way Sumerian sculpture is typically based on cones and cylinders — arms and legs like pipes, skirts smooth and round, flaring out at their bottoms. Faces are dominated by very large eyes; but, for reasons we might take for granted, artists of many cultures have placed emphasis on eyes.
The sizes of entire figures were also determined by a hieratic imaging system — the most important people were made the tallest.
In the same vein, a beard on a figure signifed a man in a powerful position.
Two-dimensional depictions generally show figures' heads, legs, and feet in profile. while their shoulders and torso are shown frontally. as in this Sumerian painting of a man holding fish, from the Royal Tombs at Ur.
From about 2300 BCE. wars shaped the future of Mesopotamia's peoples. The Assyrians in the northern valley of the Tigris River began as a community of peaceful farmers and traders. Their wealth and natural resources of copper ore (for arms and tools ), limestone. alabaster and marble eventually made them targets for the envy of other peoples. The Hammurabi of Babylon, among others, pressed for control of the Assyrians, and eventually Assyrians mobilized fearsome armies to battle them, among other enemies.
A map of the Ancient Assyrian Empire at three different periods — at its beginnings, little more than the city-state of Ashur, about 1800-1600 BCE; then when it had gained control of the northern half of the Tigris and Euphrates and access to the Mediterranean, 1244-1208 BCE; and finally, when the Assyrians had conquered the entire "Fertile Crescent," including Egypt as far as Thebes, 699-627 BCE.
Assyria's art proudly portrays its pillaging, tearing down cities, and the killing and submission of its enemies — partly to intimidate those who might consider fighting back, and also because Assyrians believed that if their conquests passed the tests of the prophets and omens, their achievements would have the blessing of the gods. Ashurnasirpal II at War depicts a successful battles in which a deity flies above this favored king. The Assyrian Empire reached the height of its size and power in 668-627 BCE under Ashurbanipal. Then, under a series of weak rulers, Mesapotamia fell to the Babylonians.
Examples of Mesopotamian art: