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  • (soft music)

  • (Narrator) The story of writing, astronomy, and law.

  • The story of civilization itself begins in one place.

  • Not Egypt, not Greece, not Rome.

  • But Mesopotamia.

  • Mesopotamia is an exceedingly fertile plain situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers.

  • For five millennia, the small strip of land situated in what is today Iraq, Kuwait and Syria fostered innovations that would change the world forever.

  • Inhabited for nearly 12,000 years,

  • Mesopotamia's stable climate, rich soil

  • and steady supply of fresh water made it ideal for agriculture to develop and thrive.

  • About 6,000 years ago, seemingly overnight,

  • some of these agricultural settlements blossomed into some of the world's first cities.

  • In the period between 4,000 and 3,100 BC,

  • Mesopotamia was dotted with a constellation of competing city states.

  • At one point, they were unified under the Akkadian Empire

  • and then broke apart forming the empires of Assyria and Babylon.

  • Despite near constant warfare,

  • innovation and development thrived in ancient Mesopotamia.

  • They built on a monumental scale from palaces to ziggurats,

  • mammoth temples served as ritual locations to commune with the gods.

  • They also developed advanced mathematics,

  • including a base 60 system that created

  • a 60-second minute, a 60-minute hour

  • and a 360-degree circular angle.

  • The Babylonians used their sophisticated system of mathematics to map and study the sky.

  • They divided one earth year into 12 periods.

  • Each was named after the most prominent constellations in the heavens,

  • a tradition later adopted by the Greeks to create the zodiac.

  • They also divided the week into seven days,

  • naming each after their seven gods

  • embodied by the seven observable planets in the sky.

  • But perhaps the most impactful innovation to come out of Mesopotamia is literacy.

  • What began as simple pictures scrawled onto wet clay to keep track of goods and wealth

  • developed into a sophisticated writing system by the year 3,200 BC.

  • This writing system would come to be called cuneiform in modern times

  • and proved so flexible that over the span of 3,000 years,

  • it would be adapted for over a dozen different major languages

  • and countless uses including recording the law of the Babylonian king Hammurabi,

  • which formed the basis of a standardized justice system.

  • But Mesopotamia's success became its undoing.

  • Babylon in particular proved too rich a state to resist outside envy.

  • In 539 BC, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon

  • and sealed his control over the entirety of Mesopotamia.

  • For centuries, this area became a territory of foreign empires.

  • Eventually, Mesopotamia would fade like its kings into the mists of history.

  • And its cities would sink beneath the sands of Iraq.

  • But its ideas would prevail in literacy, law, math, astronomy and the gift of civilization itself.

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Ancient Mesopotamia 101 | National Geographic

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    Seraya posted on 2020/03/18
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