Gone but not forgotten: Ancient civilizations of the Middle East

Published November 29th, 2016 - 09:36 GMT

The Middle East is known these days as the home of an Islamic civilization which developed in the sixth century in Arabia, and which spread incredibly quickly through military conquest to reach between India and Morocco. It is easy to forget that the region was once home to a plethora of other incredible ancient civilizations and cultures. In fact, Daesh would rather we overlook the pre-Islamic history of the region. But destroying the ancient sites of Nimrud in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria will not erase the rich ancient heritage that the area’s modern inhabitants can, and some would say must, celebrate and enjoy.

 
View as a slider
View as a list
Mesopotamia

The world’s very first cities emerged around 3500 BC, with the development of Sumerian city states (think Vatican) in “the cradle of civilization”, Mesopotamia. These seven city states, in modern southern Iraq, lasted over a thousand years, fed by the flooding of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. This is a Sumerian “bill of sale”.

Sargon the Great of Akkad

The city states were united around 2,300 BC by the very first empire-builder, Sargon the Great of Akkad, who founded the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. This image shows surviving Akkadian artwork. The Akkadians were succeeded by the Babylonian Empire, the inspiration for biblical stories: “Tower of Babel” and “Hanging Gardens of Babylon”.

Persia

When you think Iran, you think Persians, right? Well, in fact Persians are nomadic people who migrated to Iran from central/eastern Europe in the centuries before the First Persian, or Achaemenid, empire was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 BC. The largest empire to date, it stretched from Central Asia to Egypt. These carvings are from 500 BC.

Alexander the Great

In what should perhaps be an inspiration to Middle Eastern states today, the Persians ruled by allowing existing local governance to continue, and tolerating regional religions and cultural practices. Still, the Imperial court was full of decadence and overindulgence. In 330 BC, the Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great.

Petra

The ancient city of Petra is Jordan’s great tourist attraction. It was built by a nomadic tribe, the Nabateans, who migrated from Arabia beginning in the sixth century BC, settling in various locations. However, their capital city in southern Jordan, stunningly carved out of the red sandstone, is the greatest monument to this civilization.

Petra

Ideal for protection, the mountainous deserts surrounding Petra presented a challenge regarding water. The Nabateans developed a complex water system. Experienced traders of goods from across the world, their city became a rich intersection between civilizations. Petra was claimed by the Roman Empire at the start of the second century AD.

pyramid

Ancient Egypt was unified as an empire in 3000 BC and lasted 2 millennia. More politically stable than Mesopotamia, it saw much less urban development than its Iraqi equivalents, however. The extraordinarily long civilization is divided into 3 periods: Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Their first capital was Memphis (not the rock’n’roll one!).

ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians, of course, are best known for building pyramids, mostly built in the Old Kingdom as tombs for the Pharaohs, and for the development of the writing system hieroglyphics, which had over a thousand letters. Hieroglyphics were used throughout the Ancient Egyptian period and right up until Roman times in the fourth century!

wailing wall

The Kingdom of Israel emerged around 1000 BC, throughout the Palestine region where the previously nomadic herding Jews had settled, having originated in Mesopotamia according to Jewish scripture. After a century and three kings (Saul, David and Solomon) the Kingdom split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

Jerusalem

The ancient city of Jerusalem (a reconstruction is pictured) was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and later the Kingdom of Judah. The two Jewish kingdoms remained for a number of centuries before being conquered by Mesopotamia, then Persia and ultimately Rome. Jews faced persecution under each of these empires, with many forced into exile.

Mesopotamia
Sargon the Great of Akkad
Persia
Alexander the Great
Petra
Petra
pyramid
ancient Egypt
wailing wall
Jerusalem
Mesopotamia
The world’s very first cities emerged around 3500 BC, with the development of Sumerian city states (think Vatican) in “the cradle of civilization”, Mesopotamia. These seven city states, in modern southern Iraq, lasted over a thousand years, fed by the flooding of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. This is a Sumerian “bill of sale”.
Sargon the Great of Akkad
The city states were united around 2,300 BC by the very first empire-builder, Sargon the Great of Akkad, who founded the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. This image shows surviving Akkadian artwork. The Akkadians were succeeded by the Babylonian Empire, the inspiration for biblical stories: “Tower of Babel” and “Hanging Gardens of Babylon”.
Persia
When you think Iran, you think Persians, right? Well, in fact Persians are nomadic people who migrated to Iran from central/eastern Europe in the centuries before the First Persian, or Achaemenid, empire was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 BC. The largest empire to date, it stretched from Central Asia to Egypt. These carvings are from 500 BC.
Alexander the Great
In what should perhaps be an inspiration to Middle Eastern states today, the Persians ruled by allowing existing local governance to continue, and tolerating regional religions and cultural practices. Still, the Imperial court was full of decadence and overindulgence. In 330 BC, the Empire was conquered by Alexander the Great.
Petra
The ancient city of Petra is Jordan’s great tourist attraction. It was built by a nomadic tribe, the Nabateans, who migrated from Arabia beginning in the sixth century BC, settling in various locations. However, their capital city in southern Jordan, stunningly carved out of the red sandstone, is the greatest monument to this civilization.
Petra
Ideal for protection, the mountainous deserts surrounding Petra presented a challenge regarding water. The Nabateans developed a complex water system. Experienced traders of goods from across the world, their city became a rich intersection between civilizations. Petra was claimed by the Roman Empire at the start of the second century AD.
pyramid
Ancient Egypt was unified as an empire in 3000 BC and lasted 2 millennia. More politically stable than Mesopotamia, it saw much less urban development than its Iraqi equivalents, however. The extraordinarily long civilization is divided into 3 periods: Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Their first capital was Memphis (not the rock’n’roll one!).
ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians, of course, are best known for building pyramids, mostly built in the Old Kingdom as tombs for the Pharaohs, and for the development of the writing system hieroglyphics, which had over a thousand letters. Hieroglyphics were used throughout the Ancient Egyptian period and right up until Roman times in the fourth century!
wailing wall
The Kingdom of Israel emerged around 1000 BC, throughout the Palestine region where the previously nomadic herding Jews had settled, having originated in Mesopotamia according to Jewish scripture. After a century and three kings (Saul, David and Solomon) the Kingdom split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.
Jerusalem
The ancient city of Jerusalem (a reconstruction is pictured) was the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, and later the Kingdom of Judah. The two Jewish kingdoms remained for a number of centuries before being conquered by Mesopotamia, then Persia and ultimately Rome. Jews faced persecution under each of these empires, with many forced into exile.