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Scholarly but accessible
am 9. Oktober 2005
Now in its 3rd edition, Ancient Iraq remains the most complete and readable overview of the history of this cradle of civilization. Interestingly, the word Iraq comes from the name of the Sumerian city state Uruk. There is now a village called Warka near the ruins of the ancient city.
The introductory chapters explore the geographical setting, archaeological research and the paleo-, meso- and neolithic periods. Following on, the author discusses the Hassuna, Samarra, Halat, Ubaid, Uruk and Jemdat timeframes, and the ancient trade routes.
Next up is the Sumerian civilization, with a study of its origin, religion, history and mythology. The story of Gilgamesh is covered here. There was a Semitic interlude and a final Sumerian renaissance before the torch of history passed to the Semites in the form of the Akkadians and later the Assyrians and Babylonians. The statesman and lawgiver Hammurabbi is thoroughly dealt with.
But other peoples played a part too, like the Hurrians, Mitannians and Kassites. Insofar as they impacted upon the history of the area, empires like the Hittite and the Egyptian are also considered. There are detailed narratives on the Assyrian empire, the Chaldean kings and the fall of Nineveh and later of Babylon. After this event, Mesopotamia ceased to be a seat of empire and passed from the Persians to the Greeks, the Parthians, the Sassanids and ultimately to the Arabs.
In the Epilogue, we learn of the heritage of this civilization, such as enduring religious symbols like the Maltese cross, the tree of life an the crescent. Some words have come down to us, like "alcohol" (guhlu in Akkadian), "myrrh" (murru) and " "naphta" (naptu), "abyss" (abzu in Sumerian). Some Sumerian words still live in Hebrew, like Egal (great house) = Heikal = Temple and the personal name Eitan (Etana).
The book contains plates with photographs and illustrations, and concludes with bibliographic notes, comparative history tables, various interesting maps and indices of names and subjects. For those interested in the paleolithic origins of civilization, I recommend Lost Civilizations Of The Stone Age by Richard Rudgley. If you have a taste for alternative history, the book Ramses II And His Time by Immanuel Velikovsky has much to say about Babylon and the Chaldeans. And finally, Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World by Nicholas Ostler, deals extensively with ancient Mesopotamia, its languages, culture and empires.