Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Amanda H. Podany is a Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where she has taught since 1990. She earned her M.A. in the Archaeology of Ancient Western Asia from the University of London and her Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern History from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Professor Podany’s research specialties include the Hana kingdom in present-day Syria as well as legal practices and international relations in the ancient Near East. Currently she is working on a study of the relationships between kings and their subjects in the Late Bronze Age. In 2013, she received a research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her books include The Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction, The Land of Hana: Kings, Chronology, and Scribal Tradition, and the award-winning Brotherhood of Kings: How International Relations Shaped the Ancient Near East. Her efforts in providing professional development for teachers have earned her a certificate of recognition from the California Department of Education.
01: Uncovering Near Eastern Civilization
Although Egypt, Greece, and Rome may be better known to the public, in fact more written evidence survives from Mesopotamia, home to many of the great powers of the ancient world. As you embark on a journey through over 3,000 years of history, you will understand the ways we uncover ancient historical knowledge, and learn why Mesopotamia’s “rediscovery” is so valuable.
02: Natufian Villagers and Early Settlements
The spread of any technology tends to be slow. While today we may see the enormous value of plant and animal domestication, here you will discover the surprising theories about the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture and the challenges that farming presented. Also, gain valuable perspective on the cultural sophistication of pre-agrarian peoples.
03: Neolithic Farming, Trade, and Pottery
Though travel was dangerous, people transported valuable goods, like obsidian for knife blades, across hundreds of miles, perhaps via chains of merchants. Plunge into everyday life in Neolithic Mesopotamia, where homes and villages reflect a simple, unstratified society, but evidence of intricate pottery shows that technology was advancing and people cared about aesthetics.
04: Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period
The Ubaid people constructed the earliest monumental buildings, standardized some measurements, and must have had some sort of formal leadership to care for and control their populations. See how the people of the Ubaid coordinated their efforts to develop irrigation systems, despite a lack of written language.
05: Uruk, the World’s Biggest City
Witness the rise of urban civilization 5,500 years ago, a mere 200 generations before modern times. Discover how and why the first writing system developed and examine the earliest-known evidence of warfare.
06: Mesopotamia’s First Kings and the Military
Why did people accept the rule of monarchs? This lecture reveals the fascinating world of the first kings, including their numerous important duties—from conducting diplomacy to levying taxes—and explores how they believed that the gods supported and chose them.
07: Early Dynastic Workers and Worshipers
In a period where the causes of disease and natural disasters were not widely known, gods were believed to be the cause of, and the solution to, instability in life. Learn how evidence found in tombs suggests a belief in the afterlife, and discover just how large a workforce was employed by the grand temples where the gods were believed to live.
08: Lugalzagesi of Umma and Sargon of Akkad
Meet King Lugalzagesi who controlled several city-states in southern Mesopotamia. His much more powerful successor, Sargon, had a mysterious origin, but was able to build an empire and expand trade over a wider region than ever before.
09: Akkadian Empire Arts and Gods
The Akkadian Empire was a high point for artistic achievement in Mesopotamia. Depictions of humans were believed to possess some of the life force of the people they represented. Professor Podany shows how the many gods had differing roles and powers and were as much a part of everyday life as one’s family. Examine an emotional hymn by a priestess, who is the world’s first-known author.
10: The Fall of Akkad and Gudea of Lagash
Learn some of the theories behind the fall of the Akkadian Empire. Major kings during this time run the gamut from Naram-Sin, one of the few Mesopotamian kings who claimed to be a god, to Gudea, a pious and benevolent king who may have served as a model for later leaders.
11: Ur III Households, Accounts, and Ziggurats
Although rulers during this period attempted to create a “cult of the kings,” local leaders, merchants, and especially households performed essential roles in society. Cuneiform records reveal a remarkable level of organization, from taxes to diplomacy.
12: Migrants and Old Assyrian Merchants
An influx of immigrants greatly enriched the Mesopotamian region, and we see other issues that have echoes in today’s world. This was a time of frequent warfare but also of increased literacy and private enterprise. Join merchants on their 800-mile caravans as they delivered tin and textiles in exchange for silver.
13: Royalty and Palace Intrigue at Mari
Here you’ll gain an intimate glimpse into the lives of royal families in the mid-second millennium BCE, from diplomatic marriages to extravagant gifts to family squabbles. Archival letters show us how royal women served as informants for their fathers, while sometimes dealing with abusive husbands.
14: War and Society in Hammurabi’s Time
Meet the mighty King Hammurabi, who ruled for an incredible 43 years. You’ll also discover how the family can be viewed as a microcosm for Mesopotamian society, with each member playing an important role. Delve into the daily lives of families and the laws (both official and unspoken) governing their behavior.
15: Justice in the Old Babylonian Period
The Babylonians had a sophisticated legal system that emphasized evidence and truthfulness. Two trials provide an insider’s look into the workings of this system. Uncover what court records reveal about the types of crimes prosecuted, as well as the people’s most pressing concerns regarding family and finance.
16: The Hana Kingdom and Clues to a Dark Age
The kingdom of Hana and an intriguing Kassite text provide clues to a mysterious dark age, which may have lasted for 100 years. Few records survive from this period, so Professor Podany illuminates historians’ detective work to fill in the gaps.
17: Princess Tadu-Hepa, Diplomacy, and Marriage
Discover how the kingdom of Mittani maintained a peaceful relationship with Egypt through the power of diplomacy. Letters between King Tushratta and the pharaoh demonstrate the roles of envoys in transporting letters and gifts over hundreds of miles, negotiating royal marriages, and defusing arguments.
18: Land Grants and Royal Favor in Mittani
In a world before mass media, learn how Mittanian kings maintained visibility and control across vast distances and large populations without much need for force. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the story of a gold statue reveals the decline of Mittani’s golden era.
19: The Late Bronze Age and the End of Peace
This dramatic installment details the end of a period of peace and stability between great powers, as a result of possible natural disasters, attacks on cities, and movements of the mysterious Sea Peoples. The era that followed was one of smaller kingdoms that left few written records.
20: Assyria Ascending
Learn about the grand state of Assyria with its huge palaces and iconic winged lion sculptures. The long and stable dynasty of Assyrian kings always longed to expand the boundaries of the empire, believing that their great god, Assur, had instructed them to do so. Their kings could be brutal in putting down rebellions, but they were also effective in administering the growing empire, and were even generous, like throwing a 10-day banquet for almost 70,000 people, for example.
21: Ashurbanipal’s Library and Gilgamesh
Here, discover the intellectual King Ashurbanipal whose library is one of the first in recorded history. In it, find clay tablets recording omens from the gods, as well as the world’s oldest epic poem, The Epic of Gilgamesh.
22: Neo-Assyrian Empire, Warfare, and Collapse
Discover how the Assyrian empire was restructured by Tiglath-Pileser III, how the Assyrians struggled to keep Babylonia within their empire, and how they even attempted to conquer Egypt. Hear of the mysterious hanging gardens that sat magically on roofs. Bear witness to the fall of the Assyrian Empire at the hands of angry enemies, including the Babylonians.
23: Babylon and the New Year's Festival
Hear the glory of the Babylonian creation story involving Marduk and the evil goddess Tiamat. Through ancient records, relive the 12-day Akitu religious festival that involved priests, singers, artisans, musicians, and the king. You’ll also explore the ritual humiliation of the king at the heart of the festival.
24: End of the Neo-Babylonian Empire
Finally, arrive at the end of the independence of Mesopotamia with the conquest of the Neo-Babylonian empire by the forces of the powerful Persian king, Cyrus the Great. Witness religious changes that were taking place across the Near East. Mesopotamian culture gradually died out, but it left an incredible legacy.