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Ancient Middle East


A sculpture of a Sumerian worshipperA sculpture of a Sumerian worshipperMesopotamia, the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq, was one of the first places in the world where people settled down to be farmers: around 10,000 BC. By 4500 BC, the Sumerians were building cities, such as Eridu, there. In 2330 BC, the Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians. Different groups of invaders then founded new city-states, which struggled to rule the area for the next 500 years. Hammurabi came to the throne of one of the city-states, Babylon, in 1792 BC. He brought other city-states under his control. Babylon dominated Mesopotamia until the 6th century BC.

A map of MesopotamiaA map of Mesopotamia

A letter from 2400 BC, written on a lump of clay A letter from 2400 BC, written on a lump of clay

The Sumerians

The first cities in Mesopotamia were founded by the Sumerian people about 6500 years ago. One of the earliest forms of writing, cuneiform, was invented by the Sumerians. We know a lot about their way of life because they left many clay tablets with pictures, representing words, carved on them. The writing later developed from pictures into lines and symbols, which were easier to carve. Writing enabled accurate records to be kept, such as of the number of sheep a farmer had.

The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian law code from about 1772 BC. It consists of 282 laws and their punishments, including "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".

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