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Mesopotamian is a Greek word that means 'between rivers.'
The name is inspired by the fact that Mesopotamia sits between Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Did you know that Mesopotamia was the first urban civilization?
The long history of this ancient city is reflected in the art of Mesopotamia, which serves as a testament to ancient times. It gives a glimpse of the craftsmanship of that era and its influence on modern-day culture.
Mesopotamia is two fairly well-defined provinces and is considered synonymous with the modern state of Iraq. One of the provinces is in the uplands in the north through which the two rivers flow, and the second province is in the south, the flat alluvial plain.
Mesopotamia is divided into the Upper or Northern regions. The lower or Southern Mesopotamia is the region that reaches the Persian Gulf from Baghdad. This location was home to many oldest civilizations like Sumerians, Assyrians, Akkadians, and Babylonians.
Under Hammurabi's leadership, Babylonia became a considerable power that expanded from small towns to big cities. It shows that Hammurabi was an efficient ruler and was known for establishing a centralized government and a bureaucracy with taxation.
Mesopotamia is a word formed by combining Mesos and Potamos. Mesos mean between, whereas Potamos indicate river. After finding out that the location is between the fertile valleys, this name was given. They are the Euphrates and Tigris River. It is now included in modern-day Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
In the Paleolithic era, humans settled for the first time, and by 14,000 BC, individuals lived in small settlements. Over 5,000 years, these places transformed into large farming communities. Soon after that, there was development in the agricultural field of Mesopotamia and the domestication of other animals. Different irrigation techniques were developed close to the rivers.
With time, the communities developed and turned into cities. Around 3,200 BC, the first city, Uruk, with over 50,000 population, came into existence. It also featured a wide range of art, large temples, and columns. Till 3,000 BC, the people of Sumeria had reasonable control over Mesopotamia. Many kings like Gilgamesh ruled this particular area.
The Akkadian Empire was the first multicultural empire introduced with a central government from 2,234-2,154 BC under Sargon the Great. One of the prominent rulers of this empire was Naram Sin. At this time, violent subject matters were chosen for art. One such example remains the Victory Stele of Naram Sin. The Sumerians gained control back by 2100 BC, after which they introduced the first code of law. It was done under Ur-Namma following a row of invasions and conquests.
Around 1,365 BC, the Assyrian Empire emerged, which expanded for the next two decades. Several efforts were made to maintain peace during these years, following which Nabopolassar, a Babylonian public official, seized the throne. It happened in 626 BC, and in 614 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, his son, held over the Babylonian Empire. He was known for his ornate art and architecture, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Around 550 BC, the culture of Mesopotamia came to an end under Persian Rule.
Considering the culture of Mesopotamia, the artisans have played a significant role. The artisans of Mesopotamia have made items for daily use like pottery, dishes, baskets, boats, clothing, dishes, and much more. They are also known for creating works of art to glorify the king and the gods.
Clay was the most common material for the artists of Mesopotamia in history, and it is being used for monumental buildings, pottery, and tablets. All these things helped to record legends and history. Over thousands of years, the artisans of Mesopotamia developed their skills in pottery. Earlier, they used to use their hands to create pots. After years, they have learned to use the potter's wheel. High-temperature ovens were also being used to harden the clay, and then they learned to make different glazes, shapes, and patterns. Within a short span, these structures became works of art.
Mesopotamians were appreciated for developing the first organized religion. They believed that God could predict every situation. With the Sumerians, their religion began, and the Assyrians and Babylonians adopted several Sumerian doctrines. But the fact is they credited their gods for creating the universe.
In Mesopotamia, government and religion were closely related, so the cities were associated with God's properties. As rulers started to gain more power and control over large land areas, they referred to themselves as the gods being selected to rule. It is believed Naram Sin was the first king in Mesopotamian to have claimed the status of God and the title, 'God of Akkad.'
As per Ira Spar of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, religion influenced political decision-making, behavior, and material culture. John Alan also said that there was no word for religion as worshiping their gods was the basis of their existence.
Every city has a specific god they use to worship, which applies to ancient Sumer. The individuals were ruled by the leader who acted as an intermediary between the people and local gods in the city. The leaders used to control the water systems, and rich people constructed palaces. The residents of Mesopotamia also worshiped many gods that included the moon, the sun, and the planets.
Coming to the ancient cultures, the art and architecture of both palace and temple were monumental. Also, more skills were displayed on seal cylinders of several bones, material, quartz, shell, marble, etc. There is a close bond between culture and religion in social, political, artistic, and economic aspects.
In terms of temples of this place, they had centered entrances that allowed people to glimpse the inner sanctuary. The temples of the Ubaid period or Ashur had all these features.
The artisans of Mesopotamia started creating a wide range of art on a large scale. It was done in metalwork and architecture and featured many leaders. They also covered a wide range of time and were commonly divided into Babylonian, Sumerian, and Assyrian art.
The Sumerian Period (4,500-1,750 BC): The rise of monumental religious structures was introduced in the Sumerian Period. Two forms of temples were constructed at ground level: a structure and a platform variety. The second variety, the platform temples, stood within oval and walled enclosures. They were entered on the cross axis and constructed at ground level. These temples include an offering table, an altar, and pedestals for statues while worshiping.
The interiors had patterned mosaics of terracotta cones, painted murals, and several other things. The sculptures were served for ritual purposes for the temples. The male statues stood with hands clasped, and the female looked more varied. At times, the hair was concealed by a headdress. Alternative materials were used during this period because of the lack of several stones.
The Old Babylonian Period (200-1,600 BC): Around 1,750 BC, Babylon came into power after the Sumer's fall and soon became a powerful city-state. It is the first dynasty of Babylon under the Amorites, and the sanctuaries were the most beautiful art from this time. The figures were three-dimensional and looked realistic.
When you look at the history, you will find the Statues of Gudea is the most notable work. It has a group of around 27 statues that depict the ruler of Lagash. Ancient cultures show that these statues were carved from diorite. But limestone, steatite, and alabaster were also used, and they were considered the most sophisticated level of craftsmanship at that time.
The Old Babylonians continued constructing similar temples after the rectangular stepped tower, the Ziggurat. History shows the walls are decorated with different works of art. During this time, household items like seal cylinders and vases were created and decorated with animal forms like a bull's head.
The Assyrian Period (1,365-609 BC): Throughout the Assyrian period, the architecture continued Old Babylonian construction. A few innovations were incorporated that included twin and small ziggurats while designing a single temple, in the deep access altars were withdrawn. On the main axis, there was the lengthening of sanctuaries.
Until the ninth century, the Assyrian palaces emphasized a new interest reflected in a secular building. The gates featured colossal portal sculptures designed in internal chambers and stones created with pictorial reliefs.
The Neo-Babylonian Period (626 to 539 BC): This time showed architecture, art, and science flourishing under Nebuchadnezzar II from 604 to 562 BC, the years he ruled. He was a great patron of urban and art development. The city of Babylon was rebuilt, which reflects the glory of Mesopotamia.
The splendid architectural achievements are reflected in the inner city gates. The Ishtar Gate, at the Pergamon Museum, located in Berlin, is one example. It was established in 575 BC, and this gate is known for the bas-relief dragons. It is covered in lapis lazuli-glazed bricks and designed on a blue and gleaming surface.
Let's look at some more interesting facts about the art and artists from one of the oldest civilizations to exist.
Jewelers: In Ancient Mesopotamia, fine jewelry was a status symbol, and both genders wore them. Jewelers used silver, fine gemstones, and gold to create new designs. They have created all sorts of jewelry like earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.
Carpenters: Carpenters were important, and the most crucial items were made of imported wood like cedarwood. It was bought from Lebanon and used to construct palaces for the kings. The chariots were also constructed using wood. Ships were designed to help travel through the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. With inlays, several fine pieces of wooden craftsmanship were designed. In this process, the artisans of Mesopotamia used small pieces of gems, glass metal, and shells. You would find shiny and beautiful decorations on musical instruments, furniture, and religious pieces from that era.
Metalsmiths: During 3,000 BC, the workers of Mesopotamia learned to make bronze using copper and tin. They found ways to melt the metal at high temperatures and mold it to make several items. They can be anything like weapons, tools, and sculptures.
Stone Masons: In Mesopotamia art, the most surviving work was carved by stonemasons. They have created everything from small detailed reliefs to large sculptures. Many sculptures had historical or religious importance. These things mainly were the king or the gods of Mesopotamia. They carved small detailed cylinder stones used as seals.
Q: What kind of art did the Mesopotamians do?
A: Mesopotamian art includes small round figures, cylinder seals, reliefs of several sizes, religious art, and more.
Q: How did Mesopotamia contribute to art?
A: The art of Mesopotamia was created for political and religious purposes. The common ingredients included in making the artwork were stone, metal, and clay fashioned into scriptures and reliefs. During the Uruk period, there was a development of the lifelikeness of human figures.
Q: What are three facts about Mesopotamia?
A: The three facts of Mesopotamia are:
The name was given to this place because it is located between Tigris and Euphrates.
In ancient Mesopotamia, the first urban civilization was Sumer.
Uruk, a city of Mesopotamia, is the largest in the world.
Q: What symbol of royalty often appears in Mesopotamian art?
A: The symbol of royalty, as per Mesopotamian art, is long skirts.
Q: How did ancient Mesopotamian art show political power?
A: A huge structure, the development of the Ziggurat, that takes the form of a terraced step of the pyramid shows the political power.
Q: How are Mesopotamian and Egyptian art the same?
A: The people of ancient Egypt created real pyramids, whereas the ancient Mesopotamians designed ziggurats.
Q: How to distinguish between Persian and early Mesopotamian art?
A: Persian art comes with a series of monumental palace complexes, whereas early Mesopotamian art has cylinder seals, small round figures, etc.
Q: What was the significance of the art of Mesopotamian cultures?
A: The significance of their art and culture is to honor the Goddesses and God who ruled over different life events and several nature aspects.
Q: What was art like in Mesopotamia?
A: The craftsmanship of Mesopotamia has made a name in lapis, gold, clay, and wood. They have designed small statues, musical instruments, jewelry, mosaics, and more.
Q: Were there any famous Mesopotamian painters?
A: It isn't easy to name the famous painters, but the most significant works were the White Temple and Great Ziggurat of Uruk, statues of Tell Asmar, the Standard of Ur.
Q: What did Mesopotamian art usually depict?
A: Mesopotamian art depicted stories related to political and religious purposes.
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