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(mĕs'əpətā`mēə) [Gr.,=between rivers], ancient region of Asia, the territory about the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, included in modern Iraq. The region extends from the Persian Gulf north to the mountains of Armenia and from the Zagros and Kurdish mountains on the east to the Syrian Desert. From the mountainous north, Mesopotamia slopes down through grassy steppes to a central alluvial plain, which was once rendered exceedingly fertile by a network of canals.

Earliest Cultures

The south was long thought to be the cradle of civilization until earlier settlements (which probably date from about 7000 B.C.) were found in N Mesopotamia; Jarmo, the earliest of these, was superseded by a succession of cultures: Tell Hassuna, Samarra, and Tell Halaf. Tell Halaf, the most advanced of these early cultures, is famous for Halaf ware, the finest prehistoric pottery in Mesopotamia. It is found at such sites as NinevehNineveh
, ancient city, capital of the Assyrian Empire, on the Tigris River opposite the site of modern Mosul, Iraq. A shaft dug at Nineveh has yielded a pottery sequence that can be equated with the earliest cultural development in N Mesopotamia.
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 and Tepe GawraTepe Gawra
[Kurdish,=great mound], locality in N Iraq, 15 mi (24 km) NE of Mosul. In 1927 the archaeologist Ephraim Speiser discovered it to be the site of ancient settlements. In all, 24 levels and sublevels were unearthed; they date from the 5th millennium B.C.
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. While these advances were being made in the north, civilization was just beginning in the south, particularly at Eridu. The Al Ubaid culture that followed flourished in both N and S Mesopotamia, at Tell Zeidan and Tepe Gawra (N) and Ubaid, Eridu, and Oueili (S). Irrigated agriculture became widespread, and social stratification developed in this early urban period.

The Proto-Literate and Early Dynastic Phases

During the next period (called the proto-literate phase) the south was the important region, and the transformation of the village culture into an urban civilization took place. Uruk (modern Tall al Warka), the foremost site at the beginning of this period, has yielded such monumental architecture as the temple of Inanna and the ziggurat of Anu. Also found at Uruk were tablets including the earliest pictographic writing. At the same time and apparently independently, smaller organized settlements arose at sites such as Tell Hamoukar and Tell Brak in NE Syria and Hacinebi and Arslantepe in SE Turkey.

The early dynastic phase that followed saw the development of city-states all over the Middle East as far as N Syria, N Mesopotamia, and probably Elam. The famous sites of this period are Tell Asmar, Kafaje, UrUr
, ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia. The city is also known as Ur of the Chaldees. It was an important center of Sumerian culture (see Sumer) and is identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham. The site was discovered in the 19th cent.
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, KishKish
, ancient city of Mesopotamia, in the Euphrates valley, 8 mi (12.9 km) E of Babylon and 12 mi (19 km) east of the modern city of Hillah, Iraq. It was occupied from very ancient times, and its remains go back as far as the protoliterate period in Mesopotamia.
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, MariMari
, ancient city of Mesopotamia (modern Syria). It is on the middle Euphrates, south of its junction with the Habor (Khabur). The site was discovered by chance in the early 1930s by Arabs digging graves and has subsequently been excavated by the French.
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, FarahFarah
, town (1985 est. pop. 21,000), capital of Farah prov., W Afghanistan, on the Farah River. Surrounded by a solid earth rampart, it is strategically located at the river crossing that controls the road from Herat to the Seistan region and the Indian subcontinent.
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, and Telloh (LagashLagash
or Shirpurla
, ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia, now located at Telloh, SE Iraq. Lagash was flourishing by c.2400 B.C., but traces of habitation go back at least to the 4th millennium B.C. After the fall of Akkad (2180 B.C.
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). The Sumerians (see SumerSumer
and Sumerian civilization
. The term Sumer is used today to designate the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. From the earliest date of which there is any record, S Mesopotamia was occupied by a people, known as Sumerians, speaking a non-Semitic language.
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), the inhabitants of these city-states of S Mesopotamia, were unified at NippurNippur
, ancient city of Babylonia, a N Sumerian settlement on the Euphrates. It was the seat of the important cult of the god Enlil, or Bel. Excavations at Nippur have yielded the remains of several temples that date from the middle of the 3d millennium B.C.
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, where they gathered together to worship Enlil, the wind god. The famous first dynasty of Ur came at the end of the early dynastic period.

Dynasties and Empires

, king of Akkad in Mesopotamia (reigned c.2340–c.2305 B.C.). By conquest he established a great empire that included the whole of Mesopotamia and extended over Syria and Elam, and he controlled territories W to the Mediterranean and N to the Black Sea.
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 founded (c.2340) the Akkadian dynasty, the first empire in Mesopotamia, whose example of empire building was later followed by the old Babylonian dynasty and late Assyrian Empire (see BabyloniaBabylonia
, ancient empire of Mesopotamia. The name is sometimes given to the whole civilization of S Mesopotamia, including the states established by the city rulers of Lagash, Akkad (or Agade), Uruk, and Ur in the 3d millennium B.C.
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; AssyriaAssyria
, ancient empire of W Asia. It developed around the city of Ashur, or Assur, on the upper Tigris River and south of the later capital, Nineveh. Assyria's Rise

The nucleus of a Semitic state was forming by the beginning of the 3d millennium B.C.
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). There was also a great cultural exchange between the Mesopotamians and the Elamites (and other Iranians), who for centuries had threatened each other. Mesopotamia still had prestige at the time of Alexander the Great, but later it was generally a part of the Roman Empire. The Arabs took it from the Sassanid Empire, and it rose to great prominence after Baghdad was made (A.D. 762) the capital of the Abbasid caliphate. This glory was destroyed when the Mongols under Hulagu Khan devastated the area in 1258, destroying the ancient irrigation system.

The Region in Modern Times

In the centuries following, Mesopotamia never regained its former prominence. In World War I, however, it was an important battlefield. The kingdom of IraqIraq
or Irak
, officially Republic of Iraq, republic (2005 est. pop. 26,075,000), 167,924 sq mi (434,924 sq km), SW Asia. Iraq is bordered on the south by Kuwait, the Persian Gulf, and Saudi Arabia; on the west by Jordan and Syria; on the north by Turkey; and on the
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 was formed in 1921 (Iraq became a republic in 1958) and is of international importance because of its rich oil fields, but its status in the world is enhanced by the rich archaeological finds of the incredibly distant past.


See H. Frankfort, The Birth of Civilization in the Near East (1951, repr. 1968); S. N. Kramer, Cradle of Civilization (1967); D. Oates, Studies in the Ancient History of Northern Iraq (1968); L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1968); H. J. Nissen and P. Heine, From Mesopotamia to Iraq: A Concise History (2009).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Entre Ráos), a natural region in Argentina (Corrientes and Entre Ríos provinces) in the interfluve of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers.

Northern Mesopotamia is a flat lowland with ancient channel swells between swamps and lakes. The central and southern areas consist of a well-drained plain (elevation, 90-110 m) with light park forests (palms, acacias, quebracho, species of Prosopis, and other low trees), with tall cereal herbage or savanna on reddish chernozem-like soils. The climate is subtropical and consistently humid (precipitation, 1,000-1,500 mm per year). The average January temperature is 24°-27°C and the average July temperature, from 10° to 18°C. Mesopotamia is Argentina’s primary region for growing and harvesting mate and citrus fruit; rice, tobacco, and tea are also grown. Meat and dairy animals are raised in the south. Mesopotamia is a main area for the timber and paper-and-pulp industries. Posadas and Corrientes are the chief economic centers.



a natural region in western Asia in the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It includes the Mesopotamian Depression and the Jazira Plateau.

Mesopotamia was one of the most important centers of civilization in the ancient East, which originally developed on the basis of artificial irrigation in the lower reaches of the Euphrates (the waters of the Tigris later also came to be used for irrigation). In the fourth and third millennia B.C., early class societies formed in Mesopotamia. By the end of the third millennium B.C., Akkad, Ur, and other ancient states existed here. In the beginning of the second millennium B.C., the state of Babylonia formed in southern Mesopotamia. Subsequently, the region was part of Assyria (ninth to seventh centuries B.C.), the New Babylonian Empire (seventh and sixth centuries B.C.), the Achaemenid state (sixth to fourth centuries B.C.), the empire of Alexander the Great (fourth century B.C.), the Seleucid state (fourth to second centuries B.C.), Parthia (third century B.C. to third century A.D.), the Sassanid state (third to seventh centuries), and the Arabian Caliphate, beginning with the seventh century.

In the 11th century, Mesopotamia was conquered by the Seljuks, and in the 13th by the Mongols. It came under Safawid power in the early 16th century and formed part of the Ottoman Empire from the 17th century to 1918. After World War I most of Mesopotamia became part of Iraq, and the remainder part of Syria and Turkey.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a region of SW Asia between the lower and middle reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers: site of several ancient civilizations
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005