MESOPOTAMIAN AND PERSIAN ART
Mesopotamia is the ancient name given to our next region, which means the land between the two great rivers (meso= middle and potamia = rivers). What rivers? The Tigress and the Euphrates. Look on the map on the left and you will see why this fertile valley was called the "cradle of civilization". It's two rivers flow from North to South (unlike the Nile in Egypt) and empty into the Persian Gulf. Historians and archeologists debate consistently which culture, Egypt or Mesopotamia came first. The jury will be out for a long time on the judgment of this, since more and more finds indicate earlier and earlier dates for each.
The story of Mesopotamia is a more complicated one due to many conquests of many tribes over one another. Undoubtedly this is partly due to the fact that the area was the crossroads of many prehistoric and ancient tribes migrating from the North to the South and from the East to the West. Unlike Egypt it did not have deserts on either side to provide protection from invasion. But there is a second reason why it became so heavily populated. Do you recall from our discussion of Neolithic Jericho why this might have been?
Of course--it was where agriculture--the first primitive form of wheat (emmer wheat) began--thus providing in these early cities, more specialization, more jobs, more artists, and unfortunately more conflicts of people and conquests. What country does Mesopotamia correspond to today?
Overview of Study:Due to the over-burdening nature of the names of tribes, our central focus will be on three main areas, chosen for the reasons noted here. Firstly, we will study briefly the Sumerians, because since they are the "Mother Culture" who originated many of the traditions which will last for a thousand years, such as: cuneiform writing, the ZIGGURATS, and the use of the true masonry KEYSTONE ARCH.
(See the "Online Handbook" for comparison of Egypt and Mesopotamia.)
Secondly, I will expect you to know some of the major art of the Assyrians, the peoples who conquered the Babylonians around 1200 BC and who ruled for some 600 years, thereby leaving behind a great deal of stone sculpture, such as the example of the human- headed winged bull seen here.
The last area is the most famous in biblical history, the cosmopolitan city of Babylon, rebuilt by King Nebuchadnezzar from 612-539 BC. This period in Art History is known as the Neo-Babylonian, since it is partially a revival of the earlier Babylonian Empire of c. 1830-1550, although it is no longer the Amorite peoples, but the Chaldean. (If you wish to study the earlier peoples further, see information on the King Hammurabi in text or web sites, however, since much of this first city of Babylon has been destroyed it is difficult to cover in a survey class. As a side note however, although less survives of the earlier culture above ground, much is known regarding their astronomy and literature.) Check out the web sites at the bottom for more excitement on the Ancient Meditteranean World.
Iran: Usually included under 'Near Eastern' art categories along with Mesopotamia would be the art of the ancient Persians or the art of Iran. These are the peoples who inhabited the region further East of Mesopotamia, and like the other 'Cradle of Civilization' cultures, they have an extremely long history. From as early as c. 4000 BC pottery pieces are known to have come from Ancient Iran that the show the fascinating 'nomadic animal style' seen in many early Indo-European tribes and other cultural groups, such as the Scythians. This is a region rich in cross-cultural influences, which undoubtedly had an influence on Early Medieval European tribes (such as the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Franks, etc.) For more information on this site.
The First Persian Empire:Beginning in 539 BC the Persians, who were an Indo-European-speaking people, affiliated with another tribe called the Medes and were able to conquer the long lasting Assyrian Empire and under Cyrus the Great were able to create the largest Empire in the world with capitals first at Susa, and then at Persepolis. The most important of these that we will study briefly is that at Persepolis, built by two of the most famous Kings-Darius and Xerxes. This was a magnificent complex that originally illustrated an ECLECTIC style.
(NOTE: To get back to this site after you have viewed the following links, you must minimize or close their window completely. The ARTII site stays open underneath for cross referencing.)
History and pictures of Persepolis
Virtual museum using interactive and a panoramic movie of the museum collection.
LACMA: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art - (Go to "Art", then to "Permanent Collections" then to "Ancient Near Eastern Art" or to "Islamic Art".)
Last Published 7/14/16