You Gotta Know These Ancient Empires of the Mediterranean and Near East
- Sumer was one of the first civilizations to arise in Mesopotamia. Sumer was a collection of city-states including Eridu, Uruk, and Ur. This civilization created cuneiform, the first known writing system, which was made by putting wedge-shaped marks on clay tablets.
- The Akkadian Empire was the first empire in the world, and consisted of Sumerians and Akkadian-speaking Semites. The empire was founded by Sargon the Great, who conquered all of Mesopotamia in the 24th and 23rd centuries BC.
- Assyria was a region located along the Upper Tigris River in what is now northern Iraq. Its major cities included Aššur and Nineveh. Assyria was ruled at various times by the Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian and Babylonian empires. In 911 BC, the Neo-Assyrian Empire was founded by Ashur-Dan II; it lasted until 612 BC. Some of the empire’s greatest rulers were Tiglath-Pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal. At its height, the Neo-Assyrian Empire ruled over all of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant (the eastern shore of the Mediterranean).
- Babylonia was a region of lower Mesopotamia centered on the city Babylon. The different incarnations of Babylonian empires included the Amorite, Kassite, and Chaldean dynasties. The most notable Amorite ruler was Hammurabi, famed for his legal code, though Babylon was at its most powerful under the Chaldeans. The Chaldean ruler Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and destroyed Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
- The Hittites created a large empire in the late Bronze Age centered on their capital, Hattusa, in Anatolia (the western portion of what is now Turkey). Their empire engaged in the first widespread use of iron and chariots in war. The Hittites, under King Muwatalli II, were defeated by the Egyptians under Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh, which involved as many as 5000 chariots. The Hittite Empire came to an end less than a century later as part of the Bronze Age collapse.
- The Bronze-Age Minoan civilization was centered on the Greek island Crete and included nearby islands. The British archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed much of what we know about the Minoans, including their palace at Knossos and their writing system, which he called Linear A.
- The Mycenaeans succeeded the Minoans as the preeminent Greek civilization. Much of their territory was on the Greek mainland, including the city of Mycenae itself. Their writing system is called Linear B. The Mycenaeans disappeared in the late Bronze Age collapse. Homer’s Iliad is set during the Mycenaean period, and Agamemnon is said to have been the King of Mycenae.
- Lydia was an Iron-Age kingdom that encompassed most of western Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and had its capital at Sardis. Lydians are credited with inventing coins, and their last king, Croesus, was famous for being fabulously wealthy. When Croesus asked the Oracle at Delphi about his war plans, Croesus was told that if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. This came true as Cyrus the Great defeated Croesus and sacked Sardis.
- The Achaemenid Empire or first Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, who defeated and incorporated the Babylonian Empire, Lydian Empire and Median Empire. Based in what is now Iran, the empire had its ceremonial capital at Persepolis. Under kings Darius and Xerxes, Persia unsuccessfully invaded Greece. The First Persian Empire came to an end when Darius III was defeated by Alexander the Great.
- The Parthian Empire was the second major empire to come out of Persia. The Parthian Empire was founded by Arsaces I, who rebelled against the Seleucid Empire. Parthians often fought with Rome, and at the 53 BC Battle of Carrhae, the Roman general Crassus was killed. The Parthian Empire was supplanted by the Sassanian Empire in AD 224.
This article was contributed by former NAQT writer George Stevens.