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Overview map of the ancient Near East

The Ancient Near East refers to early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraqmarker and northeastern Syriamarker), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elammarker, Media and Persiamarker), Armeniamarker, Anatoliamarker (modern Turkeymarker) and the Levant (modern Syriamarker, Lebanonmarker, Israelmarker, Palestine, Jordanmarker, and Cyprusmarker). As such, it is a term widely employed in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history. It begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BCE, though the date it ends varies: either covering the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE or Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, or until the conquest by the Islamic Caliphate in the 7th century CE.

The ancient Near East is considered the cradle of civilization. It was the first to practice intensive year-round agriculture, it gave the rest of the world the first writing system, invented the potter's wheel and then the vehicular- and mill wheel, created the first centralized governments, law codes and empires, as well as introducing social stratification, slavery and organized warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.


Ancient Near East periodization is the attempt to categorize or divide time into discrete named blocks, or eras, of the Near east. The result is a descriptive abstraction that provides a useful handle on Near East periods of time with relatively stable characteristics.

(Stone Age) Chalcolithic
(4500 BCE - 3300 BCE)
Early Chalcolithic 4500 BCE - 4000 BCE Ubaid periodmarker
Late Chalcolithic 4000 BCE - 3300 BCE Ghassulian, Uruk period, Gerzehmarker, Predynastic Egypt
Bronze Age
(3300 BCE - 1200 BCE)
Early Bronze Age
(3300 BCE - 2000 BCE)
Early Bronze Age I 3300 BCE - 3000 BCE Protodynastic to Early Dynastic Period of Egypt
Early Bronze Age II 3000 BCE - 2700 BCE Early Dynastic Period of Sumer
Early Bronze Age III 2700 BCE - 2200 BCE Old Kingdom of Egypt, Akkadian Empiremarker
Early Bronze Age IV 2200 BCE - 2000 BCE First Intermediate Period of Egypt
Middle Bronze Age
(2000 BCE - 1550 BCE)
Middle Bronze Age I 2000 BCE - 1750 BCE Middle Kingdom of Egypt
Middle Bronze Age II 1750 BCE - 1650 BCE Second Intermediate Period of Egypt
Middle Bronze Age III 1650 BCE - 1550 BCE Hittite Old Kingdom, Minoan eruptionmarker
Late Bronze Age
(1550 BCE - 1200 BCE)
Late Bronze Age I 1550 BCE - 1400 BCE Hittite Middle Kingdom
Late Bronze Age II A 1400 BCE - 1300 BCE Hittite New Kingdom, Mitanni, Ugaritmarker
Late Bronze Age II B 1300 BCE - 1200 BCE (Dark Age, Sea Peoples)
Iron Age
(1200 BCE - 586 BCE)
Iron Age I
(1200 BCE - 1000 BCE)
Iron Age I A 1200 BCE - 1150 BCE Troy VIImarker, Hekla 3 eruption
Iron Age I B 1150 BCE - 1000 BCE Neo-Hittite states
Iron Age II
(1000 BCE - 586 BCE)
Iron Age II A 1000 BCE - 900 BCE Neo-Assyrian Empire
Iron Age II B 900 BCE - 700 BCE Kingdom of Israel, Urartu, Phrygia
Iron Age II C 700 BCE - 586 BCE Neo-Babylonian Empire



Early Mesopotamia

The Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BCE) existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid periodmarker. Named after the Sumerian city of Urukmarker, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia. It was followed by the Sumerian civilization. The late Uruk period (34th to 32nd centuries) saw the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script and corresponds to the Early Bronze Age.

Bronze Age

Early Bronze Age

Sumer, located in southern Mesopotamia, is the earliest known civilization in the world. It lasted from the first settlement of Eridumarker in the Ubaid periodmarker (late 6th millennium BCE) through the Uruk period (4th millennium BCE) and the Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BCE) until the rise of Babylonmarker in the early 2nd millennium BCE.

Ancient Elammarker lay to the east of Sumer and Akkadmarker, in the far west and southwest of modern-day Iranmarker, stretching from the lowlands of Khuzestanmarker and Ilam Provincemarker. In the Old Elamite period ca. 3200 BCE , it consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshanmarker, and from the mid-2nd millennium BCE, it was centered in Susamarker in the Khuzestanmarker lowlands. The civilization endured up until 539 BCE. The Proto-Elamite civilization existed during the time of ca. 3200 BCE to 2700 BCE when Susamarker, the later capital of the Elamitesmarker began to receive influence from the cultures of the Iranian plateau. In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period. This civilization is recognized as the oldest in Iran and was largely contemporary with its neighbour, Sumerian civilization. The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use for the ancient Elamite language before the introduction of Elamite Cuneiform.

The Amorites
The Amorites were a nomadic Semitic people who occupied the country west of the Euphrates from the second half of the third millennium BCE. In the earliest Sumerian sources, beginning about 2400 BCE, the land of the Amorites ("the Mar.tu land") is associated with the West, including Syriamarker and Canaan, although their ultimate origin may have been Arabia.. They ultimately settled in Mesopotamia, ruling Isinmarker, Larsamarker, and later Babylonmarker

Middle Bronze Age

Late Bronze Age

The Hurrians lived in northern Mesopotamia and areas to the immediate east and west, beginning approximately 2500 BCE. They probably originated in the Caucasus and entered from the north, but this is not certain. Their known homeland was centred in Subartu, the Khabur River valley, and later they established themselves as rulers of small kingdoms throughout northern Mesopotamia and Syriamarker. The largest and most influential Hurrian nation was the kingdom of Mitanni. The Hurrians played a substantial part in the History of the Hittites.

Ishuwa was an ancient kingdom in Anatoliamarker. The name is first attested in the second millennium BCE, and is also spelled Išuwa. In the classical period the land was a part of Armeniamarker. Ishuwa was one of the places were agriculture developed very early in the Neolithic. Urban centres emerged in the upper Euphrates river valley around 3500 BCE. The first states followed in the third millennium BCE. The name Ishuwa is not known until the literate period of the second millennium BCE. Few literate sources from within Ishuwa have been discovered and the primary source material comes from Hittite texts. To the west of Ishuwa laid the kingdom of the Hittites and this nation was an untrustworthy neighbour. The Hittite king Hattusili I (c.1600 BCE) is reported to have marched his army across the Euphrates river and destroyed the cities there. This corresponds well with burnt destruction layers discovered by archaeologists at town sites in Ishuwa of roughly the same date. After the end of the Hittite empire in the early twelfth century BCE a new state emerged in Ishuwa. The city of Malatyamarker became the center of one of the so called Neo-Hittite kingdom. The movement of nomadic people may have weakened the kingdom of Malatya before the final Assyrian invasion. The decline of the settlements and culture in Ishuwa from the seventh century BCE until the Roman period was probably caused by this movement of people. The Armenians later settled in the area since they were natives of the Armenian Plateau and related to the earlier inhabitants of Ishuwa.

Kizzuwatna is the name of an ancient kingdom of the second millennium BCE. It was situated in the highlands of southeastern Anatoliamarker, near the Gulf of İskenderunmarker in modern-day Turkeymarker. It encircled the Taurus Mountainsmarker and the Ceyhan river. The center of the kingdom was the city of Kummanni, situated in the highlands. In a later era, the same region was known as Cilicia.

Luwian is an extinct language of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family. Luwian speakers gradually spread through Anatolia and became a contributing factor to the downfall, after circa 1180 BCE, of the Hittite Empire, where it was already widely spoken. Luwian was also the language spoken in the Neo-Hittite states of Syriamarker, such as Melid and Carchemishmarker, as well as in the central Anatolian kingdom of Tabal that flourished around 900 BCE. Luwian has been preserved in two forms, named after the writing systems used to represent them: Cuneiform Luwian, and Hieroglyphic Luwian.

Marimarker was an ancient Sumerian and Amorite city, located 11 kilometers north-west of the modern town of Abu Kamalmarker on the western bank of Euphrates river, some 120 km southeast of Deir ez-Zormarker, Syriamarker. It is thought to have been inhabited since the 5th millennium BCE, although it flourished from 2900 BCE until 1759 BCE, when it was sacked by Hammurabi.

Mitanni was a Hurrian kingdom in northern Mesopotamia from ca. 1500 BCE, at the height of its power, during the 14th century BCE, encompassing what is today southeastern Turkeymarker, northern Syriamarker and northern Iraqmarker (roughly corresponding to Kurdistanmarker), centered around the capital Washukanni whose precise location has not yet been determined by archaeologists. The Mitanni kingdom is thought to have been a feudal state led by a warrior nobility of Indo-Aryan descent, who invaded the Levant region at some point during the 17th century BCE, their influence apparent in a linguistic superstrate in Mitanni records. The spread to Syria of a distinct pottery type associated with the Kura-Araxes culture has been connected with this movement, although its date is somewhat too early.Yamhad was an ancient Amorite kingdom. A substantial Hurrian population also settled in the kingdom, and the Hurrian culture influenced the area. The kingdom was powerful during the Middle Bronze Age, c.1800-1600 BCE. Its biggest rival was Qatnamarker further south. Yamhad was finally destroyed by the Hittites in the sixteenth century BCE.

The Aramaeans were a Semitic (West Semitic language group), semi-nomadic and pastoralist people who had lived in upper Mesopotamia and Syria. Aramaeans have never had a unified empire; they were divided into independent kingdoms all across the Near East. Yet to these Aramaeans befell the privilege of imposing their language and culture upon the entire Near East and beyond, fostered in part by the mass relocations enacted by successive empires, including the Assyrians and Babylonians. Scholars even have used the term 'Aramaization' for the Assyro-Babylonian peoples' languages and cultures, that have become Aramaic-speaking.

The Sea peoples is the term used for a confederacy of seafaring raiders of the second millennium BCE who sailed into the eastern shores of the Mediterraneanmarker, caused political unrest, and attempted to enter or control Egyptianmarker territory during the late 19th dynasty, and especially during Year 8 of Ramesses III of the 20th Dynasty. The Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah explicitly refers to them by the term "the foreign-countries (or 'peoples'As noted by Gardiner V.1 p.196, other texts have N25:X1*Z4 "foreign-peoples"; both terms can refer to the concept of "foreigners" as well. Zangger in the external link below expresses a commonly held view that "sea peoples" does not translate this and other expressions but is an academic innovation. The Woudhuizen dissertation and the Morris paper identify Gaston Maspero as the first to use the term "peuples de la mer" in 1881.) of the sea" ) in his Great Karnak Inscription. Although some scholars believe that they "invaded" Cyprusmarker, Hatti and the Levant, this hypothesis is disputed.

Bronze Age collapse
The Bronze Age collapse is the name given by those historians who see the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, as violent, sudden and culturally disruptive, expressed by the collapse of palace economies of the Aegean and Anatoliamarker, which were replaced after a hiatus by the isolated village cultures of the Dark Age period of history of the Ancient Middle East. The Bronze Age collapse may be seen in the context of a technological history that saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region, beginning with precocious iron-working in what is now Romaniamarker in the 13th and 12th centuries. The cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatoliamarker and Syriamarker, and the Egyptian Empire in Syriamarker and Palestine, the scission of long-distance trade contacts and sudden eclipse of literacy, occurred between 1206 and 1150 BCE. In the first phase of this period, almost every city between Troymarker and Gazamarker was violently destroyed, and often left unoccupied thereafter (for example, Hattusasmarker, Mycenaemarker, Ugaritmarker). The gradual end of the Dark Age that ensued saw the rise of settled Neo-Hittite Aramaean kingdoms of the mid-10th century BCE, and the rise of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Iron Age

During the Early Iron Age, Assyria assumed a position as a great regional power, vying with Babylonia and other lesser powers for dominance of the region, though not until the reforms of Tiglath-Pileser III in the 8th century BCE, did it become a powerful and vast empire. In the Middle Assyrian period of the Late Bronze Age, Assyria had been a minor kingdom of northern Mesopotamia (modern-day northern Iraqmarker), competing for dominance with its southern Mesopotamian rival Babylonia. Beginning with the campaign of Adad-nirari II, it became a great regional power, growing to be a serious threat to 25th dynasty Egypt. The Neo-Assyrian Empire succeeded the Middle Assyrian period (14th to 10th century BCE). Some scholars, such as Richard Nelson Frye, regard the Neo-Assyrian Empire to be the first real empire in human history. During this period, Aramaic was also made an official language of the empire, alongside the Akkadian language.

The states of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms were Luwian, Aramaic and Phoenician-speaking political entities of Iron Age northern Syriamarker and southern Anatoliamarker that arose following the collapse of the Hittite Empire around 1180 BCE and lasted until roughly 700 BCE. The term "Neo-Hittite" is sometimes reserved specifically for the Luwian-speaking principalities like Melid (Malatyamarker) and Karkamish (Carchemishmarker), although in a wider sense the broader cultural term "Syro-Hittite" is now applied to all the entities that arose in south-central Anatolia following the Hittite collapse — such as Tabal and Quwê — as well as those of northern and coastal Syria .

Urartu was an ancient kingdom of Armeniamarker and North Mesopotamia which existed from ca. 860 BCE, emerging from the Late Bronze Age until 585 BCE. The Kingdom of Urartu was located in the mountainous plateau between Asia Minormarker, Mesopotamia, and Caucasus mountainsmarker, later known as the Armenian Highlandmarker, and it centered around Lake Vanmarker (present-day eastern Turkeymarker). The name corresponds to the Biblical Ararat.

The term Neo-Babylonian Empire refers to Babylonia under the rule of the 11th ("Chaldean") dynasty, from the revolt of Nabopolassar in 626 BCE until the invasion of Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, notably including the reign of Nebuchadrezzar II. Through the centuries of Assyrian domination, Babylonia enjoyed a prominent status, and revolted at the slightest indication that it did not. However, the Assyrians always managed to restore Babylonian loyalty, whether through granting of increased privileges, or militarily. That finally changed in 627 BCE with the death of the last strong Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, and Babylonia rebelled under Nabopolassar the Chaldean the following year. With help from the Medes, Ninevehmarker was sacked in 612, and the seat of empire was again transferred to Babylonia.

The Achaemenid Empire was the first of the Persian Empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran, and the second great Iranian empire (after the Medean Empire). At the height of its power, encompassing approximately 7.5 million square kilometers, the Achaemenid Empire was territorially the largest empire of classical antiquity. It spanned three continents, including territories of modern Afghanistanmarker, parts of Pakistanmarker, Central Asia, Asia Minormarker, Thrace, many of the Black Seamarker coastal regions, Iraqmarker, northern Saudi Arabiamarker, Jordanmarker, Israelmarker, Lebanonmarker, Syriamarker, and all significant population centers of ancient Egyptmarker as far west as Libyamarker. It is noted in western history as the foe of the Greek city states in the Greco-Persian Wars, for freeing the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting Aramaic as the empire's official language.


Ancient civilizations in the Near East were deeply influenced by their spiritual beliefs, which generally did not distinguish between heaven and Earth. They believed that divine action influenced all mundane matters, and also believed in divination (ability to predict the future). Omens were often inscribed in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, as were records of major events.

See also


  1. Sumer and the Sumerians, by Harriet E. W. Crawford, p 69
  2. Sumer and the Sumerians, by Harriet E. W. Crawford, p 75
  3. Amorite Encyclopaedia Brittanica
  4. James P. Mallory, "Kuro-Araxes Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  5. See page 9.
  6. A convenient table of sea peoples in hieroglyphics, transliteration and English is given in the dissertation of Woodhuizen, 2006, who developed it from works of Kitchen cited there
  7. Gardiner V.1 p.196.
  8. Manassa p.55.
  9. Line 52. The inscription is shown in Manassa p.55 plate 12.
  10. Several articles in Oren.
  11. See A. Stoia and the other essays in M.L. Stig Sørensen and R. Thomas, eds., The Bronze Age—Iron Age Transition in Europe (Oxford) 1989, and T.H. Wertime and J.D. Muhly, The Coming of the Age of Iron (New Haven) 1980.
  12. Assyrian Eponym List
  13. Tadmor, H. (1994). The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria.pp.29
  14. Hawkins, John David; 1982a. “Neo-Hittite States in Syria and Anatolia” in Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.) 3.1: 372-441. Also: Hawkins, John David; 1995. "The Political Geography of North Syria and South-East Anatolia in the Neo-Assyrian Period" in Neo-Assyrian Geography, Mario Liverani (ed.), Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” Dipartimento di Scienze storiche, archeologiche e anthropologiche dell’Antichità, Quaderni di Geografia Storica 5: Roma: Sargon srl, 87-101.
  15. Urartu article, Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2007

Further reading

  • Fletcher, Banister; Cruickshank, Dan, Sir Banister Fletcher's a History of Architecture, Architectural Press, 20th edition, 1996 (first published 1896). ISBN 0750622679. Cf. Part One, Chapter 4.
  • William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History, Holt Rinehart and Winston Publishers, 1997
  • Jack Sasson, The Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, New York, 1995
  • Marc Van de Mieroop, History of the Ancient Near East: Ca. 3000-323 B.C., Blackwell Publishers, 2003

External links

  • Vicino Oriente — Vicino Oriente is the journal of the Section Near East of the Department of Historical, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences of Antiquity of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ University. The Journal, which is published yearly, deals with Near Eastern History, Archaeology, Epigraphy, extending its view also on the whole Mediterranean with the study of Phoenician and Punic documents. It is accompanied by ‘Quaderni di Vicino Oriente’, a monograph series.
  • Ancient Near — an information and content portal for the archaeology, ancient history, and culture of the ancient Near East and Egypt
  • Ancient Near — A database of the prehistoric Near East as well as its ancient history up to approximately the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans ...
  •—a wiki for the research and documentation of the ancient Near East and Egypt
  • ETANA — website hosted by a consortium of universities in the interests of providing digitized resources and relevant web links
  • Resources on Biblical Archaeology
  • Ancient Near East Photographs This collection, created by Professor Scott Noegel, documents artifacts and archaeological sites of the ancient Near East; from the University of Washington Libraries Digital Image Collection
  • Near East Images A directory of archaeological images of the ancient Near East
  • Bioarchaeology of the Near East An Open Access journal

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