Ancient Middle East


10 CommandmentsLaws given to the Ancient Israelites by their leader, Moses, after he met with God on top of Mount Sinai. These Commandments became the foundation for the laws of the Israelites and remained the foundation of laws for civilizations throughout history, even up to today.
AbrahamHe traveled from Ur to Canaan. In the Hebrew tradition, he is the founder of Judaism. In the Muslim tradition, he is the ancestor of the Arabs. He lived to be a very old man, when he became a father to his son, Isaac.
AkkadiansMesopotamian people who conquered Sumer and ruled most of the Fertile Crescent area for many years. The Akkadian leader Sargon was the first emperor.
AmoritesPeople who thrived in Mesopotamia in the period between the rise of Sumer and the rise of Persia. The most famous of the Amorite leaders was Hammurabi.
AshurbanipalAssyrian king (668-626 B.C.) most famous for creating the world's first library, consisting of thousands of clay tables with writing on them. It is because of this library that we know so much about Babylonian and Assyrian literature. One of the stories in this library was the Epic of Gilgamesh.
AssyriansPeople who originated in the northern Tigris River valley, in the Armenian Mountains. They later conquered much of Mesopotamia, as well as Phoenicia and Egypt. The Assyrians brought to their people great advances in civilization, including several firsts:
  • keys and locks
  • plumbing and flush toilets
  • paved roads
  • central government, with territorial governors.
BabylonAncient capital city of many empires in what is now the Middle East and Asia Minor.
BabyloniansWide-ranging group of people that included many other famous groups. Basically, the Babylonians were people who lived in a civilization whose capital was Babylon. This included the Amorites, Chaldeans, and others. As Mesopotamia is used to describe the entire region of the Tigris-Euphrates valleys, so is Babylonia used to describe almost the entire region.
ByblosMajor Phoenician city originally called "Gubla" or "Gebal." The name Byblos comes from the Greek for "papyrus." Not surprisingly, Byblos was a major source of papyrus. Other facts:
  • Byblos was a city in the land called Canaan.
  • The Phoenician alphabet is said to have developed in Byblos.
CanaanLand along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that was home to the ancient Israelites. It was also part of the Phoenician territories. When reading the history of Israel, you will sometimes see Israel and Canaan used interchangeably. Technically, the ancient Israelites were Canaanites.
CarthageAncient city that began as a sea-trading center. Legend says that Dido, princess of Tyre, founded Carthage. The city grew and grew, building a large Mediterranean trade base and conquering neighboring territories and peoples. Hanno and other sailors charted new lands. The Carthaginian army and navy soon grew very large. Carthaginian colonies on Sardinia and Sicily came into conflict with Rome, and the Punic Wars began. They were three in number, and Rome won all three. Carthaginian General Hamilcar Barca fought Rome in the First Punic War. The Second Punic War was the most devastating. This war featured the Carthaginian general Hannibal (Hamilcar Barca's son) and his famous march over the Alps to the very gates of Rome. Hannibal won several brilliant victories but was ultimately defeated and exiled. This was the end of the Second Punic War. Many years later, Rome provoked an attack by Carthage, igniting the Third Punic War. Rome was vicious in victory, burning Carthage to the ground and sowing salt into the ground. Eventually, the Romans rebuilt Carthage, strictly as a Roman colony. It came to prominence once more, mainly at the insistence of Julius Caesar.
ChaldeansPeople who ruled Babylonia for a time. They were another people who had the great city of Babylon as their capital. Chaldea was a region of Babylonia and grew to prominence beginning about 612 B.C. The most famous Chaldean ruler was Nebuchadnezzar (605-562), who had built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Chaldea was often in conflict with Assyria and was eventually conquered by Cyrus of Persia in 539 B.C.
DavidHebrew king from Judah who made a name for famous when young by defeating the Philistine giant Goliath. He later became king when Saul, the first Jewish king, was killed in battle. David eventually became king of a united kingdom, when the Jewish tribes united. He was king from 1004 B.C. to 965 B.C. He made Jerusalem his capital, and it was the center of both government and religion. David was a very popular king, until he took a foreign wife. He was later succeeded by his son Solomon. David was very good at music, and many of the Psalms that are found in the Christian Bible are said to have been written by him.
Euphrates RiverRiver that was a boundary of Mesopotamia, or the "land between the rivers" (Tigris and Euphrates) The Euphrates was the western of the two rivers and flowed from a source deep in the Armenian mountains all the way to the Persian Gulf, almost 1,800 miles. Both rivers served as means of defense and trade for every civilization in this area.
GilgameshFamous ancient story about a great warrior (named Gilgamesh) who lives a very long time and does a great many great things. This story also includes a Great Flood story and some other stories found in traditions of other ancient civilizations. Gilgamesh was from Uruk, a Sumerian city.
HammurabiAmorite king famous for his Code, a collection of laws that were effective throughout the kingdom. He was also very much a warrior king and added greatly to his people's territory during his reign.
Hanging Gardens of BabylonOne of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens were a huge collection of plants that 'hung' from a balcony in a large palace in Babylon, the capital of many Mesopotamian empires. The Gardens were built at the direction of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar, who was said to have order them built to remind his wife of her homeland. The great mystery of the Hanging Gardens was how enough water to support the plants was transported so high in the air.
HattusaCapital city of the Hittite Empire. The Hittites were a warlike people who began in Asia Minor and eventually conquered much of the surrounding region (by about 1750 B.C.). They were very successful at warfare, mainly because they were the first people to use iron weapons. The walls of Hattusa were said to be up to 26 feet thick in places.
HebrewsAncient people also known as Canaanites and Israelites. They were known as Hebrews because the language they used was Hebrew.
HittitesWarlike people who began in Asia Minor and eventually conquered much of the surrounding region (by about 1750 B.C.). They were very successful at warfare, mainly because they were the first people to use iron weapons. The Hittite capital was Hattusa, a massive city that had tremendous walls. They were also the first people to sign a treaty with another civilization. In 1284 B.C., the Hittite king Hattusili III signed a treaty with King Ramses II of Egypt. Each civilization agreed not to attack the other and to defend the other if attacked by a third civilization.
IsraelMethod of preserving pharaohs and other important Middle Eastians for the afterlife. The ancient Middle Eastians strongly believed in an afterlife, somewhere they would go after their life here on Earth. The body was preserved as a mummy to keep it ready for the journey into the afterlife. Many mummies were placed in pyramids; others were placed in tombs that were elsewhere.
JerusalemAncient city that began as a major city of Judah and became the capital of a united Israel, then became the capital of the Southern Kingdom (Judah). It was called the City of David and was regarded as a holy city.
JoshuaHebrew leader who took over for Moses and led his people to the Promised Land, or Canaan. He is known as a warrior and as the person who caused the Walls of Jericho to fall from the sounds of trumpets.
JudahSouthern Jewish kingdom established in 931. Also overall name for Hebrew lands before this division. As the Southern Kingdom, Judah had Jerusalem as its capital.
KishSumerian city that was one of the earliest ever. It was one of the great early cities. It was conquered several times by invaders but retained a style all its own. Among the remains found at Kish is the oldest example of writing, dating to about 3500 B.C.
LagashMajor Sumerian city-state that survived the fall of Akkad with its walls intact. Also the source of a great many important archaeological finds.
MosesCanaanite leader who led the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land. Along the way, he gave them the 10 Commandments, after his meeting with God atop Mount Sinai.
NebuchadnezzarChaldean king who conquered the ancient Israelites and brought them to Babylonia as slaves. He also had built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World.
NinevehCapital of the ancient Assyrian Empire, which lasted from about 1350 B.C. to 612 B.C., when rival armies destroyed Nineveh. The city was on the eastern banks of the Tigris River and was a great source of wealth and trade. The city walls were said to have been 40 to 50 feet high in places.
PhoeniciansAncient people who ruled the Mediterranean area for a time. They occupied land as well, specifically the eastern Mediterranean coast, including Canaan. The Phoenicians built ships and sailed across the Mediterranean, establishing colonies throughout the area. The most famous of these colonies were Byblos, Tyre, Sidon, and Carthage. The Phoenicians are credited with developing the first alphabet. They developed ships that sail out to sea and so could sail across the Mediterranean to Sicily and Sardinia. They are thought to have been the first people to develop blown glass. Their business practices are legendary and are the foundation of Greek and Roman trade.
SargonAkkadian leader who was the first emperor (2340-2305 B.C.). Under his leadership, Akkad conquered Sumer and established a strong, stable empire in Mesopotamia. At one point, Sargon controlled territory from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Black Sea in the northeast.
SaulFirst king of Israel (1020-1004 B.C.). At this time, Israel wasn't that big. Saul was in constant battle with the neighboring Philistines. His successor was King David.
SidonPort city that served as the shipyards for Persian invasions of Egypt and Greece. One of the most famous of Phoenician cities, Sidon was famous for its manufacturing of glass and purple dye.
Interesting fact: The people of Sidon locked their city gates in 351 B.C. and set fire to the city rather than submit to the Persian leader Artaxerxes. This left the city very weak and much easier for Alexander the Great to conquer, just a few decades later.
SolomonHebrew king (965-930 B.C.) who succeeded his father, David, and built the first great Temple in Jerusalem. He made alliances with neighboring Egypt and Phoenicia. He was also famous for being wise and musical. The Bible's Song of Solomon is named for him, if not written by him; and the biblical book of Proverbs contains many of his sayings.
SumeriaAncient civilization thought to be one of the first ever. It is thought that the use of the wheel started there. The Sumerian people were certainly the first to gather in city-states and develop a system of writing, as well as many other "firsts." Based on the lowlands around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Sumerians were vulnerable to attack. They were eventually conquered by the Akkadians. Major city-states included Ur, Uruk, Kish, and Lagash.
Tigris RiverRiver that was a boundary of Mesopotamia, or the "land between the rivers" (Tigris and Euphrates) The Tigris was the eastern of the two rivers and flowed from a source deep in the Armenian mountains all the way to the Persian Gulf, about 1,200 miles. Both rivers were the lifeblood of Mesopotamian civilizations, giving them water and a vehicle for their trade and defense.
UrMajor city-state of ancient Sumeria. Ur is said to be the home city of Abraham, father of the Hebrews.
UrukThe first major city in Sumeria, founded about 3500 B.C. The first king of Uruk was Gilgamesh. This man is alternately said to be the inspiration for the great story the Epic of Gilgamesh or the actual man. Whatever the case, Gilgamesh built the city's walls. In its day, Uruk was larger than other city-states put together. Some experts have estimated Uruk's population at close to 50,000 people.
ZigguratTemples built in ancient Sumeria. These temples resembled "step pyramids" found in Egypt. Stairways rose up to the top of the mud-brick platforms, and worship of gods took place up there.
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David White