Literally the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the foothills of south-eastern Anatolia—a region now mostly covered by Iraq and Iran.


The first major civilization in Mesopotamia, which included the city-states of Eridu, Ur, Nippur and Uruk (the last, according to a king list, was ruled by Gilgamesh around 2700 B.C.). Sumer is also a somewhat fluid place-name referring to the southern region of southern Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.


The region of south Mesopotamia after the mid-third millennium B.C., extending from the Persian Gulf to modern Baghdad. The Old Babylonian kingdom reached its floruit in the 18th and 17th centuries B.C. The later Neo-Babylonian empire, with its capital at Babylon, arose in 612 B.C. and lasted until the Persian conquest of 539 B.C.


The region of north Mesopotamia after the third-millennium B.C. Its ancient political history is divided into the Old Assyrian period (c. 2000–1750 B.C.); a dark period (c. 1750–1400) about which little is known; the Middle Assyrian kingdom (c. 1400–1000 B.C.), a unified state that conquered Babylonia and Syria; and the Neo-Assyrian empire (c. 1000–609 B.C.), which came to rule almost all of Mesopotamia.


A language of southern Mesopotamia, which ceased to be spoken after about 2000 B.C. Sumerian-speakers created the world’s earliest known writing system toward the end of the fourth millennium B.C., as well as some of the world’s earliest literature in the third millennium B.C. Sumerian continued to be used as a literary language well into the first millennium B.C.


A Semitic language spoken, in somewhat different dialects, by the Babylonians and Assyrians. The name derives from Akkad, a city built by the Babylonian king Sargon of Akkad in about 2300 B.C. In the second millennium B.C., Akkadian was used as a diplomatic lingua franca throughout the entire Near East.


From the Latin meaning “wedge-shaped,” a system of writing used throughout the Near East from 3,000 B.C. to 100 B.C. Originally developed by the Sumerians as pictograms (signs written in the shape of the objects to which they refer), cuneiform symbols evolved into abstract signs representing words, syllables and other elements. Most cuneiform writing is inscribed on clay tablets, though cuneiform inscriptions also appear on small cylinder seals (made of clay or semi-precious stone) and monumental stelae.