Artist's Reconstruction of Ur III

Zigurat at Ur III Artwork by John Hill


In southern Mesopotamia temples stood at the center of communities and played a crucial role in their development, with the architectural form of the ziggurat representing a culminating monumental achievement. A ziggurat was a monumental structure standing on a high platform that evolved from earlier structures of the Ubaid period. The temple consisted of a long central room containing an altar and offering tables with several smaller rooms accessible along the longer sides of the building. Given the limited durability of sun-dried mud brick, the exterior walls of the temples were reinforced by symmetrically arranged buttresses. The surfaces of the exterior walls were often decorated with mosaic arrangements of painted clay cones or nails set in the walls.


 Susa, a good example of a partially excavated Mesopotamian Tel from the air. Capital of the Elamites.

Nineveh. An artistic rendering of the ancient Assyrian capital and religious center. Notice the Ziggurat (step pyramid structure) at the far left.


Life-rendering of a bronze bust of an Akkadian ruler, either Sargon or Naram Sin, found at Nineveh.

Artwork by John Hill

Hammurabi's Law Code, the steorite stele found at Susa. Hammurabi was the Babylonian (Amorite) King who ruled c. 1750 BC. He enacted a set of laws based on Mesopotamian precedents and later had them inscribed on this stele. Now in the Louvre Museum.

Behistun†††† Photo by Elizabeth Rauh


DECIPHERMENT OF CUNEIFORM, the Behistun Inscription. The accomplishments or Res Gestae of the Persian emperor, Darius I were inscribed 100m above the base of a limestone cliff face on a large mountain situated at the gate to one of the passes leading from Mesopotamia into Iran (on Mt. Behistun [Bisutun] near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran). Inscribed sometime between 522 and 519 BC, the inscription records Dariusí rise to power after having suppressed multiple rebellions through nineteen military victories in the course of a single year. The text is inscribed in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian-Akkadian. Above the inscription stood a life-sized bas-relief of Darius I, the Great, holding a bow as a symbol of kingship, with his left foot pressing down on the chest of a figure representing one of his vanquished rivals. Darius is attended to the left by two military assistants; to the right nine smaller figures bound as prisoners with rope around their necks and hands represent various conquered peoples. The winged figure Faravahar (a symbol of the divine blessing of the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda) flies above scene, anointing the king. The relief was apparently emended to include an additional captured figure as well as Darius's own beard, attached to the relief as a separate stone block with iron pins and lead. We owe our understanding of the cuneiform script to Sir Henry Rawlinson, a British officer and classicist who carefully recorded the inscribed text of the royal inscription of King Darius I of Persia at Behistun in 1838. At considerable risk to his own person Sir Henry Rawlinson reportedly scaled the face of the cliff using ropes and planks to carefully transcribe the inscribed texts. Rawlinson and others were able to use the knowledge of Avestan (the form of Sanskrit employed in Persia) to decipher the cuneiform version of the text.

[The link bar feature is not available in this web]