Mesopotamia, the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southwestern Asia. The region extends northwestward from the Persian Gulf through the center of modern Iraq. It includes the eastern part of Syria and a small part of southeastern Turkey, where the two rivers have their sources. The name Mesopotamia, Greek for “land between the rivers,” was given the region by Alexander the Great. It has been called a “cradle of civilization.”


Mesopotamia formed the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent. The development of irrigation enabled farmers to grow abundant crops in the rich soil of the Mesopotamian valley. A highly developed civilization was established by the Sumerians about 3500 B.C. on the Persian Gulf. About 2400 B.C. the Akkadians, who had settled in middle Mesopotamia, conquered both Sumer and Assyria.

The Akkadian empire was destroyed two centuries later by a people known as the Guti. A new kingdom, Babylonia, was founded in the lower valley by the Amorites, who adopted and preserved much of Sumerian-Akkadian culture. About 1790 B.C. Hammurabi, sixth monarch of the Babylonian dynasty, unified all Mesopotamia.

Hittite raids in the 17th century B.C. ended Babylonian control. The Kassites moved into the lower valley and ruled the southern region for more than 400 years. Eventually a native people, the Chaldeans, gained control of Babylonia, but they were conquered in 729 B.C. by the Assyrians.

In 689 B.C., Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, crushed a Chaldean revolt and sacked the city of Babylon. In 612 B.C. the allied Chaldeans and Medes (from Persia) destroyed the Assyrian Empire. As rulers of Mesopotamia, the Chaldeans founded the Neo-Babylonian empire. The Persians under Cyrus the Great defeated the Chaldeans in 539 B.C. and made Mesopotamia a part of their empire.

Alexander the Great added Mesopotamia to his empire in 331 B.C. From 115 A.D. to 615 there was a constant struggle for northern Mesopotamia between the Persian and Roman (later Eastern Roman, or Byzantine) empires. The victorious Persians were in turn conquered by Arabian Muslims in 639–40. Thereafter Mesopotamian history merges with that of Persia, until Mesopotamia was annexed by the Ottoman Empire in 1638. The empire was dissolved after being defeated in World War I, and the country of Iraq was created in 1920.