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Not so Roux's wonderful overview. After his retirement from a leading British pharmaceutical company he found the necessary leisure, and access to Parisian university libraries, to compile this volume of history. The first edition was written in the 60's, the second in the 80's after some remarkable finds greatly expanded the continuity of the original, and the third, this volume, in the early 90's. In this, he states that the English version has actually leapfrogged the original version in his native French.
The book traces the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia from the Paleolithic period through Sumer and Akkad, the Assyrian empire, Babylon, the glory of the Old Testament period, and to the final takeover by the Hellenistic Greeks. This sweep of history comprising some six-plus millennia cannot, of course, be dealt with comprehensively within the bounds of a single volume; nevertheless, Roux has managed to spotlight the extant periods without losing the story's overall continuity, a considerable achievement.
This is, in this reviewer's opinion, the best single-volume introduction to ancient Mesopotamian history on the market today.
Although the book is full of interesting topics, what really struck me was how long the Sumerian culture managed to exist in some form or another despite the successive waves of foreign invaders. To survive 3000 years in such unstable conditions really demonstrates how sophisticated and influential Sumero-Akkadian culture was at that time.
As the title suggests, "Ancient Iraq" deals primarily with ancient civilizations that resided within the confines of modern-day Iraq. As a result, the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians ae given center stage, while other cultures in the Near East, such as the Egyptians, Hittites, and Persians are only briefly reviewed, despite their interaction with the Mesopotamians.
Pictures, maps, and various timelines are also included in the book. Unfortunately, pictures of artifacts are either B&W photos or simple line drawings, and I felt this presentation really failed to bring forth the beauty inherent in such objects. Many of the same photos are presented in color in another book ("The Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia"), and the difference is like night and day. Nevertheless, I should say that Roux's narrative does not suffer at all from this slight shortcoming, and most readers probably will not care about the visual aids.
All in all, I found this book to be quite engaging and believe that anybody interested in ancient Mesopotamia should have this book in their personal library. It was a another reviewer's opinion that this was the best book of its kind available on the market today. I wholeheartedly agree.
The introductory chapters explore the geographical setting, archaeological research and the paleo-, meso- and neolithic periods. Following on, the author discusses the Hassuna, Samarra, Halat, Ubaid, Uruk and Jemdat timeframes, and the ancient trade routes.
Next up is the Sumerian civilization, with a study of its origin, religion, history and mythology. The story of Gilgamesh is covered here. There was a Semitic interlude and a final Sumerian renaissance before the torch of history passed to the Semites in the form of the Akkadians and later the Assyrians and Babylonians. The statesman and lawgiver Hammurabbi is thoroughly dealt with.
But other peoples played a part too, like the Hurrians, Mitannians and Kassites. Insofar as they impacted upon the history of the area, empires like the Hittite and the Egyptian are also considered. There are detailed narratives on the Assyrian empire, the Chaldean kings and the fall of Nineveh and later of Babylon. After this event, Mesopotamia ceased to be a seat of empire and passed from the Persians to the Greeks, the Parthians, the Sassanids and ultimately to the Arabs.
In the Epilogue, we learn of the heritage of this civilization, such as enduring religious symbols like the Maltese cross, the tree of life an the crescent. Some words have come down to us, like "alcohol" (guhlu in Akkadian), "myrrh" (murru) and "naphta" (naptu), "abyss" (abzu in Sumerian). Some Sumerian words still live in Hebrew, like Egal (great house) = Heikal = Temple and the personal name Eitan (Etana).
The book contains plates with photographs and illustrations, and concludes with bibliographic notes, comparative history tables, various interesting maps and indices of names and subjects. For those interested in the paleolithic origins of civilization, I recommend Lost Civilizations Of The Stone Age by Richard Rudgley. If you have a taste for alternative history, the book Ramses II And His Time by Immanuel Velikovsky has much to say about Babylon and the Chaldeans. And finally, Empires Of The Word: A Language History Of The World by Nicholas Ostler, deals extensively with ancient Mesopotamia, its languages, culture and empires.
Chapters 1 to 4 chapters survey the geography, and the prehistory of Mesopotamia. Chapters 5 to 24 details the known political, military, economic, and societal events of each of the main periods of Mesopotamian history, with separate chapters on the Gods of Sumer, and the Age of Heroes which discuss the stories of the Flood, Gilgamesh, and other heroes of that age.
The book provides extensive notes and bibliography for further reading on a chapter by chapter basis which I found most useful in helping my understanding. It also has a detailed chronology on all of the known major dynasties of the period which is about the most complete I have seen. There are 20 of plates (black and white) many of which I have seen in other books, and some 21 detailed illustrations , as well as several maps which I found to be quite helpful, but certainly not the best I have seen.
Up to now, the books I have read on this area were on rather more specific periods or topics, such as "Babylon" by Joan Oates;. "Treasures of Darkness" by Thorkild Jacobsen on Mesopotamian religion, and a number of books on the Hittites and the eastern Mediterranean. I was therefore looking for other books which would fill the gaps in my knowledge. I had ordered this book along with Wolfram von Soden's "The Ancient Orient", which describes itself as an introduction to the study of the Ancient Near East, which it certainly is. I found "Ancient Iraq" to be an excellent follow up book.
The most informative sections for me were the chapters on the Sumerians, the "Time of Confusion" (c 1300BC to 900BC), and those on the Assyrian Empire. These are all periods which I want to know more about; - the Sumerians for how their civilization developed from small settlements along the "Land of the Two Rivers" to the development of the city and national states of the second half of the 3rd millennium; - The Time of Confusion, because to the general lack of archaeological information about the Dark Age which seems to have occurred in most of the ancient Near East; - the Assyrians because I really didn't know very much about them except for some of their later kings from the references in the Bible.
I was happy to see that in general, the author does not attempt to take sides into the details of the various differences of scholarly opinion about what happened during this period, which suited me fine, since I was looking for a historical survey rather than a discussion of the competing theories. So as far as chronology is concerned, this book follows the generally accepted dating systems. I was also happy to see included a number of translations of the texts from the original sources as well as the inclusion of a large number of Sumerian and Akkadian words
In summary, the book is an excellent complement to my growing library of other books on the ancient Near East, and helpful in its descriptions of the relationships of the Mesopotamian states with the neighbouring states in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt to the west, and Iran to the east. It therefore met my expectations, and I would recommend it to any student who is interested in developing a detailed knowledge about the history of ancient Mesopotamia.
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