The culture of Mesopotamia was impacted greatly by the development of the country’s empires; while every empire had its own unique traits and aspects of culture, some traits remained consistent through them all. By looking at the common traits of each civilization, we can get a good idea of what Mesopotamian culture was like.
The five main civilization of Mesopotamia were the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.
In every Mesopotamian Empire, it can be seen that the country was based on a martial culture. A martial culture is one which is geared towards the preparation of war, and one which gives special privileges to powerful warriors in society. Mesopotamian culture was martial because, at the time, peace between countries/kingdoms was non-existent.
The empires of Mesopotamia were famed for their powerful militaries, and their aggression towards foreign countries and kingdoms. This is particularly true in the case of the Assyrian and Persian civilizations, both of which cultivated a sense of cruelty and violence in their cultures. Boys were taught to fight from a young age in Mesopotamian cultures, in the hopes that they would become strong warriors.
Culturally, men and women were treated differently to one another in Mesopotamia. They both had specific roles to fulfill in society. Men were expected to be courageous, powerful warriors, skilled farmers, or efficient laborers. Most worked in these three jobs – as farmers, soldiers, or laborers – and were expected to have many children.
Women were expected to be mothers and wives, and were given very little opportunity to get a job of their own. Some Mesopotamian civilizations did let women work as merchants/traders, but this was not the norm.
Another cultural pressure placed on women was that they would be shunned/treated poorly if they did not have children. Women were not allowed to own property or be priests of the Mesopotamian religion but were free to worship as they pleased in the local ziggurat.
Fertility had a place of importance in Mesopotamian culture, and many gods/goddess of their civilizations were supposed to protect pregnant women/mothers from harm.
“Social hierarchy” is a system of social divide that was very common in ancient cultures. In the social hierarchy, a person’s station/status was decided at birth. At the bottom of the social hierarchy were the slaves; at the top, the royals/high priests of the local religion. A slave’s child would always be a slave, a royal’s child would always be a royal, and so on and so forth.
In the system of social hierarchy, there was no way to rise above your station, and the path of your life was decided from the moment of your birth. This meant that not all people were equal in Mesopotamia, and this reflects in the way that they were treated culturally. Laws were biased in favor of higher-class citizens, and lower-class citizens had little to no opportunity to improve their lives.
The final common trait of all Mesopotamian cultures was that there was a shared emphasis placed on religion and religious worship. Most Mesopotamian cultures (with the exception of the Persian Empire’s culture) worshipped the same gods. Mesopotamian religions were polytheistic, which meant that they worshipped many gods.
Each city in Mesopotamia had a “patron god,” or one god that was worshipped in particular because they were thought to keep the people of the city safe. Patron gods were prayed to every day, and Mesopotamian culture placed an emphasis on the construction of buildings/structures intended to honor them.
An example of one of these types of structures was the ziggurat. A ziggurat was a step-based structure (sort of like a pyramid with a flat top) that was built in Mesopotamia to honor the gods.