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Mesopotamia from Greek Mesos (middle) and Potamos (river), referring to the rivers Tigris
and Euphrates; located in present-day Iraq
Babylon, city-state, circa 2300s BC 140 BC
Assyria, state, circa 23rd century BC 7th century BC
Persia is present-day Iran
Architectural Character
- massive and monumental
- temples (dominant Babylonian architecture)
- palaces (dominant Assyrian architecture)
- massive tiered fortifications
- structures raised on clay/brick platforms
- buildings of all types were arranged around large and small courts; the rooms narrow and
- roofs were flat outside except where domes protruded
- palm logs supported packed clay
- walls were whitewashed
- ziggurat (holy mountain; tiered, usually 7 levels) walls were painted
- use of arches, pendentives, and domes
- true arches with radiating voussoir (keystones; pronounced as vu-swar)
- Persian Architecture: columnar, light and airy. The highland climate, with its dry air, influenced
the architecture in such a way that windows were bigger than those in the lowlands.
- double walls
- no columns for Assyrian and Babylonian structures; instead, they used arches
Geologic Influence
Materials: Babylonian and Assyrian
- clay, dried bricks with straw to improve cohesion; limestone
- material best suited for arches; no columns
- alluvial marshlands provided plenty of mud and clay
- occasional use of boulders from the highlands; palm logs, no timber
Materials: Persian
- boulders
Geographic Influence
Babylonia, Assyria
- alluvial marshlands between the Tigris and the Euphrates
- prone to constant seasonal flooding; this led to the construction of raised platforms structures,
even for entire cities
- inhabitants constructed dams and drained the marshlands for irrigation and agricultural
- Mesopotamia is the junction of routes between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf

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- no natural defences; prone to foreign invaders from the mountains; hordes from the north and
the northeast
- Hot in summer, cold during winter
- little rainfall except in the north
- Polytheistic (many gods)
- Babylonian triad: Anu (sky god), Enlil-Bel (earth), Ea (water); Shamash (sun), Nannar (moon),
Ishtar (wisdom)
- Babylonian belief that the mountains determined their future (mainly because of the floods
originating from these parts when the snow melted into the Tigris and Euphrates) led them to
build artificial mountains called ziggurats in order to reach the gods
- Religion had little influence on Persian architecture
- Persians adapted Zoroastrianism, a system of ethical forces at war with good and evil since
the beginning of time
- Persian religion tended to be monotheistic
- Ahura Mazda: sky god, supreme god
- Ahriman power of evil
- later, Mithraism (sun god Mithra) became the official religion of the military
- Mesopotamian architecture did not center on the afterlife; therefore there was no focus on
building structures of the dead
- Invention of a system of writing resulting in dissemination of knowledge
- commerce was an integral part of Babylonian life
- invention of the 7-day week; reckoning of time by the hour, minute and second
- invention of laws, most famous of which is the Code of Hammurabi; the oldest set of laws
- the Code of Hammurabi was known for its eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth doctrine
- laws governed taxation, commerce and trade, land tenure, organization of labor, even building
- Assyrian society was dominated by a military autocracy
Historical Background
a. Babylonian Period
- Sumerians; invented cuneiform (wedge-shaped) writing
- Akkadians
Sargon of Akkad c. 2340 BC
Hammurabi 1792-1750 BC
Later invaded by Hittites and Kassites
b. Assyrian Period
- Assyrians were Semitic Akkadians
Sargon II (the most famous Assyrian king); empire was divided between the Medes
(north)and the Chaldeans (south)
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Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad

c. Neo-Babylonians
- most famous king was Nebuchadnezzar II of the Bible fame (605-506 BC); built the
Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wife Amytis
- Nabonidus was defeated by the Persian king Cyrus to form the Persian Empire
d. Persian Empire 539-331 BC
- Cyrus the Great (first of the Achaemenian kings)
- Cambyses II, son of Cyrus, extended conquests to Egypt
- Darius II conquered farther eastward to the Indus river and into the Danube river in Europe
He also coveted Greece, destroyed the famous Ionic Temple at Miletus.
- Xerxes pursued the same ambition as Darius but was defeated at the Battle of Salanus and
also at Plataea
- Darius III: last of the Achaemenian kings; defeated by Alexander the Great
- After 331 BC, Persia passed from the Seleucid, Parthia, and Tasmanian Dynasties, and
later came under Muslim rule
Babylonian Structures
- Kinds of ziggurat
a. Archaic elevated from ground level with an arch on top
b. True or Multi-stage Ziggurat
- rectangular plan
- three very steep, single flight of stairs
c. seven stage square-based ziggurat built with continuous ramp
- use of pendentive (A triangular curved overhanging surface by means of which a circular dome
is supported over a square or polygonal compartment.)
- compared to Egyptian pyramids which had the sides facing the cardinal points (N,E,S,W), in
the Babylonian ziggurats the corners faced the cardinal points
Example: Ziggurat of Urnammu at Ur
White Temple and Ziggurat at Warka
Ziggurat at Tchoga - Zanbil Elam
Assyrian Structures
- palaces more important as opposed to Babylonians temples
- introduced polychrome (multi-colored) ornamented brickwork
- relief sculpture and battlemented parapet walls
- Parts of an Assyrian palace
a. seraglio kings quarter
b. harem family apartment
c. khan travellers hall
d. apadana visitors hall
Example: Palace of Sargon at Khorsabad
Neo-Babylonian Structures

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- city of Babylon, with its famous Ishtar Gate facing north, Euphrates along the west; inner town
measuring 1300 x 1300 meters surrounded by an outer town with principal sites lining the
- Ishtar Gate: walls made of polychrome glazed bricks with yellow and white bulls and dragons
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon overall dimensions 275m x 183 m
- with a throne room
- facade decorated with polychrome glazed bricks
- Tower of Babel ( a ziggurat)
Persian Structures
- were made from a combination of influences from the people they had conquered:
a. polychrome glazed bricks
b. gorge moulding from Egypt
c. relief carvings featuring animal motif (lions, dragons, unicorns, bulls)
- battlemented parapets
- Notable examples of Persian architecture: Palace of Persepolis

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