Let us get to know the beginning of our civilization, which was the first of all human civilizations. Archaeologists and historians all agree that historic Assyria (today's Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan) was the cradle of all civilizations, since agriculture began there 12,000 years ago. And it was this Syrian civilization that ignited the surrounding civilizations of Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Greece. The Assyrians were the first to invent writing, and thus were the first to record history. The epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest written piece in recorded history thus far, found in Assyria.
To be civilized means to move from being a caveman living on hunting and gathering, to depending on farming as the main source of sustenance. Growing wheat, for example, provides enough food for the whole year through grain storing, which means human beings no longer need to migrate searching for food. Geographic stability gives humans the incentive to build permanent houses, and many houses make a village, and many villages make a city, and many cities make a kingdom. And the very first civilization and very first kingdom is the kingdom of Sumer (5300 BC - 2900 BC).
And that is how the first kingdom in history came to be the kingdom of Sumer
The kingdom of Sumer came about in 5300 BC, after the Sumerians managed to unite tens of cities in the area between Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Those towns' economy was based on agriculture - fertile soil was the primary factor in a city's prosperity, as well as its socio-politico-economic power.
It was in Sumer's prime (around 3500 BC - 3000 BC) that writing advanced into new abbreviated forms (the predecessor to alphabets), known as cuneiform (Latin for Wedge Shaped), chiseled into clay tablets. And the oldest clay tablets that were discovered were the 12 tablets that told the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh and Enkido. It is also believed that gods and the construction of temples and worship rituals developed at that time as well. We also found in AssurBaniBaal's library the Sumerian story of creation, the Enuma Elish (called thus because those are the first two words written in that story).
During Sumer's reign the cities grew and developed, especially the cities of Assur, Lagash, and Akkad. When the influence of Akkadians (a mixture of Sumerians and other Semitic tribes) grew, they carried the banner of civilization and expanded their kingdom (2350 BC - 2050 BC) by developing other towns and cities. From their great library, the most famous artifact they left behind was the stone tablets of the oldest story ever written, the story of Gilgamesh. It was a story of the beginning of life and the interaction between human beings and gods, such as Inana, the moon goddess. Near the end of their kingdom, they had reached as far as Lebanon, which laid the foundation for the birth of the first Babylonian kingdom.
Attached is a picture of an Akkadian statue, believed to be the Akkadian king: Sargon
The Princess and the River
- What is your name, and why do you stand in this place?
- Inan-Bada, the highest priestess at the temple of the moon goddess, Nana, my name is Olmina, the princess of Lagash. How can I inherit the throne of my forefathers?
- Look. Here is where the Tigris meets the Euphrates. The first mission: Swim across the river, from one bank to the other. Beware of the water dragon. The second mission: Cross the desert of death and climbing the arid mountains. Beware of the morning sun and the freezing winds. The third mission: Enter the Golden Forest, and pick a ruby apple from the Huluppu tree. Beware of the silver snake, and the black Anzu. No one will be allowed to assist you, with the exception of a king, perhaps. Obey the sages of Lagash. Bring the apple to me. And if your heart was pure, then the moon goddess, Nana, and the sustenance god, Tammuz, will bless you.
This is a Mesopotamian legend dating back to Akkadian-Sumerian times, produced as a cartoon by the Iraqi public television station in 1982, in which it describes the times of chaos throughout the cities of Sumer and Akkad.
From the mountains of Amor in northern Syria hailed the Amorites (who spoke the Canaanite language), and migrated to the cities of Sumer and Akkad. During the chaos that ensued the fall of Akkad, and the short-lived rise of Assyrian and Elamite powers, the Amorites made Babylon (a small town back then) as their center, and expanded over the decades, to finally become the first Babylonian kingdom (1900 BC - 1595 BC), and an expanding empire that defeated Elam and Assur under the rule of Hamurabi, who was also an Amorite descendant. Hamurabi is famous for setting the Hamurabi Code, a much more developed government system and taxation system than his Sumerian and Akkadian predecessors. This first Babylonian empire lasted 300 years, until it was sacked by the Hittites, and then immediately taken over by the proto-Persians known as the Kassites, who ruled over Babylon for 500 years.
After the destruction of the first Babylonian Kingdom by the Hittites who hailed from the Anatolian regions (blue area on map was their kingdom), and the Kassites (Arians) immediately taking over most of what the Hittites had captured (green area), these events coincided with the rise of the most powerful Egyptian kingdom (1550 BC - 1077 BC), during the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties (i.e. during the reign of powerful pharaohs like Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Thutmose III, Ramesess II, and Queen Hatshpesut), which had expanded northeast and fought the Hittites in major battles (like Kadesh and Mageddo), taking over the Canaanite coast and eventually farther north conquering the entire Syrian coastal line (yellow area). These three kingdoms continued this stalemate condition for 500 years, until the great Assyrian kingdom rose, and the Canaanites ruled the Mediterranean, around 900 BC.
From the city of Assur, the descendants of Sumer and Akkad rose and not only fought off the three kingdoms that split Mesopotamia for 500 years (the Arian Kassites, the Anatolian Hittites, and the Egyptians), but ended up occupying their kingdoms! This marks the kingdom of Assyria (900 BC - 600 BC) as the greatest Semitic kingdom in history (prior to Islam). It was so great that ever since the name Assyria got stuck, today morphed into Syria. Hence, to be historically accurate, when you say "Greater Syria," it shouldn't only include today's Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, but should also include Iraq, Kuwait, and even Cyprus.
The Assyrian kingdom made a huge leap in development and technology in every facet of life, far exceeding those of Egypt, Babylon, or Arian lands. Soon after, the Aramaic language was declared the kingdom's official language, to be taught all over the kingdom. And with time, it eclipsed Akkadian language because of its superior writing, since the Aramaeans had adopted the Canaanite alphabets and spread it wherever they went throughout the lands. Aramaic (the Syriac language) was our ancestors' language for more than 2300 years. In fact, Arabic evolved out of Aramaic, both spoken and written. Christ did not speak anything but Aramaic in its Canaanite dialect. Of Assyria's greatest kings: Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Ashurbanipal (who had built in his palace in Nineveh the greatest library at that time, which contained thousands of tablets collected from previous civilizations).
After the death of the greatest of Assyrian kings, Assurbanibal, the creator of the great library, the kingdom entered civil wars in 627 BC, until the victor came out, the Chaldean leader of Babylon, Nabopolassar (whose origins are from western Syria), with the help of Arian kings (Medians and Persians among others), so the Nineveh is sacked, and the city of Babylon rises again, ushering the beginning of the second Babylonian kingdom (626 BC - 539 BC), during which the borders had shrunk (although expanded further south into Arabia), but the country remained strong and powerful. And it was during the reign of his son, the infamous Nebuchadnezzar, that the great Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built, along with Ishtar gate, and the temple of Marduk. He was also known for bringing down the kingdom of David, sacking Jerusalem, and taking its women and children as captives. The Babylonians remained in power for about 90 years, until the first Persian kingdom became an empire that covered all of Assyria, Egypt, and the lands of the Greeks, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great. This Babylonian-Chaldean kingdom would be the last time the indigenous "Semitic" people of Assyria rule themselves, until the Muslim Arabs (Semitic and originate from Assyria, as we shall show later) appeared approximately 1200 years later.
After the fall of the last Semitic kingdom (before Islam) in 539 BC, the second Babylonian kingdom of the Hanging Gardens and Ishtar Gate, Cyrus the Great, king of Persia and the greatest empire known to mankind at that time. He was also the one who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
The Persian empire lasted about 200 years (from 539 BC to 333 BC), before one of Aristotle's students, Alexander the Great, raised his forces and defeated the Persian Empire conquering all of its lands, all the way to the Himalayas. But after Alexander died, the Greko-Macedonian broke into independent kingdoms, such as the one ruled by Alexander's military commander, Seleucus I, whose Seleucid kingdom covered Assyria, Iran, Afghanistan, and India. He named our lands as "Syria," and the name stuck ever since. Seleucus moved his capital city from Babylon to a city he built from scratch, Seleucia, which was later named (al-Madain). Then moved it again to another city he built and named after his father, Antioch, in the northwestern part of Syria. This was in response to the Persian comeback and their invasion and takeover of Eastern Syria (Iraq) in 140 BC.
In 69 BC, the Armenians raised an empire (for the first and last time), in which they took over all of Syria and beyond. Unfortunately for them, their timing was bad, since only five years later, in 64 BC, they had to face the expanding Roman empire.
Around 300 AD, the Roman emperor (Constantine I) moved his capital city from Rome to Byzantium (which was renamed New Rome, then Constantinople, after his name). Although the Romans kept calling themselves "Romans," modern historians gave them a different name to distinguish them from the Roman empire whose capital was Rome, and thus the new Romans became known as the Byzantines. They had adopted Christianity as their official state religion, and entered into their dark ages. The Persians waged many wars and sometime during the sixth century, Persia had regained much of its former empire, under the rule of the Sassanids, and the two super powers kept fighting at the borders (i.e. in Mesopotamia), until a great Nabataean Arab from southwestern Assyria, to become known as the single most influencial figure in all of human history, prophet Muhammad, who started a religio-political movement that eventually destroyed both empires, and ushered the return of the Assyrian descendants - the Nabataeans - back to self rule.
After the fall the last Babylonian kingdom (539 BC) to the Persians led by Cyrus the Great, the most southern part of the kingdom was not really occupied by the Persians, for it was nothing but a desert with a few oases. But the small population of that border area between Assyria and the Arabian desert, whose origins are from Assyria and Babylon, called themselves "Nabataeans," because they used to live in the "Nabat," an Aramaic word which referred to the "border" between Assyria and Arabia, meaning from the end of Euphrates to the Red Sea. And due to lack of arable lands, these people had focused on handcraft and trade, such as pottery and ceramics. They owned many oases and linked between them in safe trade routes that they also owned (which became more vital during times of brutal wars between the Persians and the Greeks, and later with the Romans). The pinnacle of their time was when they built a Nabataean kingdom with Petra as its capital from 37 BC till 106 AD (that level of art cannot be the work of desert people). After that, the Romans annexed their kingdom and turned it into a Roman province. (Keep in mind that in those days, fertile soil was the equivalent of oil fields today, i.e. the most important factor in economic power and the reason for waging wars of conquest. This is why no one really cared to conquer the desert, which made it a safe route for people who want to avoid war).
From Petra, the Nabateans expanded their trading routes to include the Hijaz, down to Medina and Mecca. We know this to be true because the Arabic language had evolved from Nabatean (both spoken and written), which in turn had evolved from Aramaic (Syriac).