The Ancient Near East

Topic 2: The Ancient Near East

  • The area of the eastern Mediterranean now occupied by Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus was home to agricultural societies ranging from city-states to regional empires. The earliest civilization was that of Sumer, which emerged c.4000 B.C.E. It was succeeded by the Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, and Persian cultures. The Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.E.; the region subsequently became part of the Greek and Roman empires.

  • The most impressive structures of the early period of ancient Near Eastern history are ziggurats, giant stepped pyramids made of earth. While they may resemble the pyramids of Egypt, they were not tombs. Each city-state had its own god who "lived" in the temple at the top of the ziggurat.

  • Interaction between gods and humans can be also be seen in such monuments as the Code of Hammurabi. Wide-eyed, staring votive figures, such as those found at Tell Asmar, may also have helped people achieve contact with the divine.

  • In later periods, the most important structures were often royal palaces such as the citadel of Sargon II or the Persian palace complex at Persepolis.

  • Like the Egyptians, the peoples of the ancient Near East developed formalized systems for representing the human body. Figures are often shown in a three-quarters view with their face in profile. Other similarities with Egyptian art include the division of narrative scenes (often battle scenes) into horizontal bands called registers, and the practice of making the most important figures in a scene larger.

  • However, ancient Near Eastern artists did not work in hard stone as frequently as Egyptian artists did. This may be related to a less-developed cult of the afterlife and therefore less concern with creating monuments for eternity, as well to the relative political instability of the region. They also tended to depict the human body less naturalistically.


Related Links:
Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian Art Quiz
Ancient Egypt
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes

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