2.2 Empires in Mesopotamia

Invasion and conquest were prominent features in the history of the ancient Middle East. Again and again, nomadic peoples or ambitious warriors descended on the rich cities of the Fertile Crescent. While many invaders simply looted and burned, some stayed to rule. Powerful leaders created large, well-organized empires, bringing peace and prosperity for a time to the region. Over several thousand years, these empires made advances in government, technology, and learning that influenced later civilizations from Greece and Rome to India and beyond.

Bronze sculpture of the head of an ancient male with a long curly bears and braided head cover.

King Sargon created the first known empire, Akkad. He conquered Sumerian city-states one by one and expanded his empire from present-day Lebanon to the Taurus Mountains of Turkey.


  • Outline the achievements of the first empires that arose in Mesopotamia
  • Understand how conquests brought new empires and ideas into the Middle East.
  • Describe the major political, religious, and cultural influences of Persia.
  • Summarize the contributions the Phoenicians made to the ancient Middle East.

Key Terms

  • Sargon
  • Hammurabi
  • codify
  • civil law
  • criminal law
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • bureaucracy
  • barter economy
  • money economy
  • Zoroaster
  • colony
  • alphabet

Empires Emerge in Mesopotamia

The First Empire

About 2300 B.C., Sargon, the ruler of neighboring Akkad, invaded and conquered the city-states of Sumer. He built the first empire known to history. An empire is a group of regions or countries that are controlled by one ruler or government. By uniting many groups of people, Sargon ruled over the first multicultural empire in Mesopotamia. Sargon's remarkable achievement did not last long. After his death, other invaders swept into the land between the rivers, tumbling his empire into ruin.

Scholars link the decline of the Akkadian empire to changes in rainfall. Its downfall came at a time when severe drought led people from the dry north to migrate into the irrigated lands of southern Mesopotamia ruled by Sargon's heirs. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a 100-mile long wall built to hold back the invaders, but without success. The newcomers disrupted the social and political structure of the empire, which collapsed.

In time, the Sumerian city-states revived, and resumed their endless power struggles. Eventually, new conquerors followed in Sargon's footsteps and imposed unity over the Fertile Crescent.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments