Construction material made from clay mixed with temper such as straw. Initially hand-modelled during the Neolithic Age and then moulded in quadrangular forms, bricks were the most common construction material in Mesopotamia, and were used for building until fairly recently. They were either sun-dried adobe, or kiln-fired bricks, of which the first date to the 3rd millennium in Mesopotamia but only came into widespread use as building materials from the 1st millennium BCE. Relief brick decorations appeared as early as the 2nd millennium but were chiefly used in the 1st millennium BCE. Some were enamelled by covering pre-fired bricks with a liquid glaze which were then vitrified when fired a second time. Different colours were obtained using metal oxides.


Barley was the most widely grown cereal in Mesopotamia. The first evidence of the cultivation of barley dates from the 6th millennium BCE.


Mixture of hydrocarbons that naturally form a viscous paste.

There were several sources of bitumen in Mesopotamia, including around Hit on the middle Euphrates. Bitumen was widely used by the Mesopotamians for waterproofing or caulking pipes, terraces and boats, glue notably to make tools, and black paint to decorate buildings or objects. Bituminous limestone impregnated with hydrocarbons from Lower Mesopotamia was used for sculpture. It was soft and easy to work but resembled hard stones such as diorite and basalt.

Babylon (city)

Mentioned in historical sources as early as the 3rd millennium, the capital of Hammurabi (1792-1750) reached its greatest glory under Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562). The Esagila temple complex was dedicated to the god Marduk. The largest city in Mesopotamia, it covered 976 hectares.


Goddess and consort to the god Babylonia

Babylonia occupied Lower Mesopotamia between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. The area was previously divided into two countries: Sumer and Akkad.


A large city to the southwest of Babylon. Borsippa’s chief temple was Ezida, the temple of the god Nabu, patron of writing and knowledge.

Early Dynastic period
2800 - 2340 av. J.-C.

The classical Sumerian period, between circa 2900 BCE and 2340 BCE, when Lower and Middle Mesopotamia were unified by Sargon of Akkad. The Early Dynastic period was marked by conflict between rival independent city-states and the consolidation of royal power. The monumental architecture of Early Dynastic cities includes temples and palaces. Despite political rivalries, city-states displayed a high degree of cultural unity in this period.

This period is traditionally divided into:

  • Early Dynastic I (2900-2700 BCE)
  • Early Dynastic II (2700-2600 BCE)
  • Early Dynastic III (2600-2340 BCE)

Language spoken in Elam, modern southwest Iran. This agglutinative non-Semitic language does not belong to any large known linguistic group. It has yet to be deciphered, but is partly understood through ancient transcriptions in cuneiform.

Exorcist priest

Exorcist priests warded off evil by calling on the gods to intervene using ritual gestures and incantations. Exorcism "manuals" have existed since the Sumerian period.


The role of exorcists is to drive away evil by invoking divine power. Exorcists administered potions to the patient, uttered magical incantations, and performed rituals to cure them. The exorcist also sometimes used herbal remedies.


The study of written matter, generally ancient, engraved or sometimes painted on durable materials such as stone, clay, or metal.


A stela in Kassite Mesopotamia carrying an inscription describing grants of land. Divine symbols were placed around the text to protect the owner of the land from rival claimants. A kudurru was kept in a temple.


Assyrian city founded by Shalmanesar I (1263-1234) and then chosen by Ashurnasirpal II (883-859) as his capital. It covered 357 hectares and contained an Acropolis where the palace and temple were located along with a vast arsenal palace.


Vessel usually fitted with a handle.

Standard Babylonian

A dialect of Akkadian used by Mesopotamian scholars and scientists from the late 2nd millennium and throughout the 1st millennium in Assyria and Babylonia. The grammatical forms of Standard Babylonian were initially borrowed from Paleo-Babylonian. It was standardised in the early 1st millennium and became the language of writing for literary and learned works. It was also used in Assyria for royal inscriptions and annals.

Semitic (language)

Named after Shem, son of Noah in the Bible, the Semitic language group is divided into several subgroups: Akkadian (Eastern Semitic); North-Western Semitic languages (Ugaritic, Aramaic, and Canaanite, with Hebrew being part of the latter); and South Semitic languages (Arabic, South Arabian, and Ethiopian).


Protective genius. As a masculine spirit, Shedu represents vitality and reproductive potency.


Assyria refers to both the area dominated by Assyrian rulers and a region of upper Mesopotamia between the cities of Nineveh, Erbil and Ashur - the Assyrian triangle.

Ashur (city)

The home city of the Assyrians on the west bank of the Tigris. Covering a modest 70 hectares, it contained several palaces and the important temple of the god Ashur.

Ashur-etel-ilani (Aššur-etel-ilani)

One of the last Assyrian kings. He succeeded his father Ashurbanipal (Aššurbanipal) but died prematurely in 625 BCE and was replaced by his brother Sin-shar-ishkun (Sin-šar-iškun).


Formal agreement sworn before the gods. In the Neo-Assyrian era, it could be a treaty agreed between the king of Assyria and his vassals or an oath taken by the people of the country. Most ades are unilateral commitments to the Assyrian king. However, some are international treaties made on an equal footing, such as the agreement entered into by Esarhaddon and Urtaku, king of Elam in 674 BCE.


New Year festival in 1st-millennium Mesopotamia. It took place in spring, in the month of Nisan (March/April).


Goddess, consort of the sky god Anu.


A dialect of Akkadian spoken and written in northern Mesopotamia (Assyria).

Achaemenid (period)

The Achaemenid Persian empire stretched across vast swathes of the Near and Middle East during the Achaemenid period. The empire was founded in the 6th century by Cyrus the Great and ended with the death of its last king Darius III in 330 during the military campaign of Alexander the Great.


L'akkadien est l'une des langues parlées et écrites en Mésopotamie, depuis le IIIe millénaire av. J.-C. C'est l'une des plus anciennes langues sémitiques. Son nom provient de la ville d'Akkad fondée par Sargon Ier (2334-2279 av. J.-C.). Les derniers textes rédigés en akkadien date du Ier siècle ap. J.-C.


The cultivation of domesticated plant species is attested in the Levant as early as the 9th millennium. There are two types of agriculture: dry, where there is enough rainfall to water crops, and irrigated, where crops need to be supplied with water. Dry agriculture is possible in regions receiving more than 200 mm/m3 of water per year. The driest dry-farming areas could still be supplied with water by irrigation to supplement natural rainfall.


Stone slab placed edgeways (revealing its narrowest edge) at the base of a wall. Some orthostats in Assyrian palaces were extremely tall and decorated with carved reliefs.

Old Persian

Language spoken in Persia from the 6th to the 4th century BCE. It belongs to the Iranian language group and is written in cuneiform. A trilingual inscription in Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite on a rocky outcrop in Behistun, Iran, made it possible to decipher Old Persian and then Akkadian.

Middle Assyrian (period)
14th century - late 2nd millennium BCE.

Period during which the powerful Assyrian state emerged and gained independence under Ashur-uballit I (1365-1330 BCE). The Assyrian state expanded its territory westward and southward during the reign of Adad-nirari I (1307-1275 BCE), a process completed when Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208 BCE) captured Babylon. After his death, Assyria was plunged into a crisis and only recovered in the late 12th century under Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076 BCE). Repeated clashes with the Aramaeans caused Assyria to lose the territories it had conquered at the end of the 2nd millennium.


In Mesopotamia, metal was used for the production of tools and weapons, but also figurines, amulets, and jewellery, as well as ceremonial pieces. Gold and silver were rare but in use since ancient times. From the 4th millennium BCE, mostly copper was used and then bronze, and iron from the 1st millennium BCE.

Metal could be hammered into the desired shape, or cast by pouring molten metal into a mould. Moulds were single- or double-sided. Small parts were also produced using the lost wax process. Molten metal was poured into a fired clay mould created by means of a wax model which melts and drains away.

Military campaign

A military campaign is a large-scale, long-term movement by an army with a warlike aim. Most often, kings used military operations to collect tribute, seize booty, crush revolts, and support vassals who recognised their authority. Campaigns also aimed to extend imperial territory by systematically annexing defeated regions.


The Medes were an ancient Iranian people organised into chieftaincies and then a united kingdom. The Median capital was Ecbatana. In the 7thcentury BCE, the Median king Cyaxares allied with the Babylonians against the Assyrians. He took part in the conquest of Assyria, taking Ashur, Kalhu (modern Nimrud), Nineveh, and Arbela (modern Erbil).

Neo-Assyrian (period)
بين القرنين العاشر والسابع قبل الميلاد

Historical period between the 10th and 7th centuries BCE which saw the revival of a strong Assyrian state weakened by conflict with the Aramaean states. Assyria reconquered its lost territories, and campaigned as far as Anatolia, Elam, and Egypt.

New Year festival

The New Year, usually in spring, was celebrated with several days of religious ceremonies and processions. The New Year festival (akitu) is attested in Mesopotamia from the late 3rd millennium BCE to the Achaemenid period.


Assyrian city occupied as early as the 8th millennium BCE. Sennacherib (704-681) made it his capital and extensively rebuilt the city. Nineveh has two tells, Kouyunjik, the original site, and Nebi Yunus, on which Esarhaddon (680-669) built an arsenal.

Flowing vase

Thème iconographique souvent représenté en Mésopotamie. Il se caractérise par deux flots jaillissant d'un vase, en symbole de fertilité et d'abondance.

Fertile crescent

Region of the Near East where the more favourable climate made dry and irrigated agriculture possible from the 9th millennium BCE. It extends from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean coast, sweeping in an arc along the Taurus and Zagros mountains. Plants and animals were first domesticated in this area.

Foundation deposit

Ensemble d'objets (figurines, textes, tablettes...) déposé dans ou sous un mur lors de la construction d'un édifice important, ayant notamment pour vocation d'apporter une protection symbolique à ce dernier.


Alkaline mixture of carbonates and calcium silicate, possibly coloured with metal oxides. In the 1st millennium BCE, glazed flat and relief bricks were used in Assyria and Babylonia to enhance architectural decoration or create decorative panels.


Protective genii or spirits are the ancient equivalent of guardian angels. These supernatural beings protected man from evil. They were used in protective rituals and their images were often placed on doors and windows. They were servants of the most powerful gods.


All the titles borne by a person or house.

Tablet (clay)

The clay tablet was the main vehicle of writing in the ancient Near East. It was usually quadrangular. The characters were written by pressing a sharpened reed pen into the clay, giving them their characteristic wedge-shaped strokes. Some tablets were then fired, but most were unfired.


The Arabic word tell refers to an artificial mound formed by superimposed habitation layers, with each new occupation built on the ruins of the previous one. During excavations, archaeologists know that the lowest levels are the oldest and the upper levels the most recent. 

Trading post

Also known as an emporium. Centre of commerce outside the direct sphere of influence of the entity on which it depends.


The end of a text usually separated from the rest of the tablet by a line. The colophon provided important information on where the text fitted into works that could span more than one hundred tablets. The scribe noted the title of the series, chapter, and lastly the section. He could also count the lines. The colophon very often mentioned the name of the tablet’s owner, the scribe who wrote it, if different, the place of composition and, very seldom, the date. It was impossible to find a text in Assyrian and Babylonian libraries without a colophon.


Mineral substance composed of hydrated alumina silicate used for multiple purposes in Mesopotamia including bricks and plaster for construction, pottery for containers or small objects such as figurines, and tablets and other writing vehicles.


Absent de Mésopotamie, il était importé de régions parfois lointaines : l'Iran et l'Afghanistan à l'époque préhistorique, ou la péninsule d'Oman au IIIe millénaire av. J.-C. Au IIe et au Ier millénaire av. J.-C., l'essentiel du minerai de cuivre vient de Chypre ou des monts Taurus (Anatolie). Le cuivre est utilisé pour fabriquer du bronze, en alliage avec de l'arsenic aux époques préhistoriques, et surtout, à partir du IIIe millénaire, avec de l'étain. Plus robuste que le cuivre, le bronze vient rapidement remplacer ce dernier pour la fabrication des outils et des armes.


Unit of linear measure based on the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, generally taken as equal to 50 cm. Cubit dimensions and subdivisions varied over time and according to the units of measure in use.

There was also a "large cubit" equal to approximately 75 cm.


Photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot and patented in 1841. This was the first process to make positive prints from paper negatives.


Système d’écriture inventée en Mésopotamie du sud et utilisé pour transcrire plusieurs langues dont l’assyrien, le babylonien et l’urartéen. Le cunéiforme s’écrit et se lit de gauche à droite. Les signes sont tracés dans l’argile fraîche à l’aide d’une baguette en roseau taillée en biseau. Un signe signifie soit un mot, soit une syllabe.

Hanging gardens

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the seven wonders of the world according to ancient Greek authors. No trace of these gardens has been found in Babylon, either in the texts or in Neo-Babylonian art. They may actually have been in Nineveh, where the creation of royal gardens is well documented.


Initially rare and hard to obtain, iron was regarded as a precious metal in the 3rd and 2nd millennia. It came into much wider use in the 1st millennium BCE in Khorsabad, which had a hoard of 106 metric tons of iron.


Stepped pyramidal tower characteristic of Mesopotamian religious architecture of the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE. On its summit was a small shrine which was also used to observe the stars and probably as an intermediary space between the gods and man.


A horizontal band in an artwork divided into decorative images or panels. Assyrian carved decorations are occasionally composed of several superimposed registers.


Malevolent demons were instruments of divine wrath and entered the world to torment mankind. They were held responsible for everyday problems and misfortunes, especially bad luck, illness, and death. Often invisible and intangible, they represent man’s fears.


(“Drinking horn” in Greek) Vase with a hole at the lower end from which liquid flows. In the ancient Near East, rhytons were often shaped like an animal from whose mouth liquid flowed.


Initially a female protective deity, the lamassu was also, in the 1st millennium, a guardian genius, or protective spirit. In Assyrian palaces, it most often took the form of a human-headed winged bull.


Demon who brought death and disease to pregnant women and newborns. Lamashtu was originally a goddess, but she was stripped of her status by the other gods for asking to eat human flesh.