- In the fourth millennium b.c., when the first large-scale cities appeared on the Mes-opotamian plains, the inhabitants of mainland Greece still used crude stone and copper weapons and tools. Modern scholars think that knowledge of bronze - a tougher metal made by combining copper and tin - filtered into the Greek sphere from the higher civilizations of the Near East around 3000 b.c. But there was still no direct contact between Greece and Mesopotamia. In fact, Greek-speakers did not arrive in mainland Greece until circa 2100 to 2000 b.c., and they remained in a culturally primitive state for several more centuries. The non-Greek-speaking Minoans, who inhabited crete and some of the Aegean Islands, developed a high civilization between 2000 and 1400 b.c.; and they evidently did have vigorous trade contacts with Mesopotamia, via middlemen in Anatolia and Syria-Palestine. The mainland Greeks, whom scholars call the Mycenae-ans, conquered the Minoans circa 1400 B.c. and took over their trade routes. Then the Bronze Age civilizations of Greece, Anatolia, Syria, and other nearby regions underwent widespread destruction in the period of 1200 to 1100 B.c. and there were no direct contacts between Greece and Mesopotamia in the dark age that followed.Eventually sophisticated and prosperous city-states appeared across Greece, which rose from its state of cultural backwardness between 800 and 500 b.c. The rise of the classical Greeks coincided with major political changes in Mesopotamia. By the mid-530s B.c. the Assyrian Empire had been swept away, and the Babylonians and the Medes had been conquered by the Persians under King cyrus II. cyrus swiftly created the largest empire the world had yet seen. And his western expansion and conquest of Lydia in western Anatolia gave him control of the prosperous Greek cities that had recently grown up along Anatolia's Aegean coast. This marked the first direct political, economic, and cultural contact between Greeks and Mesopotamians. In the years that followed, there were numerous intermarriages between Anatolian Greeks and Persians, and as many as three hundred Greeks became permanent members of the Achaemenid Persian court in Perse-polis, located north of the Persian Gulf. cyrus's operatives recognized the talents of Greek sculptors and other artisans and brought many of them to Persepolis and Susa to work on Persian palaces and other public buildings. At the same time, extensive trade developed between the Anatolian Greeks and many Persian-controlled Mesopotamian cities.Persian-Greek Hostility Persia's relationship with the Greeks was not destined to be a congenial one, however. Several factors contributed to tensions between the two. The Anatolian Greeks, for one thing, wanted to be independent, like the mainland Greeks, and chafed under Persian rule. Then, some of cyrus's successors made the mistake of trying to expand their empire into Europe; this put them on a collision course with the freedom-loving mainland Greeks, who had recently developed a devastating new military system based on heavily armored infantry soldiers called hoplites. King Darius I conquered Thrace, the region lying directly north of the Aegean Sea, in the late 500s b.c. He also decisively crushed a rebellion of the Anatolian Greeks between 499 and 494 b.c. During the revolt, two mainland Greek cities, Athens and Eretria, sent ships and troops to help the Anatolian Greeks, which greatly angered Darius. In 490 b.c. he sent another army, which sacked Eretria but was soundly defeated by the Athenians on the plain of Marathon. The Persian monarch decided to raise a larger army and conquer all of Greece and use it as a base from which to invade the rest of Europe. But Darius died in 486 b.c., and the great invasion was launched by his son, Xerxes, in 480. Much to the surprise of the Persians and other Meso-potamians who fought in Xerxes' army, the considerably smaller Greek armies smashed the intruders in a series of epic battles, thereby saving Western civilization from an almost certain future of Eastern domination.In the decades that followed, relations between Persia and Greece remained hostile. There was a brief period of more cordial relations after King Artaxerxes I made a treaty with the Greeks - the Peace of Callias - in 449 b.c. But the Persians never gave up on achieving whatever revenge they could against the Greeks, particularly the Athenians. During the disastrous Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.), in which Athens and Sparta battled for supremacy in Greece, the Persians ended up helping the Spartans build a fleet of warships. These proved instrumental in Athens's defeat.Greek Conquest of Mesopotamia Soon after the end of the great war, large numbers of Greeks saw the plains of Mesopotamia for the first time. An army of Greek mercenaries fought for the Persian prince known as Cyrus the Younger, who wanted to dethrone his brother, King Ar-taxerxes II. In 401 b.c., at Cunaxa, not far from Babylon, Artaxerxes was victorious. The Greeks, who became known as the Ten Thousand, were forced to fight their way across Mesopotamia and through Armenia to the Black Sea. Their adventure and survival, which were recorded in graphic detail by the Greek writer Xeno-phon in his Anabasis, made it clear to the next generation of Greeks that Mesopotamia and the rest of the Persian Empire were vulnerable. Indeed, after Macedonia's King Philip II conquered the major Greek city-states in the 330s b.c., he began planning a major invasion of Persia. Philip was suddenly assassinated, however, and it was his son, Alexander III (later called "the Great"), who led an army into Anatolia in 334 b.c. Alexander defeated King Darius III at Issus in northern Syria and at Gaugamela near Arbil in Assyria, and he quickly brought the Persian Empire to its knees.Alexander ushered in an era of almost two centuries in which Mesopotamia was ruled by Greeks. Alexander intended to Hellenize, or infuse Greek culture into, the region to whatever degree was practical. To this end, he made Greek the official language of administration and business and ordered ten thousand of his men to marry Persian and other Mesopotamian women. Greek-style temples, markets, gymnasia, theaters, and entire cities sprang up across Mesopotamia. Even after Alexander died unexpectedly at age thirty-three in 323 b.c., his plans for Hellenizing the Near East were taken up by some of the Successors, his generals who fought over control of his empire. One of these men, Seleucus, founded the Seleucid Empire, which encompassed all of Mesopotamia and parts of Anatolia and Syria-Palestine. Perhaps Mesopotamia would have been slowly transformed into a Greek cultural sphere, as Alexander had hoped, if the Seleucid monarchs had had more time. But their realm was short-lived. Caught between two aggressive peoples - the Romans in the west and the Parthians in the east - the Seleucids rapidly lost ground; as their empire shrank, Greek culture in Mesopotamia steadily declined and eventually all but disappeared.See also: Alexander III ("the Great"); Anabasis; Battle of Cunaxa and Battle of Gaugamela; Persian Empire; Seleucid Empire
Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. Don Nardo Robert B. Kebric. 2015.