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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

TOP 100 REVIEWERon 15 February 2017
This is a good book. It visits several cities in ancient Mesopotamia, and analyses archaeological evidence from those sites to describe the culture, economy etc. of those cities and other locations.

It's comprehensive and well written, and should appeal to students of archaeology and ancient history, as well as to those interested in urban development, architecture, Middle Eastern religions and related subjects. I read it because I'm an author, and I write, among other things, fantasy fiction set in an imaginary world loosely based on the the Middle Eastern Bronze age.

While I found the writing good, I didn't find it compelling. One aspect that could have been improved is the layout, by placing the illustrations next to the text section they're mean to illustrate. This would be more practical and reader-friendly.
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on 17 June 2017
Less explanation too much familiarity with the subject
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on 23 October 2001
Leick takes a city-based approach looking at Eridu, Uruk, Shuruppak, Akkad, Ur, Sippar, Nippur, Nineveh & Babylon. The approach is innovative but could be confusing for the non-specialist. Those new to the field would definitely benefit from reading Georges Roux's 'Ancient Iraq' first. There is plenty of well-informed anthropological and sociological theorisation e.g. Charvat's contention that the Ubaid may have been the last self-sufficient, non-hierarchic society and that the rise of social stratification was strongly correlated with the rise of the temple at Ubaid Eridu I.
Eridu seems to be almost unique in that even in the reign of Amar-Sin (c.2046-2038) there is no evidence to suggest that Eridu was anything other than a religious sanctuary - the gods were actually thought to dwell there and it clearly retained its symbolic connection with cosmological creation. Leick makes some fascinating comments about the meaning of 'a', the importance of water in divination and its connection with wisdom, the paradu fish and the nature of 'me'. Eridu clearly represents the creative potential of Enki, whilst later cities (usually strongly tied to Inanna / Ishtar) represent the realisation of that potential. But to me, Enki's presence in the Absu suggests some sort of yearning for the 'lost' Ubaid period.
Excavations at Uruk are currently suspended due to UN sanctions but a wealth of excavation must lie ahead. Virtually no Akkadian period excavation has taken place at Uruk even though the city was important right through until the rise of Islam. Uruk culture (3800-3200) seems to have occupied a geographical area well beyond the Mesopotamian core and cylinder seals appear to have been invented during Uruk VII (c.3600). There is computerised processing underway in Berlin to unlock the encoded messages on Uruk tablets. Using symbols may have been more flexible in a multi-ethnic society.
Idiosyncrasies in the architecture of Uruk's 2 centres (Eanna & Kullub) may point to ideological - or perhaps even theological differences. Leick doesn't take the next step of positing ethnic differences. For me, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Uruk civilisation is its most negative aspect. It seems to verge on the first dystopian society with non-conformity crushed as heavily as in Zamyatin's 'We' and, in an interesting parallel, shares the sexual attitudes of Huxley's 'Brave NewWorld'. Leick's perspective here breaks beyond the Judeo-Christian constraints in which most Near Eastern archaeological commentary has taken place.
Shuruppak, although little known, holds answers to the linguistically critical Fara period. A number of fundamental changes seem to have taken place including a sudden lack of cultural diversity and a strong differentiation of gender roles. Given Leick's theory about the strength of symbol over word in the ethnically-diverse Ubaid, the implications are clear. What is far less clear is whether we are talking about a clean break.
Akkad was the centre of the first supra-regional political entity in the Near East and yet we have yet to identify it! There is a secularisation of power beginning with Lugalzagesi who brought the Sumerian independent city states to an end. Sargon seems to be under constant reassessment to filter history from legend and even his name now seems a bone of contention. But, for me, it is his use of public art which puts him in the league of great empire-builders and dictators. The gradual collapse of the Akkadian Dynasty is well charted from the rebellions in the reigns of Naram-Sin and Shar-Kali-Sharri to the total loss of co-ordination that followed. There is also considerable discussion of the poetic record, 'The Curse of Akkad'.
Ur is, of course, famous for Woolley's 'Royal Graves', Pu-abi & Meskalamdug, the 'standard of Ur' (in reality the soundbox of an instrument) and the 'ram' in a thicket. (The section in the British Museum re-opened this year). Charvat suggests that other bodies may have been 'saved up' for the main burial and Leick reveals that recent evidence suggests the possibility of excarnation. Ur III was a centralised state brought about by the final defeat of the Gutian ruler, Tirigan by Utu-hegel and the latter's death. It was held together by an army of bureaucrats. So far, some 25,000 Ur III tablets have been translated with the largest volume, not from Ur itself, but from smaller administrative satellites such as Telloh and Puzrish-Dagan. Shulgi's reforms turned most sanctuaries into centres of economic production under central state control.
But to what extent was the collapse of Ur III associated with either the over-bureaucratic fiscal system or the arrival of immigrant Amorites ('Martu')? Leick seems to overlook Snell's (1997) comment that the Amorites were already there in the Akkad period. We know that the last Ur III king, Ibbi-Sin, was held to ransom by Ishbi-Erra of the northern city of Mari during an acute shortage of grain. Ur was destroyed by Elam, which had been annexed by Ur. Even "the dogs of Ur" would "no longer sniff at the base of the city wall".
Ashur dates back to the 'archaic Ishtar temple' from Early Dynastic 3 but more than 1,000 years' later it became the capital of the Assyrian Empire following the collapse of the Mitanni state. Knowledge of the city's eponymous deity is scant. It is not even clear whether he originated as a Semitic or Hurrian deity and a personality only emerged under Sennacherib's anti-Babylonian policy in order to fill the gap left by Marduk. The final chapters deal with Nineveh, which fell to bits after Ashurbanipal's death, and Babylon, which in fact only emerged as a city after the collapse of Ur III.
There are many interesting and contentious ideas in the book but its attempt to cover everything from Ubaid and Uruk to the Assyrian era weakens it. Nevertheless, it is an excellent update on the latest findings and conjectures. For me many of the remaining questions focus around the degree of continuity between eras and the state of economic and theological relations between north and south.
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on 21 December 2002
This book describes ten cities in ancient Mespotamia. From the oldest one, Eridu, to the best known one, Babylon. These are among the first cities ever built. The oldest settlement in Eridu dates from about 4900 BC. The Mesopotamians were pretty urbanized. By the 3d millenium BC a staggering 90% of the population of south Mesopotamia lived in cities. The subject matter of the book is quite fascinating. Some aspects of life there were similar to ours, other aspects are very different and exotic. Mesopotamians had schools, they could read and write, they read literature, they had a sense of history. The time scale of their lives were different from ours. They had textbooks, for example, which they used for centuries. Their civilization had an enormous continuity; it was certainly extremely conservative. Religion was very important for these people. They learned that the Gods created men as helpers to serve them by making sacrifices. Each city had a dominant god. Societies must have been rather stratified: there were leaders (Gods, kings, and priests) and followers, who had to obey. With often terrifying consequences if they didn't. This book has a fascinating story to tell, therefore. The author, Gwendolyn Leick, is a scientist. Her story is well-researched. She reminds us of the sources of our knowledge. Interwoven in the book is how recent scientists, both westerners and modern Irakese, excavated the cities. She explains what we know and what we don't know. For me the book raised my interests. It raised many questions, for which there is apparently no answer yet. It discusses very well the history of these cities, their religion, literature, and architecture. My one critique on the book is that it leaves the key question unanswered: how did the Mesopotamians indeed invent the city, as the subtititle of the book says? The book is structured in ten chapters, one for each city described. It has no conclusive chapter. It does not, for me at least, piece the elements of knowledge together to explain what it meant for these people to invent the city. How did the early Mesopotamians deal with hygiene in the city, and with crime and violence? Which facilities did their cities offer; did they have hotels for foreigners? Which inventions did they make, besides writing and the city itself, to make life bearable in a densely packed city? Throughout the chapters some details are indeed brought forward, but I would have liked an overview chapter. I also would have liked some more pictures or drawings of the remains of these cities.
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on 8 December 2005
well researched and well written guide to the subject, although probably not one for the history virgin. Its quite a complex history, but she manages to cover it without the usual snotty tone so many Mesopotologists seem to aquire. Could have done with a few more maps on certain points, and some of the illustrations didnt seem to fit in with the text but id recommend it overall.
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on 25 February 2017
great reading thought provoking
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on 20 January 2014
This is a great read. Chronologically arranged, so makes for easy reading. Another must for the student of Sumerian history
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on 20 November 2009
An excellent introductory overview of the origins and development of urban life with especial attention to the [ever fluid] particular status of individual cities.
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on 16 October 2010
Leick explores the ancient world of Mesopotamia through some of her key cities, from the very oldest to the later examples, including sites such as the famous cities of Ur, Akkad, Nineveh, and Babylon. Each chapter covers one city, and is begun by a recounting of the archaeological work done at the site. A portrait is painted of the city at its height, any peculiar local cultural customs are examined, and any notable personages connected with the city are recalled. The chapter then closes with a section on mythology, religion, and the gods in the city.

The sections on mythology and gods shed some great insight onto the religious beliefs of the Mesopotamians, especially since so much less is known about their religious beliefs than, say, the Greek and Roman pantheons. I particularly enjoyed the insights about Queen Pu-Abi and the nadith priestesses, hints and clues as to what kinds of roles women may have had, and the extent of their power in the Mesopotamian world. Leick reveals the strong local traditions separating Assyria, Persia, Babylon, Akkad and Sumer, all of which had their own separate cultures and perhaps should not be grouped together as much as they are. She also examines the waves of immigration that the region was subjected to, such as Elamites, Medes, Aramaeans and Semitic tribes. The centrefold photos were a nice visual aid, but it was disappointing that they weren't in colour. The discussions about excavations were a great inclusion, but the narrative style seemed a little clinical.
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on 15 February 2017
Bought as a present to my husband he's more than happy thank you
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