Abstract and Keywords
The term ‘ancient Mesopotamia’ refers to the land of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, including all of Iraq as well as parts of modern Turkey and Syria, to several millennia of written history and to several further millennia of social, economic, cultural, and religious life prior to writing's first appearance in the region. This article concentrates on the literate, urban world of the late fourth to late first millennia bc, a span beginning roughly with the emergence of the first cities and ending with the gradual decline in the importance of native Mesopotamian gods during the Achaemenid Persian period (539–323 bc). From the emergence of the world's first cities in Mesopotamia and the appearance of the world's earliest known writing there by c.3300 bc there were societies organized around large temple and palace institutions with extensive bureaucracies and priesthoods. More intimate, personal religion and ritual practice flourished alongside these large institutions at all times. However, while evidence does exist for these aspects of ancient religious life, our archaeological, textual, and iconographic data are undeniably biased toward the large institutions and their practices.
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