Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley
From around 2000 BC, rival peoples in the Middle East fought to either conquer or defend land. Some, like the BABYLONIANS and ASSYRIANS, were based in magnificent cities. Others, like the HITTITES and HEBREWS, arrived to settle and found new kingdoms.
Kings and peoples wanted to live in the Middle East because of its fertile farmland. The best land lay beside the Euphrates and Tigris rivers of Mesopotamia, but there were also fields, forests, and orchards in mountain valleys to the north and south. People also competed to control the long-distance trading routes that passed through the Middle East, linking Europe with Asia.
Babylon became powerful around 1792 BC, under King Hammurabi. From 1595 BC, its people came under the rule of invaders. In 625 BC, a general called Nabopolassar drove out the foreigners and became king. Under his son, King Nebuchadnezzar (r. 605–562 BC), a great new empire emerged.
Babylonians built mud-brick monuments and used them as sundials. They observed stars and planets, predicted their movements, and compiled calendars. They based their calculations on units of 60—which we still use today to measure minutes and seconds—and recorded all their findings in cuneiform writing.
The Hittites were people who settled in Anatolia (now Turkey), in around 1700 BC. They could smelt iron, so they were able to make stronger weapons than their enemies. Around 1400 BC, Hittite city-states joined forces to create a powerful kingdom.
Fast, two-wheeled war chariots—pulled by horses—were first used by Hittite warriors around 1800 BC. Armed with bows and arrows, the charioteers would charge at ranks of enemy soldiers to scatter them. The Hittites also attacked enemy cities with the help of siege engines such as tall towers. The Hittites had two great enemies: the Ancient Egyptians and a war-like people from the state of Mitanni, in Mesopotamia.
The Hittites and their enemies fought to win the eastern Mediterranean region, with its forests, farms, and rich trading ports. In around 1200 BC, the Hittites were also attacked by invaders from Mediterranean islands, known as Sea Peoples, and by nomad tribes from the east. These wars, plus famine, destroyed Hittite power.
The Hebrews were shepherds and farmers in Canaan, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Sea Peoples also settled there. Around 1020 BC, the Hebrews conquered these peoples and founded a powerful new kingdom, led by great kings. Saul was the first king. He was succeeded by David, and then Solomon.
The Hebrews believed that God had promised them a home in Canaan. According to the Bible, the prophet Moses led them to this land in around 1200 BC. Later, in 922 BC, the Hebrew kingdom of Canaan divided into two separate nations—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The people of Judah became known as Jews.
The Assyrians lived in northern Mesopotamia. They grew crops in irrigated fields and built fine cities. From around 900 BC, they conquered an empire stretching from Egypt to the Persian Gulf. It collapsed when the Babylonians and Medes attacked in 612 BC.
The first Assyrian soldiers were farmers, who left their fields when called up to fight. But by around 740 BC, the Assyrian kings had developed fierce new armies made up of captured foreigners. They fought with swords, spears, bows and arrows, and battering rams. They demanded tributes of lumber, metal, and horses from weaker peoples.