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Dawn of Civilization
he Rise of Sumer and the Akkadian Empire
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In the Wake of Alexander
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Rediscovering the Past
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Iraq Cultural Property Law, 2002
The Impact of War on Iraq's Cultural Heritage



In 331 BC, Alexander of Macedon, having conquered and united the eastern Mediterranean from Asia Minor to Egypt, turned his attention toward the adversary that had threatened the Greeks for centuries: the Achaemenid dynasty in Persia and their then ruler, Darius III, who Alexander defeated at the epic Battle of Gaugamela, a few kilometers east of present-day Arbil (Erbil) in northern Iraq.

The citizens of Babylon greeted the conquering hero warmly, encouraged by his plans to make the city his eastern capital. 
Eight years later — after a punishing sojourn through Afghanistan and aborted invasion of India — Alexander returned to Babylon in 323 B.C., where he died at the age of 32. The news must have been a blow to the Babylonians, who thought their city would be restored to its former greatness. Indeed this was Babylon’s last appearance as a capital from that day to the present. 

Alexander’s generals competed for his empire, with Ptolemy establishing a dynasty that became known by his name in Egypt, and his cavalry commander Seleucus Nikator, a former satrap of Babylon, seizing the eastern territories from Antioch (Syria) to Afghanistan and founding the Seleucid Dynasty.

For the first time since the rule of the Hammurabi dynasty, Babylon was supplanted as the capital.  Seleucus built a new city, Seleucia-on-the–Tigris, about 90 km north of Babylon, on the site that may have been the port of Opis. And this became a true Hellenistic city in layout and culture, designed on a grid plan, with housing blocks separated by straight avenues and streets crossing each other at right angles.

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With an estimated population of 600,000, Seleucia-oin-the-Tigris was the largest city in the empire.

The temple of Marduk apparently remained the sacred center of Babylonia, where Greek gods were worshipped, and a theater and gymnasium were built in Babylon. Meanwhile, cuneiform texts were still produced in the temples.

Uruk also fared well during this period, with a huge terrace being built around the ziggurat and two large temples constructed in the conventional Babylonian architectural fashion. Economic texts on clay tablets and bullae (clay balls) with inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek indicate that Uruk had a prominent Greek business community and at the same time, retained its ancient laws and customs and was exempt from certain royal taxes.

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