Mesopotamian Art, 3500 – 300 B.C.E.

The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia are the source of the earliest surviving art; these civilizations were situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers.  Dating back to 3500 B.C.E., Mesopotamian art was intended to serve as a way to glorify powerful rulers and their connection to divinity. Art was made from natural resources such as stone, shells, alabaster and marble, and was often created as didactic pieces. No artist signatures can be found on most of the work, because the pieces were meant to embody the subject matter, rather than the creator. Popular items that typify this time period include cylindrical seals, steles, narrative relief sculptures, and lavishly decorated tombs.

The major civilizations that flourished during the Mesopotamian time were the Sumerians (3500-2300 BC), Akkadians (2180-2340 BC), Babylonians (1792-1750 BC), Hitties (1600-1200 BC), Assyrains (1000-612 BC) and the Persians (559-331 BC).

Sumerian Art

Standard of Ur, 2600 B.C.E.

Shown is a Sumerian container depicting war and peace. This work is inlayed with shell, lapis lazuli and limestone. It served as a visual representation of a civilization’s conquest and the serenity of victory to follow. The representation of the profile figures in the narrative within registers (horizontal bands) was typical for art from this period. Through size differences and central placement of important figures, it becomes clear who the important people are. Akkadian Art

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, 2230 B.C.E:

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

This work from Akkadian culture was the first work that depicted a man as synonymous to a god.  Made from sandstone, this work utilizes two important staples of ancient art: hierarchy of scale and symbolism. Naram-Sin is physically shown above all other figures in the piece, establishing him as the most important.  He is also wearing a horned crown and standing under stars that appear close enough for the ruler to touch them. Such imagery was meant to indicate his divinity.

Babylonian Art

lshtar Gate, 575 B.C.E:

Ishtar Gate

This gate is made from blue-glazed brick with images of alternating bas-relief dragons and wild cattle. Commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II, this structure was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was later replaced in this list by the Lighthouse of Alexandria. This gate was dedicated to the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, and played a large part in processional festivals.

Hittite Art

Stele of Hammurabi, 1790 B.C.E:

This sculpture represents the set of laws that the sixth king Hammurabi enforced. It is a prime example of how the society depended on art in order to find organization and structure. Hammurabi believed he was chosen by God to enforce his divine laws. In order to show this relationship, Hammurabi ordered a sculpture that depicted the king in an animated dialogue with the divine, situated directly above the list of engraved laws. 

 Assyrian Art

Lamassu, 720-705 B.C.:

This statue is a combination of a bull’s body, eagle’s wings, and a human crowned head, and represents the ultimate protection from evil. Often, as is the case with this particular piece, it was placed with an identical twin by the entrance to a city, serving as a permanent protector.


Persian Art

Persepolis, 500 B.C.:

This architectural feat was built by architects Darius I and Xerxes I. Located in what is now Iran, this structure was once a place for spectacular receptions. It was constructed on artificial terraces made of mud-brick. Lamassu gates, relief sculptures and bell-shaped columns characterize this structure.

For more information on Persepolis, check out this link!


Standard of Ur

35 thoughts on “Mesopotamian Art, 3500 – 300 B.C.E.

    1. this helped me in school also. I am excited that this website was created, Whoever made this website is awesome. Maybe another time, Another website about everything in mesopotamia should be created.

  1. This site gives a succinct info on Mesopotamian art and culture. But could supply more info on the legacies of theses artistic tradition to our understanding of world art? Any lessons for today’s art scholars, teachers and students? Thank you.

  2. This is so useful for my “Art Culture” Persuasion essay that we have to do as “Punishment” this makes it SOOOOO EASYYYY!

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