The Bottom Line
- Accessible to non-experts
- Filled with fascinating tidbits
- Makes one of the current hotspots of the world less mysterious
- Not comprehensive, which is one reason it is so readable.
- Shortage of charts and dates
- Footnotes are useful...for Assyriologists
- Civilizations of Ancient Iraq
Benjamin R. and Karen P. Foster
Princeton University Press: 2009.
- 10 chapters + epilogue (210 pp.), bibliography and notes. 2 maps and 22 illustrations/half-tones.
- The epilogue deals with archaeologists, the rediscovery of Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, modern wars, and looting.
- The other 10 chapters cover ancient Mesopotamia through the advent of Islam.
- The Fosters both teach at Yale. Karen Polinger Foster is a lecturer in Near Eastern and Aegean art.
- Benjamin R. Foster is professor of Assyriology and curator of the Babylonian Collection at Yale.
Guide Review - Civilizations of Ancient Iraq
Did the Assyrian king Sennacherib invent Archimedes' screw 500 years before the Greek? Was northern Iraq the birthplace of glass 3500 years ago? How long has Iraq been the scene of conflict and destruction? These are issues addressed by the Fosters in their 2009 book Civilizations of Ancient Iraq.
Civilizations of Ancient Iraq has a slightly less ambitious scope than Van de Mieroop's related A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 B.C., which covers all of the ancient Near East: the Fosters are only looking at the area that became Iraq -- and all the civilizations that impinged on the region. Civilizations of Ancient Iraq is deliberately not comprehensive, but instead details the fascinating people(s) and artifacts. Sure, there is background material that must be read to understand what's going on, but it is almost easy reading. Excellent choices of half-tone illustrations do more than provide examples of artifacts from the period. A depiction of polymath King Sennacherib supervising a phase of the construction of his Assyrian palace shows the use of an engineering tool the king devised centuries before Archimedes. Chains of events lead to unforeseen twists. In an early "world war", the West, under the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (575-641), fought the East, under Sassanian King Chosroes II (591-628). Chosroes didn't worry about intelligence that the Romans had outflanked his Sassanian territory because winter was coming and so the Byzantines would have to retreat. But the Byzantines didn't. Instead, they defeated the Sassanians, aided by Turkish allies. Neither side had paid much attention to the Arab tribes in the area, but when the Sassanians were defeated, the area was ripe for takeover, which the Arabs did in 630, along with their new faith, Islam.