The First Great Powers

Babylon and Assyria

September 2019 9781787382114 301pp


The rediscovery of Assyria in the 1840s transformed Western views on the origins of civilisation. The excavation of Nineveh proved that even the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians together did not constitute the ancient world. These peoples had nothing to do with the beginnings of civilisation on Earth. It was in Mesopotamia that humanity took the first steps on its path towards the society we know today.

The Sumerians inaugurated civilisation itself, but it was the Babylonians and then the Assyrians who fulfilled its potential. Their early experiments in state formation remain fascinating to us today: just like our governments, for a thousand years Babylon and Assyria grappled with the challenges of organising central power, administering distant territories, and engineering social harmony in empires and their cities.

These achievements form one of the momentous episodes in human history; the Mesopotamian invention of writing revolutionised our minds and increased our intellectual possibilities a hundredfold. The First Great Powers is a revelation: of kingship, warfare, society and religion. Here at last we can discover what it meant to be an ancient Mesopotamian living in such an extraordinary world.


In The First Great Powers, Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations come into sharp focus. [This book] will inspire general readers to look further into these fascinating civilizations, and perhaps come to a new understanding of their importance to our own society.’ — Asian Review of Books

‘A highly readable and engaging account about the world’s first imperial powers, and their legacy. Its exciting stories of eminent kings, powerful deities and pivotal events are often full of unexpected turns.’ — Amar Annus, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Religious History at the School of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Tartu, Estonia

‘A useful book. Undaunted by popular ignorance of the pre-Hellenistic world, Arthur Cotterell promises the general reader an enlightening account of the 2nd–1st millennium BCE Babylonian and Assyrian kingdoms. The extent to which he delivers is remarkable.’ — John Keay, author of Sowing the Wind: The Seeds of Conflict in the Middle East; India: A History; and China: A History



Arthur Cotterell is a prolific historian and author with a special interest in ancient ideas, myths and beliefs. His previous books include The Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations; The Penguin Encyclopedia of Classical Civilizations, and The Near East: A Cultural History, also published by Hurst.

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