Ancient Mesopotamian Music and Art
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By: Ana Rose Walkey & Nazanin Pannah


Hi! and welcome to our page about Mesopotamian music and art!

Art and Music were two ways the Mesopotamians expressed themselves and historical events like wars, victories, festivals, religions like statues of gods and loyalty with their statues and murals of kings and royalty. They had a variety of musical instruments ranging from cheap peasant harps to gold plated lyres for the royal musicians.

Table of Contents:
  • 1. Art (murals, Paintings)
  • 2. Architecture ( palaces, gates)
  • 3. Craftsmanship ( jewelery, furniture)
  • 4. Information on Important peices of Art



The Mesopotamians used a variety of instruments which are the roots for many instruments today. There were harps, lyres, lutes, reed pipes, and drums. Mesopotamians had variety in their songs from downward slides to fast beats to nasally tone. Most musicians showed their most or least intense emotions in their songs. Some would cup their hand to their ear as if to hear their emotion. Some songs were written about the gods but most described important events. Though Rulers such as Kings enjoyed music normal people also enjoyed singing and dancing in their homes or in marketplaces. The songs were passed through generations until they were written down, it was how they told the stories of important events that happened in the past. One more specific instrument has the Arabic name; Oud. Which can be translated to wooden lute. It's a small stringed instrument and has been depicted a million times in images including a famous one in a British museum that shows a women on a boat playing the Oud Right-handed. One instrument that remains with us is a harp inlayed with a bulls head on the end. The head is covered in gold foil.

lyre.jpg<---- lyre drum.jpg<------- drums reed_pipe.jpg<----------reed pipe
external image music.jpgexternal image music2.jpg<---------A harp player external image oud.jpg <----------The Mesopotamian Oud


Art started for Mesopotamians in 2125 BC. They had a very wide variety of art ranging from architecture to murals. They made carvings and some of their art showed scenes of war. They also did pottery, made board games, created fancy chairs, unglazed vases meant to keep water cool, mosaics made with tiny pieces of painted clay, decorated tablets, they weaved, made jewelry, and painted, glazed bricks. Every culture that invaded Mesopotamia left some art to show that they had been there.

Art (murals, paintings sculptures):
They were not very good at huge stone sculptures because they didn't have the right materials. They mostly used gold, silver, metal, and wood for their art. Much of their art was murals. They did a lot of their art after Hammurabi who was the king of Babylon. They usually painted or carved pictures onto a clay tablet and either left it on ir's own or made a mural using a lot of other tablets. A few pieces were done after the Gudea of Lagash, Dragon of Marduk, Tiglath - Pileser III, an Eagle - headed Deity, and a birdman.
external image 1056688065_5dcbd2624c_m.jpg<----------- Assyrian Reliefs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, July 2007

This is the Babylonian Lion

<-------------This is and ancient Mesopotamian tablet


This is the Dragon of Marduk

Architecture (palaces, homes, gates):
The Mesopotamians made palaces, city walls, gates, monumental buildings and temples.
external image Picture%25201.png(Recreation of Mesopotamian city)
A well known piece of art is the Ishtar Gate which is located in Babylon.
external image Ray%2520Ishtar%2520Gate.jpg(Ishtar Gate) It is made with blue enameled tiles. Each tile is decorated with a piece of the large image. Another well known piece of work is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon which have been debated as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The palaces that belonged to the more powerful people in Mesopotamia were large scale complexes that were heavily decorated. The Palaces also served as shrines, they had craftsmen workshops, ceremonial courtyards and food storage houses. One example is the Guparu which served as a place for the Moon God Nanna's priestesses to reside. The had a ceremonial banquet hall, multiple courtyards, quite a few sanctuaries and burial chambers for dead priestesses. Houses were built of wooden doors, mud bricks, wood, and mud plaster which are like more primitive forms of the materials we used today. However in that time wood wasn't made as professionally so most houses had a square center room with other rooms attached to it. The fact that the houses were all different sizes, shapes and some small ones were made of less strong materials suggests that each family built their own home. Some even think peasants built their home of reed when wood was not available.
Dur-Untash, or Choqa Zanbil, built in 13th century BC by Untash Napirisha and located near Susa, Iran is one of the world's best-preserved ziggurats.
Dur-Untash, or Choqa Zanbil, built in 13th century BC by Untash Napirisha and located near Susa, Iran is one of the world's best-preserved ziggurats.
(Ziggurats) There were also pyramid like Ziggurats which were temples said to have shrines on the summit.

external image Photo5.jpg(A mosque of some sort)

Craftmanship (jewellery, furniture):

About 4,000 years ago making jewelery had become a very significant job in Mesopotamia. From 2900-2300 BC a lot of jewelery was buried with the deceased in the Royal Cemetery of Ur. Tombs like the one belonging to Puabi contained a lot of artifacts with gold, silver and semi precious stones.Examples include the Lampis Lazuli crown embellished with gold figurines, close-fitting collar necklaces and jewelery headed pins. Men and women of Mesopotamia wore a lot of jewelery like headpins, anklets, amulets, heavy multi-strand necklaces and more. Most jewelery was made of thin metal leaf, and brightly colored stones. Mostly they used Jasper, Carnelian, Lapis and Agate. Favoured and popular shapes were leaves, cones, spirals and bunches of grapes. They made jewelery for humans and statues. Their metal working techniques were very sophisticated. There isn't much information on furniture and the little information we do have is based on paintings and rock slabs. Many have compared Mesopotamian and Greek furniture to be similar except the Mesopotamians did not make couches. Furniture included intricately decorated stools, thrones, tables and more. The furniture was usually made of wood and was either painted or had jewels embedded but this type of extravagant furniture was saved for the wealthy or royal. Most Mesopotamians had simple furniture. In about 2300 BC a backless throne was made. It had elegant upholstery but very straight and sturdy legs.

external image 03_forgotten_empire.jpg external image T010402A.jtn

More Information on Important Pieces of Art:
This link/video has images of Mesopotamian Art. (Courtesy of Laura Smith)
external image 7hanging.gif-Hanging Gardens of Babylon. They were thought to be made by the king Nebuchadnezzar II because his wife was homesick for her home land of trees and fragrant flowers. The gardens were destroyed in an earthquake in 1st century BC.

external image Ray%2520Ishtar%2520Gate.jpg- The Ishtar Gate has been represented in many movies and shows to do with ancient Mesopotamia/Persia. Blue enameled tiles blend together to make a mosaic of animals, like lions. The gate is said to have been only used for important people including Alexander (known as Alexander-the-Great).
ziggurats.jpg- This is a Ziggurat. Originally, the temples were built on platforms. Eventually, these platforms were made taller. Soon after they decided to make these into even taller temples with steps. It is said they all had shrines on the top though none have survived. They called these 'temples' Ziggurats. These were first made in Sumerian cities. Then they were built in Babylonian and Assyrian cities. They were made from mud/clay bricks on the inside and fired bricks on the exterior. Some exterior bricks were glazed and painted different colours. No one really knows why these were built, but they were temples, so they were thought to be linked with religion.

A lot of old pottery and art has shown dancers on it. These pieces of art showed swirling dancers. They were said to have danced in a very strange twisting kind of way. This kind of dance resembles the dancing of todays Iraqi tribes people and it is similar to Turkish dance.

This is a Video About Mesopotamia:


Schomp, Virginia. Ancient Mesopotamia. New York: Franklin Watts Publishing, 2004.
Toutant, Arnold. Ancient Worlds 7. New York: Oxford Press, 2000.


Picture Sources: