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MESOPOTA´MIA ( Μεσοποταμία), an extensive [p. 2.333]district of Western Asia, deriving its name from its position between the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris. It was hounded on the N. by Armenia and the S. branch of M. Taurus, on the E. by the Tigris, on the W. by the Euphrates, and on the S. by the Median Wall, which separated it from Babylonia. (Strab. xvi. p.746; Ptol. 5.18.1.) Pliny apparently extends it on the southern side as far as the Persian Gulf (5.24. s. 21); but, like many other ancient provinces, its limits varied much at different periods,--it being sometimes extended so as to comprehend Babylonia, at other times so as to take in parts of Syria.

Mesopotamia is noticed among the earliest records of the human race which we have in the Bible. It is commonly known by three titles in Holy Scripture: either ARAM NAHARAIM (or “Syria of the Two Waters” ), as in Gen. xxiv, 10; or PADAN ARAM ( “Syria of the Plain” ), as in Gen. 31.18, 33.18, 35.9; or SEDEHARAM, “the field of Aram” (Hos. 12.12), corresponding with the “Campi Mesopotamiae” of Curtius (3.2.3, 4.9.6). There are indeed places where ARAM MAHARAIM appears to be used in a more limited sense for the more northern portion of it (Deut. 23.4); while it is equally certain that it was not supposed to comprehend only the flat country of the plain; for Balaam, who is said to have been a native of Aram Maharaim (Deut. 23.4), is also in another place stated to have been “brought from Aram out of the mountains of the East.” (Numb. 23.7.) It is not certain how soon in history this country acquired its Greek title, which is, after all, only a modification of the meaning of the original Hebrew word,--probably, however, not till after Alexander's invasion of the East. (Cf. Arrian, 7.7; Tac. Ann. 6.37.) The translators of the LXX. render the Hebrew sometimes Μεσοποταμία Συρίας, and sometimes simply Μεσοποταμία. In the Bible we have mention of one ruler who is called a king of Mesopotamia, Cushan-Rishathaim, to whom the children of Israel were subject for eight years. (Judg. 3.8, 10.) The modern Arabic name Al-Jezireh (the island) describes its locality accurately; but the modern province is much less extensive than the ancient.

The whole country (as known at least to the later writers) appears to have borne much the same character as Babylonia, and to have been rich in the same products. It was throughout well wooded, especially in the neighbourhood of the principal streams; and some of the timber must have been of a large size, as Trajan built a fleet in the neighbourhood of Nisibis during the Parthian War (D. C. 68.26), and Severus one in subsequent times from the woods along the banks of the Euphrates. (D. C. 75.9.) Its extensive plains afforded abundant pasturage for cattle (Curt. 5.1.12; Amm. Marc. 25.8), and its wilder and less frequented districts were the haunts of the lion, the wild ass, and the gazelle. (Strab. 16.747; Amm. Marc. 18.7.) The same character it possesses now; though, from the scantiness of the population, and the careless rule of its Turkish governors, much that was formerly under cultivation has become a deserted wilderness. Among its natural products Strabo mentions especially naphtha, amomum, and a stone called gangitis or gagatis (perhaps a kind of anthracite coal). (Cf. Schol. ad Nicandr. Ther. 37; Plin. Nat. 10.3. s. 4; Dioscorid. 5.146.)

Though Mesopotamia is for the most part a flat country, the ancients reckoned some mountains which were along its northern boundary, as belonging to this division of Asia. These were MONS MASIUS (now Karja Baghlar), one of the southern outlying spurs of the great range of the Taurus; and M. SINGARAS (now Sinjar), which may be considered as an extension to the S. of the M. Masius. The latter is nearly isolated from the main ranges on the N., and extends on the NE. to the neighbourhood of the Tigris. The two most important rivers of Mesopotamia are, as we have stated, those which formed its W. and E. boundaries, the Euphrates and Tigris ; but besides these, there are a number of smaller, but not wholly unimportant streams, which traverse it as affluents of the former rivers. These were the CHABORAS (Khabúr); the SAOCORAS perhaps the same as that which Xenophon calls Mascas (Anab. 1.5.4); the BELIAS or BILECHA; and the MYGDONIUS (Hermes.) Under the Roman Empire, Mesopotamia was divided into two parts, of which the western was called Osrhoëne, while the eastern continued to bear its ancient name. It was conquered by Trajan in A.D. 115, who took Singara and Nisibis, and formed the three Roman provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, of which Mesopotamia reached as far as the Persian Gulf. (D. C. 68.22, 23; Eutrop. 8.3; Euseb. p. 165, ed. Scalig.; Malalas, p. 274, ed. Bonn.) But even Trajan could not retain his conquests (D. C. 68.29), and they were given up by Hadrian of his own accord. (Spartian, Hadr. 5; Eutrop. 8.6.) Under M. Aurelius, Mesopotamia was again conquered by L. Verus, as far as the Median Wall (S. Rufus, Brev. 14); and the conquest was further secured by the foundation of the colonies of Carrhae on the Chaboras and Singara, to which Septimius Severus added those of Nisibis and Rhesaena. But this province was a constant cause of war between the Persian and Roman empires; and at length the greater part of it was surrendered to the Persians by Jovian in A.D. 363. After this time Mesopotamia contained two ἐπαρχίαι: Osrhoëne, bounded on the south by the Chaboras, with the capital Edessa; and Mesopotamia, extending as far south as Dara, and having Amida as its capital. The province was governed by a Praeses. (Marquardt, in Becker's Römisch. Alterth. vol. iii. pt. i. pp. 204, seq.)

The most important cities of this province were BATNAE or BATHNAE; CARRHAE; CIRCESIUM; NISIBIS or Antiocheia Mygdoniae; and SINGARA


hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.37
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 10.3
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 18.7
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 25.8
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 3.2.3
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 4.9.6
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 5.1.12
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