For the most part, government in the city-states, nations, and empires of ancient Mesopotamia was defined and shaped by the political power of selected individuals and groups. And much of that political power was based on landownership. Those who owned the most land - kings and priests, who ran large temple estates - were the richest, most influential, and most powerful and therefore had the most say in governing average people.
   Kings existed in Mesopotamia from very early times, as revealed by the surviving king lists. However, it remains unknown when the first kings appeared and whether they were the first governmental officials. It may be revealing that one of the Sumerian epic poems, Gilgamesh and Agga, mentions a local government with three branches, so to speak: a chief executive, the king; a sort of senate, consisting of a group of elders who advised the king; and another legislative branch in the form of an assembly of warriors, who approved or disapproved of the king's policies. It is unknown if such separation of powers existed in any of the real Sumerian city-states. It may be only a literary fiction. In any case, as larger nations and empires emerged in Mesopotamia, absolute monarchies became the rule.
   Still, it was impossible for one person to handle all the administrative, military, and religious duties of the government of a major state. so the king had to delegate much of his authority, even if he had the final say in affairs of state. High priests helped the king with his religious duties, advised him on certain matters, and ran the temple estates on which many Meso-potamians worked. The king also appointed generals and other military officers to run the army, although many Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian mon-archs led the army themselves on many of their campaigns.
   When an empire had many provinces, as the Assyrian and Persian realms did, the king also chose governors, usually from his leading nobles, to run those provinces. The Assyrians were the first to institute a large-scale system of provinces with governors, royal inspectors who traveled around and checked up on the governors, garrisons of soldiers installed in each province to enforce the king's authority, and royal roads on which the king's inspectors and soldiers journeyed to and from the provinces. The Medes and the Persians adopted this same sort of administrative system for their own empires, calling the governors satraps. When the Macedonian king Alexander the Great conquered Persia, he also kept the system in place, although he reduced the powers of the satraps. The seleucid monarchs who controlled Mesopotamia after Alexander used the satrap system, too. A satrap in the Seleucid Empire was called an assirategus.As in other Near Eastern monarchies ruled by Greeks in the late first millennium b.c., the Seleucids made no attempt to install democracy, the enlightened form of government pioneered on the Greek mainland in the fifth and fourth centuries b.c.
   See also: Alexander III ("the Great"); king lists; kingship; satrapy

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.


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