The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria and Kuwait), ancient Egypt (although the majority of Egypt is geographically in North East Africa), ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor (modern Turkey and Armenia), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, State of Palestine and Jordan), Malta and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history. It begins with the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, though the date it ends varies: either covering the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region, until the conquest by the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC or Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.
The ancient Near East is considered the cradle of civilization. It was the first to practice intensive year-round agriculture, it gave the rest of the world the first writing system, invented the potter's wheel and then the vehicular- and mill wheel, created the first centralized governments, law codes and empires, as well as introducing social stratification, slavery and organized warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.
The Middle East is a region that roughly encompasses a majority of Western Asia (excluding the Caucasus) and Egypt. The term is used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East. The corresponding adjective is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner. The largest ethnic group in the Middle East are Arabs, with Turks, Turkomans, Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Copts, Jews, Assyrians, Maronites, Circassians, Somalis, Armenians, Druze and numerous additional minor ethnic groups forming other significant populations.
The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times, and throughout its history, the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs. When discussing its ancient history, however, the term Near East is more commonly used. The Middle East is also the historical origin of major religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the less common Baha'i faith, Mandaeism, Druze faith and others. The Middle East generally has an arid and hot climate, with several major rivers providing for irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas, especially in Mesopotamia and the rest of the Fertile Crescent. Many countries located around the Persian Gulf have large quantities of crude oil, which has resulted in much wealth particularly for nations in the Arabian peninsula. In modern times the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.]clarification needed[
The geography of Iraq is diverse and falls into four main regions: the desert (west of the Euphrates), Upper Mesopotamia (between the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers), the northern highlands of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Lower Mesopotamia, the alluvial plain extending from around Tikrit to the Persian Gulf.
The mountains in the northeast are an extension of the alpine system that runs eastward from the Balkans through southern Turkey, northern Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, eventually reaching the Himalayas. The desert is in the southwest and central provinces along the borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan and geographically belongs with the Arabian Peninsula.
Near East (French: Proche-Orient) is a geographical term that roughly encompasses Western Asia. Despite having varying definitions within different academic circles, the term was originally applied to the maximum extent of the Ottoman Empire, but has since been gradually replaced by the term Middle East.
The Encyclopædia Britannica defines the Near East as including Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, and Yemen. The United Nations FAO defines the region similarly, but also includes Afghanistan while excluding the countries of North Africa and the Palestinian territories. According to National Geographic, the terms Near East and Middle East denote the same territories and are 'generally accepted as comprising the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Syria, and Turkey'.
According to Asger Aaboe, the origins of Western astronomy can be found in Mesopotamia, and all Western efforts in the exact sciences are descendants in direct line from the work of the late Babylonian astronomers. Our knowledge of Sumerian astronomy is indirect, via the earliest Babylonian star catalogues dating from about 1200 BCE. The fact that many star names appear in Sumerian suggests a continuity reaching into the Early Bronze Age.
The history of astronomy in Mesopotamia, and the world, begins with the Sumerians who developed the earliest writing system—known as cuneiform—around 3500–3200 BC. The Sumerians developed a form of astronomy that had an important influence on the sophisticated astronomy of the Babylonians. Astrolatry, which gave planetary gods an important role in Mesopotamian mythology and religion, began with the Sumerians. They also used a sexagesimal (base 60) place-value number system, which simplified the task of recording very great and very small numbers. The modern practice of dividing a circle into 360 degrees, of 60 minutes each hour, began with the Sumerians.
The 3rd millennium BC spans the Early to Middle Bronze Age.
It represents a period of time in which imperialism, or the desire to conquer, grew to prominence, in the city states of the Middle East, but also throughout Eurasia, with Indo-European expansion to Anatolia, Europe and Central Asia. The civilization of Ancient Egypt rose to a peak with the Old Kingdom. World population is estimated to have doubled in the course of the millennium, to some 30 million people.
The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia, and the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa. The term was popularized by University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted. Having originated in the study of ancient history, the concept soon developed and today retains meanings in international geopolitics and diplomatic relations.
In current usage, the Fertile Crescent has a minimum extent and a maximum extent. All definitions include Mesopotamia, the land in and around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The modern-day countries with significant territory within the Fertile Crescent are Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, and Occupied Palestinian territories, besides the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringe of Iran.