Pages: 400
Subject: History, Middle East
Series: Short Histories
Imprint: Oneworld


A History

John Robertson

A unique account of Iraq - cradle of great civilizations and birthplace of the first cities
9781780749495 (1 Sep 2016)
RRP £16.99 / US$24.99

The Book

Cities, scripts, literature, the rule of law – all were born in Iraq. That so many see this ancient land as nothing more than a violent backwater steeped in chaos is a travesty. This is the place where, for the first 5,000 years of human history, all innovations of worth emerged. It was the cradle of civilization.

In this unrivalled study, John Robertson details the greatness and grandeur of Iraq’s achievements, the brutality and magnificence of its ancient empires and its extraordinary contributions to the world. The only work in the English language to explore the history of the land of two rivers in its entirety, it takes readers from the seminal advances of its Neolithic inhabitants to the aftermath of the American and British-led invasion, the rise of Islamic State and Iraq today. A fascinating and thought-provoking analysis, it is sure to be greatly appreciated by historians, students and all those with an interest in this diverse and enigmatic country.

This paperback edition features a new epilogue, bringing the work up to date and looking ahead to Iraq’s future.

Additional Information

Subject History, Middle East
Series Short Histories
Pages 400
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

John F. Robertson is Professor of Ancient and Middle Eastern Studies at the Central Michigan University.


'A fresh and lively discussion of Iraq's 6,000-year history'.

- Middle East Journal

‘There is much to be learnt from this prodigious record of human achievement in the cradle of civilisation.'

- Sunday Times

John Robertson's magnificent Iraq: A History takes a truly long perspective. From the first Sumerian cities over 5,000 years ago, via the great empires of Assyria, Babylonia and Abbasid Baghdad, to the modern Iraqi state, he shows how this complex past has always shaped, and been shaped by, contemporary political concerns.'

- History Today, Best Books of 2015

'Considering its huge span of 6,000 years, the book is surprisingly unhurried...Robertson is never a prisoner of chronology and always finds time for useful asides'.

- Independent

"A rare find: an authoritative, highly original history that is simply a delight to read. Anyone who wants to understand the turmoil and potential of modern Iraq should read this book.

- Dr. Barbara N. Porter, Director, The Casco Bay Assyriological Institute; research associate, The Harvard Semitic Museum

‘A captivating account... While both engaging and informative, it is not the content alone that is most impressive, but the author's technique. Unlike most books on Iraq, this one takes its time recounting the region's history, savouring the richness... Above all else, the book excels in putting events into historical perspective by seeing things not in a Manichean, "the present matters whereas the past is past” perspective.'

- Tribune

"It is rare to find a genuinely knowledgeable and expert scholar who can produce a work as accessible and balanced as this volume. Always informative and never overwhelming, this is a volume that truly must be read by anyone interested in the world we find ourselves occupying today.

- Dr. Martha T. Roth – Dean, Humanities Division and the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor of Assyriology, University of Chicago

"Iraq matters. Iraq has always mattered and John Robertson's compelling account shows exactly why. Deftly steering a path through five millennia and more, he helps us to see how and why the country's past is always up for grabs, interpreted and reinterpreted in the light of contemporary concerns... An essential read for anyone who wants to understand why Iraq is never far from the headlines.

- Eleanor Robson – Professor of Ancient Middle Eastern History, University College London

'John Robertson has been able to walk us through so much of the history that we tend to forget'.

- Camden New Journal

‘A fresh and lively discussion of Iraq's 6,000-year history... Robertson reminds his readers of the intellectual debt the Western world owes to the peoples that populated the area of Iraq throughout history, hoping they will then see past today's brutal headlines... His conviction is clearly expressed and poignantly supported throughout this book.'

- The Middle East Journal

"The author superbly weaves ancient and medieval historical and cultural development with Iraq's recent history and current sociopolitical turmoil. VERDICT Few books in English cover Iraq's entire history in such a holistic manner. This highly readable and informative book will be a valuable tool in teaching and research for informed general readers and Middle East specialists.

- Library Journal

"This vivid and fast-paced book is an enjoyable introduction for the general reader, from the beginnings of human civilization to the recent wholesale destruction of Iraq's archaeological heritage.… Robertson's focus on pre-modern Iraq effortlessly blends political and military history with the history of ideas, and flows seamlessly into the present era and the terrible predicament in which the cradle of civilization now finds itself.”

- Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Glory and the Curse of Iraq's Past


1  Places, Peoples, Potentials: the Enduring Foundations of Life in Iraq

The "Land Between the Rivers”

Distribution of Raw Materials and Natural Resources

Iraq's Accessibility and Vulnerability to External Forces

The Peoples and Social Patterns of Iraq


2  Cradle of Civilization

"History Begins at Sumer”

The First Cities and the Invention of Writing

The Early Dynastic Period (Ca. 2900-2350 BCE)

The Akkad Period (Ca. 2350-2150 BCE)

The Ur III Period (Ca. 2100-2000 BCE)

The Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian Periods (Ca. 2000-1595 BCE)

The Kassite and Middle Assyrian Periods (1595 to Ca. 1000 BCE)

Transition to Empire, Ca. 1100-900 BCE

The Great "World Empires” (Ca. 900-539 BCE): The Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian Periods


3  Cradle of Empires

The Rediscovery of "The Might That Was Assyria”

Assyria and the Bible: Creating a Bogeyman

Assyrian Zenith

Babylon: The Curse of an Ancient Image

"The Greatness That [Really] Was Babylon”

The Long Twilight of Iraq's Ancient Imperial Era


4  Cradle of Religions, Crucible of Conflicts

Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia/Iraq

The Achaemenid Persians and the Religion of the Wise Lord

Alexander the Great and the Coming of Hellenism

Iraq under Parthian Rule: Religious Toleration and Vitality

From Palestine to Mesopotamia: Iraq as a Cradle of World Religions

Iraq under the Sassanids: Religious Mosaic and Holy War

Jews under the Sassanids

Christians under the Sassanids

"Gnostics” and the Apostle of Light


5  Iraq, Islam, and the Golden Age of the Arab Empire

Prelude to the Coming of Islam and the Arab Conquest of Iraq

Muhammad and the Origins of the Community of Islam

The Arab Muslim Conquest of Iraq: The Early Forging of Arab (Versus Persian) Identity

Iraq and the Early Forging of Shi‘ite (Versus Sunni) Identity

Iraq under Umayyad Rule

The Abbasid Caliphate: Iraq as the Center of Islamic Civilization

Abbasid Decline: Iraq Drifts Away from Center Stage


6 Interlude: From Cradle to Backwater

Iraq under the Buyids, Seljuks, and Mongols

The Coming of the Seljuks and Turkish Authority

The Crusades and Saladin

The Mongol Invasion and Its Aftermath

Iraq in the Era of the "Gunpowder Empires”

European Inroads

The Seeds of Iraq's Revival


7  The Creation and Zenith of Modern Iraq

Setting the Stage

World War I and Its Aftermath: The Hashemite Monarchy, the British, and Oil

Enter Oil

The Birth of Iraqi and Arab Nationalisms

The Nationalist Response to British Domination

Arab and Iraqi Nationalism, the Cold War, the Emergence of Israel, and the Poisoned Blessing of Oil

The Republic: Competing Nationalisms, Resistance to the West, and New Wealth

The Continuing Development and Impact of Iraqi and Arab Nationalism under the Republic

Iraq's Conquest of Its Oil under the Republic


8  The Long Descent

Republican Iraq and the Cold War Powers until 1980

Saddam's Qadissiya: The Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88

The Crisis with Kuwait

Operation Desert Storm

1991-2003: The Scourge of Sanctions

The Anglo-American Invasion of Iraq


Epilogue: "Tell Me How This Ends”