The Ashmolean

Iraq: Navel of the World


Worship has taken many forms throughout human history. In the very ancient past the people of Iraq worshipped deified elements of nature: the storm god, the sun, and the moon. By historical times these deities had taken on human attributes, much like the ancient Norse or Greek gods, and were thought of as having partners and families. Many Sumerian and Akkadian myths describe their deeds and misdeeds.

In the 6th century BC, king Nebuchadnezzar exiled the population of Jerusalem to Babylon; Iraq maintained a substantial Jewish population until the mid-20th century AD. Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism also flourished here. Northern Iraq was Christianised very early, in the 5th century AD. Some of the world's oldest churches and monasteries can be found in the area around Mosul.

Islam established itself in Iraq in the 7th century AD. Within a century Baghdad had become the capital of the Abbasid empire, the heart of the Islamic world, where caliphs ruled for over 500 years. In Iraq today there are Shi'i and Sunni Muslims, and Christians too, but also Yezidis and Mandeans - whose beliefs include the last vestiges of the old Babylonian faiths.

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