The Ancient Near East – the Fertile Crescent that links the Eastern Mediterranean shores to the Persian Gulf – comprised the ancient Western Asiatic lands of Mesopotamia (Iraq); Elam and, later, Persia (Iran); the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus; Israel, Jordan); Anatolia(Turkey); and the Arabian Peninsula. Over six thousand years ago, this vast geographic area was the cradle of civilization.
It was here that the first wheel appeared; systematic agriculture was first practiced; the first urban societies and empires developed with centralized governments and administration, law codes, social stratification, and organized armies; the scientific foundations for mathematics and astronomy were first laid; and the first literary works were written.
The many artifacts that have been unearthed in this region, dating from prehistoric times through the emergence of Islam, reveal a great cultural legacy. They shed light on customs and beliefs common to cultures throughout the entire area: a widespread use of symbols, such as the tree and the bull, reflecting the impact of the natural surroundings on the human spirit; faith in anthropomorphic gods and the obligation to worship them; a common depiction of woman in her powerful erotic nakedness; and the dual nature of the king, seen as a mortal chosen by the gods to rule the human world or, at times, as a divine representative among mortals.