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The fact that ziggurat construction took place over such a long period – from the third millennium until the sixth century BC<ref> Kuhrt, Amélie. <i> The Ancient Near East: so many different groups of people did c. 3000-330 BC.</i> Volume 2. (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 547</ref> and is an indicator of the importance of these colossal structures. An examination of the various dynasties that came to rule Mesopotamia shows that ziggurats were important for several reasons: they served as a way for the people to connect to their most important gods, they provided a focal point for the secular community, and they also acted as a visible and tangible sign of a king’s power. Any king worth his salt in ancient Mesopotamia had to build a ziggurat that could be seen for miles around, which would ultimately serve to immortalize him for posterity.
=The Purpose and Construction of Ziggurats ===
[[File: Ziggurats.jpg|300px|thumbnail|right|Map Depicting the Distribution of Known Ziggurats in Ancient Mesopotamia: Note that Most Are in the Fertile area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers]]
Like the most monumental building in the ancient world, ziggurats' development was a long process that took hundreds of years to reach its maturity. Unfortunately, there is no known extant text that explains precisely what ziggurats were intended to symbolize. Still, based on references to the structures in Sumerian and Akkadian language texts, modern scholars have determined that the ancient Mesopotamians believed they were their many deities' earthly homes. <ref> Mieroop, Marc van de. <i>A History of the Ancient Near East: ca. 3000-323 BC.</i> 2nd ed. (London: Blackwell, 2007), p. 182</ref>
Later, true ziggurats would dwarf these early ones in size, but the meaning, style, and construction methods used to make them were established during this early period by the Sumerians. It was also during this early period when the secular and the religious importance of ziggurats were first solidified. Modern archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia have determined that ziggurats were often the first buildings constructed in a settlement. They, in fact, provided much of the impetus for early urban development in Mesopotamia. <ref> Kuhrt, p. 25</ref> As Mesopotamian cities grew in size, ziggurats were also at the center of the growth.
As mentioned above, a ziggurat was believed to be the god or goddess's earthly home to whom it was dedicated. The concept was certainly not unique among pre-modern religions, but what ziggurats were meant to symbolize was. The first ziggurats were simple structures; most were built on top of hills or large mounds, which were believed to symbolize a mountain with the top room being the actual abode of the god or goddess. <ref> Frankfort, p. 21</ref> As history progressed and more resources and better building techniques became available, ziggurats became much larger and more intricate. The higher a ziggurat went, the closer one was to god was the belief. A king would take special pride in a ziggurat built during his reign and often name the monuments. For instance, the Ziggurat of Enlil at Nippur was known as the “House of the Mountain, Mountain of the Storm, and Bond Between Heaven and Earth.” <ref> Frankfort, p. 21</ref>
Besides functioning as the earthly home of a particular deity, ziggurats were part of larger temple complexes where young men would study in scribal schools. Some of the world’s first astronomers observed the celestial bodies. <ref> Frankfort, p. 20</ref> Under the shade of the towering ziggurats, Mesopotamian scholars developed advanced math, even formulating the concept of fractions, although all of their math and science was practical and not theoretical as it is today. <ref> Soden, Wolfram von. <i>The Ancient Orient: An Introduction to the Study of the Ancient Near East.</i> (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), p. 146</ref>
Mesopotamians took the knowledge they learned at ziggurat temple complexes to create bigger and more intricate ziggurats. Although ziggurats were awe-inspiring monuments to behold, they have, for the most part, not stood the test of time. Unlike the pyramids made of stone, ziggurats were made primarily of mud, brick, and clay with some stone. <ref> Kuhrt, p. 341</ref> Unfortunately, despite being constructed with sound methods and mathematical precision, the core material of clay and mud-brick led to the demise of nearly every ziggurat in Mesopotamia. Today, only the ziggurats that have been preserved by modern antiquities services have survived and oftentimes only the parts made of stone. With that said, the ephemeral nature of ziggurat building material was not enough to stop numerous kings from several dynasties from constructing ziggurats and improving their predecessors' techniques.
===A Chronology of Some Notable Ziggurats===