The Dilmun civilization (3200 BC — 600 BC) was an important trading centre which at the height of its power controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes. The Sumerians regarded Dilmun as holy land. Dilmun is regarded as one of the oldest ancient civilizations in the Middle East. The Sumerians described Dilmun as a paradise garden in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Sumerian tale of the garden paradise of Dilmun may have been an inspiration for the Garden of Eden story. Dilmun appears first in Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets dated to the end of fourth millennium BC, found in the temple of goddess Inanna, in the city of Uruk. The adjective "Dilmun" is used to describe a type of axe and one specific official; in addition there are lists of rations of wool issued to people connected with Dilmun. It was very prosperous during the first 300 years of the second millennium. Dilmun's commercial power began to decline between 2000 BC and 1800 BC because piracy flourished in the Persian Gulf. In 600 BC, the Babylonians and later the Persians added Dilmun to their empires.
Dilmun was the centre of commercial activities linking traditional agriculture of the land with maritime trade between diverse regions as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia in the early period and China and the Mediterranean in the later period (from the 3rd to the 16th century AD). It was mentioned in two letters dated to the reign of Burna-Buriash II (c. 1370 BC) recovered from Nippur, during the Kassite dynasty of Babylon. These letters were from a provincial official, Ilī-ippašra, in Dilmun to his friend Enlil-kidinni in Mesopotamia. The names referred to are Akkadian. These letters and other documents, hint at an administrative relationship between Dilmun and Babylon at that time. Following the collapse of the Kassite dynasty, Mesopotamian documents make no mention of Dilmun with the exception of Assyrian inscriptions dated to 1250 BC which proclaimed the Assyrian king to be king of Dilmun and Meluhha. Assyrian inscriptions recorded tribute from Dilmun. There are other Assyrian inscriptions during the first millennium BC indicating Assyrian sovereignty over Dilmun. It was also later on controlled by the Kassite dynasty in Mesopotamia.
Dilmun, sometimes described as "the place where the sun rises" and "the Land of the Living", is the scene of some versions of the Sumerian creation myth, and the place where the deified Sumerian hero of the flood, Utnapishtim (Ziusudra), was taken by the gods to live forever. Thorkild Jacobsen's translation of the Eridu Genesis calls it "Mount Dilmun" which he locates as a "faraway, half-mythical place".
Dilmun is also described in the epic story of Enki and Ninhursag as the site at which the Creation occurred. The promise of Enki to Ninhursag, the Earth Mother:
For Dilmun, the land of my lady's heart, I will create long waterways, rivers and canals, whereby water will flow to quench the thirst of all beings and bring abundance to all that lives.
Ninlil, the Sumerian goddess of air and south wind had her home in Dilmun. It is also featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
However, in the early epic "Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta", the main events, which center on Enmerkar's construction of the ziggurats in Uruk and Eridu, are described as taking place in a world "before Dilmun had yet been settled".
Dilmun was an important trading center from the late fourth millennium to 1800 BC. At the height of Dilmun's power, Dilmun controlled the Persian Gulf trading routes. Dilmun was very prosperous during the first 300 years of the second millennium. Dilmun's commercial power began to decline between 2000 BC and 1800 BC because piracy flourished in the Persian Gulf. In 600 BC, the Babylonians and later the Persians added Dilmun to their empires.
- Jesper Eidema, Flemming Højlundb (1993). "Trade or diplomacy? Assyria and Dilmun in the eighteenth century BC". World Archaeology. 24 (3): 441–448. doi:10.1080/00438243.1993.9980218.
- Rice, Michael (2004). Egypt's Making: The Origins of Ancient Egypt 5000-2000 BC. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-49263-3., page 230
- Smith, Sylvia (2013-05-21). "Bahrain digs unveil one of oldest civilizations". BBC News. BBC.
- "Qal'at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun". UNESCO. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
- Edward Conklin. Getting Back Into the Garden of Eden. p. 10.
- Crawford, Harriet E. W. (1998). Dilmun and its Gulf neighbours. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-58348-0.
- Larson, Curtis E. (1983). Life and land use on the Bahrain Islands: The geoarcheology of an ancient society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-0-226-46905-8.
- Crawford, Harriet; Rice, Michael (2000). Traces of Paradise: The Archaeology of Bahrain, 2500BC-300AD. Manama, Bahrain: Bahrain National Museum Press. p. 217.
- Thorkild Jacobsen (23 September 1997). The Harps that once--: Sumerian poetry in translation. Yale University Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-300-07278-5. Retrieved 2 July 2011.