Since the time of the Akkadians, about 2300 BC, the government of West Asia has cycled back and forth between periods of unity under empires ruled by a “king of kings” and smaller kingdoms or city-states ruled by ordinary kings. Most of the time there have been larger empires – the Akkadians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Parthians, the Sassanians, the Islamic Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. Around the edges, however, there have always been communities of nomads – the Arabs, especially – who were not part of these empires.
Within these empires, the king split the land up into smaller provinces, each ruled by a governor appointed by the king. The king took care of some things directly. The Persian king, for instance, built good roads all over his empire so that people would be able to travel more easily. The governors took care of other things, like collecting taxes.
Learn by doing: which government (federal, state, or city) takes care of which things in your country?
Mesopotamia, by Pamela Service (1998). Down to the Persian conquest of the area.
Find Out About Mesopotamia: What Life Was Like in Ancient Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, by Lorna Oakes (2004).
Ancient Mesopotamians, by Elena Gambino (2000). Retellings of Mesopotamian stories and lots of context.
Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide, by Marian Broida (1999). Not just Egypt! Includes activities about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Nubians.
The Persian Empire, by Karen Zeinert (1996). There are some errors, but basically a good introduction.
Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture, by William H. Stiebing (2002). Expensive, and hard to read, but it’s a good up to date account.