History Podcasts

How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization

How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

While human civilization developed in many places around the world, it first emerged thousands of years ago in the ancient Middle East.

“We see the first cities, the first writing and first technologies originating in Mesopotamia,” says Kelly-Anne Diamond, a visiting assistant history professor at Villanova University, whose expertise includes ancient Near Eastern history and archaeology.

Mesopotamia’s name comes from the ancient Greek word for “the land between the rivers.” That’s a reference to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the twin sources of water for a region that lies mostly within the borders of modern-day Iraq, but also included parts of Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The presence of those rivers had a lot to do with why Mesopotamia developed complex societies and innovations such as writing, elaborate architecture and government bureaucracies. The regular flooding along the Tigris and the Euphrates made the land around them especially fertile and ideal for growing crops for food. That made it a prime spot for the Neolithic Revolution, also called the Agricultural Revolution, that began to take place almost 12,000 years ago.

That revolution “transformed human life across the planet, but it was in Mesopotamia where this process began,” Diamond explains.

With people cultivating plants and domesticating animals, they were able to stay in one place and form permanent villages. Eventually, those small settlements grew into early cities, where a lot of the characteristics of civilization—such as concentrations of population, monumental architecture, communication, division of labor, and different social and economic classes—developed.

But the emergence and evolution of civilization in Mesopotamia also was influenced by other factors—in particular, changes in climate and the natural environment, which compelled the region’s inhabitants to become more organized in order to cope.

Watch Engineering an Empire on HISTORY Vault

How Nature Nurtured Civilization

Civilization didn’t develop in exactly the same way throughout the region, according to Hervé Reculeau, an associate professor of Assyriology at the University of Chicago and an expert in the history of ancient Mesopotamia. As he explains, urban societies developed independently in Lower Mesopotamia, an area in what is now southern Iraq where the early civilization of Sumer was located, and Upper Mesopotamia, which includes Northern Iraq and part of present-day western Syria.

One factor that helped civilization to develop in both places was the climate of Mesopotamia, which 6,000 to 7,000 years ago was wetter than that part of the Middle East is today.

“The earliest cities of southern Mesopotamia developed on the margins of a great marsh that provided an abundance of natural resources for construction (reed) and food (wild game and fish), with water easily accessible for small scale irrigation that could be organized at a local level and did not require the supervision of large-scale state structures,” Reculeau writes. Additionally, he notes, the marsh provided a connection to sea routes on the Persian Gulf, which made it possible for people who lived in the south to eventually develop long-distance trade with other places.

In Upper Mesopotamia, the rainfall was reliable enough that farmers didn’t have to do much irrigation, according to Reculeau. They also had access to mountains and forests, where they could hunt for game and cut down trees for wood. Their areas also had land routes to places to the north beyond the mountains, where they could obtain materials such as obsidian, a type of rock that can be used in jewelry or for making cutting tools.

According to the British Museum, early Mesopotamian farmers’ main crops were barley and wheat. But they also created gardens shaded by date palms, where they cultivated a wide variety of crops including beans, peas, lentils, cucumbers, leeks, lettuce and garlic, as well as fruit such as grapes, apples, melons and figs. They also milked sheep, goats and cows to make butter, and slaughtered them for meat.

Eventually, the agricultural revolution in Mesopotamia led to what Diamond describes as the next big step in progress, the Urban Revolution.

Roughly 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in Sumer, villages evolved into cities. One of the earliest and most prominent was Uruk, a walled community with 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. Others included Eridu, Bad-tibira, Sippar, and Shuruppak, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

The Sumerians developed may have been the earliest system of writing as well as sophisticated art, architecture, and complex government bureaucracies to supervise agriculture, commerce and religious activity. Sumer also became a hotbed of innovation, as the Sumerians took inventions that other ancient peoples developed, from pottery to textile weaving, and figured out how to do them on an industrial scale.

Meanwhile, Upper Mesopotamia developed its own urban areas such as Tepe Gawra, where researchers have discovered brick temples with intricate recesses and pilasters, and found other evidence of a sophisticated culture.

READ MORE: 9 Ancient Sumerian Inventions That Changed the World

How Environmental Change Made Mesopotamian Civilization Evolve

According to Reculeau, climate shifts may have played a role in the development of Mesopotamian civilization. Roughly around 4,000 B.C., “the climates slowly became drier and the rivers more unpredictable,” he explains. “The marsh retreated from Lower Mesopotamia, leaving behind settlements now surrounded by lands that needed to be irrigated, requiring added work, and possibly greater coordination.”

Because they had to work harder and in a more organized fashion to survive, Mesopotamians gradually developed a more elaborate system of government. As Reculeau explains: “The bureaucratic apparatus that appeared first to manage the goods and people of the temples in the marshland cities increasingly became the tools of a royal power [that] found its justification in the support of the gods, but also in its ability to get things done.”

That all led to the development of a social structure in which the elites either coerced workers or obtained their labor by providing meals and wages.

“In a sense, the famed Sumerian agrarian system, its city-states and the associated control of land, resources and people were in part the result of people adapting to more adverse conditions, because the riches of the marshes had started to become more scarce,” Reculeau says.

In Upper Mesopotamia, by contrast, people coped with a drier climate by going in the opposite direction socially. That area saw “the devolution to a less complex social organization, relying on villages and their small-scale solidarity,” Reculeau explains.

Mesopotamia eventually saw the rise of empires such as Akkad and Babylonia, whose capital city of Babylon became one of the largest and most advanced in the ancient world.

READ MORE: How Hammurabi Transformed Babylon Into a Powerful City-State

Mesopotamia May Not Be The Cradle Of Civilization

For many years, we believed that Mesopotamia was the “cradle of civilization” because the oldest evidence of a written language was found there. However, archaeologists have discovered the Dispilio tablet in Greece which dates to 5260 BC. More recently, they’ve also found tablets in the Danube Valley that appear to contain a written language. Those tablets date to 5500 BC. A debate rages among archaeologists as to whether these Danube Valley symbols are decorations or a written language. If found to be the world’s oldest written language, it would mean that, as far as we know, civilization began in the Danube Valley, not Mesopotamia.

The Whole Bushel

For many years, we thought we knew enough about the Danube Valley civilization to still believe that written communication began in Mesopotamia. It appeared that the earliest forms of written communication evolved at the same time, but independently, in both Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3500 BC. The Sumerians created the writing system in Mesopotamia, although it was just simple pictures to represent things like animals at first. Eventually, it transformed into cuneiform, which could express abstract concepts as well as simple nouns.

In 2004, archaeologist George Hourmouziadis announced that he had found an even earlier example of written language in a tablet near the village of Dispilio, Greece. The Dispilio tablet was a wooden tablet dated to 5260 BC that was partially damaged when it was removed from its environment and exposed to higher levels of oxygen. The writing on the tablet goes beyond mere pictographs to a form that suggests more advanced thinking among its creators. Scientists believe that the Dispilio tablet and other discoveries yet to be made may explain why the Greeks had 800,000 word entries in their language when the next closest language had only 250,000. There appear to be some missing language links.

That brings us back to the Danube Valley civilization. We do know that the people of the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills were advanced for their time in technology, art, and distant trade. All this occurred before the greatness of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome even existed. While the rest of Europe was stuck in the Stone Age, the people of the Danube Valley knew how to smelt copper, design beautiful pottery and figurines, construct furniture and two-story houses, and put ornate headdresses and jewelry in their graves. They also invented the wheel.

The one missing element to call this a civilization was a form of written language. Now we may have it.

Although not all archaeologists agree, some believe that tablets found in the Danube Valley contain the oldest written language ever discovered, possibly even older than the Dispilio tablet. The Danube Valley tablets have been dated to 5500 BC. According to German linguist Harald Haarmann, they contain Vinca symbols that represent a form of language we simply haven’t deciphered yet. These symbols have been observed throughout several archaeological sites in the area.

If this is a true written language, the Danube Valley people would become the oldest civilization known to man. However, many Mesopotamian scholars insist that these symbols are simply decorations because they’ve been found on pottery and other artifacts.

It’s not as easy to explain away the 700 different characters in the Danube Valley script, which is approximately the same number of characters in Egyptian hieroglyphs. That spurred some scholars to suggest that the Danube people copied their characters from Mesopotamian civilizations. However, that doesn’t make sense because the Danube tablets are far older than the ones found in Mesopotamia. Haarmann believes many scholars just can’t handle a change that conflicts with their long-accepted beliefs about the origin of civilization.

The Akkadian Empire and Sargon the Great

Although early Mesopotamia was founded by the Sumerians, they were eventually conquered by the Akkadian Empire. The empire was founded by Sargon, a man who very little is known about. He believed himself to be the son of a temple priestess, though he did not know who his father was.

As well as conquering Mesopotamia, he was able to take over parts of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, and some people believe even Cyprus. He is considered to have founded the world’s first successful empire, as it lasted longer than one generation when he died in 2279 BC after a 56 year reign and was replaced by his son, Rimush.

After his death, Sargon was elevated to god-like status. He became known as Sargon the Great, and there were legends about his accomplishments and deeds.

Sargon the Great, ruler of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia. (Dave LaFontaine / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The crown passed from Rimush to his brother Manishtusu and then to Manishtusu’s son, Naram-Sin. Naram-Sin died 110 years after his grandfather first ascended the throne, and his death marked the end of the first true dynastic empire which fell to the Amorites as a result of unrest and famine.

Under the Akkadians, Mesopotamia had achieved many significant things. There were roads built between cities, a postal system was implemented as a result of greater levels of literacy and ties between cities, and there were improvements in farming techniques.

Riches were regained, rebellions were crushed, and spectacular buildings like the Ishtar Temple in Ninevah were constructed. The Akkadians helped push Mesopotamian culture from interesting to legendary.


The concept "cradle of civilization" is the subject of much debate. The figurative use of cradle to mean "the place or region in which anything is nurtured or sheltered in its earlier stage" is traced by the Oxford English Dictionary to Spenser (1590). Charles Rollin's Ancient History (1734) has "Egypt that served at first as the cradle of the holy nation".

The phrase "cradle of civilization" plays a certain role in national mysticism. It has been used in Eastern as well as Western cultures, for instance, in Indian nationalism (In Search of the Cradle of Civilization 1995) and Taiwanese nationalism (Taiwan— The Cradle of Civilization [8] 2002). The terms also appear in esoteric pseudohistory, such as the Urantia Book, claiming the title for "the second Eden", or the pseudoarchaeology related to Megalithic Britain (Civilization One 2004, Ancient Britain: The Cradle of Civilization 1921).

The earliest signs of a process leading to sedentary culture can be seen in the Levant to as early as 12,000 BC, when the Natufian culture became sedentary it evolved into an agricultural society by 10,000 BC. [9] The importance of water to safeguard an abundant and stable food supply, due to favourable conditions for hunting, fishing and gathering resources including cereals, provided an initial wide spectrum economy that triggered the creation of permanent villages. [10]

The earliest proto-urban settlements with several thousand inhabitants emerged in the Neolithic. The first cities to house several tens of thousands were Memphis and Uruk, by the 31st century BC (see Historical urban community sizes).

Historic times are marked apart from prehistoric times when "records of the past begin to be kept for the benefit of future generations" [11] —in written or oral form. If the rise of civilization is taken to coincide with the development of writing out of proto-writing, the Near Eastern Chalcolithic, the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age during the 4th millennium BC, and the development of proto-writing in Harappa in the Indus Valley of South Asia around 3300 BC are the earliest incidences, followed by Chinese proto-writing evolving into the oracle bone script, and again by the emergence of Mesoamerican writing systems from about 900 BC.

In the absence of written documents, most aspects of the rise of early civilizations are contained in archaeological assessments that document the development of formal institutions and the material culture. A "civilized" way of life is ultimately linked to conditions coming almost exclusively from intensive agriculture. Gordon Childe defined the development of civilization as the result of two successive revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution, triggering the development of settled communities, and the Urban Revolution, which enhanced tendencies towards dense settlements, specialized occupational groups, social classes, exploitation of surpluses, monumental public buildings and writing. Few of those conditions, however, are unchallenged by the records: dense cities were not attested in Egypt's Old Kingdom and cities had a dispersed population in the Maya area [12] the Incas lacked writing although they could keep records with Quipus which might also have had literary uses and often monumental architecture preceded any indication of village settlement. For instance, in present-day Louisiana, researchers have determined that cultures that were primarily nomadic organized over generations to build earthwork mounds at seasonal settlements as early as 3400 BC. Rather than a succession of events and preconditions, the rise of civilization could equally be hypothesized as an accelerated process that started with incipient agriculture and culminated in the Oriental Bronze Age. [13]

A traditional theory of the spread of civilization is that it began in the Fertile Crescent and spread out from there by influence. [14] Scholars more generally now believe that civilizations arose independently at several locations in both hemispheres. They have observed that sociocultural developments occurred along different timeframes. "Sedentary" and "nomadic" communities continued to interact considerably they were not strictly divided among widely different cultural groups. The concept of a cradle of civilization has a focus where the inhabitants came to build cities, to create writing systems, to experiment in techniques for making pottery and using metals, to domesticate animals, and to develop complex social structures involving class systems. [4]

Current scholarship generally identifies six sites where civilization emerged independently: [6] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22]

A question that intrigues scholars is why pristine civilizations rose when and where they did. The economies of all of the pristine civilizations depended upon agriculture, with the possible exception of the Andean coast civilization which may have relied more on marine resources. Jared Diamond postulates that the reason the Fertile Crescent was the earliest civilization was that easily-domesticable plants (wheat and barley, among others) and large animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, horses) were native to the region. By contrast, it took thousands of years of selective breeding in Mesoamerica for maize to become productive enough to be a staple crop. Mesoamerica also lacked large domesticable animals. Llamas were the only large, domesticable animal in the Andes of South America. Llamas are large enough to be pack animals but not large enough to be ridden or as draft animals. Australia lacked both easily domesticable plants and large animals. [23] [24]

Fertile Crescent Edit

Mesopotamia Edit

Around 10,200 BC the first fully developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phases Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (7600 to 6000 BC) appeared in the Fertile Crescent and from there spread eastward and westward. [25] One of the most notable PPNA settlements is Jericho in the Levant region, thought to be the world's first town (settled around 9600 BC and fortified around 6800 BC). [26] [27] In Mesopotamia, the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers are among the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. It is because of this that the Fertile Crescent region, and Mesopotamia in particular, are often referred to as the cradle of civilization. [28] The period known as the Ubaid period (c. 6500 to 3800 BC) is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain, although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. [29] [30] It was during the Ubaid period that the movement toward urbanization began. Agriculture and animal husbandry were widely practiced in sedentary communities, particularly in Northern Mesopotamia, and intensive irrigated hydraulic agriculture began to be practiced in the south. [31]

Around 6000 BC, Neolithic settlements appear all over Egypt. [32] Studies based on morphological, [33] genetic, [34] [35] [36] [37] [38] and archaeological data [39] [40] [41] [42] have attributed these settlements to migrants from the Fertile Crescent in the Near East returning during the Egyptian and North African Neolithic Revolution and bringing agriculture to the region.

Eridu is the oldest Sumerian site settled during this period, around 5300 BC, and the city of Ur also first dates to the end of this period. [43] In the south, the Ubaid period had a very long duration from around 6500 to 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period. [44]

Sumerian civilization coalesces in the subsequent Uruk period (4000 to 3100 BC). [45] Named after the Sumerian city of Uruk, this period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia and, during its later phase, the gradual emergence of the cuneiform script. Proto-writing in the region dates to around 3500 BC, with the earliest texts dating to 3300 BC early cuneiform writing emerged in 3000 BC. [46] It was also during this period that pottery painting declined as copper started to become popular, along with cylinder seals. [47] Sumerian cities during the Uruk period were probably theocratic and were most likely headed by a priest-king (ensi), assisted by a council of elders, including both men and women. [48] It is quite possible that the later Sumerian pantheon was modeled upon this political structure. Uruk trade networks started to expand to other parts of Mesopotamia and as far as North Caucasus, and strong signs of governmental organization and social stratification began to emerge leading to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2900 BC). [49] [50] [51] The Jemdet Nasr period, which is generally dated from 3100 to 2900 BC and succeeds the Uruk period, is known as one of the formative stages in the development of the cuneiform script. The oldest clay tablets come from Uruk and date to the late fourth millennium BC, slightly earlier than the Jemdet Nasr Period. By the time of the Jemdet Nasr Period, the script had already undergone a number of significant changes. It originally consisted of pictographs, but by the time of the Jemdet Nasr Period it was already adopting simpler and more abstract designs. It is also during this period that the script acquired its iconic wedge-shaped appearance. [52] At the end of the Jemdet Nasr period there was a major archaeologically attested river flood in Shuruppak and other parts of Mesopotamia. Polychrome pottery from a destruction level below the flood deposit has been dated to immediately before the Early Dynastic Period around 2900 BC. [53] [54]

After the Early Dynastic period begins, there was a shift in control of the city-states from the temple establishment headed by council of elders led by a priestly "En" (a male figure when it was a temple for a goddess, or a female figure when headed by a male god) [55] towards a more secular Lugal (Lu = man, Gal = great) and includes such legendary patriarchal figures as Enmerkar, Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh—who are supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BC, when the now deciphered syllabic writing started to develop from the early pictograms. The center of Sumerian culture remained in southern Mesopotamia, even though rulers soon began expanding into neighboring areas, and neighboring Semitic groups adopted much of Sumerian culture for their own. The earliest ziggurats began near the end of the Early Dynastic Period, although architectural precursors in the form of raised platforms date back to the Ubaid period. [56] The well-known Sumerian King List dates to the early second millennium BC. It consists of a succession of royal dynasties from different Sumerian cities, ranging back into the Early Dynastic Period. Each dynasty rises to prominence and dominates the region, only to be replaced by the next. The document was used by later Mesopotamian kings to legitimize their rule. While some of the information in the list can be checked against other texts such as economic documents, much of it is probably purely fictional, and its use as a historical document is limited. [51]

Eannatum, the Sumerian king of Lagash, established one of the first verifiable empires in history in 2500 BC. [57] The neighboring Elam, in modern Iran, was also part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic period. [58] Elamite states were among the leading political forces of the Ancient Near East. [59] The emergence of Elamite written records from around 3000 BC also parallels Sumerian history, where slightly earlier records have been found. [60] [61] During the 3rd millennium BC, there developed a very intimate cultural symbiosis between the Sumerians and the Akkadians. [62] Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian as a spoken language somewhere between the 3rd and the 2nd millennia BC. [63] The Semitic-speaking Akkadian empire emerged around 2350 BC under Sargon the Great. [49] The Akkadian Empire reached its political peak between the 24th and 22nd centuries BC. Under Sargon and his successors, the Akkadian language was briefly imposed on neighboring conquered states such as Elam and Gutium. After the fall of the Akkadian Empire and the overthrow of the Gutians, there was a brief reassertion of Sumerian dominance in Mesopotamia under the Third Dynasty of Ur. [64] After the final collapse of Sumerian hegemony in Mesopotamia around 2004 BC, the Semitic Akkadian people of Mesopotamia eventually coalesced into two major Akkadian-speaking nations: Assyria in the north, and, a few centuries later, Babylonia in the south. [65] [66]

Ancient Egypt Edit

The developed Neolithic cultures belonging to the phases Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (10,200 BC) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (7600 to 6000 BC) appeared in the fertile crescent and from there spread eastwards and westwards. [25] Contemporaneously, a grain-grinding culture using the earliest type of sickle blades had replaced the culture of hunters, fishers, and gathering people using stone tools along the Nile. Geological evidence and computer climate modeling studies also suggest that natural climate changes around 8000 BC began to desiccate the extensive pastoral lands of northern Africa, eventually forming the Sahara. Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. [67] The oldest fully developed neolithic culture in Egypt is Fayum A culture that began around 5500 B.C.

By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of inter-related cultures as far south as Sudan, demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper Southern Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and use of copper. [68] The oldest known domesticated bovine in Africa are from Fayum dating to around 4400 BC. [69] The Badari cultures was followed by the Naqada culture, which brought a number of technological improvements. [70] As early as the first Naqada Period, Amratia, Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes. [71] By 3300 BC, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper Egypt to the south, and Lower Egypt to the north. [72]

Egyptian civilization begins during the second phase of the Naqda culture, known as the Gerzeh period, around 3500 BC and coalesces with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt around 3150 BC. [73] Farming produced the vast majority of food with increased food supplies, the populace adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle, and the larger settlements grew to cities of about 5,000 residents. It was in this time that the city dwellers started using mud brick to build their cities, and the use of the arch and recessed walls for decorative effect became popular. [74] Copper instead of stone was increasingly used to make tools [74] and weaponry. [75] Symbols on Gerzean pottery also resemble nascent Egyptian hieroglyphs. [76] Early evidence also exists of contact with the Near East, particularly Canaan and the Byblos coast, during this time. [77] Concurrent with these cultural advances, a process of unification of the societies and towns of the upper Nile River, or Upper Egypt, occurred. At the same time the societies of the Nile Delta, or Lower Egypt, also underwent a unification process. During his reign in Upper Egypt, King Narmer defeated his enemies on the Delta and merged both the Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt under his single rule. [78]

The Early Dynastic Period of Egypt immediately followed the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It is generally taken to include the First and Second Dynasties, lasting from the Naqada III archaeological period until about the beginning of the Old Kingdom, c. 2686 BC. [79] With the First Dynasty, the capital moved from Thinis to Memphis with a unified Egypt ruled by a god-king. The hallmarks of ancient Egyptian civilization, such as art, architecture and many aspects of religion, took shape during the Early Dynastic period. The strong institution of kingship developed by the pharaohs served to legitimize state control over the land, labour, and resources that were essential to the survival and growth of ancient Egyptian civilization. [80]

Major advances in architecture, art, and technology were made during the subsequent Old Kingdom, fueled by the increased agricultural productivity and resulting population, made possible by a well-developed central administration. [81] Some of ancient Egypt's crowning achievements, the Giza pyramids and Great Sphinx, were constructed during the Old Kingdom. Under the direction of the vizier, state officials collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects to improve crop yield, drafted peasants to work on construction projects, and established a justice system to maintain peace and order. Along with the rising importance of a central administration there arose a new class of educated scribes and officials who were granted estates by the pharaoh in payment for their services. Pharaohs also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples, to ensure that these institutions had the resources to worship the pharaoh after his death. Scholars believe that five centuries of these practices slowly eroded the economic power of the pharaoh, and that the economy could no longer afford to support a large centralized administration. [79] As the power of the pharaoh diminished, regional governors called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the pharaoh. This, coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BC, [82] is assumed to have caused the country to enter the 140-year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period. [83]

Ancient India Edit

One of the earliest Neolithic sites in the Indian subcontinent is Bhirrana along the ancient Ghaggar-Hakra riverine system in the present day state of Haryana in India, dating to around 7600 BC. [84] Other early sites include Lahuradewa in the Middle Ganges region and Jhusi near the confluence of Ganges and Yamuna rivers, both dating to around 7000 BC. [85] [86]

The aceramic Neolithic at Mehrgarh in present day Pakistan lasts from 7000 to 5500 BC, with the ceramic Neolithic at Mehrgarh lasting up to 3300 BC blending into the Early Bronze Age. Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in the Indian subcontinent. [87] [88] It is likely that the culture centered around Mehrgarh migrated into the Indus Valley in present day Pakistan and became the Indus Valley Civilisation. [89] The earliest fortified town in the region is found at Rehman Dheri, dated 4000 BC in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa close to River Zhob Valley in present day Pakistan . Other fortified towns found to date are at Amri (3600–3300 BC), Kot Diji in Sindh, and at Kalibangan (3000 BC) at the Hakra River. [90] [91] [92] [93]

The Indus Valley Civilisation starts around 3300 BC with what is referred to as the Early Harappan Phase (3300 to 2600 BC). The earliest examples of the Indus Script date to this period, [94] [95] as well as the emergence of citadels representing centralised authority and an increasingly urban quality of life. [96] Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. By this time, villagers had domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton, as well as animals, including the water buffalo. [97] [98]

2600 BC marks the Mature Harappan Phase during which Early Harappan communities turned into large urban centres including Harappa, Dholavira, Mohenjo-Daro, Lothal, Rupar, and Rakhigarhi, and more than 1,000 towns and villages, often of relatively small size. [99] Mature Harappans evolved new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin and displayed advanced levels of engineering. [100] As seen in Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and the recently partially excavated Rakhigarhi, this urban plan included the world's first known urban sanitation systems: see hydraulic engineering of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Within the city, individual homes or groups of homes obtained water from wells. From a room that appears to have been set aside for bathing, waste water was directed to covered drains, which lined the major streets. Houses opened only to inner courtyards and smaller lanes. The house-building in some villages in the region still resembles in some respects the house-building of the Harappans. [101] The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive walls of Indus cities most likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have dissuaded military conflicts. [102]

The people of the Indus Civilisation achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. A comparison of available objects indicates large scale variation across the Indus territories. Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale found in Lothal in Gujarat, was approximately 1.704 mm, the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age. Harappan engineers followed the decimal division of measurement for all practical purposes, including the measurement of mass as revealed by their hexahedron weights. [103] These chert weights were in a ratio of 5:2:1 with weights of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 units, with each unit weighing approximately 28 grams, similar to the English Imperial ounce or Greek uncia, and smaller objects were weighed in similar ratios with the units of 0.871. However, as in other cultures, actual weights were not uniform throughout the area. The weights and measures later used in Kautilya's Arthashastra (4th century BC) are the same as those used in Lothal. [104]

Around 1800 BC, signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BC most of the cities had been abandoned. Suggested contributory causes for the localisation of the IVC include changes in the course of the river, [105] and climate change that is also signalled for the neighbouring areas of the Middle East. [106] [107] As of 2016 [update] many scholars believe that drought led to a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia contributing to the collapse of the Indus Civilisation. [108] The Ghaggar-Hakra system was rain-fed, [109] [110] [note 1] [111] [note 2] and water-supply depended on the monsoons. The Indus Valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BC, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time. [109] The Indian monsoon declined and aridity increased, with the Ghaggar-Hakra retracting its reach towards the foothills of the Himalaya, [109] [112] [113] leading to erratic and less extensive floods that made inundation agriculture less sustainable. Aridification reduced the water supply enough to cause the civilisation's demise, and to scatter its population eastward. [114] [115] [116] [note 3] As the monsoons kept shifting south, the floods grew too erratic for sustainable agricultural activities. The residents then migrated away into smaller communities. However trade with the old cities did not flourish. The small surplus produced in these small communities did not allow development of trade, and the cities died out. [117] The Indo-Aryan peoples migrated into the Indus River Valley during this period and began the Vedic age of India. [118] The Indus Valley Civilisation did not disappear suddenly and many elements of the civilization continued in later Indian subcontinent and Vedic cultures. [119]

Ancient China Edit

Drawing on archaeology, geology and anthropology, modern scholars do not see the origins of the Chinese civilization or history as a linear story but rather the history of the interactions of different and distinct cultures and ethnic groups that influenced each other's development. [120] The specific cultural regions that developed Chinese civilization were the Yellow River civilization, the Yangtze civilization, and Liao civilization. Early evidence for Chinese millet agriculture is dated to around 7000 BC, [121] with the earliest evidence of cultivated rice found at Chengtoushan near the Yangtze River, dated to 6500 BC. Chengtoushan may also be the site of the first walled city in China. [122] By the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution, the Yellow River valley began to establish itself as a center of the Peiligang culture, which flourished from 7000 to 5000 BC, with evidence of agriculture, constructed buildings, pottery, and burial of the dead. [123] With agriculture came increased population, the ability to store and redistribute crops, and the potential to support specialist craftsmen and administrators. [124] Its most prominent site is Jiahu. [124] Some scholars have suggested that the Jiahu symbols (6600 BC) are the earliest form of proto-writing in China. [125] However, it is likely that they should not be understood as writing itself, but as features of a lengthy period of sign-use, which led eventually to a fully-fledged system of writing. [126] Archaeologists believe that the Peiligang culture was egalitarian, with little political organization.

It eventually evolved into the Yangshao culture (5000 to 3000 BC), and their stone tools were polished and highly specialized. They may also have practiced an early form of silkworm cultivation. [127] The main food of the Yangshao people was millet, with some sites using foxtail millet and others broom-corn millet, though some evidence of rice has been found. The exact nature of Yangshao agriculture, small-scale slash-and-burn cultivation versus intensive agriculture in permanent fields, is currently a matter of debate. Once the soil was exhausted, residents picked up their belongings, moved to new lands, and constructed new villages. [128] However, Middle Yangshao settlements such as Jiangzhi contain raised-floor buildings that may have been used for the storage of surplus grains. Grinding stones for making flour were also found. [129]

Later, Yangshao culture was superseded by the Longshan culture, which was also centered on the Yellow River from about 3000 to 1900 BC, its most prominent site being Taosi. [130] The population expanded dramatically during the 3rd millennium BC, with many settlements having rammed earth walls. It decreased in most areas around 2000 BC until the central area evolved into the Bronze Age Erlitou culture. The earliest bronze artifacts have been found in the Majiayao culture site (3100 to 2700 BC). [131] [132]

Chinese civilization begins during the second phase of the Erlitou period (1900 to 1500 BC), with Erlitou considered the first state level society of East Asia. [133] There is considerable debate whether Erlitou sites correlate to the semi-legendary Xia dynasty. The Xia dynasty (2070 to 1600 BC) is the first dynasty to be described in ancient Chinese historical records such as the Bamboo Annals, first published more than a millennium later during the Western Zhou period. Although Xia is an important element in Chinese historiography, there is to date no contemporary written evidence to corroborate the dynasty. Erlitou saw an increase in bronze metallurgy and urbanization and was a rapidly growing regional center with palatial complexes that provide evidence for social stratification. [134] The Erlitou civilization is divided into four phases, each of roughly 50 years. During Phase I, covering 100 hectares (250 acres), Erlitou was a rapidly growing regional center with estimated population of several thousand [135] but not yet an urban civilization or capital. [136] Urbanization began in Phase II, expanding to 300 ha (740 acres) with a population around 11,000. [135] A palace area of 12 ha (30 acres) was demarcated by four roads. It contained the 150x50 m Palace 3, composed of three courtyards along a 150-meter axis, and Palace 5. [137] A bronze foundry was established to the south of the palatial complex that was controlled by the elite who lived in palaces. [138] The city reached its peak in Phase III, and may have had a population of around 24,000. [136] The palatial complex was surrounded by a two-meter-thick rammed-earth wall, and Palaces 1, 7, 8, 9 were built. The earthwork volume of rammed earth for the base of largest Palace 1 is 20,000 m³ at least. [139] Palaces 3 and 5 were abandoned and replaced by 4,200-square-kilometer (4.5 × 10 10 sq ft) Palace 2 and Palace 4. [140] In Phase IV, the population decreased to around 20,000, but building continued. Palace 6 was built as an extension of Palace 2, and Palaces 10 and 11 were built. Phase IV overlaps with the Lower phase of the Erligang culture (1600–1450 BC). Around 1600 to 1560 BC, about 6 km northeast of Erlitou, Eligang cultural walled city was built at Yanshi, [140] which coincides with an increase in production of arrowheads at Erlitou. [135] This situation might indicate that the Yanshi City was competing for power and dominance with Erlitou. [135] Production of bronzes and other elite goods ceased at the end of Phase IV, at the same time as the Erligang city of Zhengzhou was established 85 km (53 mi) to the east. There is no evidence of destruction by fire or war, but, during the Upper Erligang phase (1450–1300 BC), all the palaces were abandoned, and Erlitou was reduced to a village of 30 ha (74 acres). [140]

The earliest traditional Chinese dynasty for which there is both archeological and written evidence is the Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 BC). Shang sites have yielded the earliest known body of Chinese writing, the oracle bone script, mostly divinations inscribed on bones. These inscriptions provide critical insight into many topics from the politics, economy, and religious practices to the art and medicine of this early stage of Chinese civilization. [141] Some historians argue that Erlitou should be considered an early phase of the Shang dynasty. The U.S. National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the period between about 2000 and 771 BC a period that begins with the Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule. [142] The Sanxingdui culture is another Chinese Bronze Age society, contemporaneous to the Shang dynasty, however they developed a different method of bronze-making from the Shang. [143]

Ancient Andes Edit

The earliest evidence of agriculture in the Andean region dates to around 4700 BC at Huaca Prieta and Paredones. [144] [145] [146] The oldest evidence of canal irrigation in South America dates to 4700 to 2500 BC in the Zaña Valley of northern Peru. [147] The earliest urban settlements of the Andes, as well as North and South America, are dated to 3500 BC at Huaricanga, in the Fortaleza area, [4] and Sechin Bajo near the Sechin River. [148] [149]

The Norte Chico civilization proper is understood to have emerged around 3200 BC, as it is at that point that large-scale human settlement and communal construction across multiple sites becomes clearly apparent. [150] Since the early 21st century, it has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas. The civilization flourished at the confluence of three rivers, the Fortaleza, the Pativilca, and the Supe. These river valleys each have large clusters of sites. Further south, there are several associated sites along the Huaura River. [151] Notable settlements include the cities of Caral, the largest and most complex Preceramic site, and Aspero. [152] Norte Chico sites are known for their density of large sites with immense architecture. [153] Haas argues that the density of sites in such a small area is globally unique for a nascent civilization. During the third millennium BC, Norte Chico may have been the most densely populated area of the world (excepting, possibly, northern China). [154] The Supe, Pativilca, Fortaleza, and Huaura River valleys each have several related sites.

Norte Chico is unusual in that it completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no visual art. Nevertheless, the civilization exhibited impressive architectural feats, including large earthwork platform mounds and sunken circular plazas, and an advanced textile industry. [4] [155] The platform mounds, as well as large stone warehouses, provide evidence for a stratified society and a centralized authority necessary to distribute resources such as cotton. [4] However, there is no evidence of warfare or defensive structures during this period. [154] Originally, it was theorized that, unlike other early civilizations, Norte Chico developed by relying on maritime food sources in place of a staple cereal. This hypothesis, the Maritime Foundation of Andean Civilization, is still hotly debated however, most researches now agree that agriculture played a central role in the civilization's development while still acknowledging a strong supplemental reliance on maritime proteins. [156] [157] [158]

The Norte Chico chiefdoms were ". almost certainly theocratic, though not brutally so," according to Mann. Construction areas show possible evidence of feasting, which would have included music and likely alcohol, suggesting an elite able to both mobilize and reward the population. [4] The degree of centralized authority is difficult to ascertain, but architectural construction patterns are indicative of an elite that, at least in certain places at certain times, wielded considerable power: while some of the monumental architecture was constructed incrementally, other buildings, such as the two main platform mounds at Caral, appear to have been constructed in one or two intense construction phases. [154] As further evidence of centralized control, Haas points to remains of large stone warehouses found at Upaca, on the Pativilca, as emblematic of authorities able to control vital resources such as cotton. [4] Economic authority would have rested on the control of cotton and edible plants and associated trade relationships, with power centered on the inland sites. Haas tentatively suggests that the scope of this economic power base may have extended widely: there are only two confirmed shore sites in the Norte Chico (Aspero and Bandurria) and possibly two more, but cotton fishing nets and domesticated plants have been found up and down the Peruvian coast. It is possible that the major inland centers of Norte Chico were at the center of a broad regional trade network centered on these resources. [154]

Discover magazine, citing Shady, suggests a rich and varied trade life: "[Caral] exported its own products and those of Aspero to distant communities in exchange for exotic imports: Spondylus shells from the coast of Ecuador, rich dyes from the Andean highlands, hallucinogenic snuff from the Amazon." [159] (Given the still limited extent of Norte Chico research, such claims should be treated circumspectly.) Other reports on Shady's work indicate Caral traded with communities in the Andes and in the jungles of the Amazon basin on the opposite side of the Andes. [160]

Leaders' ideological power was based on apparent access to deities and the supernatural. [154] Evidence regarding Norte Chico religion is limited: an image of the Staff God, a leering figure with a hood and fangs, has been found on a gourd dated to 2250 BC. The Staff God is a major deity of later Andean cultures, and Winifred Creamer suggests the find points to worship of common symbols of gods. [161] [162] As with much other research at Norte Chico, the nature and significance of the find has been disputed by other researchers. [note 4] The act of architectural construction and maintenance may also have been a spiritual or religious experience: a process of communal exaltation and ceremony. [152] Shady has called Caral "the sacred city" (la ciudad sagrada): socio-economic and political focus was on the temples, which were periodically remodeled, with major burnt offerings associated with the remodeling. [163]

The discovery of quipu, string-based recording devices, at Caral can be understood as a form of "proto-writing" at Norte Chico. [164] However, the exact use of quipu in this and later Andean cultures has been widely debated. [4] Additionally, the image of the Staff God has been found on a gourd dated to 2250 BC. The Staff God is a major deity of later Andean cultures. The presence of quipu and the commonality of religious symbols suggests a cultural link between Norte Chico and later Andean cultures. [161] [162]

Circa 1800 BC, the Norte Chico civilization began to decline, with more powerful centers appearing to the south and north along the coast and to the east inside the belt of the Andes. [165] Pottery eventually developed in the Amazon Basin and spread to the Andean culture region around 2000 BC. The next major civilization to arise in the Andes would be the Chavín culture at Chavín de Huantar, located in the Andean highlands of the present-day Ancash Region. It is believed to have been built around 900 BC and was the religious and political center of the Chavín people. [166]

Mesoamerica Edit

The Coxcatlan caves in the Valley of Tehuacán provide evidence for agriculture in components dated between 5000 and 3400 BC. [167] Similarly, sites such as Sipacate in Guatemala provide maize pollen samples dating to 3500 BC. [168] It is estimated that fully domesticated maize developed in Mesoamerica around 2700 BC. [169] Mesoamericans during this period likely divided their time between small hunting encampments and large temporary villages. [170] Around 1900 BC, the Mokaya domesticated one of the dozen species of cacao. [171] [172] A Mokaya archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating to this time. [173] The Mokaya are also thought to have been among the first cultures in Mesoamerica to develop a hierarchical society. What would become the Olmec civilization had its roots in early farming cultures of Tabasco, which began around 5100 to 4600 BC. [174]

The emergence of the Olmec civilization has traditionally been dated to around 1600 to 1500 BC. Olmec features first emerged in the city of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, fully coalescing around 1400 BC. The rise of civilization was assisted by the local ecology of well-watered alluvial soil, as well as by the transportation network provided by the Coatzacoalcos River basin. [174] This environment encouraged a densely concentrated population, which in turn triggered the rise of an elite class and an associated demand for the production of the symbolic and sophisticated luxury artifacts that define Olmec culture. [175] Many of these luxury artifacts were made from materials such as jade, obsidian, and magnetite, which came from distant locations and suggest that early Olmec elites had access to an extensive trading network in Mesoamerica. The aspect of Olmec culture perhaps most familiar today is their artwork, particularly the Olmec colossal heads. [176] San Lorenzo was situated in the midst of a large agricultural area. [177] San Lorenzo seems to have been largely a ceremonial site, a town without city walls, centered in the midst of a widespread medium-to-large agricultural population. The ceremonial center and attendant buildings could have housed 5,500 while the entire area, including hinterlands, could have reached 13,000. [178] It is thought that while San Lorenzo controlled much or all of the Coatzacoalcos basin, areas to the east (such as the area where La Venta would rise to prominence) and north-northwest (such as the Tuxtla Mountains) were home to independent polities. [179] San Lorenzo was all but abandoned around 900 BC at about the same time that La Venta rose to prominence. A wholesale destruction of many San Lorenzo monuments also occurred circa 950 BC, which may indicate an internal uprising or, less likely, an invasion. [180] The latest thinking, however, is that environmental changes may have been responsible for this shift in Olmec centers, with certain important rivers changing course. [181]

La Venta became the cultural capital of the Olmec concentration in the region until its abandonment around 400 BC constructing monumental architectural achievements such as the Great Pyramid of La Venta. [174] [176] It contained a "concentration of power", as reflected by the sheer enormity of the architecture and the extreme value of the artifacts uncovered. [182] La Venta is perhaps the largest Olmec city and it was controlled and expanded by an extremely complex hierarchical system with a king, as the ruler and the elites below him. Priests had power and influence over life and death and likely great political sway as well. Unfortunately, not much is known about the political or social structure of the Olmec, though new dating techniques might, at some point, reveal more information about this elusive culture. It is possible that the signs of status exist in the artifacts recovered at the site such as depictions of feathered headdresses or of individuals wearing a mirror on their chest or forehead. [183] "High-status objects were a significant source of power in the La Venta polity political power, economic power, and ideological power. They were tools used by the elite to enhance and maintain rights to rulership". [184] It has been estimated that La Venta would need to be supported by a population of at least 18,000 people during its principal occupation. [185] To add to the mystique of La Venta, the alluvial soil did not preserve skeletal remains, so it is difficult to observe differences in burials. However, colossal heads provide proof that the elite had some control over the lower classes, as their construction would have been extremely labor-intensive. "Other features similarly indicate that many laborers were involved". [186] In addition, excavations over the years have discovered that different parts of the site were likely reserved for elites and other parts for non-elites. This segregation of the city indicates that there must have been social classes and therefore social inequality. [183] The exact cause of the decline of the Olmec culture is uncertain. Between 400 and 350 BC, the population in the eastern half of the Olmec heartland dropped precipitously. [187] This depopulation was probably the result of serious environmental changes that rendered the region unsuited for large groups of farmers, in particular changes to the riverine environment that the Olmec depended upon for agriculture, hunting and gathering, and transportation. These changes may have been triggered by tectonic upheavals or subsidence, or the silting up of rivers due to agricultural practices. [174] [176] Within a few hundred years of the abandonment of the last Olmec cities, successor cultures became firmly established. The Tres Zapotes site, on the western edge of the Olmec heartland, continued to be occupied well past 400 BC, but without the hallmarks of the Olmec culture. This post-Olmec culture, often labeled Epi-Olmec, has features similar to those found at Izapa, some 550 km (330 miles) to the southeast. [188]

The Olmecs are sometimes referred to as the mother culture of Mesoamerica, as they were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed. [189] However, the causes and degree of Olmec influences on Mesoamerican cultures has been a subject of debate over many decades. [190] Practices introduced by the Olmec include ritual bloodletting and the Mesoamerican ballgame hallmarks of subsequent Mesoamerican societies such as the Maya and Aztec. [189] Although the Mesoamerican writing system would fully develop later, early Olmec ceramics show representations that may be interpreted as codices. [174]

There is academic consensus that Classical Greece was the seminal culture that provided the foundation of modern Western culture, democracy, art, theatre, philosophy, and science. For this reason it is known as the cradle of Western Civilization. [a] Along with Greece, Rome has sometimes been described as a birthplace or as the cradle of Western Civilization because of the role the city had in politics, republicanism, law, architecture, warfare and Western Christianity. [b]

The following timeline shows a timeline of cultures, with the approximate dates of the emergence of civilization (as discussed in the article) in the featured areas, the primary cultures associated with these early civilizations. It is important to note that the timeline is not indicative of the beginning of human habitation, the start of a specific ethnic group, or the development of Neolithic cultures in the area – any of which often occurred significantly earlier than the emergence of civilization proper. In the case of the Indus Valley Civilization, this was followed by a period od of de-urbanization and regionalisation, and the co-existence of indigenous local agricultural cultures and the pastoral Indo-Aryans, who came from Central Asia.

How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization - HISTORY

Fertile Crescent Map

More Information

6000 years ago civilization emerged in Mesopotamia - the Ancient Greek name meaning the land "between the rivers" is used today to describe the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which nurtured the first urban civilization, the Sumerians. It is located in modern Iraq and is the eastern end of an area of land called the "fertile crescent" a land of abundance in ancient times. The two rivers deposited fertile silt on the land when they overflowed their banks.

The abundance of food grown in the rich mud in the fertile crescent made it possible for large numbers of people to live together in cities. Population growth and a surplus of food led to specialization of labor and the leisure time necessary for civilization. When everyone did not have to farm people began to be artisans and craftsmen. The products created by these specialists led to trade and a merchant class. Some specialists were religious and a class of priests emerged.

The government was a theocracy, ruled by the religious class. At first a few priests were probably the only government. But as the society developed the need for a government grew. The government helped administer the irrigation system to ensure the continuity of the food supply and would be involved in distribution.

The government would build roads and public projects, making it necessary to pay workers. This created the need for taxation - at first in-kind taxation - that is, citizens would contribute a share of the products or food they produced. Soon there was a need for a bureaucracy.

The leisure time created by surpluses of food and specialization also made it possible for some to specialize in music and art. The flowering of civilization had begun.

Part of The Sumerians a HistoryWiz exhibit

Your purchase of books or other items through links on this site helps
keep this free educational site on the web


Mesopotamia (from the Greek, meaning 'between two rivers') was an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and in the southeast by the Arabian Plateau, corresponding to modern-day Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey and known as the Fertile Crescent and the cradle of civilization.

The 'two rivers' of the name refer to the Tigris and the Euphrates and the land was known as 'Al-Jazirah' (the island) to the Arabs as a fertile land surrounded by water. The term "Fertile Crescent" was coined by Egyptologist J.H. Breasted (l. 1865-1935) in 1916 to describe the region at the north-end of the Persian Gulf, associated with the biblical Garden of Eden.


Mesopotamia was the home of many different civilizations spanning thousands of years which contributed significantly to world culture and progress. Many of the aspects of daily life taken for granted in the present day, such as writing, the wheel, a code of laws, the sail, the concept of the 24-hour day, beer-brewing, civil rights, and irrigation of crops all were first developed in the land between two rivers which was home to the great Mesopotamian civilizations.

The Cradle of Civilization

Unlike the more unified civilizations of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a collection of varied cultures whose only real bonds were their script, their gods, and their attitude toward women. The social customs, laws, and even language of the Sumerian people differs from the Akkadian Period, for example, and cannot be assumed to correspond to those of the Babylonian Civilizations it does seem, however, that the rights of women (during some periods), the importance of literacy, and the pantheon of the gods were indeed shared throughout the region, though the gods had different names in various regions and periods.


As a result of this, Mesopotamia should be more properly understood as a region that produced multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Even so, Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle of civilization” primarily because of two developments that occurred there, in the region of Sumer, in the 4th millenium BCE:

  • the rise of the city as recognized today.
  • the invention of writing (although writing is also known to have developed in Egypt, in the Indus Valley, in China, and to have taken form independently in Mesoamerica).

The invention of the wheel is also credited to the Mesopotamians and, in 1922 CE, the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered “the remains of two four-wheeled wagons, [at the site of the ancient city of Ur] the oldest wheeled vehicles in history ever found, along with their leather tires” (Bertman, 35). Other important developments or inventions credited to the Mesopotamians include, but are by no means limited to, domestication of animals, agriculture and irrigation, common tools, sophisticated weaponry and warfare, the chariot, wine, beer, demarcation of time into hours, minutes, and seconds, religious rites, the sail (sailboats), and legal codes. Orientalist Samuel Noah Kramer, in fact, has listed 39 `firsts' in human civilization that originated in Sumer. These include:

Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!

The First Schools, The First Case of `Apple Polishing', The First Case of Juvenile Delinquency, The First `War of Nerves', The First Bicameral Congress, The First Historian, The First Case of Tax Reduction, The First `Moses', The First Legal Precedent, The First Pharmacopoeia, The First `Farmer's Almanac', The First Experiment in Shade-Tree Gardening, Man's First Cosmogony and Cosmology, The First Moral Ideals, The First `Job', The First Proverbs and Sayings, The First Animal Fables, The First Literary Debates, The First Biblical Parallels, The First `Noah', The First Tale of Resurrection, The First `St. George', The First Case of Literary Borrowing, Man's First Heroic Age, The First Love Song, The First Library Catalogue, Man's First Golden Age, The First `Sick' Society, The First Liturgic Laments, The First Messiahs, The First Long-Distance Champion, The First Literary Imagery, The First Sex Symbolism, The First Mater Dolorosa, The First Lullaby, The First Literary Portrait, The First Elegies, Labor's First Victory, The First Aquarium.

Archaeological excavations starting in the 1840s CE have revealed human settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia that indicate that the fertile conditions of the land between two rivers allowed an ancient hunter-gatherer people to settle in the land, domesticate animals, and turn their attention to agriculture and the development of irrigation. Trade soon followed, and with prosperity came urbanization and the birth of the city. It is generally thought that writing was invented due to trade, out of the necessity for long-distance communication, and for keeping more careful track of accounts.

Learning & Religion

Mesopotamia was known in antiquity as a seat of learning, and it is believed that Thales of Miletus (l. c. 585 BCE, known as the 'first philosopher') studied there. As the Babylonians believed that water was the 'first principle' from which all else flowed, and as Thales is famous for that very claim, it seems probable he studied in the region.


Intellectual pursuits were highly valued across Mesopotamia, and the schools (devoted primarily to the priestly class) were said to be as numerous as temples and taught reading, writing, religion, law, medicine, and astrology. There were over 1,000 deities in the pantheon of the gods of the Mesopotamian cultures and many stories concerning the gods (among them, the creation myth, the Enuma Elish). It is generally accepted that biblical tales such as the Fall of Man and the Great Flood (among many others) originated in Mesopotamian lore, as they first appear in Mesopotamian works such as The Myth of Adapa and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest written story in the world. The Mesopotamians believed that they were co-workers with the gods and that the land was infused with spirits and demons (though `demons' should not be understood in the modern, Christian, sense).

The beginning of the world, they believed, was a victory by the gods over the forces of chaos but, even though the gods had won, this did not mean chaos could not come again. Through daily rituals, attention to the deities, proper funeral practices, and simple civic duty, the people of Mesopotamia felt they helped maintain balance in the world and kept the forces of chaos and destruction at bay. Along with expectations that one would honor one's elders and treat people with respect, the citizens of the land were also to honor the gods through the jobs they performed every day.

Men and women both worked, and “because ancient Mesopotamia was fundamentally an agrarian society, the principal occupations were growing crops and raising livestock” (Bertman, 274). Other occupations included those of the scribe, the healer, artisan, weaver, potter, shoemaker, fisherman, teacher, and priest or priestess. Bertman writes:


At the head of society were the kings and priests served by the populous staff of palace and temple. With the institution of standing armies and the spread of imperialism, military officers and professional soldiers took their place in Mesopotamia's expanding and diverse workforce. (274)

Women enjoyed nearly equal rights and could own land, file for divorce, own their own businesses, and make contracts in trade. Contracts, business arrangements, and correspondence were written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and signed with an imprint from a person's cylinder seal, which was one's form of identification. Once the tablet dried, it was sometimes placed in a clay envelope and sealed again so only the recipient could read the letter or contract. Cuneiform script was used in writing Semitic languages, such as Babylonian, or others like Sumerian and remained in use until replaced by alphabetic script. Receipts for goods received were also written on cuneiform tablets (as everything was, including literature) and these have all lasted much longer than documents written on papyrus or paper.

The earliest beer receipt in the world comes from Mesopotamia, known as the Alulu Receipt (c. 2050 BCE), written in the city of Ur. The early brewers of beer and wine, as well as the healers in the community, were initially women. These trades were later taken over by men, it seems, when it became apparent they were lucrative occupations. The work one did, however, was never considered simply a `job' but one's contribution to the community and, by extension, to the gods' efforts in keeping the world at peace and in harmony.

Buildings & Government

The temple, at the center of every city (known as a ziggurat, a step-pyramid structure indigenous to the region), symbolized the importance of the city's patron deity who would also be worshipped by whatever communities that city presided over. Every city had its own ziggurat (larger cities, more than one) to honor their patron deity. Mesopotamia gave birth to the world's first cities in history which were largely built of sun-dried brick. In the words of Bertman:


The domestic architecture of Mesopotamia grew out of the soil upon which it stood. Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– was barren of stone that could be quarried for construction.” The land was equally devoid of trees for timber, so the people “turned to other natural resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay of its riverbanks and the rushes and reeds that grew in their marshes. With them, the Mesopotamians created the world's first columns, arches, and roofed structures. (285)

Simple homes were constructed from bundles of reeds lashed together and inserted in the ground, while more complex homes were built of sun-dried clay brick (a practice followed later by the Egyptians). Cities and temple complexes, with their famous ziggurats, were all built using oven-baked bricks of clay which were then painted.

The gods were thought to be present in the planning and execution of any building project and very specific prayers, recited in a set order to the proper deity, were considered of utmost importance in the success of the project and the prosperity of the occupants of the home.

Whichever kingdom or empire held sway across Mesopotamia, in whatever historical period, the vital role of the gods in the lives of the people remained undiminished. This reverence for the divine characterized the lives of both the field worker and the king. The historian Helen Chapin Metz writes:

The precariousness of existence in southern Mesopotamia led to a highly developed sense of religion. Cult centers such as Eridu, dating back to 5000 BCE, served as important centers of pilgrimage and devotion even before the rise of Sumer. Many of the most important Mesopotamian cities emerged in areas surrounding the pre-Sumerian cult centers, thus reinforcing the close relationship between religion and government. (2)

The role of the king was established at some point after 3600 BCE and, unlike the priest-rulers who came before, the king dealt directly with the people and made his will clear through laws of his own devising. Prior to the concept of a king, the priestly rulers are believed to have dictated the law according to religious precepts and received divine messages through signs and omens the king, while still honoring and placating the gods, was considered a powerful enough representative of those gods to be able to speak their will through his own dictates, using his own voice.

This is most clearly seen in the famous laws of Hammurabi of Babylon (r. 1792-1750 BCE), but a ruler claiming direct contact with the gods was quite common throughout Mesopotamian history, most notably in the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. 2261-2224 BCE) who went so far as to proclaim himself a god incarnate. The king was responsible for the welfare of his people and a good king, who ruled in accordance with divine will, was recognized by the prosperity of the region he reigned over.

Still, even very efficient rulers, such as Sargon of Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE), had to deal with perpetual uprisings and revolts by factions, or whole regions, contesting his legitimacy. As Mesopotamia was so vast a region, with so many different cultures and ethnicities within its borders, a single ruler attempting to enforce the laws of a central government would invariably be met with resistance from some quarter.

The History of Mesopotamia

The history of the region, and the development of the civilizations which flourished there, is most easily understood by dividing it into periods:

Also known as The Stone Age (c. 10,000 BCE though evidence suggests human habitation much earlier). There is archaeological confirmation of crude settlements and early signs of warfare between tribes, most likely over fertile land for crops and fields for grazing livestock. Animal husbandry was increasingly practiced during this time with a shift from a hunter-gatherer culture to an agrarian one. Even so, the historian Marc Van De Mieroop notes:

There was not a sudden change from hunting-gathering to farming, but rather a slow process during which people increased their reliance on resources they managed directly, but still supplemented their diets by hunting wild animals. Agriculture enabled an increase in continuous settlement by people. (12)

As more settlements grew, architectural developments slowly became more sophisticated in the construction of permanent dwellings.

Pottery Neolithic Age (c. 7,000 BCE)

In this period there was a widespread use of tools and clay pots and a specific culture begins to emerge in the Fertile Crescent. Scholar Stephen Bertman writes, “during this era, the only advanced technology was literally 'cutting edge'” as stone tools and weapons became more sophisticated. Bertman further notes that “the Neolithic economy was primarily based on food production through farming and animal husbandry” (55) and was more settled, as opposed to the Stone Age in which communities were more mobile. Architectural advancements naturally followed in the wake of permanent settlements as did developments in the manufacture of ceramics and stone tools.

Copper Age (5,900 – 3,200 BCE)

Also known as The Chalcolithic Period owing to the transition from stone tools and weapons to ones made of copper. This era includes the so-called Ubaid Period (c. 5000-4100 BCE, named for Tell al-`Ubaid, the location in Iraq where the greatest number of artifacts were found) during which the first temples in Mesopotamia were built and unwalled villages developed from sporadic settlements of single dwellings. These villages then gave rise to the urbanization process during the Uruk Period (4100-2900 BCE) when cities rose, most notably in the region of Sumer, including Eridu, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Nuzi, Lagash, Nippur, and Ngirsu, and in Elam with its city of Susa.

The earliest city is often cited as Uruk, although Eridu and Ur have also been suggested. Van De Mieroop writes, “Mesopotamia was the most densely urbanized region in the ancient world” (as cited in Bertman, 201), and the cities which grew up along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as those founded further away, established systems of trade which resulted in great prosperity.

This period saw the invention of the wheel (c. 3500 BCE) and writing (c. 3000 BCE), both by the Sumerians, the establishment of kingships to replace priestly rule, and the first war in the world recorded between the kingdoms of Sumer and Elam (2700 BCE) with Sumer as the victor. During the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2334 BCE), all of the advances of the Uruk Period were developed and the cities, and government in general, stabilized.

Increased prosperity in the region gave rise to ornate temples and statuary, sophisticated pottery and figurines, toys for children (including dolls for girls and wheeled carts for boys), and the use of personal seals (known as Cylinder Seals) to denote ownership of property and to stand for an individual's signature. Cylinder Seals would be comparable to one's modern-day identification card or driver's license and, in fact, the loss or theft of one's seal would have been as significant as modern-day identity theft or losing one's credit cards.

Early Bronze Age (3,000 – 2119 BCE)

During this period, bronze supplanted copper as the material from which tools and weapons were made. The rise of the city-state laid the foundation for economic and political stability which would eventually lead to the rise of the Akkadian Empire (2334-2218 BCE) and the rapid growth of the cities of Akkad and Mari, two of the most prosperous urban centers of the time. The cultural stability necessary for the creation of art in the region resulted in more intricate designs in architecture and sculpture, as well as the following inventions or improvements:

a number of specific and momentous inventions: the plough and the wheel, the chariot and the sailboat, and the cylinder-seal, the single most distinctive art form of ancient Mesopotamia and a pervasive demonstration of the importance of property ownership and business in the country's daily life. (Bertman, 55-56)

The Akkadian Empire of Sargon the Great was the first multi-national realm in the world and Sargon's daughter, Enheduanna (l.2285-2250 BCE), the first author of literary works known by name. The library at Mari contained over 20,000 cuneiform tablets (books) and the palace there was considered one of the finest in the region.

Middle Bronze Age (2119-1700 BCE)

The expansion of the Assyrian Kingdoms (Assur, Nimrud, Sharrukin, Dur, and Nineveh) and the rise of the Babylonian Dynasty (centered in Babylon and Chaldea) created an atmosphere conducive to trade and, with it, increased warfare. The Guti Tribe, fierce nomads who succeeded in toppling the Akkadian Empire, dominated the politics of Mesopotamia until they were defeated by the allied forces of the kings of Sumer.

Hammurabi, King of Babylon, rose from relative obscurity to conquer the region and reign for 43 years. Among his many accomplishments was his famous code of laws, inscribed on the stele of the gods. Babylon became a leading centre at this time for intellectual pursuit and high accomplishment in arts and letters. This cultural centre was not to last, however, and was sacked and looted by the Hittites who were then succeeded by the Kassites.

Late Bronze Age (1700-1100 BCE)

The rise of the Kassite Dynasty (a tribe who came from the Zagros Mountains in the north and are thought to have originated in modern-day Iran) leads to a shift in power and an expansion of culture and learning after the Kassites conquered Babylon. The collapse of the Bronze Age followed the discovery of how to mine ore and make use of iron, a technology which the Kassites and, earlier, the Hittites made singular use of in warfare.

The period also saw the beginning of the decline of Babylonian culture due to the rise in power of the Kassites until they were defeated by the Elamites and driven out. After the Elamites gave way to the Aramaeans, the small Kingdom of Assyria began a series of successful campaigns, and the Assyrian Empire was firmly established and prospered under the rule of Tiglath-Pileser I (r. 1115-1076 BCE) and, after him, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884-859 BCE) consolidated the empire further. Most Mesopotamian states were either destroyed or weakened following the Bronze Age Collapse c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, leading to a brief "dark age".

Iron Age (1000 – 500 BCE)

This age saw the rise and expansion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE) and that Empire's meteoric rise to power and conquest under the rule of great Assyrian kings such as Sargon II (r. 722-705 BCE), Sennacherib (r. 705-681 BCE), Esarhaddon (r. 681-669 BCE) and Ashurbanipal (r. c. 668-627 BCE, who conquered Babylonia, Syria, Israel, and Egypt). The Empire suffered a decline as rapid as its rise due to repeated attacks on central cities by Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians in 612 BCE.

The tribes of the Hittites and the Mitanni consolidated their respective powers during this time which resulted in the rise of the Neo-Hittite and Neo-Babylonian Empires. King Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605/604-562 BCE) of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem (588 BCE) during this period and forced the inhabitants of Israel into the “Babylonian Exile”. He was also responsible for extensive construction in Babylon, creating famous buildings such as the Ishtar Gate and the Great Ziggurat (the "Tower of Babel"). The fall of Babylon to Cyrus II of Persia (the Great, r. c. 550 - 530 BCE) in 539 BCE effectively ended Babylonian culture.

Classical Antiquity (500 BCE – 7th century CE)

After Cyrus II took Babylon, the bulk of Mesopotamia became part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, and this period saw a rapid cultural shift in the region including a number of changes, most notably the loss of the knowledge of cuneiform script. The conquest of the Persians by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE brought Hellenization of the culture and religion but, even though Alexander tried to again make Babylon a city of consequence, its days of glory were now in the past.

After his death, Alexander's general Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305 - 281 BCE) took control of the region and founded the Seleucid Empire (312 - 63 BCE) which ruled until 63 BCE when the land was conquered by the Parthians who were, in turn, dominated by the Sassanians who established the Sassanian Empire (224 - 651 CE). The Sassanians honored the legacies of earlier Mesopotamian civilizations and preserved their contributions.

Between the Parthian Empire (247 BCE - 224 CE) and the Sassanians, the Roman Empire established itself in the region in c. 198 CE, (though Rome had arrived earlier in 116 - 117 CE but withdrew). The Romans improved the infrastructure of their colonies significantly through their introduction of better roads and plumbing and brought Roman Law to the land. Even so, the region was constantly caught up in the wars various Roman emperors waged, first with the Parthians and then Sassanians, over control of the land.

The ancient culture of the region, preserved by the Sassanians, was devastated by the conquest of Mesopotamia by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE which resulted in the unification of law, language, religion and culture under Islam. Aspects of the culture were retained but, as Bertman notes, “With the Islamic conquest of 651 CE the history of ancient Mesopotamia ends” (58). Today the great cities that once rose along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are largely unexcavated mounds or broken bricks on arid plains, and the region of the Fertile Crescent has steadily dwindled into areas resembling wastelands due to human factors (such as overuse of the land through agricultural pursuits or urban development) and climate change.


The legacy of Mesopotamia endures today through many of the most basic aspects of modern life such as the sixty-second minute and the sixty-minute hour. Helen Chapin Metz writes,

Because the well-being of the community depended upon close observation of natural phenomena, scientific or protoscientific activities occupied much of the priests' time. For example, the Sumerians believed that each of the gods was represented by a number. The number sixty, sacred to the god An, was their basic unit of calculation. The minutes of an hour and the notational degrees of a circle were Sumerian concepts. The highly developed agricultural system and the refined irrigation and water-control systems that enabled Sumer to achieve surplus production also led to the growth of large cities. (4)

Urbanization, the wheel, writing, astronomy, mathematics, wind power, irrigation, agricultural developments, animal husbandry, and the narratives which would eventually be re-written as the Hebrew Scriptures and provide the basis for the Christian Old Testament all came from the land of Mesopotamia.

As noted, Kramer lists 39 `firsts' from Mesopotamia in his book History Begins at Sumer and yet, as impressive as those `firsts' are, Mesopotamian contributions to world culture do not end with them. The Mesopotamians influenced the cultures of Egypt and Greece through long-distance trade and cultural diffusion and, through these cultures, impacted the culture of Rome which set the standard for the development and spread of Western Civilization. Mesopotamia generally, and Sumer specifically, gave the world some of its most enduring cultural aspects and, even though the cities and great palaces are long gone, that legacy continued into the modern era.

In the 19th century CE, archaeologists of varying nationalities arrived in Mesopotamia to excavate for evidence which would corroborate the biblical tales of the Old Testament. At this time, the Bible was considered the oldest book in the world and the stories found in its pages were thought to be original compositions. The archaeologists who sought physical evidence to support the biblical stories found exactly the opposite once the ancient clay tablets were discovered and it was understood that the marks on them were not designs but a form of writing.

These cuneiform tablets were deciphered by the scholar and translator George Smith (l. 1840-1876 CE) in 1872 CE and this opened up the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia to the modern world. The story of the Great Flood and Noah's Ark, the story of the Fall of Man, the concept of a Garden of Eden, even the complaints of Job had all been written centuries before the biblical texts by the Mesopotamians.

Once cuneiform could be read, and the ancient world of Mesopotamia opened up to the modern age, it transformed people's understanding of the history of the world and themselves. The discovery of the Sumerian Civilization and the stories of the cuneiform tablets encouraged a new freedom of intellectual inquiry into all areas of knowledge. It was now understood that the biblical narratives were not original Hebrew works, the world was obviously older than the church had been claiming, there were civilizations which had risen and fallen long before anyone previously thought and, if these claims by authorities of church and schools had been false, perhaps others were as well.

The spirit of inquiry in the late 19th century was already making inroads into challenging the paradigms of accepted thought when Smith deciphered cuneiform but the discovery of Mesopotamian culture and religion encouraged this further. In ancient times, Mesopotamia impacted the world through its inventions, innovations, and religious vision in the modern day it literally changed the way people understood the whole of history and one's place in the continuing story of human civilization.

Ancient Near East: Cradle of civilization

Home to some of the earliest and greatest empires, the Near East is often referred to as the cradle of civilization.

Map of the Ancient Near East (courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago)

The cradle of civilization

Some of the earliest complex urban centers can be found in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (early cities also arose in the Indus Valley and ancient China). The history of Mesopotamia, however, is inextricably tied to the greater region, which is comprised of the modern nations of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf states and Turkey. We often refer to this region as the Near or Middle East.

What’s in a name?

Why is this region named this way? What is it in the middle of or near to? It is the proximity of these countries to the West (to Europe) that led this area to be termed “the near east.” Ancient Near Eastern Art has long been part of the history of Western art, but history didn’t have to be written this way. It is largely because of the West’s interests in the Biblical “Holy Land” that ancient Near Eastern materials have been be regarded as part of the Western canon of the history of art. An interest in finding the locations of cities mentioned in the Bible (such as Nineveh and Babylon) inspired the original English and French 19th century archaeological expeditions to the Near East. These sites were discovered and their excavations revealed to the world a style of art which had been lost.

Entrance to Ninevah Court, Illustration from: Sir Austen Henry Layard, The Ninevah Court in the Crystal Palace (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1854), p. 39.

The excavations inspired The Nineveh Court at the 1851 World’s Fair in London and a style of decorative art and architecture called Assyrian Revival. Ancient Near Eastern art remains popular today in 2007 a 2.25 inch high, early 3rd millennium limestone sculpture, the Guennol Lioness, was sold for 57.2 million dollars, the second most expensive piece of sculpture sold at that time.

A complex history

The history of the Ancient Near East is complex and the names of rulers and locations are often difficult to read, pronounce and spell. Moreover, this is a part of the world which today remains remote from the West culturally while political tensions have impeded mutual understanding. However, once you get a handle on the general geography of the area and its history, the art reveals itself as uniquely beautiful, intimate and fascinating in its complexity.

A fishing boat in the Euphrates Southern Iraq (photo: Aziz1005, CC BY 4.0)

Geography and the growth of cities

Mesopotamia remains a region of stark geographical contrasts: vast deserts rimmed by rugged mountain ranges, punctuated by lush oases. Flowing through this topography are rivers and it was the irrigation systems that drew off the water from these rivers, specifically in southern Mesopotamia, that provided the support for the very early urban centers here.

The region lacks stone (for building), precious metals and timber. Historically, it has relied on the long-distance trade of its agricultural products to secure these materials. The large-scale irrigation systems and labor required for extensive farming was managed by a centralized authority. The early development of this authority, over large numbers of people in an urban center, is really what distinguishes Mesopotamia and gives it a special position in the history of Western culture. Here, for the first time, thanks to ample food and a strong administrative class, the West develops a very high level of craft specialization and artistic production.

All About ‘Mesopotamia’: The Cradle of Civilization

Mesopotamia’ literally means the land between two rivers.

When we talk about ‘Mesopotamia’, we refer to the section of land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Mesopotamia is often called the ‘cradle of civilization’ because it was the first place where people abandoned their nomadic lifestyle to build complex urban centers (permanent homes).

Mesopotamia used to be where modern-day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria are present.

A quick read on the Mesopotamian civilization:

  1. The Sumerians invented writing and the system of government. Sumerian writing, government, and culture would make it easier for future civilizations to develop
  2. The Akkadians formed the first united empire. Their language replaced the Sumerian language during their time.
  3. The Babylonians became the most powerful city in Mesopotamia.‘Babylon’ means ‘Gate of God’ or ‘Gate of the Gods’
  4. The Assyrians were a warrior society. They ruled over the Middle East at different periods in history
  5. The Persians put an end to the rule of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They went on to conquer much of the Middle East including Mesopotamia


The ancient Mesopotamians developed sanitation techniques, the Pythagorean Theorem, and glass!

Ancient Middle East Cradle Of Civilization Essay

Ancient Middle East
“Cradle of Civilization”
The ancient middle east was called the “cradle of civilization” by historians. Why was this? This was because the ancient middle east settled and prospered near two major rivers, the Tiberis and the Euphrates and created the very first flourishing civilization. The middle east was broken into two areas. The northern area was called Mesopotamia and the southern area was called Babylon. In these areas a new civilization arose called the Sumerian civilization, or Sumerians. These people were short yet stocky and developed their own city-states, or villages with their own government and government officials. Of course these city-states had a king, along with his board of elders, who boosted this process.

The Fertile Crescent was great farming land for crops and people. It also included two very important rivers named the Tiberis and the Euphrates. These two rivers were known to flood frequently but randomly and this would cause damage to the people who settled around them. Soon enough, these people grew into a civilization and called themselves the Sumerians. The Sumerian civilization grew and grew, and then they became independent city-states with their own government and king. Each city-state was advanced for that age and included a ziggurat at the center, almost like a Tootsie-Pop. A ziggurat was mostly for aesthetics except that the people believed it would bring them close to God.
One important leader was named Sargon I. He was a soldier from Akkad, a northern city of Mesopotamia and became a leader of the army. He himself created the very first empire and did a swell job being a ruler since he reigned for 50 years. After he died, the Amorites invaded this area and built the city of Babylon. The Amorites were nomadic people so they probably brought multiple cultures along with them. From here, the Amorites helped Babylon become a commercial and cultural center. In fact, Babylon became a leading center for both of these.

The Cradle of Civilization: Ancient Mesopotamia to modern Iraq

Mesopotamia was the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, a fertile oasis in an otherwise inhospitable land the size of modern Iraq. Life in the green valley was extreme – flood, storm, dust, disease and death were all recorded. The conflict of the unpredictable rivers of floods and the richness of the valleys attracted migrants who were able to grow surplus foods and so here began the first agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago. Hunter gatherer methods of Neanderthal man were replaced with growing crops and tending sheep. Mud brick or reed houses were grouped in villages with granary stores, using an early token system to record trade. This was the first Commerce driven society where the world’s first banks, operating from temples and palaces, kept safe deposits of grain and valuables. Women were highly respected in this matriarchal society and everyone, even the King, was at the level of bartering for goods with no inflicted hierarchy of state, all property was private.
Here, the Sumerian Civilization flourished, developing literature like the epic Gilgamesh poem. Persian poetry includes a story of a great flood and the wise man who survived by building an Ark, a clear link to the story of Noah which permeates all the Monotheistic religions, was cultivated here.

Watch the video: Mesopotamia The Cradle of Civilization (June 2022).


  1. Gonos

    Strongly agree with the previous phrase

  2. Bern

    absolutely agree

  3. Sherwin

    One can say infinitely on this subject.

  4. Mautaur

    The wind will blow out all the ailments

  5. Watford

    Congratulations, you have just a great thought.

  6. Aconteus

    Thanks for the explanation, the simpler the better ...

  7. Ketilar

    Not a bad blog, but more information needs to be added

Write a message