How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization

How Nature Nurtured Civilization

The earliest cities in southern Mesopotamia arose along the edges of a great marsh that provided many natural resources for construction (reed) and food (wild game and fish). Water was easily accessible for small-scale irrigation. The marsh also connected the cities to sea routes on the Persian Gulf, leading to the development of long-distance trade with other places.

In Upper Mesopotamia, the rainfall was reliable enough that farmers didn’t need much irrigation. They also had access to mountains and forests, where they could hunt for game and cut down trees for wood. Early Mesopotamian farmers grew mainly barley and wheat. They also established gardens where they grew a wide variety of crops including beans, peas, lentils, cucumbers, lettuce, and some fruit. They also milked sheep, goats and cows to make butter, and slaughtered them for meat.

The agricultural revolution in Mesopotamia eventually led to urban settlements as villages evolved into cities. The Sumerians (early settlers in southern Mesopotamia) developed what may have been the earliest system of writing. They also had sophisticated art, architecture, and complex government bureaucracies to supervise agriculture, commerce, and religious activity. Sumerians figured out how to use innovations on an industrial scale.

There is also archaeological evidence that urban areas arose in Upper Mesopotamia.

How Environmental Change Made Mesopotamian Civilization Evolve

Climate shifts may have played a role in the development of Mesopotamian civilization. Around 4,000 B.C., the climate slowly became drier, and the rivers became more unpredictable. The land in Mesopotamia needed to be irrigated. More work and central coordination was required to build the irrigation canals. Mesopotamians gradually developed a more elaborate system of government in order to manage the goods and people of the temples in the marshland cities.

A social structure gradually developed in response to adapt to climate change in southern Mesopotamia. The royal elite either coerced workers or obtained their labor by providing meals and wages.

In Upper Mesopotamia people relied on their villages to adapt to climate change. They adopted a less complex social organization.

Mesopotamia eventually saw the rise of great empires such as Akkad and Babylonia.

Source: How Mesopotamia Became the Cradle of Civilization
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