Mesopotamia

Geography Of Mesopotamia

Geography-Physical environment and how it may influence an economy and culture.  

Mesopotamia, which means “the land between the rivers”, is located in the river valley between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. This area, called the Fertile Crescent, is located mostly in modern-day Iraq and Kuwait. The soil is very rich and fertile in this area, which allows for farming. The Tigris and Euphrates flow southeast into the Persian Gulf, and during the spring the rivers overflow and deposit fertile silt into the land. The people of this region were able to use irrigation streams, dikes, and dams in order to settle near the river, grow crops, and develop civilizations.

Economy Of Mesopotamia

Economy-How a civilization makes money through the buying and selling of goods and services. 

Mastery of irrigation techniques allowed the people of the region to grow a surplus of crops, and develop cities as trading and governing centers. The surplus of crops also led to the development of new, more specialized jobs to develop, such as artisans, builders, metal workers, among many others. Traders traveled in caravans through trade routes in order to trade other regions for certain resources Mesopotamia lacked, such as metals, wood, and salt. Their commercial trade extended to far-off regions like Egypt and Pakistan.  These goods were often moved by cart-pulling donkeys and camels, which allowed them to carry large amounts of goods at a time. The Sumerians, the first civilization of Mesopotamia, invented the wheeled cart to carry more resources across the land. As surpluses of food increased, the Sumerians developed a division of labor, which meant that workers could specialize in non-agricultural jobs that produced valuable goods that merchants could trade.  Eventually, Sumerians used money, which made individual wealth more easily measured and stored. Money was made from clay, stamped and dried in a kiln.

Achievements Of Mesopotamia

Achievements-The lasting contributions of a civilization.

The lands of Sumer became the world’s first city-states, and they had the world’s first monarchies as well.  Also, their measurement base of 60 led to the current system of dividing time into hours, minutes, and seconds.  They invented the wheeled cart and possibly the sailboat, as well.  The Akkadian Empire was the first empire in the world.  And the Assyrian Empire also invented the lock and key system, in addition to being the first to construct an expansive, connecting paved road system. Sumerians also developed one of the first written languages ever recorded, called cuneiform. Cuneiform evolved from pictographs (small pictures) to phonograms (symbols that represent sounds) over the span of 500 years. Most often cuneiform was carved into clay and baked in a kiln to create a strong, durable tablet.

Sumerian scribes wrote “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” one of the oldest-surviving and most famous stories ever.  The first half of the story relates a friendship between Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and Enkidu. In the second half of the epic, King Gilgamesh’s distress at Enkidu’s death causes him to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life.

Social Classes Of Mesopotamia

Social Class-How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities and privileges.

Sumerians developed the first ever monarchy, which was rule by a king. The king and his royal family were at the top of the social order; directly under them were priests and military commanders. Next was the large middle class that consisted of farmers, artisans, scribes, and merchants, and below the common folk were slaves. Fortunately, there was opportunity for advancement, and those who found success could move up in society. Also, women had many rights and privileges that were uncommon in other regions of the world.  They could buy land, become scribes, own businesses, and even divorce their husbands. Slaves were very common in Mesopotamia. Slave men were called “mountain men” and slave women were called “mountain women” because they were captured from cities in the neighboring mountains. Sumerians believed the gods allowed them to use slaves to do domestic labor because they were considered inferior people.

Religion Of Mesopotamia

Religion-A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.

Sumerians were polytheistic and worshipped numerous gods. Because of this, priests were very important in their society.  They believed in nature-based gods, and made offerings and animal sacrifices to appease the gods, in hopes that they could influence nature positively. The most prominent gods were Enlil, the god of air, and Enki, the god of water. In addition, they believed kings were demigods, meaning part man, part god. Each city-state also had its own unique god to look over them.

Government Of Mesopotamia

Leadership/ Government- How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.                  

The Sumerians developed twelve different cities into the first city-states in the world.  The most prosperous ones were Ur, Kish, Uruk, and Eridu.  Each city-state was a portion of land made up of agricultural areas with a walled city in the center of the region. The separate city-states were run by their own individual government and led by a king whose line was passed down through heritage.  The kings had complete control over their particular city-state, but also hired others to be officials in order to help with the administration of the area. The king and his officials oversaw taxes, food, and law-making, in addition to large building projects. Eventually, all of the city-states of Sumer were conquered and united by Sargon in 2350 BCE. This was the world’s first empire, called the Akkadian Empire. Sargon demanded tributes from the various city-states, and therefore was able to gain much wealth and power this way. The Akkadian Empire survived 250 years, but in 2300 BCE, the empire disbanded and the various city-states regained independence. About 400 years later (around 1750 BCE), the king of the city-state, Babylon, created the Babylonian Empire, which once again united the numerous city-states under imperial rule. The king’s name was Hammurabi, and he is notable because he was able to develop one overarching set of laws for the entire empire.  These laws were based upon fairness, justice, and family. The Babylonian Empire would fall around 1600 BCE, and the Kassites subsequently conquered the city-state of Babylon. About 500 years later, the Assyrian Empire took Babylon, and by 700 BCE they ruled all of Mesopotamia. The Assyrian Empire fell around 609 BCE, and the New Babylonian Empire was created. The Empire’s most notable and popular ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, reigned during this time.