An Introduction to Mesopotamia (short)
The region of modern Iraq and much of Syria is also known as Mesopotamia. This is a Greek word which means ‘between the rivers'. There are two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, and they flow through many varied landscapes. The rivers start in high mountains where there is a lot of rainfall. They then rush through grasslands which are important for growing wheat and herding sheep and cattle (Assyria). Their final journey is across a very flat plain (Babylonia) where the only plants are found close to the rivers. Beyond is sandy deserts or dry earth. Here the rivers split into many different streams until the water eventually flows into the sea.
In the north there is plenty of wood and stone but the further south one goes there is less and less. On the flat lands of Babylonia there is only mud, reeds and date palms. Unlike the rainy north there is very little rainfall on the southern plains and farmers had to bring water from the rivers to their fields in ditches and canals. However, the soil was very fertile once it was watered.
By 3500 B.C. small farming and fishing villages throughout Mesopotamia were growing into towns and cities as more crops and animals were grown to feed the people. Many Mesopotamians were very clever and developed new ways of getting around such as in carts with wheels. The people also came up with a method to help them remember things by inventing a form of writing we call cuneiform. The first people to do this lived in the south and are called the Sumerians.
The Sumerians lived in cities surrounded by rich farmland. They travelled to neighbouring towns in boats along the rivers and canals that cris-crossed the land. They also led donkeys loaded with goods north along the river banks to exchange for stone and metal. The cities became very wealthy and sometimes war broke out between them. Each city had its own king who was the most important person. He had to lead the army but he was also expected to build temples for the gods who were thought to control the universe.
Over time, warfare led to larger and larger kingdoms. Sometimes the southern cities were ruled by just one man, sometimes the north was united. Eventually the whole of Mesopotamia, and beyond to Egypt and Iran, came to be controlled by powerful Assyrian and Babylonian empires.
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