Mesopotamia

November 25, 2012 9:28 pm

What would life be like without writing? Or without cities? Or without seconds, minutes, and hours? We owe all of these things to the people of ancient Mesopotamia. Long, long ago, the world’s first great civilization arose there.
A FERTILE LAND
Mesopotamia means between the rivers. It is a Greek name for the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq, a country in the Middle East.
Ancient Mesopotamia was home to many tribes. The fertile land between the rivers was easy to farm, and large settlements grew. Mesopotamians lived in villages and raised cattle. They grew wheat, barley, and date palms.
CANALS AND DAMS
About 8,000 years ago, Mesopotamians learned how to build canals and dams. The canals carried river water to their fields. Mesopotamians began to build large, productive farms, and the population grew. The region became rich and powerful.
THE FIRST CITIES
By about 6,000 years ago, a Mesopotamian people called the Sumerians built the world’s first cities. Their cities included Eridu, Erech, Ur, and Nippur. Mesopotamians built their cities with mud bricks. They erected walls around them for protection from invaders.
Mesopotamian cities were ruled by priest-kings who lived in beautiful palaces. The most important buildings in Mesopotamian cities were huge mud-brick temples honoring local gods. The temples are known as ziggurats.
Each city controlled the surrounding land. Farmers carried crops to city markets to trade for finely woven cloth, jewelry, pottery, bronze weapons, and plows. Later cities, built by people known as the Akkadians and the Babylonians, ruled all of Mesopotamia.
The cities of Mesopotamia were complex, just like modern cities. They had homes, factories, warehouses, shops, restaurants, and religious temples. Wealthy families lived in houses surrounded by walled gardens. People often traveled in carts pulled by donkeys.
CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION
Mesopotamia is often called the cradle of civilization. Mesopotamians produced a rich culture. They developed sciences such as astronomy and mathematics. In fact, Mesopotamians invented a mathematical system for measuring time, based on units of 60. That’s why an hour has 60 minutes and a minute has 60 seconds.
Perhaps most important of all, Mesopotamians learned to write. About 5,000 years ago, they began to record laws, letters, poems, and taxes. Using reeds as pens, they made wedge-shaped marks on slabs of damp clay. This form of writing is called cuneiform. Historians believe cuneiform was the world’s first writing.
FOREIGN INVADERS
Mesopotamia’s great wealth and advanced civilization attracted people from neighboring areas. Mesopotamians fought each other, and they fought foreign invaders who wanted the land for themselves.
By about 3,000 years ago, a people called the Assyrians had become powerful in Mesopotamia. Later, the region was conquered by the Persian Empire and then by Greece. From AD 641, Mesopotamia was ruled by Muslim Arabs. They built a magnificent capital at Baghdad, but it was destroyed by Mongol warriors in 1258. Mesopotamia lost its wealth.
From 1534 to 1914, Mesopotamia was ruled by the Ottoman empire, a huge empire based in Turkey. Since 1932, it has been part of Iraq.
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