02 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day 2
World Civilization Tour, Day Two
How did the physical environment shape Mesopotamian civilization? As a result of this environment, what characteristics did Mesopotamia exhibit?
Situated between two great rivers, the Mesopotamians had two indispensable elements for the successful development of agriculture: abundant water and fertile soil. Much of what they accomplished in creating a relatively bountiful food supply would not have worked in poorer soil and a drier clime. Although regular flooding brought good soils, its unpredictability led to frequent disasters and lost crops. The development of levees and artificial irrigation made it possible to exert greater control over their environment, leading to greater and more stable crop yields. By stabilizing their food supply, they were free to devote time and effort to occupations other than subsistence: priests, soldiers, artisans, builders, etc.
Controlled irrigation and urban living made it necessary for members of the local society to work together on large-scale projects that benefited the whole group, like levees, dams, canals, temples, and defensive city walls. Private ownership of land and crops made the accumulation of wealth possible, leading to a stratified society. To keep order, and to ensure cooperation among inhabitants for the common good, laws were codified and enforced, such as the Code of Hammurabi. Various government officials and judges were needed to enforce justice, coordinate large-scale projects, secure the expected blessings (and avoid the expected curses) of the gods, long-range planning, and common defense against raiders and rivals.
What were some of the important inventions and technological contributions developed in Mesopotamia?
Probably the most important invention that arose in Mesopotamia was writing. Created in Sumer around 3000 BC, this cuneiform (meaning “wedge-shaped” for the way the marks were made with a pointed stylus in soft clay) was the earliest form of record keeping with consistent phonetic and grammatical rules. It enabled accurate historical records, the memorialization of business transactions and contracts, and the dissemination of laws and religious/cultural rituals. Historians disagree about who first invented the wheel, but the widespread use of wheeled carts appears in Mesopotamia around the fourth millennium BC. This enabled human and domesticated transport animals to carry much larger loads over much greater distances, and greatly enhanced long distance trade and cultural interchange.
Advancements in shipbuilding and water navigation further expanded these opportunities. Mesopotamians first discovered bronze by mixing copper and tin, making much stronger, more durable metal objects, and the Bronze Age saw great innovations in weapons, armor, and somewhat later, agricultural and artisan tools. They were among the first textile weavers, glassmakers, woodworkers, and potters. All of this was made possible by advances in farming through controlled irrigation and crop selection, leading to excess food supplies, which allowed the inhabitants to devote time and energy to these pursuits, rather than daily subsistence foraging.