Iraq (4KB)History (2KB)
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Iraq History

The Cradle of Civilization

In ancient times the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia Map (8KB) the land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (in Arabic, the Dijla and Furat, respectively), the

Mesopotamian plain was called the Fertile Crescent. This region is known as the Cradle of Civilization; was the birthplace of the varied civilizations that moved us from prehistory to history. An advanced civilization flourished in this region long before that of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, for it was here in about 4000BC that the Sumerian culture flourished Map of Mesopotamia showing geographic features surrounding ancient Sumer (7KB).

The civilized life that emerged at Sumer was shaped by two conflicting factors: the unpredictability of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which at any time could unleash devastating floods that wiped out entire peoples, and the extreme richness of the river valleys, caused by centuries-old deposits of soil. Thus, while the river valleys of southern Mesopotamia attracted migrations of neighboring peoples and made possible, for the first time in history, the growing of surplus food, the volatility of the rivers necessitated a form of collective management to protect the marshy, low-lying land from flooding. 

As surplus production increased and as collective management became more advanced, a process of urbanization evolved and Sumerian civilization took root.

The people of the Tigris and the Euphrates basin, the ancient Sumerians, using the fertile land and the abundant water supply of the area, developed sophisticated irrigation systems and created what was probably the first cereal agriculture as well as the earliest writing, cuneiform - a way of arranging impression stamped on clay by the wedge-like section of chopped-off reed stylus into wet clay.

Through writing, the Sumerians were able to pass on complex agricultural techniques to successive generations; this led to marked improvements in agricultural production. Writing evolved to keep track of property. Clay envelopes marked with the owner's rolled seal were used to hold tokens for goods, the tokens within recording a specific transaction. Later on, the envelope and tokens were discarded and symbols scratched into clay recorded transactions such as 2 bunches of wheat or 7 cows. As writing evolved, pictures gave way to lines pressed into clay with a wedge tip; this allowed a scribe to make many different types of strokes without changing his grip. By 3,000 BC, the script evolved into a full syllabic alphabet.

The commerce of the times is recorded in great depth. Double entry accounting practices were found to be a part of the records. This remarkable innovation has been used to this day, as a standard for record keeping.

It was the custom for all to pay for what they needed at a fair price. Royalty was not exception. The king may have had an edge on getting a "better deal", but it wasn't the law as it was in Egypt where the Pharaoh was the "living god" and as such, owned all things. It seems that everyone had the right to bargain fairly for his or her goods. Unlike their Egyptian neighbors, these people were believers in private property, and the kings were very much answerable to the citizens. In Egypt, all things, including the people and property, were owned by the pharaoh. Sumerians invented the wheel and the first plow in 3700 BC.

Sumerians developed a math system based on the numeral 60, which is the basis of time in the modern world. Sumerian society was "Matriarchal" and women had a highly respected place in society. Banking originated in Mesopotamia (Babylonia) out of the activities of temples and palaces, which provided safe places for the storage of valuables. Initially deposits of grain were accepted and later other goods including cattle, agricultural implements, and precious metals. Another important Sumerian legacy was the recording of literature.

Poetry and epic literature were produced. The most famous Sumerian epic and the one that has survived in the most nearly complete form is the epic of Gilgamesh. The story of Gilgamesh, who actually was king of the city-state of Uruk in approximately 2700 BC, is a moving story of the ruler's deep sorrow at the death of his friend Enkidu, and of his consequent search for immortality. Other central themes of the story are a devastating flood and the tenuous nature of man's existence, and ended by meeting a wise and ancient man who had survived a great flood by building an ark.

Land was cultivated for the first time, early calendars were used and the first written alphabet was invented here. Its bountiful land, fresh waters, and varying climate contributed to the creation of deep-rooted civilization that had fostered humanity from its affluent fountain since thousand of years.

Sumerian states were believed to be under the rule of a local god or goddess, and a bureaucratic system of the priesthood arose to oversee the ritualistic and complex religion. High Priests represented the gods on earth, one of their jobs being to discern the divine will. A favorite method of divination was reading sheep or goat entrails. The priests ruled from their ziggurats, high rising temples of sunbaked brick with outside staircases leading to the shrine on top. The Sumerian gods personified local elements and natural forces. The Sumerians worshiped anu, the supreme god of heaven, Enlil, god of water, and Ea, god of magic and creator of man. The Sumerians held the belief that a sacred ritual marriage between the ruler and Inanna, goddess of love and fertility brought rich harvests.


Eventually, the Sumerians would have to battle another peoples, the Akkadians, who migrated up from the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadians were a Semitic people, that is, they spoke a language drawn from a family of languages called Semitic languages; a Semitic languages include Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, and Babylonian (the term "Semite" is a modern designation taken from the Hebrew Scriptures; Shem was a son of Noah and the nations descended from Shem are the Semites). When the two peoples clashed, the Sumerians gradually lost control over the city-states they had so brilliantly created and fell under the hegemony of the Akkadian kingdom, which was based in Akkad (Sumerian Agade). This great capital of the largest empire humans had ever seen up until that point that was later to become Babylon, which was the commercial and cultural center of the Middle East for almost two thousand years. In 2340 BC, the great Akkadian military leader, Sargon, conquered Sumer and built an Akkadian empire stretching over most of the Sumerian city-states and extending as far away as Lebanon. Sargon based his empire in the city of Akkad, which became the basis of the name of his people. But Sargon's ambitious empire lasted for only a blink of an eye in the long time spans of Mesopotamian history. In 2125 BC, the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, and the Akkadian empire fell before a renewal of Sumerian city-states. Mesopotamia is the suspected spot known as the "Garden of Eden." Ur of the Chaldees, and that's where Abraham came from, (that's just north of the traditional site of the Garden of Eden, about twenty-five miles northeast of Eridu, at present Mughair), was a great and famous Sumerian city, dating from this time. Predating the Babylonian by about 2,000 years, was Noah, who lived in Fara, 100 miles southeast of Babylon (from Bab-ili, meaning "Gate of God").

The early Assyrians, some of the earliest people there, were known to be warriors, so the first wars were fought there, and the land has been full of wars ever since.

The Assyrians were in the northern part of Mesopotamia and the Babylonians more in the middle and southern part.

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