City-states in Lower Mesopotamia


Factors that contributed to the emergence of city-states in Lower Mesopotamia and the influence the landscape played in the formation of the civilization which emerged.

For this essay I considered the question of what factors contributed to the emergence of city-states in Lower Mesopotamia and the influence the landscape played in the formation of the civilization which emerged. Through my research on this topic I found that there is much evidence to support the claim that landscape was a very large influence on the emergence of civilization and that most of the contributing factors were, in some way, linked to geography.

In order to fully understand the topic, I first explored what the definition of civilization is. The first criterion for civilization, that I could think of, is domestication and an agricultural economy capable of producing a stored surplus. From this, I felt the need to examine the origins of Mesopotamian agriculture.

With the glacial retreat after the last ice-age (roughly 10000 BC) the Mesopotamian climate improved and many modern plants and animals began to become concentrated in specific areas. Around 9000 BC the vast majority of Mesopotamian peoples were hunter-gatherers. With the concentrations of plants and animals being in specific areas these hunter-gatherers soon began to domesticate those plants and animals and a sedentary village farming pattern arose. This became the predominant way of life around 6000 BC. This change from food collecting to food producing was one of the major transformations in human history. Early peoples no longer had to live the nomadic life of hunter-gatherers but could settle down in permanent housing and produce their own food. It also began an economic change that altered social and political institutions, religion, etc.

Domestication is the process of altering plants and animals so that they are no longer bound to the natural habitats of their wild ancestors. In essence they become more productive and useful to people. This process sometimes even includes changes in the genetics of the domesticated plant or animal. In Mesopotamia the major domesticated species of plants were wheat, barley, chickpeas, peas, grapes, olives, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, apricots, dates, and figs. The major domesticated species of animals were cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. Some of the genetic changes brought about through domestication and the careful breeding of plants and animals include plants that were bred to have more and bigger useful parts and animals that were initially bred to be smaller and less aggressive, and only later to have more of their useful parts. I believe that this domestication was greatly influenced by Mesopotamian geography. Located at junction of Asia and Africa, movement of crustal plates has produced a varied topography of mountain ranges, plateaus, rift valleys and basins. The Mesopotamian basin is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It is a long trough between mountain ranges that slopes downward from northwest to southeast and empties into the Persian Gulf. In the southern lowlands of Mesopotamia fertile silts are deposited by the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This flooding provided necessary minerals to the Mesopotamian soil so that staple foods, such as wheat and barley could take root and flourish.

In conjunction with geography and domestication, an argument for population pressure as a factor towards the beginnings of civilization can also be made. Population pressure occurs when the population begins to exceed the carrying capacity of the environment, given existing technology. This may have forced some nomadic tribes to begin to settle and domesticate plants and animals. However around 9000 BC the vast majority of hunter-gatherers did not have sufficient numbers to exceed the carrying capacity of the land so population pressure was probably just a minor factor.

It also seems that settling might have been a choice not a necessity of domestication. It is easier on very young children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers to settle in one place rather than being constantly on the move.

As people began to domesticate the land there was a need to stem the destructive power of the Tigris and Euphrates floods. Even though the flooding deposited fertile silts into the Mesopotamian basin, after people started to settle and farm, these floods just destroyed crops and killed people and animals. Dikes and irrigation ditches had to be constructed in an