- from Mesopotamia
In the heart of modern-day Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, lies a dry, flat, hot plain.
It offers little to attract a casual tourist. But buried under sandy mounds on this vast plain are the remains of Mesopotamia, “the land between two rivers.” Scholars call Mesopotamia “the cradle of civilization” because it was there that the first cities grew from infancy to magnificent maturity.
Before the cities, however, there were farming villages. And before the villages, bands of humans searched the plain for plants and animals to eat. About 12,000 years ago, some of these hunters and gatherers discovered that the seeds they had been eating could be planted to grow more food. Soon these people were settled in villages, growing crops and domesticating animals. Some of the first permanent settlements were at the foot of the mountains, east and north of Mesopotamia. When the soil was worn out, the farmers moved onto the plain, where the soil was nourished by the annual overflow of the rivers. There was little rain, so farmers needed to channel river water to irrigate the fields. Irrigation projects required cooperation, planning—and leadership.
Villages grew into cities, which sometimes warred with one another, following their leaders’ call. For thousands of years, civilizations rose and fell on the plain of Mesopotamia. What were the cities like?