Question Jonathan Social Sciences

The development of the Mesopotamian civilisation

The middle east is the birthplace of the Mesopotamian civilisation. Explain how the physical and human geography of the Mesopotamian area influenced the civilisation there until it reached Iran.

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Answer Expert #27306

Mesopotamia is a Greek word that means the land between two rivers (Reade, 2000: 6). The Euphrates and the Tigris nurtured a fertile plain in an otherwise barren territory. The land and the culture of Mesopotamia was "a gift of the twin rivers" (Roux, 1992: 4). The irrigation water provided by the rivers allowed for the development of agriculture, and together with steppe lands on which goats and sheep could be tended, human society prospered and started to proliferate.

The evolution of agricultural societies in the prehistory of the region led to the foundation of the first great city, Uruk, in the last quarter of the fourth millennium BCE. In turn, the emergence of the city nurtured the cornerstones of civilisation: trade, writing and the specialisation of skill (Van de Mieroop, 2004: chapter 2.1). The city became a focal point for the people of the region, and as its inhabitants began to hone their skills in building, pottery and textiles, the exchange of goods and services proved essential to this new way of life. This brought about the need for a bureaucracy, which created a ruling class. This in turn engendered the need for an ideological foundation for this system, and so a religion in which the city’s god received goods and distributed them to the people was established (Van de Mieroop, 2004: chapter 2.2).

The bureaucracy that controlled the exchange of goods needed a system to record trade. The development of cuneiform controlled the economy and it is also controlled the ideology as it was used to record the deeds of the city’s gods (Dalley, 2008: xv). The foundations of civilisation were established in the city of Uruk and, from there, the network of cities that would become the the great civilisation of Mesopotamia.


Dalley, S. (2000). Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reade, J. (2000). Mesopotamia. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Press.

Roux, G. (1992). Ancient Iraq. London: Penguin Books.

Van de Mieroop, M. (2004). A history of the ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 B.C.. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.