It’s time to go back, way back, 5000 years before the Greeks to look at the mankind’s original civilization -- Mesopotamia. The word is Greek for “between the rivers”, describing the ancient settlements between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in what is now Iraq. Before we discuss the ancient culture, let’s review the geography, which is fundamental to the development of human society in this particular location. The map below highlights the geography and marks the key cities during the late Neolithic Period.
Geographically, there are three main elements: mountains, steppe, and alluvial plain. Around 7,000 B.C, agriculture was introduced in the steppe and, a thousand years later, mixed herding and farming communities were well-developed. Farming had taken root there because there was adequate rainfall to support a full growing season. Then, by 5,000 B.C, settlers began to move down into the plain, utilizing irrigation to grow their crops. Knowledge of irrigation was probably adapted from techniques successfully developed in the steppe. The alluvial geography facilitated farming in a way that no other geography in the world was able to do. Undoubtedly, it was combination of fertile soil, availability of water, and the absence of stone, that made the difference. This same combination existed in Egypt, which would become the second great human culture.
The rivers not only provided the food to sustain the lives of the people, but were also transportation arteries providing access to the world through trade and the ability to ship important raw materials to destination cities.
While the plain was protected from invasion to the west because of desert, the Zagros Mountains were not high enough to prevent invasions from the north and east. This vulnerability would have a significant impact on the future development of the Mesopotamian Civilization.
Baghdad is shown on the map as a geographical reference only. It was not founded until 700 A.D.