Urban Society in Mesopotamia

Urban Society in Mesopotamia

The Evolution of Urban Society in Mesopotamia

Where and when did the first urban societies appear Were the earliest cities a prerequisite for the development of civilization or merely byproducts of it These are fundamental questions that are attempted to be answered in studies of the urban revolution which is defined as emergence of urban life and the concomitant transformation of human settlements from simple agrarianbased systems to complex and hierarchical systems of manufacturing and trade Gotham 2007 For decades now many anthropologists archaeologists and historians have accepted that the cradle of civilization was situated in the Fertile Crescent a vast stretch of land which extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf More specifically referred to is Mesopotamia meaning land between the rivers in Greek lying in the basin of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates Mesopotamia is indeed the oldest site that provides evidence of a complex and urban society such as writing grand architecture and bureaucracy It contains all the characteristics necessary to support the social economic and religious needs of a large and sedentary population Although there is no exact definition for an urban society scholars have established a myriad of different criteria to classify societies One of the earliest and most important lists of characteristics used to evaluate whether a society can be described as urban was V Gordon Childes tenpoint model in his seminal article The Urban Revolution His analysis of these different yet related factors is often summarized under the acronym POET population organization environment and technology Wyly 62008 For this essay I will focus on these four criteria and how the ancient societies in Mesopotamia satisfied them

First of all the growth and density of a population depends on the food supply available which is restricted by the natural resources available to the inhabitants Mesopotamia was blessed as a rich agricultural area between its two rivers It had very favourable geographical characteristics as a flat and alluvial land As a consequence of its consistent elevation the Tigris and the Euphrates flowed relatively slowly The lack of natural dykes or barriers to the rivers caused the yearly flooding The waters consistently overflowed their banks and deposited a rich layer of silt onto the plains Since the ground in southern Mesopotamia was extremely fecund people were able to regularly grow an abundance of crops which could support a considerable population According to Elvin Wyly 1998 After a long period of struggles to improve cultivation techniques in the fertile river valleys archaeologists believed an agricultural revolution allowed the production of a surplus that eventually laid the basis for an urban revolution about 5500 years ago 3500 before the current era or BCE It was from the environment that social surpluses were made possible meaning farmers were able to produce annually more food than what was necessary to sustain him and his family

However the annual flooding of the plains was often a mixed blessing Although the fertility of the soil was caused by centuries of silt deposits transferred from the river beds the flooding could also be unpredictably catastrophic In an instant rivers could destroy crops and wipe out entire communities and their inhabitants Once the hordes of neighbouring peoples settled in adjacent to the waterways it became necessary for them to join together in a form of collective management to protect their settlements and livelihoods from flooding This collective management of the flood waters and the social surplus associated with it formed the rudimentary conditions for the progression of Sumerian civilization Childe 1950 8 makes this point clear when he notes At the same time dependence on river water for the irrigation of the crops restricted the cultivable areas while the necessity of canalizing the waters and protecting habitations against a

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