00Chapter 2 (second part of chapter 1 in textbook) - The First River-Valley
Civilizations, 3500–1500 B .C.E.
A0. Settled Agriculture in an Unstable Landscape
10. Mesopotamia is the alluvial plain area alongside and between the Tigris and
Euphrates Rivers. The area is a difficult environment for agriculture because
there is little rainfall, the rivers flood at the wrong time for grain agriculture, and
the rivers change course unpredictably.
20. Mesopotamia does have a warm climate and good soil. By 4000 B.C.E. farmers
were using cattle-pulled plows and a sort of planter to cultivate barley. Just after
3000 B.C.E. they began constructing irrigation canals to bring water to fields
farther away from the rivers.
30. Other crops and natural resources of the area included date palms, vegetables,
reeds and fish, and fallow land for grazing goats and sheep. Draft animals
included cattle and donkeys and, later (second millennium BC E.), camels and
horses. The area has no significant wood, stone, or metal resources.
40. The earliest people of Mesopotamia and the initial creators of Mesopotamian
culture were the Sumerians, who were present at least as early as 5000 B C.E. By
2000 B.C.E. the Sumerians were supplanted by Semitic-speaking peoples who
dominated and intermarried with the Sumerians but preserved many elements of
B0. Cities, Kings, and Trade
10. Early Mesopotamian society was a society of villages and cities linked together
in a system of mutual interdependence. Cities depended on villages to produce
surplus food to feed the nonproducing urban elite and craftsmen. In return, the
cities provided the villages with military protection, markets, and specialist-
20. Together, a city and its agricultural hinterland formed what we call a city-state.
The Mesopotamian city-states sometimes fought with each other over resources
like water and land; at other times, city-states cooperated with each other in
sharing resources. City-states also traded with one another.
30. City-states could mobilize human resources to open new agricultural land and to
build and maintain irrigation systems. Construction of irrigation systems required
the organization of large numbers of people for labor.
40. Although we know little of the political institutions of Mesopotamian city-states,
we do have written and archeological records of two centers of power: temples
and palaces. Temples were landholders, and their priests controlled
considerable wealth. Their religious power predates the secular power of the
50. Secular leadership developed in the third millennium B C.E. when “big men”
(lugal), who may have originally been leaders of armies, emerged as secular
leaders. The lugal ruled from their palaces and tended to take over religious
control of institutions. The Epic of Gilgamesh provides an example of the
exercise of secular power.
60. Eventually some of the city-states became powerful enough to absorb others and
thus create larger territorial states. Two examples of this development are the
Akkadian state, founded by Sargon of Akkad around 2350 B C.E. and the Third
Dynasty of Ur (2112–2004 B.C.E.)
70. A third territorial state was established by Hammurabi and is known to historians
as the “Old Babylonian” state. Hammurabi is also known for the Law Code associated with his name, which provides us with a source of information about
Old Babylonian law, punishments, and society.
80. The states of Mesopotamia needed resources and obtained them not only by
territorial expansion, but also through a flourishing long-distance trade.
Merchants were originally employed by temples or palaces; later, in the second
millennium B.C.E., private merchants emerged. Trade was carried out through
C0. Mesopotamian Society
10. Mesopotamia had a stratified society in which kings and priests controlled much
of the wealth. The three classes of Mesopotamian society were: (1) the free
landowning class; (2) dependent farmers and artisans; and (3) slaves. Slavery
was not a fundamental part of the economy, and most slaves were prisoners of
20. Some scholars believe that the development of agriculture brought about a
decline in the status of women as men did the value-producing work of plowing
and irrigation. Women had no political role, but they could own property, control
their dowry, and engage in trade. The rise of an urban merchant class in the
second millennium B.C.E. appears to have been accompanied by greater
emphasis on male privilege and an attendant decline in women’s status.
D0. Gods, Priests, and Temples
10. The religion of Mesopotamia was an amalgam of Sumerian and later Semitic
beliefs and deities. Mesopotamian deities were anthropomorphic, and each city
had its own tutelary gods.
20. Humans were regarded as servants of the gods. In temples, a complex,
specialized hereditary priesthood served the gods as a servant serves a master.
The temples themselves were walled compounds containing religions and
functional buildings. The most visible part of the temple compound was the
30. We have little knowledge of the beliefs and religious practices of common
people. Evidence indicates a popular belief in magic and in the use of magic to
influence the gods.
E0. Technology and Science
10. Technology is defined as “any specialized knowledge that is used to transform
the natural environment and human society.” Thus defined, the concept of
technology includes not only things like irrigation systems, but also nonmaterial
specialized knowledge such as religious lore and ceremony and writing systems.
20. The Mesopotamian writing system (cuneiform) evolved from the use of pictures
to represent the sounds of words or parts of words. The writing system was
complex, required the use of hundreds of signs, and was a monopoly of the
30. Cuneiform was developed to write Sumerian, but was later used to write
Akkadian and other Semitic and non-Semitic languages. Cuneiform was used to
write economic, political, legal, literary, religious, and scientific texts.
40. Other technologies developed by the Mesopotamians included irrigation,
transportation technologies (boats, barges, and the use of donkeys), bronze
metallurgy, brickmaking, engineering, and pottery, including the use of the
50. Military technology employed in Mesopotamia included paid, full-time soldiers,
horses, the horse-drawn chariot, the bow and arrow, and siege machinery.
Mesopotamians also used numbers (a base-60 system) and made advances in
mathematics and astronomy.
A0. The Land of Egypt: “Gift of the Nile”
10. The land of Egypt is defined by the Nile River, the narrow green strip of arable
land on either side of its banks, and the fertile Nile delta area. The rest of the country is barren desert, the unfriendly “Red Land” that contrasted with the
“Black Land,” which was home to the vast majority of the Egyptian population.
20. Egypt was traditionally divided into two areas: Upper Egypt, along the southern
part of the Nile as far south as the First Cataract, and Lower Egypt, the northern
delta area. The climate was good for agriculture, but with little or no rainfall,
farmers had to depend on the river for irrigation.
30. The Nile floods regularly and at the right time of year, leaving a rich and easily
worked deposit of silt. Egyptian agriculture depended upon the floods, and crops
could be adversely affected if the floods were too high or not high enough.
Generally speaking, however, the floods were regular, and this inspired the
Egyptians to view the universe as a regular and orderly place.
40. Egypt’s other natural resources included reeds (such as papyrus for writing), wild
animals, birds and fish, plentiful building stone and clay, and access to copper
and turquoise from the desert and gold from Nubia.
B0. Divine Kingship
10. Egypt’s political organization evolved from a pattern of small states ruled by local
kings to the emergence of a large, unified Egyptian state around 3100 BC.E.
Historians organize Egyptian history into a series of thirty dynasties falling into
three longer periods: the Old, Middle, and New Kingdom