Mesopotamia II. Mesopotamia is a Greek word meaning “the land between the rivers.” It is now known as Iraq. The rivers in question are the Tigris and the Euphrates. These rise in the southern part of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and flow south into the Persian Gulf. Southern Mesopotamia was first called Sumer; middle Mesopotamia was first called Akkad and later, Babylonia; northern Mesopotamia was later called Assyria. Mesopotamia is correctly nicknamed “the Cradle of Civilization,” for it was there that civilization first arose. The Mesopotamians were the first to invent writing and perhaps wheeled vehicles. We also owe to them the concept of 360 degrees in a circle and the existence of the pseudoscience of astrology.
Mesopotamia was no paradise. Its summer temperatures often hit 120 degrees and its annual rainfall was less than ten inches a year. Worse, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flooded between April and June, the wrong time of the year for agriculture, being too late for summer planting and too early for winter ? planting. Yet even this was not entirely predictable: sometimes the rivers would flood at different times, or not flood at all, or flood too much. Without the hand of man, Mesopotamia could be either a desert or a swamp or anything in between. Consequently, the Mesopotamians had to construct canals and practice careful crop management to survive, but even then, they had to worry about the silting up of their canals and the salinization of their fields. Nevertheless, if properly managed and irrigated, Mesopotamia was one of the richest agricultural areas of the ancient world and could produce great surpluses of food. It was existence of these surpluses that allowed the rise of Mesopotamian civilization. Yet Mesopotamia had no natural defenses and its rich fields attracted outside invaders whenever the Mesopotamians were unable to keep their guard up, while disputes over water rights often led to wars among the