II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > B. Kingdoms of Western Asia and Africa, to 323 B.C.E. > 2. Mesopotamia, c. 3500–539 B.C.E. > b. Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
b. Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture
 
The staple crops in Mesopotamia were wheat and barley, along with the date palm. Drainage canals and irrigation works made the interior plain of Lower Mesopotamia highly productive, but irrigation led to salinization of the soil and decreased arable land. In Upper Mesopotamia the rivers flow through deep valleys, and irrigation of the interior was not possible. Agriculture was confined to the river valleys, and the interior was used primarily for pastoralism (See First Farmers in the Near East). The region had few natural resources, except bitumen, but finished goods, such as textiles and metalwork, were exported. Originally, economic activity centered around temples, but eventually, kings and private individuals engaged in large-scale agriculture and trade.  1
Technological advances in Mesopotamia during the early civilization period (by 3000–2500 B.C.E.) included the use of bronze for tools and weapons. Copper had been introduced earlier, but mixing it with tin for bronze created much stronger equipment; bronze use also prompted wider trade relations to gain access to metal ores. The introduction of plows increased crop yields. The wheel was probably imported by migrants from central Asia like the early Hurrians (See c. 1700–1500). The potter's wheel, invented by 6000 B.C.E., was further improved, an early sign of craft specialization.  2
Architecture was sophisticated, but since most building was done in mud-brick, examples have not survived as well as stone counterparts in Egypt and Greece. Immense ziggurats (stepped temple platforms) and large palaces were built, and even private houses had drainage systems. Writing first developed in Mesopotamia. Its origins lay in clay tokens, used to count cattle as early as the 8th millennium. True writing (as opposed to pictographs) appeared around 3500 B.C.E. Writing was done on clay with sharp reeds, producing the wedgelike cuneiform script. Originally used to write Sumerian, cuneiform was later adapted to Akkadian, Elamite, Hittite, Hurrian, Eblaite, Ugaritic (Canaanite), and Old Persian. Many Sumerian and Akkadian myths survive, the best known being the Gilgamesh Epic, describing the legendary exploits of a king of Uruk, fragments of which go back to the early second millennium. The King Lists provide important historical material, running, with some gaps, from around 2700 down to the 1st century B.C.E. Economic and legal texts, letters, and scholarly works such as dictionaries, grammar books, and mathematical texts also survive. Mathematical texts contain tables of cube roots, exponential functions, and Pythagorean numbers. The Sumerians and Akkadians normally used a sexagesimal numbering system, the basis of our division of the hour and minute into 60 units.  3
Mesopotamian society was organized around city-states. In early Sumerian times, a priest-king (en) ruled as a representative of the city's god, assisted by an assembly of citizens or elders. Later, as multicity states formed, a king (Sumerian lugal, Akkadian sharrum) reigned, and each individual city was administered by a governor (ensi or ishiakkum). Sumerian and Akkadian religion eventually formed a common pantheon, and most gods had both a Sumerian and an Akkadian name. An (Akkadian Anu) was the first king of the gods, later replaced by the Lord of the Air, Enlil, and ultimately by Marduk, the city god of Babylon. Other major gods were Enki (Ea), god of wisdom; Ninmah, mother of all life; Nanna (Sin) the moon; Utu (Shamash) the sun; Inanna (Ishtar) the star Venus; her husband, the shepherd god Dumuzi (Tammuz); and Ninurta (Adad), the god of war. During the five-day New Year's festival (Sumerian zagmuk, Akkadian akitu), a sacred marriage was performed between Enlil (later Marduk), in the person of the king, and a priestess representing Inanna/Ishtar, ensuring fertility and the return of spring.  4
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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