This frieze is from the royal royal residence of Ashurbanipal, showed in the british Museum London / picture by january van der Crabben, Wikimedia Commons

The ‘two rivers’ the the name referred to the Tigris and also the Euphrates rivers and the soil was known as ‘Al-Jazirah’.

You are watching: Why was mesopotamia known as the land between two rivers


By Dr. Joshua J. MarkProfessor the PhilosophyMarist College


Mesopotamia (from the Greek, definition ‘between 2 rivers’) was an ancient an ar located in the eastern Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and also in the south-east by the Arabian Plateau, corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of contemporary Iran, Syria and also Turkey. The ‘two rivers’ the the name described the Tigris and also the Euphrates rivers and the floor was known as ‘Al-Jazirah’ (the island) by the Arabs to express what Egyptologist J.H. Breasted would later contact the abundant Crescent, wherein Mesopotamian civilization began.

The Cradle the Civilization

Unlike the an ext unified civilizations of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a collection of varied societies whose just real binding were their script, their gods, and also their perspective toward women. The social customs, laws, and also even language that Akkad, because that example, cannot be presume to exchange mail to those that Babylon; it does seem, however, that the legal rights of women, the importance of literacy, and the pantheon that the gods were without doubt shared throughout the an ar (though the gods had various names in various regions and also periods). Together a an outcome of this, Mesopotamia must be an ext properly construed as a an ar that created multiple empires and civilizations rather than any single civilization. Even so, Mesopotamia is known as the “cradle that civilization” primarily due to the fact that of two advancements that emerged there, in the an ar of Sumer, in the 4thmillenium BCE:

the increase of the city together we recognize that entity today.the creation of creating (although composing is additionally known to have emerged in Egypt, in the Indus Valley, in China, and to have taken type independently in Mesoamerica).

The invention of the wheel is additionally credited to the Mesopotamians and, in 1922 CE, the excavator Sir Leonard Woolley discovered “the stays of 2 four-wheeled wagons, the earliest wheeled vehicles in background ever found, along with their leather tires” (Bertman, 35). Other important advancements or inventions attributed to the Mesopotamians include, yet are by no means restricted to, domestication that animals, agriculture, usual tools, innovative weaponry and also warfare, the chariot, wine, beer, demarcation the time into hours, minutes, and seconds, spiritual rites, the sail (sailboats), and also irrigation. Orientalist Samuel noah Kramer, in fact, has noted 39 `firsts’ in human human being that source in Sumer. This include:

The first Schools, The an initial Case the `Apple Polishing’, The first Case of youth Delinquency, The first `Warof Nerves’, The very first Bicameral Congress, The first Historian, The first Case of taxes Reduction, The very first `Moses’, The first Legal Precedent, The first Pharmacopoeia, The an initial `Farmer’s Almanac’, The very first Experiment in Shade-Tree Gardening, Man’s first Cosmogony and Cosmology, The an initial Moral Ideals, The first `Job’, The very first Proverbs and Sayings, The first Animal Fables, The first Literary Debates, The very first Biblical Parallels, The first `Noah’, The very first Tale that Resurrection, The an initial `St. George’, The first Case of literary Borrowing, Man’s an initial Heroic Age, The first Love Song, The an initial Library Catalogue, Man’s an initial Golden Age, The first `Sick’ Society, The very first Liturgic Laments, The first Messiahs, The an initial Long-Distance Champion, The first Literary Imagery, The first Sex Symbolism, The an initial Mater Dolorosa, The first Lullaby, The very first Literary Portrait, The an initial Elegies, Labor’s first Victory, The an initial Aquarium.

Ancient glazed tiles indigenous the entrances of old Babylon (Iraq) depict a lion. / picture by oversnap, Wikimedia Commons

Archaeological excavations beginning in the 1840s CE have revealed human settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia that show that the fertile problems of the land in between two rivers allowed an ancient hunter-gatherer people to settle in the land, domesticate animals, and also turn their attention to agriculture. Trade soon followed, and also with prosperity came urbanization and the birth of the city. That is generally thought that writing was invented as result of trade, out of the requirement for long-distance communication, and for keeping more careful monitor of accounts.

Learning and Religion

Mesopotamia was well-known in classical times as a chair of learning, and also it is believed that Thales of Miletus (c. 585 BCE, known as the ‘first philosopher’) learned there. As the Babylonians believed that water to be the ‘first principle’ indigenous which all else flowed, and also as Thales is famous for that really claim, it seems probable he learned in the region.

Intellectual quests were highly valued across Mesopotamia, and also the colleges (devoted mostly to the priestly class) were stated to be as plenty of as temples and also taught reading, writing, religion, law, medicine, and also astrology. There were end 1,000 divine beings in the pantheon that the god of the Mesopotamian cultures and also many stories concerning the god (among them, the development myth, the Enuma Elish). The is generally accepted that biblical tales such together the fall of Man and also the overwhelming of young name (among many others) source in Mesopotamian lore, as they very first appear in Mesopotamian functions such together The legend of Adapa and the Epic that Gilgamesh, the earliest written story in the world. The Mesopotamians believed that they to be co-workers with the gods and that the land was infused through spirits and demons (though `demons’ need to not be interpreted in the modern, Christian, sense).

The start of the world, castle believed, was a success by the gods end the pressures of chaos but, even though the gods had actually won, this did not median chaos might not come again. Through day-to-day rituals, fist to the deities, proper funeral practices, and straightforward civic duty, the people of Mesopotamia felt they helped maintain balance in the world and kept the forces of chaos and also destruction in ~ bay. In addition to expectations that one would honor one’s elders and treat civilization with respect, the citizens of the soil were likewise to honor the gods with the work they perform every day.

A general map of Mesopotamia and also its neighbouring territories which roughly covers the period from 2000-1600 BCE reveals the concentration of city says in Sumer, in the south. / p L Kessler, HistoryFiles


Men and also women both worked, and “because old Mesopotamia was essentially an agrarian society, the major occupations were farming crops and raising livestock” (Bertman, 274). Other occupations had those that the scribe, the healer, artisan, weaver, potter, shoemaker, fisherman, teacher, and also priest or priestess. Bertman writes:

At the head of society were the kings and priests served by the populous staff of palace and temple. With the institution of standing armies and the spread out of imperialism, army officers and also professional soldiers take it their location in Mesopotamia’s expanding and diverse workforce. (274)

Women enjoyed almost equal rights and also could own land, file for divorce, own their own businesses, and make contracts in trade. The early brewers that beer and also wine, as well as the healers in the community, were initially women. This trades were later on taken end by men, it seems, when it became obvious they were rewarding occupations. The occupational one did, however, was never thought about simply a `job’ but one’s donation to the ar and, by extension, to the gods’ efforts in maintaining the civilization at peace and in harmony.

Buildings and Government

The temple, at the center of every city (often on a raised platform), symbolized the importance of the city’s patron divine being who would also be venerated by whatever areas that city presided over. Mesopotamia gave birth to the world’s very first cities which to be largely constructed of sun-dried brick. In the indigenous of Bertman:

The domestic architecture of Mesopotamia prospered out that the soil upon which the stood. Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– to be barren of rock that might be quarried for construction.” The land was equally devoid of trees for timber, for this reason the civilization “turned come other natural resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay of its riverbanks and also the rushes and reeds that thrived in their marshes. Through them, the Mesopotamians created the world’s an initial columns, arches, and also roofed structures. (285)

Simple dwellings were created from majority of reeds lashed together and also inserted in the ground, if more complicated homes were built of sun-driedclay brick (a practice complied with later through the Egyptians). Cities and temple complexes, with their renowned ziggurats (the step-pyramid structures indigenous to the region), to be all constructed using oven-bakedbricks of clay i beg your pardon were climate painted.

The god were assumed to be existing in the planning and also execution of any kind of building project and also very particular prayers, recited in a collection order to the proper deity, were thought about of utmost importance in the success that the project and the prosperity the the citizens of the home.

Whichever kingdom or empire held sway throughout Mesopotamia, in every little thing historical period, the critical role that the gods in the stays of the civilization remained undiminished. This reverence because that the divine identified the lives of both the ar worker and also the king. The historian Helen Chapin Metz writes:

The precariousness of visibility in southern Mesopotamia caused a highly occurred sense that religion. Cult centers such together Eridu, dating earlier to 5000 BCE, served as necessary centers the pilgrimage and also devotion even before the climb of Sumer. Many of the most important Mesopotamian cities emerged in areas surrounding the pre-Sumerian cult centers, for this reason reinforcing the near relationship between religion and government. (2)

The role of the king was created at some allude after 3600 BCE and, unequal the priest-rulers that came before, the king dealt straight with the people and also made his will certainly clear through laws of his very own devising. Before the concept of a king, the priestly rulers are thought to have dictated the regulation according to religious precepts and also received magnificent messages v signs and also omens; the king, while still honoring and also placating the gods, was considered a an effective enough representative the those god to have the ability to speak their will through his own dictates, using his very own voice.

Detail native a statue of Shalmaneser III (859 BC – 824 BC) in ~ Istanbul Archaeology museum / picture by Ali Kalamchi, Wikimedia Commons

This is most clearly seen in the well known laws the Hammurabi of Babylon (r. 1792-1750 BCE), however a ruler claiming direct contact with the gods to be quite typical throughout Mesopotamian history, many notably in the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. 2261-2224 BCE) who went therefore far regarding proclaim self a god incarnate. The king was responsible because that the welfare that his people and also a an excellent king, that ruled in accordance with magnificent will, was recognized by the prosperity the the region he reigned over.

Still, even really efficient rulers, such together Sargon the Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE), had actually to resolve perpetual uprisings and revolts through factions, or whole regions, contesting his legitimacy. Together Mesopotamia to be so substantial a region, v so many different cultures and also ethnicities within its borders, a single ruler attempting come enforce the legislations of a main government would certainly invariably be met with resistance from part quarter.

The background of Mesopotamia

The history of the region, and also the development of the civilizations which grew there, is most easily interpreted by dividing it right into periods:

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age

Also well-known as The stone Age (c. 10,000 BCE though evidence argues human habitation much earlier). There is historical confirmation of crude oil settlements and early indicators of warfare in between tribes, most most likely over abundant land for crops and also fields for grazing livestock. Animal husbandry was progressively practiced throughout this time with a change from a hunter-gatherer culture to an agrarian one. Also so, the chronicler Marc valve De Mieroop notes:

There was not a sudden change from hunting-gathering to farming, yet rather a slow procedure during which human being increased your reliance on sources they regulated directly, however still supplemented your diets by hunting wild animals. Farming enabled boost in continuous settlement by people(12).

As much more settlements grew, architectural advances slowly became an ext sophisticated in the building of long-term dwellings.

Pottery Neolithic Age(c. 7,000 BCE)

In this period there to be a widespread use of tools and also clay pots and also a specific society begins to emerge in the productive Crescent. Scholar Stephen Bertman writes, “during this era, the just advanced an innovation was precise ‘cutting edge’” as rock tools and weapons became much more sophisticated. Bertman more notes the “the Neolithic economy was primarily based upon food production through farming and also animal husbandry” (55) and also was an ext settled, as opposed to the stone Age in which communities were more mobile. Architectural breakthroughs naturally followed in the wake up of long-term settlements together did advances in the produce of ceramics and rock tools.

Copper period (5,900 – 3,200 BCE)

A 3D repair of the great Ziggurat that Ur, based upon a 1939 illustration by Leonard Woolley, Ur Excavations, Volume V. The Ziggurat and its Surroundings, figure 1.4 / Wikimedia Commons

Also well-known as The Chalcolithic duration owing to the transition from stone tools and weapons come ones made of copper. This era includes the so-called Ubaid period (c. 5000-4100 BCE, named for tell al-`Ubaid, the location in Iraq whereby the greatest number of artifacts were found) during which the very first temples in Mesopotamia were built and unwalled villages emerged from sporadic negotiations of solitary dwellings. These villages then gave rise to the urbanization procedure during the Uruk period (4100-2900 BCE) once cities rose, most notably in the region of Sumer, consisting of Eridu, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Nuzi, Lagash, Nippur, and Ngirsu, and also in Elam v its city the Susa.

The earliest city is often cited together Uruk, return Eridu and Ur have additionally been suggested. Van De Mieroop writes, “Mesopotamia to be the most densely urbanized region in the old world” (as cited in Bertman, 201), and the urban which flourished up follow me the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and also those established further away, developed systems of trade which result in good prosperity.

This duration saw the development of the wheel (c. 3500 BCE) and also writing (c. 3000 BCE), bothby the Sumerians, the facility of kingships to replace priestly rule, and also the first war in the civilization recorded between the kingdoms the Sumer and also Elam (2700 BCE) with Sumer as the victor. During the beforehand Dynastic period (2900-2334 BCE), every one of the breakthroughs of the Uruk period were developed and also the cities, and also government in general, stabilized. Enhanced prosperity in the region gave rise to ornate temples and statuary, sophisticated pottery and figurines, playthings for kids (including dolls for girls and also wheeled carts because that boys), and the use of an individual seals (known together Cylinder Seals) to denote ownership that property and to stand for an individual’s signature. Cylinder Seals would certainly be similar to one’s contemporary identification card or driver’s license and, in fact, the loss or theft that one’s seal would have actually been as significant as modern-day identification theft or losing one’s credit transaction cards.

Early Bronze period (3,000 – 2119 BCE)

During this period, bronze supplanted copper as the material from i beg your pardon tools and also weapons to be made. The climb of the city-state set the structure for economic and political security which would eventually lead come the climb of the Akkadian empire (2334-2218 BCE) and also the rapid expansion of the urban of Akkad and also Mari, 2 of the most prosperous metropolitan centers of the time. The cultural stability essential for the creation of arts in the region resulted in more intricate designs in architecture and also sculpture, as well as the complying with inventions or improvements:

a variety of specific and also momentous inventions: the plough and also the wheel, the chariot and also the sailboat, and also the cylinder-seal, the solitary most distinctive art form of ancient Mesopotamia and a pervasive show of the importance of property ownership and also business in the country’s day-to-day life. (Bertman, 55-56)

The Akkadian empire of Sargon the an excellent was the very first multi-national realm in the world and Sargon’s daughter, Enheduanna (l.2285-2250 BCE), the very first author of literature works recognized by name. The library at Mari contained over 20,000 picture writing tablets (books) and also the royal residence there was thought about one that the ideal in the region.

Middle Bronze age (2119-1700 BCE)

The expansion of the Assyrian Kingdoms (Assur, Nimrud, Sharrukin, Dur, and Nineveh) and the climb of the Babylonian empire (centered in Babylon and Chaldea) produced an atmosphere conducive to profession and, with it, enhanced warfare. The Guti Tribe, fierce wanderers who succeeded in toppling the Akkadian Empire, overcame the politics of Mesopotamia until they were beat by the allied forces of the monarchs of Sumer.

Hammurabi, King of Babylon, rose from loved one obscurity to overcome the an ar and reign for 43 years. Among his many accomplishments was his famous code that laws, enrolled on the stele of the gods. Babylon ended up being a top centre currently for pundit pursuit and high success in arts and also letters. This social centre was not to last, however, and was sacked and looted by the Hittites who were then succeeded by the Kassites.

Late Bronze period (1700-1100 BCE)

The climb of the Kassite empire (a people who come from the Zagros mountains in the north and also are thought to have originated in modern Iran) leads to a shift in power and an growth of society and learning after the Kassites dominated Babylon. The please of the Bronze period followed the discovery of exactly how to mine ore and also make use of iron, a technology which the Kassites and, earlier, the Hittites made singular use of in warfare.

See more: In The Name Of The Father The Son, And Holy, In The Name Of God: Father, Son, And Holy Spirit

The period also saw the start of the decrease of Babylonian society due to the rise in power of the Kassites till they were defeated by the Elamites and also driven out. After the Elamites gave way to the Aramaeans, the small Kingdom the Assyria began a series of effective campaigns, and also the Assyrian realm was firmly established and also prospered under the dominance of Tiglath-Pileser i (r. 1115-1076 BCE) and, ~ him, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884-859 BCE) consolidated the realm further. Most Mesopotamian says were either ruined or weakened followingthe Bronze period Collapse c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, leading to a short “dark age”.