This frieze is from the royal royal residence of Ashurbanipal, displayed in the brothers Museum London / photograph by january van der Crabben, Wikimedia Commons

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

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By Dr. Joshua J. MarkProfessor of PhilosophyMarist College


Mesopotamia (from the Greek, definition ‘between two rivers’) to be an ancient region located in the east Mediterranean bounded in the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and also in the south east by the Arabian Plateau, equivalent to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and also Turkey. The ‘two rivers’ the the name referred to the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers and the land was well-known as ‘Al-Jazirah’ (the island) by the Arabs referencing what Egyptologist J.H. Breasted would certainly later speak to the productive Crescent, where Mesopotamian human being began.

The Cradle of Civilization

Unlike the an ext unified civilizations of Egypt or Greece, Mesopotamia was a repertoire of varied societies whose just real bond were their script, their gods, and also their perspective toward women. The society customs, laws, and also even language the Akkad, because that example, can not be assumed to exchange mail to those the Babylon; it does seem, however, that the legal rights of women, the prominence of literacy, and the pantheon the the god were without doubt shared transparent the an ar (though the god had different names in various regions and also periods). Together a an outcome of this, Mesopotamia need to be more properly understood as a an ar that created multiple empires and civilizations rather than any solitary civilization. Even so, Mesopotamia is well-known as the “cradle of civilization” primarily due to the fact that of two breakthroughs that arisen there, in the region of Sumer, in the 4thmillenium BCE:

the increase of the city together we identify that reality today.the creation of writing (although writing is likewise known to have occurred in Egypt, in the Indus Valley, in China, and also to have taken form independently in Mesoamerica).

The invention of the wheel is also credited to the Mesopotamians and, in 1922 CE, the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley uncovered “the remains of two four-wheeled wagons, the oldest wheeled vehicles in history ever found, in addition to their animal leather tires” (Bertman, 35). Various other important advances or inventions attributed to the Mesopotamians include, but are by no means minimal to, domestication of animals, agriculture, typical tools, sophisticated weaponry and warfare, the chariot, wine, beer, demarcation the time into hours, minutes, and also seconds, spiritual rites, the sail (sailboats), and irrigation. Orientalist Samuel noah Kramer, in fact, has listed 39 `firsts’ in human civilization that originated in Sumer. This include:

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

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

Archaeological excavations beginning in the 1840s CE have actually revealed human being settlements dating to 10,000 BCE in Mesopotamia that indicate that the fertile problems of the land between two rivers enabled an old hunter-gatherer human being to settle in the land, domesticate animals, and also turn their fist to agriculture. Trade quickly followed, and also with prosperity come urbanization and also the bear of the city. That is typically thought that writing was invented because of trade, out of the need for long-distance communication, and for keeping much more careful track of accounts.

Learning and Religion

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

Intellectual quests were highly valued throughout Mesopotamia, and also the institutions (devoted generally to the priestly class) were stated to be as many as temples and also taught reading, writing, religion, law, medicine, and astrology. Over there were end 1,000 deities in the pantheon of the god of the Mesopotamian cultures and also many stories concerning the god (among them, the creation myth, the Enuma Elish). It is generally accepted that biblical tales such together the loss of Man and the flood of noah (among countless others) source in Mesopotamian lore, as they an initial appear in Mesopotamian functions such as The myth of Adapa and also the Epic that Gilgamesh, the earliest written story in the world. The Mesopotamians believed that they to be co-workers through the gods and that the land was infused v spirits and demons (though `demons’ must not be construed in the modern, Christian, sense).

The beginning of the world, castle believed, was a success by the gods end the forces of chaos but, also though the gods had actually won, this go not average chaos can not come again. Through everyday rituals, fist to the deities, suitable funeral practices, and an easy civic duty, the human being of Mesopotamia feel they assisted maintain balance in the world and kept the pressures of chaos and also destruction in ~ bay. Along with expectations the one would certainly honor one’s elders and treat people with respect, the citizens of the floor were additionally to respect the gods through the jobs they carry out every day.

A general map that Mesopotamia and its adjoining territories which around covers the duration from 2000-1600 BCE reveals the concentration the city claims in Sumer, in the south. / p L Kessler, HistoryFiles


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

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

Women enjoyed almost equal rights and could own land, file for divorce, very own their own businesses, and also make contracts in trade. The beforehand brewers of beer and also wine, and the healers in the community, were originally women. This trades were later taken end by men, it seems, when it became evident they were profitable occupations. The occupational one did, however, was never thought about simply a `job’ however one’s contribution to the ar and, by extension, to the gods’ efforts in maintaining the people at peace and also in harmony.

Buildings and Government

The temple, in ~ the center of every city (often top top a raised platform), symbolized the prominence of the city’s patron deity who would additionally be worshipped by whatever areas that city presided over. Mesopotamia offered birth come the world’s an initial cities which were largely developed of sun-dried brick. In the native of Bertman:

The domestic design of Mesopotamia grew out the the floor upon which that stood. Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– was barren of stone that might be quarried because that construction.” The land was equally devoid of trees because that timber, therefore the people “turned come other organic resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay the its riverbanks and the rushes and reeds that thrived in their marshes. V them, the Mesopotamians created the world’s first columns, arches, and roofed structures. (285)

Simple homes were created from bundles of reeds lashed together and also inserted in the ground, if more facility homes were built of sun-driedclay brick (a practice followed later through the Egyptians). Cities and also temple complexes, v their famous ziggurats (the step-pyramid structures native to the region), to be all constructed using oven-bakedbricks of clay i beg your pardon were then painted.

The gods were thought to be present in the planning and execution of any type of building project and also very certain prayers, recited in a collection order to the proper deity, were considered of utmost prestige in the success the the project and also the prosperity the the inhabitants of the home.

Whichever kingdom or realm held sway across Mesopotamia, in whatever historical period, the an important role that the god in the resides of the civilization remained undiminished. This reverence for the divine identified the resides of both the ar worker and the king. The historian Helen Chapin Metz writes:

The precariousness of visibility in southern Mesopotamia led to a highly occurred sense that religion. Cult centers such together Eridu, dating back to 5000 BCE, offered as crucial centers of pilgrimage and also devotion even prior to the climb of Sumer. Plenty of of the most necessary Mesopotamian cities emerged in locations surrounding the pre-Sumerian cult centers, therefore reinforcing the nearby relationship in between religion and also government. (2)

The duty of the king was created at some allude after 3600 BCE and, unlike the priest-rulers who came before, the king dealt directly with the people and also made his will clear through regulations of his own devising. Prior to the ide of a king, the priestly rulers are thought to have actually dictated the regulation according to spiritual precepts and also received magnificent messages v signs and omens; the king, while quiet honoring and also placating the gods, was taken into consideration a powerful enough representative that those god to be able to speak your will through his own dictates, making use of his own voice.

Detail indigenous a statue the Shalmaneser III (859 BC – 824 BC) at Istanbul Archaeology museum / picture by Ali Kalamchi, Wikimedia Commons

This is most clearly seen in the famed laws the Hammurabi the Babylon (r. 1792-1750 BCE), however a leader claiming direct contact with the gods was quite common throughout Mesopotamian history, most notably in the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (r. 2261-2224 BCE) who went for this reason far as to proclaim himself a god incarnate. The king to be responsible because that the welfare that his people and a good king, who ruled in accordance with divine will, was recognized by the prosperity the the an ar he reigned over.

Still, even really efficient rulers, such as Sargon the Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE), had actually to attend to perpetual uprisings and revolts by factions, or totality regions, contesting his legitimacy. As Mesopotamia was so substantial a region, with so numerous different cultures and also ethnicities in ~ its borders, a single ruler attempting to enforce the laws of a main government would certainly invariably it is in met with resistance from some quarter.

The history of Mesopotamia

The history of the region, and the advancement of the civilizations which thrived there, is many easily interpreted by dividing it into periods:

Pre-Pottery Neolithic Age

Also recognized as The stone Age (c. 10,000 BCE despite evidence suggests human habitation lot earlier). There is historical confirmation of crude oil settlements and also early signs of warfare between tribes, most likely over abundant land for crops and fields for grazing livestock. Animal husbandry was progressively practiced throughout this time v a shift from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one. Even so, the historian Marc valve De Mieroop notes:

There was not a sudden adjust from hunting-gathering to farming, but rather a slow procedure during which civilization increased their reliance on resources they controlled directly, however still supplemented their diets by searching wild animals. Farming enabled boost in continuous settlement by people(12).

As more settlements grew, architectural advances slowly became more sophisticated in the building of permanent dwellings.

Pottery Neolithic Age(c. 7,000 BCE)

In this duration there to be a widespread usage of tools and clay pots and a specific culture begins to arise in the fertile Crescent. Scholar Stephen Bertman writes, “during this era, the just advanced an innovation was accurate ‘cutting edge’” as rock tools and weapons became much more sophisticated. Bertman additional notes the “the Neolithic economic situation was primarily based on food production through farming and animal husbandry” (55) and also was more settled, together opposed come the rock Age in which neighborhoods were much more mobile. Architectural breakthroughs naturally followed in the wake of permanent settlements as did breakthroughs in the to produce of ceramics and stone tools.

Copper age (5,900 – 3,200 BCE)

A 3D reconstruction of the good 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 change from rock tools and weapons to ones do of copper. This era includes the so-called Ubaid period (c. 5000-4100 BCE, named for tell al-`Ubaid, the place in Iraq wherein the greatest number of artifacts to be found) throughout which the first temples in Mesopotamia were built and also unwalled villages developed from sporadic negotiations of single dwellings. These villages then gave rise to the urbanization process during the Uruk period (4100-2900 BCE) as soon as cities rose, most notably in the region of Sumer, including Eridu, Uruk, Ur, Kish, Nuzi, Lagash, Nippur, and also Ngirsu, and also in Elam v its city that Susa.

The more quickly city is frequently cited as Uruk, although Eridu and Ur have additionally been suggested. Van De Mieroop writes, “Mesopotamia was the many densely urbanized an ar in the old world” (as quote in Bertman, 201), and also the urban which thrived up follow me the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and those founded further away, developed systems of trade which result in good prosperity.

This period saw the creation of the wheel (c. 3500 BCE) and writing (c. 3000 BCE), bothby the Sumerians, the establishment of kingships to replace priestly rule, and the very first war in the world recorded between the kingdoms that Sumer and also Elam (2700 BCE) with Sumer as the victor. During the early Dynastic period (2900-2334 BCE), all of the advances of the Uruk duration were developed and the cities, and government in general, stabilized. Raised prosperity in the region gave rise to ornate temples and statuary, innovative pottery and figurines, toys for youngsters (including dolls for girls and also wheeled carts for boys), and the use of personal seals (known as Cylinder Seals) to represent ownership of property and also to was standing for an individual’s signature. Cylinder Seals would be equivalent to one’s contemporary identification map or driver’s patent and, in fact, the lose or theft the one’s seal would have been as far-ranging as modern-day identity theft or shedding one’s credit cards.

Early Bronze period (3,000 – 2119 BCE)

During this period, copper supplanted copper as the material from i beg your pardon tools and also weapons to be made. The rise of the city-state laid the structure for economic and also political security which would at some point lead come the rise of the Akkadian realm (2334-2218 BCE) and the rapid growth of the cities of Akkad and also Mari, two of the many prosperous metropolitan centers the the time. The social stability vital for the development of art in the an ar resulted in an ext intricate design in architecture and sculpture, and also the following inventions or improvements:

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

The Akkadian realm of Sargon the an excellent was the an initial multi-national kingdom in the world and Sargon’s daughter, Enheduanna (l.2285-2250 BCE), the first author of literature works known by name. The library at Mari included over 20,000 cuneiform tablets (books) and the royal residence there was thought about one the the best in the region.

Middle Bronze period (2119-1700 BCE)

The expansion of the Assyrian Kingdoms (Assur, Nimrud, Sharrukin, Dur, and also Nineveh) and the increase of the Babylonian dynasty (centered in Babylon and Chaldea) produced an setting conducive to trade and, with it, increased warfare. The Guti Tribe, fierce wanderers who prospered in toppling the Akkadian Empire, dominated the national politics of Mesopotamia until they were beat by the allied forces of the emperors of Sumer.

Hammurabi, King that Babylon, increased from loved one obscurity to dominate the region and reign for 43 years. Among his many achievements was his renowned code that laws, inscribed on the stele the the gods. Babylon became a top centre at this time for pundit pursuit and also high success in arts and also letters. This social centre was not to last, however, and also was sacked and also looted by the Hittites that were then thrived by the Kassites.

Late Bronze period (1700-1100 BCE)

The climb of the Kassite dynasty (a tribe who come from the Zagros hills in the north and are thought to have originated in modern Iran) leads to a change in power and also an growth of society and discovering after the Kassites conquered Babylon. The fallen of the Bronze age followed the discovery of how to mine ore and make use of iron, a an innovation which the Kassites and, earlier, the Hittites do singular use of in warfare.

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The period also saw the beginning of the decline of Babylonian culture due to the rise in strength of the Kassites until they were defeated by the Elamites and driven out. After ~ the Elamites gave method to the Aramaeans, the tiny Kingdom of Assyria started a collection of successful campaigns, and the Assyrian realm was firmly established and prospered under the dominion of Tiglath-Pileser ns (r. 1115-1076 BCE) and, after him, Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884-859 BCE) consolidated the empire further. Many Mesopotamian claims were either damaged or dilute followingthe Bronze period Collapse c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, leading to a short “dark age”.