Why is Mesopotamia known as the cradle of civilization?
Published 29 May 2017
The name Mesopotamia refers to the land between two rivers – the Tigres to the east and the Euphrates to the west. The later is referred to in Genesis 2 v14 as flowing out of the Garden of Eden, so the Biblical writers seem to have felt that this area was where humanity began.
In that place a city, U r of the Chaldeans, was built, the ruins of which can still be seen at Tell Mugheir which lies 140 miles south of ancient Babylon and 150 miles to the northwest of the Persian Gulf in modern Iraq. The main ruins cover some 150 acres and were uncovered over a period of many years, beginning with the excavations of J.E. Taylor in 1854.
The Chaldeans were a Semitic tribe, i.e they spoke one of the Semitic languages and were Caucasians, said to have descended from Shem, son of Noah. They lived mainly on the banks of the Euphrates. Their civilization had many of the attributes that we recognize in modern cities at a period when most people of the world were still hunter gatherers. Eridu, which is a few miles to the SSW of Ur, was another religious center, with a temple to the god of the sea and of wisdom. It too was rediscovered in the19th century According to records it was at one time actually on the coast and alluvial deposits seem to date it somewhere in the7th millennium B.C.E., although the earliest settlers in the area arrived about 9,000 B.C.E. according to The History Guide, Lecture 2. These early settlers established agriculture and the domestication of animals. The cities seem to have been a response to organise such things as irrigation, trade and the needs of a larger population. As is often the case the city grew up on the banks of the river, it being their source of water and of trade..
Taylor uncovered a temple mound or ziggurat which climbed in three levels to a height of 70 feet known as the Mountain of Heaven. 70 feet may not sound impressive to us, but this would have been the only large building in the plain and visible for miles around. Buried at the four corners of the ziggurat were cuneiform tablets telling of the name of the city and its founder and who had carried out repairs to the temple over the years. So we see that this was a city that was organised enough for its citizens to work together on this huge construction project. In the temple area many records were found revealing that the people paid tithes and that the temple also benefited from trade. Leonard Woolley’s excavation of 1924, as recorded in the Thompson Chain Bible archeological supplement, page 364, revealed some 4 square miles of the city outside this sacred area. There were quays for shipping, commercial buildings, houses of two stories with fire places and sanitary systems. There were chapels for worship and a school building where tablets revealed that reading, writing, including grammar, mathematics and history were taught.
The cemeteries revealed huge tombs where many retainers had died in order to accompany their king or queen to the after life.
So we see that this city used writing to keep records – from such beginnings would later emerge literature of all kinds, poetry, stories, plays, even modern advertising, all began when someone discovered that they could make permanent marks that could be later read by themselves and others. They had mathematics – in their case only arithmetic, but this is where all branches of mathematics begin.
They had religion and a concept of the afterlife, so these people were capable of spiritual and abstract thought.
They were able to trade with other people, both to get rid of surplus goods in a profitable way, and also to obtain what they could not produce themselves e.g. the lapis lazuli found in the royal tombs which may well have come all the way from Afghanistan, although there are small deposits elsewhere.
Later in their history the people of this area founded the Babylonian empire which stretched from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. They would become great astronomers, able to study the planets and stars with great accuracy.
In Genesis 11 we have the description of Abram taking Sarai for his wife, so they understood concepts of family and commitment. According to Dr Gerard Falk Abram was a Hebrew, the name meaning one who crossed over, i.e. one who forded the river in order to look for the land to which he believed God had sent him. Abram , later Abraham, is of course acknowledged as the forefather of both Judaism, and so Christianity and Islam. So these civilizations and their religions, with the idea of monotheism and family and moral values also were born in Mesopotamia.
So we see that many things that we consider to be ‘civilized’ such as organised city life, trade with other lands, the beginnings of literature and science, agriculture, social interaction and marriage as well as abstract concepts such as an afterlife and spirituality. They kept records, educated their young people and were able to work together to reach common goals. These are all things that we, as modern people still do and still value even after 9,000 years.
- Thompson Chain Bible, King James Version, 1964, London Eyre and Spottiswood.
- FALK, G. Chaldea found at http://www.jbuff.com/c041603.htm retrieved 29th October 2007
- SEMITIC definition found at http://www.webster-dictionary.net/definition/Semitic retrieved 29th October 2007