River Valley Civilizations: Civilizations and Mesopotamia


River Valley Civilizations:

Civilizations and


• Cities start following the boom of the

Neolithic Revolution

– Agriculture allows people to have a steady source of food

• More food means more people and a need for more housing.

• Needed to be near fresh water

– Water for crops


• Villages

– Place for trade, farming, other businesses

• These needs lead to many changes and villages evolve into complex and advanced cities

• Inventions:

– Hoes, sickles, plow sticks

• The more food a settlement has, the more individuals it can support.

• The more individuals a settlement has, the more complex the society becomes.

• 1. Advanced cities

– The word “city” comes from the

Latin word for civilization

– Cities were organized

• Different areas for living, farming, religion

– Centers of trade

• 2. Specialized workers

– How did you get what you needed to trade?

• Abundant agricultural yields (aka an excess of food) created opportunities for economic specialization as surplus food allowed some people to work in occupations other than farming

– Demand by ruling elites for luxury items encouraged artisans and craftspeople to create new products

– Trade between neighboring populations encouraged creativity

• Scribes

• Priests

• Metalworkers

• Merchants

• Weavers

• Soldiers

• Teachers

• 3. Complex Institutions

– Government

• Job: Meets the administrative needs of the civilization

– Military

• Job: Protect civilization and gain land and power

– Religion

• Priests have both political and religious power

• Gods are believed to be CRUCIAL to community’s success

• 4. Record Keeping

– Development of writing

• 2 purposes

– To keep records

– Literary expression (stories, poems, etc.)

• Earliest form: Cuneiform

– Pictographs: symbols of the objects or things they represent

• 5. Advanced Technology: Tools

– Farming

• Wheel, plow

– Fishing

• Sailboat

– Weaponry

• Bronze!!

– Made of a combination of copper and tin

Notes on Mesopotamia

• Early humans traveled to find food

– When food became scarce, they moved

• As they moved they followed the coasts/rivers, to be close to water

• Soon they traveled through the area of the Middle East (5000 BCE)

– Found a very fertile area known as the

“Fertile Crescent”

– Area that is now known as Iraq

• Area was fertile due to 2 major rivers that emptied into the Persian Gulf

• Two major rivers

– Tigris river to the north

– Euphrates river to the south

• Area between named Mesopotamia

– Comes from Greek term meaning

“between the rivers”

• Many small cities form close to the

Persian Gulf

– They later spread further away due to growing populations

• One of the earliest known cities-Sumer

– Home of the Sumerians (2900 BCE)

• Rivers provided only real water to Sumer

– Positives

• Allowed crops to grow

• Deposited silt- rich soil from bottom of riverbeds

– Negatives

• Rivers flooded unpredictably; thousands died

• Area of Sumer was small (size of Massachusetts)

• Area lacked many natural resources needed

• Problem Solving at Its Best

– People of Sumer create inventions to help

• Dug irrigation canals to control water

– Also spread the amount of farmable land

• Built walls to protect the cities from invaders

• Traded for resources needed w/ other cities

– Traded grain and cloth for wood, metal and tools

River silt left behind after a flood

Irrigation canal from the rivers

• Sumer was a small area near the

Persian Gulf

– Location where Tigris & Euphrates meet

• Most famous city- Ur

– Earliest example of an advanced city

– Also early example of a civilization

• Later Ur became a powerful city

– Strong government, laws, economy

• All cities had their own rulers/govt’s

– These created city-states- areas that ruled themselves like separate states

• Ur- the most powerful Sumerian city

– Sophisticated city w/ social classes

– Priests held power of city originally

• Later would lose power to military leaders

– Economy was based on agriculture

– Organized areas for artisans

– Buildings made of clay bricks

• Regular house was boxlike w/ no windows

• Rich house was two levels w/ courtyard

• Economy based of Agriculture

– Farming was base of everything

– Grain would be traded for other goods

• Traded for tools, metals, and wood

• Marketplace- most important area

– Used for trading of goods

– Called a bazaar or open air market

• System of trade- Barter

– Barter- trading one good for another

• Sumerians believed in gods

– Polytheism- belief in multiple gods

• Ziggurat- main religious building

– Means “temple of god”

– Usually surrounded by wall for protection

– Served many different purposes

• Store grain, ceremonies, sacrifices

• Priests held high power in society

– Once had all power, until more wars broke out and military leaders took over

• Led to dynasties of kings

– Leaders passed power to sons

• Society had a rigid social classes

• Tough to move between classes; slavery accepted

– Priests and Kings – upper class

– Merchants/ Artisans – upper middle

– Farmers/ Laborers – lower middle

– Slaves – captured in battle (not racial)

• Women hold some rights in society

– Able to own land, enter low priesthood

– Could not write; suggests no education

• Religious beliefs part of everyday life

– Epics of Gilgamesh talks of gods & life

Priests and


Merchants and


Farmers and Laborers

Slaves – captured in wars; not based on race or color of skin

• Sumerians known for many different inventions in their society

• 3 major inventions

– The wheel

– The sail

• Both aid in travel and trade; make them faster

– The plow, and harness- for farming

• Created calendars

• Counting/ number system from 0 – 60

• 1 st to use Bronze- the Bronze Age

• Created cuneiform- writing system

• Ziggurat architectural designs

• Writing system which involved pressing a stylus into clay

• Used a system of pictures to represent words or phrases

• Cylindrical seal used for names/trade

• Stylus- small tool for writing

• Religious leaders held power first, but wars broke out

• With more wars, military leaders come to power

• Eventually leaders start taking over nearby villages

– Leads to the beginning of empires and empire building

• 1 st Empire builder- Sargon of Akkad

• Takes power over Sumer

– Came from the city of Akkad

– Adopted many of the Sumerian practices and beliefs

• Sargon dynasty unifies Sumer from

2340BC – 2125BC

– Becomes the 1 st time all of Sumer has been unified

• Expands empire from north of Sumer to Persian Gulf

• Empire- many areas under the rule of one leader

• Empire of Sargon begins to weaken

• Amorites take power of Sumer around

2000BC; later known as Babylonians

– Make Babylon their capital, moved it from Ur

– Still keep practices of Sumer

• Babylonian Empire reaches its height under Hammurabi (1790-1750 BCE)

• Best known for creating a code of law for all people

– Known as Hammurabi ’ s Code; based off earlier codes

• Hammurabi ’ s Code was based on revenge

– Eye for an eye, tooth for tooth

• Rules applied differently to rich and poor

– Also changed religion under Hammurabi-

Marduk main god

Hammurabi’s Code of Law


Babylonian Empire [2000 BC – 1680 BC]

1. Nomadic warriors overtook the Sumerians.


Hammurabi’s Code


In 1790 BC, king wrote the world’s first large collection of laws.

III. Legal Principles of Hammurabi


“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

A. 282 specific laws.

2. Punishments would be based upon social class of lawbreaker.

A. Wealthy citizens would pay fines, commoners would face physical punishment.

B. Government had a responsibility for what occurred in society.

What should be done about a wife who ignores her duties and belittles her husband?

What should be done about a wife who ignores her duties and belittles her husband?

Code 143:

If the woman has not been careful but has gadded about, neglecting her house and belittling her husband, they shall throw that woman into the water.

What happens if a man accuses someone of murder and it is not proved?

What happens if a man accuses someone of murder and it is not proved?

The accuser will be put to death.

What happens if a farmer's irrigations system causes his neighbor to lose his crop?

What should be done if a son is adopted and then the birthparents want him back?

Code 185:

If a man takes in his own home a young boy as a son and rears him, one may not bring claim for that adopted son.

What happens if a man is unable to pay his debts?

What happens if a man is unable to pay his debts?

Code 117:

If a man be in debt and is unable to pay his creditors, he shall sell his wife, son, or daughter, or bind them over to service. For three years they shall work in the houses of their purchaser or master; in the fourth year they shall be given their freedom.

What should happen to a boy who slaps his father?

What should happen to a boy who slaps his father?

Code 195:

If a son strikes his father, they shall cut off his hand.