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Unit 2: Mesopotamia and the
Fertile Crescent
Mr. Davis
Social Studies 7
The Fertile Crescent
• Mesopotamia = “land
between the rivers”
• The Tigris River and the
Euphrates River give
Mesopotamia its name.
• Located in present-day IRAQ
• “Mesopotamia” means
“between the rivers” in
Greek.
The Fertile Crescent
• MESOPOTAMIA is part of a larger region called
THE FERTILE CRESCENT, a large arc of rich,
fertile farmland that extends from the Persian
Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Fertile Crescent
Two Parts
• Northern Mesopotamia = a plateau (flat area
high above sea level) bordered to the north
and east by mountains
• Southern Mesopotamia = a flat coastal plain
and river valley. The Tigris and Euphrates
Rivers both flowed through Southern
Mesopotamia.
The Rise of Civilization
• Hunter-gatherers first settled in Mesopotamia
about 12,000 years ago.
• Silt deposits made it ideal for farming.
• Crops = wheat, barley, other grains
• Other food sources = Livestock, birds, fish
• Plentiful food led to population growth, and
villages formed.
• This became the world’s first civilization.
Farming and Cities
• Flooding was a major problem in the beginning.
• People built canals to control flooding and irrigate
fields.
• This led to a surplus in food supply.
• Also used irrigation to water pastures for cattle and
sheep to graze. Allowed for a variety of foods.
Division of labor
• With the surpluses, people were able to do other jobs—
crafters, religious leaders, government workers.
• Having people do different jobs allowed for more to get done.
• Large projects helped people in government because they
managed and organized people.
• Cities grew between 4000 and 3000 BC (BCE).
• Centers for trade, power bases for leaders
• Political, Religious, Cultural, Economic centers of civilization
The Rise of Sumer
• Sumerians developed the first civilization in
southern Mesopotamia—an advanced society
in 3000 BC.
Sumerian City-States
• Most Sumerians
were farmers in rural
areas.
• The centers of
Sumerian societies
were urban areas.
• City-states were the
basic political units of
Sumer.
Sumerian City-States
• City-states often fought each other for more
farmland.
• Built up large armies and large thick walls for
protection
• By 3500 BC, a city-state known as Kish had become
quite powerful. Over the next 1000 years, the citystates of Ur and Uruk fought for dominance. One of
Uruk’s kings, Gilgamesh became a legendary figure in
Sumerian folklore.
Rise of the Akkadian Empire
• Akkadians lived north of
Sumer, but were not
Sumerians (different
culture).
• Sargon was an Akkadian
emperor that built a
permanent army—
launched a series of wars
against neighboring
kingdoms.
• Sargon conquered all
Sumer and built the first
empire.
Sumerian Religion
• Played a key role in aspects of life
• Polytheism – belief in many gods
• Each city-state considered one god to be its
special protector
• Gods were very powerful and controlled all
parts of life.
• Priests performed religious ceremonies and
interpreted wishes of the gods by making
offerings.
Sumerian Social Hierarchy
KINGS
PRIESTS
TRADERS
FARMERS & LABORERS
SLAVES
Men & Women in Sumer
• Men held political power and made laws
• Women took care of the home and children
• Education was reserved mostly for men, but
some upper-class women were educated as
well.
Cuneiform & Pictographs
• Cuneiform is the early system of writing used
by the Sumerians.
• Sumerians wrote on clay tablets using a
STYLUS.
Scribes
• Scribes are writers.
• They were hired to keep records for the
government or for the temple
• Becoming a scribe was one way for Sumerians
to move up in social class
Sumerian students
• Students went to school to learn how to read
and write.
• Just like today, some Sumerians did not like to
go to school
Sumerian students
• Other subjects: history, law, grammar, and
math
• Epics were studied—long poems about heroes
or gods
The wheel
• Used for carts and wagons
• Potter’s wheel (used to spin and mold clay
into useful items)
The plow
• Pulled by oxen, it was used to break up the
hard clay soil to make it easier to plant crops.
Other advancements
• A clock that used falling water to tell time
• Sewers under city streets
• Make bronze to make tools and weapons
stronger
• Makeup
• Glass jewelry
Math
•
•
•
•
Number system based on 60
Divided a circle into 360 degrees
Developed a 12-month year (12 a factor of 60)
Calculated areas of triangles and rectangles
Science
• Wrote long lists to record study of the natural
world.
• Studied numerous plants, animals, and
minerals
Medicine
• Used ingredients from animals, plants, and
minerals to make medicine.
• Items in medicine included milk, turtle shells,
figs, and salt.
Sumerian homes
• Rulers lived in palaces
• Wealthy lived in 2-story homes with as many
as a dozen rooms
• Most lived in a one-story house with about 6
or 7 rooms around a courtyard
• Used mud bricks as building blocks
Ziggurats
• A ziggurat is a pyramid-shaped temple tower
that rose above each Sumerian city.
Sumerian Sculpture
• Statues of gods for the temples
• Smaller sculptures made of ivory or wood
• Created pottery items
Jewelry
• Made impressive works out of gold, silver, and
imported gems.
• Earrings were found in the region—shows
they knew more advanced methods of
jewelry-making
Cylinder Seals
• Stone cylinders that were engraved with
designs.
• When rolled over clay, it would leave behind
its own distinct imprint
• These seals were used to show ownership or
to “sign” important documents
Music
• Kings and temples hired musicians to play on
special occasions
• Instruments: reed pipes, drums, tambourines,
and stringed instruments called lyres.
• Children learned songs in school
• People sang hymns to gods and kings
Babylon
• Mesopotamian city that sat on the Euphrates
River
• By 1800 BC, had its own powerful government
• Ruled by Hammurabi, who was a monarch—
ruler of a kingdom/empire
Hammurabi’s Code
• A set of 282 laws that dealt with almost every
aspect of daily life
• Dealt with trade, loans, marriage, theft, injury,
murder…
• Specific crimes brought specific penalties
• Social class mattered
• After Hammurabi’s death, there were many
invasions of the region.
Invader: THE HITTITES
• After Hammurabi’s death, there were many
invasions of the region.
• Strengths: mastered ironworking and created
the chariot—a wheeled horse-drawn cart
used in battle
• Hittite rule did not last long, however. The
Hittite king was killed by an assassin from a
group known as the Kassites, who lived north
of Babylon and would rule for 400 years.
Invader: THE ASSYRIANS
• Strengths: Strong army—every soldier knew his role.
Iron weapons and chariots were used.
• FIERCE in battle—before attacking, they looted
villages and burned crops
• Ruled from Nineveh and demanded heavy taxes.
Anyone resisting was severely punished.
• Kings appointed local leaders. Road network was
built
Invaders: THE CHALDEANS
• Destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC
• Ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, who rebuilt
Babylon into a beautiful new city
• Constructed the Hanging Gardens (one of the
seven ancient wonders)
• Admired Sumerian culture—studied language
and built temples for gods
• Accomplishments in astronomy, developed
calendar, solved problems in geometry
The Phoenicians
• NOT invaders of the Fertile Crescent
• Cedar trees were abundant resource—not many
other resources b/c of mountains
• TRADERS BY SEA!
• Established colonies all across the Mediterranean for
trade. CARTHAGE was the most famous
• Traded silver, ivory, and slaves.
• Developed an alphabet to keep track of records.
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