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Hasankeyf, Turkey
The Tigris and Euphrates
The Land Between the Rivers
You won’t be surprised to learn that the world’s
first civilization grew up on the banks of a river. In
fact, two rivers, the Tigris (TIE-gris) and Euphrates
(yoo-FRAY-teez), formed the cradle of world
civilization in today’s Iraq. The region between
the rivers is also part of the Fertile Crescent.
The area was so desirable that wandering tribes
settled there, beginning about 7,000 years ago.
The region came to be called Mesopotamia,
Greek for “the land between the rivers.”
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Connecting Passage
Both rivers start in the mountains of Turkey,
and both flow roughly southeast. The Tigris, the
western river, is deeper and easier to navigate,
while the Euphrates, shallower and slow-moving,
passes through the large city of Baghdad.
It’s difficult to imagine life without many
of the things that make up a civilization. The
Sumerians, the first people to settle between
the Tigris and Euphrates,
invented many of these things.
Historians believe they were the
first to build permanent homes
and cities and the first to use writing.
Sumerian
They also invented a mathematical
writing tablet
system and used it to follow the stars.
Being near these rivers gave the Sumerians
many advantages. They could travel more easily
Credits: top left: Drew Rose/Wilkinson Studios Inc.; top right: © Witr/Dreamstime.com;
bottom right: © Image Asset Management Ltd./Alamy
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possible by the two rivers. They used the water from
the rivers to grow and store crops. This meant they
did not have to wander around, living a nomadic
life and looking for food. Being able to settle
in one place allowed the people of Mesopotamia
to develop permanent social structures. Can
you imagine civilization without these?
on the rivers than across deserts. They had
a reliable water source, which allowed them to
start industries like brick making, metalworking,
leather crafts, and pottery. The river allowed
them to transport their goods and trade with
other people. Another Sumerian invention did
not help them navigate the rivers, but it was
still quite useful: the wheel.
After about a thousand years, people
called the Babylonians conquered southern
Mesopotamia. Using Sumerian ideas, the great
Babylonian king Hammurabi wrote the first code
of laws. His capital, Babylon, was a gigantic and
beautiful city with many merchants, priests,
soldiers, and other people who had specific
roles in the society. Even poor people lived
in permanent, comfortable homes.
In northern Mesopotamia, the warlike
Assyrians replaced the Sumerians as rulers.
Although they fought most of the time, they
also created great works of art. Eventually,
the Assyrians conquered Babylon and
destroyed the famous city.
This high level of early civilization was made
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Today, the Tigris and Euphrates are in grave
danger. Their water is much desired in the dry
Middle East. Wars, revolutions, terrorism, and
other obstacles make it difficult for the different
countries to agree about how to share the water.
Like other rivers that shaped civilizations, the Tigris
and Euphrates can both harm and benefit people.
When the rivers flood, crops are ruined and homes
destroyed. Iraqi and
DID YOU
KNOW?
other Middle Eastern
governments have built
People in Mesopotamia
built large temples called
dams, spillways, and
ziggurats.
earth dikes to control,
conserve, and channel
the water. Lack of peace
in the region has made
the task more difficult.
Connecting Passage
Credits: © Ocean/Corbis
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