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Ancient Mesopotamia Overview Ancient Mesopotamia was the earliest civilization in world history, and the longest lasting. It was probably also the most influential, as all later western civilizations were built on its foundations. Mesopotamia is known as one of the cradles of human civilization because the earliest cities in history were constructed in the area known as the “Fertile Crescent.” Mesopotamia was the first civilizations in history, with its 3,000 years of development and three major periods of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Its culture also influenced its neighbors: the Egyptians and ancient India to the East. The domestication of wild plants and animals was accomplished in Mesopotamia around 8500 BCE. Geography Mesopotamia can be found in the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Farming within the Fertile Crescent made this civilization successful for thousands of years. Language and Writing The invention of writing came from Mesopotamia. Early in Mesopotamia's history, cuneiform writing was invented by the Sumerian empire. Cuneiform literally means "wedge-shaped," due to the triangular tip of the stylus (a reed plant) used for impressing signs on wet clay. Libraries were built in towns and temples during the Babylonian empire. Women as well as men learned to read and write. Mathematics Mesopotamian mathematics and science was based on a base 60 numeral system. This is the source of the 60-minute hour, the 24-hour day, and the 360-degree circle. The Sumerian calendar was based on the seven-day week. This form of mathematics was instrumental in early map making. The Babylonians had formulas on how to measure the area of several shapes and solids. They measured the circumference of a circle as three times the diameter and the area as one-twelfth the square of the circumference, which basically still holds true today! Astronomy The Babylonian empire astronomers were excellent at mathematics and could predict eclipses and solstices. Scholars thought that everything had some purpose in astronomy and the study of the planets. Mesopotamian astronomers worked out a 12-month calendar based on the cycles of the moon. They divided the year into two seasons: summer and winter. These studies became the first scientific revolution in history. Technology Mesopotamian people invented many technologies including metal and copper-working, glass and lamp making, textile weaving, flood control, water storage, and irrigation. They were also one of the first Bronze Age people in the world. They developed copper, bronze, gold, and iron. Palaces were decorated with these very expensive metals. Also, copper, bronze, and iron were used for armor as well as for different weapons such as swords, daggers, spears, maces, and other stabbing weapons. Religion Mesopotamian religion was the first to be recorded. Mesopotamians believed that the world was a flat disc, surrounded by a huge, holed space, and above that, heaven. They also believed that water was everywhere, the top, bottom and sides, and that the universe was born from this enormous sea. Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic (belief in many gods). Games Hunting was popular in Mesopotamia. Boxing and wrestling were depicted frequently in art. They also played majore, a game similar to the sport of rugby, but played with a ball made of wood. They also played a board game similar to backgammon. Farming Farming in Mesopotamia is possible only with irrigation. The need for irrigation led the Sumerians to build their cities along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, also known as the Fertile Crescent. Early farmers in Mesopotamia used wooden plows to soften the soil before planting crops such as barley, onions, grapes, turnips, and apples. Mesopotamian farmers were some of the first people to make beer and wine. Mesopotamian farmers did not depend completely on slaves to work for them, but they did sometimes use slaves to help them. Although the rivers were needed for survival, they also destroyed life by frequent floods that ravaged entire cities. The unpredictable Mesopotamian weather was often hard on farmers; crops were often ruined so backup sources of food such as cows and lambs were also kept. Government The Sumerian people built the first cities along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence. King Hammurabi of the Babylon Empire is known for creating a system of laws called the “Code of Hammurabi” that has had a lasting influence on our legal system. Only one example of the Code survives today on a seven foot, four inch tall basalt stone slab. The Code is considered an early form of a constitution. There are 282 laws in the Code of Hammurabi. Architecture written laws Houses The materials used to build a Mesopotamian house were the same as those used today: mud brick, mud plaster and wooden doors, which were all naturally available around the civilization. Most houses had a square center room with other rooms attached to it. Palaces The palaces of the Mesopotamian highest social class were large-scale palaces, and were often lavishly decorated. These palaces housed craftsmen workshops, food storehouses, ceremonial courtyards, and religious shrines. Usually the King's throne room opened to a massive ceremonial courtyard where important ceremonies were performed. Mesopotamia’s Legacy Ancient Mesopotamia is one of the most influential civilizations in world history. All other future civilizations were built upon its foundations. The Mesopotamians were the first to build cities, use the potter's wheel, develop writing, write down their history, build libraries, value learning, use bronze in metal-making, develop governments, organize armies, begin schools, use irrigation for farming, create a system of laws with rules and punishments, and start social classes.