City life began in Mesopotamia. The land between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers (part of modern Iraq) is called Mesopotamia. The urbanized south part of the land was called Sumer and Akkad. After 2000 BCE, Babylon became an important city. Hence, the term Babylonia was used for the southern region. From about 1100 BCE, when the Assyrians established their kingdom in the north, the region came to be known as Assyria.
The first known language of the land was Sumerian. Around 2400 BCE, it was gradually replaced by Akkadian. From 1400 BCE, Aramaic also began to be used. Aramaic became widely spoken after 1000 BCE.
The plains lie in the north-east. The plains gradually rise to tree-covered mountain ranges with clear streams. Agriculture began in this region between 7000 and 6000 BCE. There is a stretch of upland (called steppe) in the north. This area was used by the herders. Tributaries of the Tigris serve as routes of communication into the mountains of Iran. The south is a desert. The first cities and writing emerged in the southern part. The Euphrates and the Tigris bring loads of silt to make the land fertile in this region.
A city or a town is a place where food production is not the main contributor to the economy. City people cease to be self-sufficient and depend on the products or services of other (city or village) people. The division of labor is a mark of urban life. There must be a social organization in place. Organized trade and storage is needed because of need of various raw materials for manufacturers in the city. Many different activities need to be coordinated. In such a system, some people give commands that other obey. Urban economies often require keeping of written records.
There were very few mineral resources in Mesopotamia. The wood of Iraqi date-palm was not good enough for carts, cart wheels or boats. There was no metal for tools, vessels or ornaments. So, it can be inferred that people of Mesopotamia traded their abundant textiles and agricultural produce for wood, copper, tin, silver, gold, shell and various stones from Turkey and Iran, or across Gulf.
Efficient transport is also important for urban development. Carrying goods on pack of animals or bullock carts would be too much time consuming. It will not make the city economy viable. Transportation over water is the cheapest mode of transport. Unlike animals, a ship does not need to be fed. It used to be propelled by current of the river and/or wind.
Spoken sounds which convey certain meanings comprise a language. While writing, we represent the spoken sound in terms of visible signs. Writing began when society needed to keep records of transactions.
The first Mesopotamian tablets, were written around 3200 BCE. These contained picture-like signs and numbers. A tablet was made of clay. A scribe would wet clay and pat it into a size which could be comfortably held in one hand. The sharp end of a reed (cut obliquely) was used as a writing tool. Wedge-shaped (cuneiform) signs were pressed on the smooth surface of the tablet; while the tablet was still moist. After that, the tablet was dried in the sun. Hundreds of tablets have recovered from Mesopotamian sites. Writing was used not only for keeping records, but also for making dictionaries, giving legal validity to land transfers, narrating the deeds of kings, and announcing the changes in the customary laws of the land.
The System of Writing: The sound; represented by a cuneiform sign was not a single consonant or vowel, but syllables. So, a Mesopotamian scribe had to learn hundreds of sounds. Writing was a skilled craft. It was an enormous intellectual achievement.
Literacy: Because of the complexities involved in writing, very few people could read and write.
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