Mesopotamia is considered the cradle, or beginning, of civilization. Here large cities lined the rivers and many advances took place. Mesopotamia at first glance does not look like an ideal place for a civilization to flourish. It is hot and very dry. There is very little rainfall in Lower Mesopotamia. However, snow, melting in the mountains at the source of these two rivers, created an annual flooding. The flooding deposited silt, which is fertile, rich, soil, on the banks of the rivers every year. This is why Mesopotamia is part of the fertile crescent, an area of land in the Middle East that is rich in fertile soil and crescent-shaped.The Sumerians were the first people to migrateto Mesopotamia, they created a great civilization. Beginning around 5,500 years ago, the Sumerians built cities along the rivers in Lower Mesopotamia, specialized, cooperated, and made many advances in technology. The wheel, plow, and writing (a system which we call cuneiform) are examples of their achievements. The farmers in Sumer created levees to hold back the floods from their fields and cut canals to channel river water to the fields. The use of levees and canals is called irrigation, another Sumerian invention. Ancient Mesopotamia and the SumeriansThe word Mesopotamia comes from Greek words meaning "land between the rivers." The rivers are the Tigris and Euphrates. The first settlers to this region did not speak Greek, it was only thousands of years later that the Greek-speaking Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, conquered this land and carried with him his culture.
The Sumerians had a common language and believed in the same gods and goddesses. The belief in more than one god is calledpolytheism. There were seven great city-states, each with its own king and a building called a ziggurat, a large pyramid-shaped building with a temple at the top, dedicated to a Sumerian deity. Although the Sumerian city-states had much in common, they fought for control of the river water, a valuable resource. Each city-state needed an army to protect itself from its neighbors.