The fertile crescent

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Humans lived as nomads for tens of thousands of years before slowly settling down in various parts of the world. Nomads are people who have no permanent home and travel in search of food and safety. A typical nomadic group might include an extended family of about ten adults and their children. The nomads would temporarily camp in an area for a few weeks or months. The men would hunt animals while the women would gather fruit, grains, seeds and nuts. When the nomads exhausted the land they moved to a new area.

Civilization developed slowly in different parts of the world. People began to settle in areas with abundant natural resources. For thousands of years, people have been attracted to a part of the world archaeologists later called the Fertile Crescent. The Fertile Crescent is a boomerang-shaped region that extends from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The Fertile Crescent is a rich food-growing area in a part of the world where most of the land is too dry for farming.


The Tigris and Euphrates are natural boundaries that were formed by nature instead of being drawn by people. Examples of natural boundaries include rivers, mountain ranges, or deserts.

Straight lines on a map generally signify borders made by people, while natural borders can follow many different paths. This is easy to demonstrate on a map of the United States. Most of the boundaries of the western states are straight lines; Colorado and Wyoming and rectangles. Many eastern states have jagged shapes because their borders are formed by rivers.
ome of the best farmland of the Fertile Crescent is on a narrow strip of land between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. The two rivers travel near one another for thousands of miles before they combine to drain into the Persian Gulf. The Greeks called this area Mesopotamia, which means "between the rivers." Very little rain falls in Mesopotamia, but water and nutrients from the river soak into the land, creating an environment filled with plants and the animals that feed on the vegetation.
Many different civilizations flourished in this small region. The Sumerians slowly developed one of the first civilizations in the southeastern section of Mesopotamia as early as 7,500 years ago. The Sumerian civilization lasted more than three thousand years, but in time the Sumerians lost their influence. The Babylonians formed a centralized government under King Hammurabi. The Babylonian culture lasted from about 1770bc to about 1595bc. Various other cultures dominated part or all of the Fertile Crescent including Amorites, the Kassites, (c. 1531-1155bc) the Hittites (c. 1370 – 1205bc) and the Assyrians (c.890-600bc). The land known as Mesopotamia was later controlled by the Persians, the Greeks under Alexander the Great, the Romans, and the Ottoman Turks. The land between the Tigris and Euphrates has been part of modern day Iraq since 1932.



Fill in the Blanks

About 7,500 years ago, a group of people gave up their nomadic lifestyles to settle in the area between the Tigris and the _________ Rivers. The Greeks later called this land _____________, which means “_________ the _______.” Mesopotamia is part of the _________ Crescent, a _________ -shaped region that extends from the eastern shore of the _____________ Sea to the _________ Gulf.

Several civilizations developed in Mesopotamia partly because the rivers provide the region with ab__n__a__t natural r__s__u__c__s. The S__m__r__a_s first settled near the confluence of the rivers about _______bc. Later Mesopotamian civilizations included the B_b__l__n_a__s and the A__s__r__a__s. Mesopotamia was later controlled by the P__r__i__ns, the G__e__ks, and the R__m__ns. Mesopotamia is now part of the modern nation of ______.

5500 5000 4500 4000 3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 500 1000 1500 2000



  1. Identify on the timeline the periods when the following civilizations flourished in Mesopotamia: the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Kassites, the Hittites, the Assyrians, modern Iraq. Note that the civilizations may overlap.

2. What is the Fertile Crescent?

3. What are the natural boundaries of Mesopotamia? Why do we call the land Mesopotamia?

The Sumerians

The Sumerians are thought to have formed the first human civilization in world history. They lived in southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East. 

Cradle of Civilization 

Many historians think that cities and towns were first formed in Sumer around 5000 BC. Nomads moved into the fertile land and began to form small villages which slowly grew into large towns. Eventually these cities developed into the civilization of the Sumer. This land is often called the "Cradle of Civilization."

Sumer City-States 
As the Sumerian villages grew into large cities, they formed city-states. This is where a city government would rule the city as well as the land around it. These city-states often fought each other. They built walls around their cities for protection. Farmland was outside the walls, but people would retreat to the city when invaders came. 

There were many city-states throughout Sumer. Some of the most powerful city-states included Eridu, Bad-tibura, Shuruppak, Uruk, Sippar, and Ur. Eridu is thought to be the first of the major cities formed and one of the oldest cities in the world. 

Sumerian Rulers and Government 
Each city-state had its own ruler. They went by various titles such as lugal, en, or ensi. The ruler was like a king or governor. The ruler of the city was often the high priest of their religion as well. This gave him even more power. The most famous king was Gilgamesh of Uruk who was the subject of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world's oldest surviving works of literature. 

In addition to the king or governor, there was a fairly complex government with officials who helped to organize city building projects and keep the city running. There were also laws that the citizens must follow or face punishment. The invention of government is often credited to the Sumerians. 

Each city-state also had its own god. In the center of each city was a large temple to the city god called a ziggurat. The ziggurat looked like a step pyramid with a flat top. Here the priests would perform rituals and sacrifices. 

Important Inventions and Technology 
One of the great contributions the Sumerians made to civilization was their many inventions. They invented the first form of writing, a number system, the first wheeled vehicles, sun-dried bricks, and irrigation for farming. All of these things were important for the development of human civilization. 

They also had an interest in science including astronomy and the movement of the moon and the stars. Their number system was based on the number 60, like ours is based on the number 10. They used this when they came up with 60 minutes in an hour and 360 degrees in a circle. We still use these divisions today.

Comprehension quiz: Please select the letter of the best answer for each question.

1) What are the Sumerians famous for?

a. Fighting with the Greeks

b. Forming the first human civilization

c. Conquering Ancient Egypt

d. The library at Nineveh

2) What was the basic division of government throughout the Sumer land?

a. Satrapies

b. City-states

c. Provinces

d. Empires

3) Which of the following is considered an important invention by the Sumerians?

a. Writing

b. Irrigation

c. Wheeled vehicles

d. All of the above

4) What was the temple called that was located at the center of each city?

a. Ziggurat

b. Pyramid

c. Center temple

d. Nexus

5) What do we call the land called where the Sumer lived?

a. Egypt

b. Mediterranean

c. Mesopotamia

d. Macedonia

6) What are the Tigris and the Euphrates?

a. Gods worshiped by the Sumerians

b. Major cities located in Mesopotamia

c. Deserts located to each side of where the Sumer originally settled

d. Major rivers that flowed through Mesopotamia

7) Which of the following was NOT a major city of the Sumerian people?

a. Eridu

b. Uruk

c. Gilgamesh

d. Ur

8) How was the number 60 important to the Sumerians?

a. It was the number of gods they worshiped

b. It was the base number for their mathematics and numbering system

c. They considered the number 60 unlucky and never used it

d. They had 60 letters in their alphabet

9) True or false: The Sumerians were always peaceful and had no need of armies or walls around their cities.



10) What were their homes made of?

a. Tents made from animal hides

b. Wood

c. Sun-dried bricks

d. They did not have homes

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