Civilization. It is a manmade concept. A concept which tries to divide people into what we call civilized and savage. In our minds the distinction is very clear but in reality it gets a little tricky.
Strictly speaking a civilization must possess certain attributes for us to call it a civilization:
- Surplus production / cities
- Specialization of labour
- Social stratification
- Centralized government
So, to continue from yesterday’s post… We now have people that are growing their own food throwing parties and herding awesome cows. They are like:
“Wow man we have so much food, let’s start storing it here and stop moving around. There are rivers here, where we can get free water and grow more cool things.” So they set up shop in Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamia is credited for inventing many things, some of which are:
- The wheel
- Wine, beer
- Hours, minutes and seconds
- Epic of Gilgamesh (oldest written story)
- The step-pyramid: ziggurats.
- And of course being the “cradle of civilization”
Mesopotamia literally means “between rivers”. Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates river, is where the first known civilizations started. Modern day Iraq, Iran Syria and Turkey. People started to inhabit that area and build their homes. Specialization of labour and a form of socialism was established:
“I need a house man, but I don’t know how to build. All I know is how to grow grains, and we all know I gots a lot of grain.”
“Well let’s put your grain in a warehouse and get Bob to build your house. Bob is a good builder. Then we can pay him using your grain.”
So the farmers put their grains in centralized storehouses which would be used to pay for different types of labour. They then realized that they needed goods they couldn’t get themselves, so they started to trade. Trade is one of the most important things we learned as a society, it is the thing that allowed us to evolve through the ages and continues to evolve us today:
“There is a sick party tonight, I need some gold to wear. But Mesopotamia doesn’t have much gold.”
“Well, why don’t you grab some grain and go to the Indus valley guys, they got some gold for sure.” And so trade between the settlers of Mesopotamia and the Indus valley began.
Of course some people got richer and some people were poorer creating a class separation. Records were made of who owes what to whom, and for that purpose writing was invented (but only for the elite).
“Man, did we pay bob for the house. For the life of me I can’t remember.”
“Well why don’t you write it down, eh? Maybe next time you will remember.” And so the Mesopotamian civilization began to grow.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers were very unpredictable with periods of flooding and droughts, so of course, the people started looking for an explanation.
“Why are the rivers so mean? I didn’t do anything to them.”
“Dude yesterday this god-man with a tiger and bull at his side appeared to me and said he is pretty pissed with the way you have been growing the grains so good. He said that if you are willing to share… the rivers will be nice to you again.” The next day they were, so the farmers started to follow the individuals who could talk to these gods that controlled the rivers. Thus religion came into play. A set of similar beliefs became a staple in everybody’s lives.
Forever in history there is a fight for power between religion and people. Between gods and kings. It was no different in Mesopotamia. After a while, nomads took over the cities and moved in. The conquerors became kings and to establish their power they married the high priestesses to bridge the gap between god and king.
With the nomads in power, the pseudo-socialism was converted into something that resembled private enterprise. People could earn as much as they like as long as the government got a cut. Or to put it in other words: TAXES.
Mesopotamia was more of an area that facilitated many empires, cultures and civilizations than a civilization on its own. There were cities such as Babylon within Mesopotamia, which were ruled by kings with different ideas and beliefs from other cities.
Hammurabi was the most famous of those kings. He was the 6th king of the first Babylonian dynasty. He set forth the Code of Hammurabi. This created a way to punish people for breaking the law, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.
After many years of what I assume are good times, Cyrus invaded and conquered Babylonia which, like Assyria, became a colony of Achaemenid Persia. I will not go into detail about the Assyrians and Achaemenid Persia, because it is possible to write a whole book on the subject.
All I will say is that mesopotamia was the first civilization, but not the only one. There are still a couple more I would like to write about, so let’s leave it here for now.
“Man that’s so uncivilized you savage. Barbarian!”