A group of people that farms the land to create surpluses of food, lives in cities, has a society with a hierarchy, and is ruled by some form of government is said to be a “civilization.”
Civilizations emerged gradually at different times around the world. The first civilizations developed in the Middle East, where farming first began around 10,000 years ago, in a place called Mesopotamia.
Farming first started as a result of climate change at the end of the last ice age. Before that, people were hunter-gatherers, moving from place to place in search of food.
However, the new weather conditions changed the previous distribution of plants, which people had been familiar with. It is believed that people began planting wild seeds and tubers as a way of guaranteeing their food supply.
The Fertile Crescent, where the first farmers appeared around 10,000 years ago, is an area of land that stretches in an arc through parts of modern Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. There were two main
factors that made this stretch of the Middle East ripe for agriculture: First, it had a climate with warm temperatures and reliable rainfall.Second, it had a wide range of plants and animals that weresuitable for domestication.
Once people discovered that cultivation provided them with a secure supply of crops, they tried to find equally secure supplies of meat. This led to the domestication of animals in around 8000 BCE, beginning with sheep and followed soon after by goats, pigs, and cattle.
The “Standard of Ur” (shown here) dates from 2600–2400 BCE and features images of cattle, sheep, and goats being prepared for a major feast.
During the Uruk Period, from 4300–3100 bce, the towns of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia grew into the world’s first cities. This made Sumer the world’s first urban civilization.
Each city was a separate state with its own government, but all the Sumerian people shared a culture, speaking the same language and worshipping the same gods. The largest and most powerful of these early city-states was Uruk, which may have had as many as 50,000 inhabitants at its peak.
In the 24th century bce, Sumer was conquered by a new regional power from northern Mesopotamia, Akkad. The Akkadian king Sargon (2334–2279 bce) took over a vast stretch of territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf,
creating the world’s first empire. It crumbled two centuries later and was replaced by a new empire centered on the Sumerian city of Ur. In time, this too was conquered by the Elamite people.
In the first millennium bce, two great powers, Assyria and Babylon, fought for control of the Middle East. The Assyrians conquered Babylon, Egypt, and Elam. However, when the great Assyrian king Arshurbanipal died in 627 bce, Babylon fought back.
It took control of Assyria and built up its own empire under King Nebuchadnezzar II (605–562 bce).However, following his reign, Babylon was invaded by Persia and its power melted away.
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