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Geography of Mesopotamia

The meaning of ancient Mesopotamias name itself explains why the area became home to the
first civilization of all mankind. Mesopotamia is the Greek word for between the rivers. As its
name indicates, this area of land sat directly between two major rivers, the Tigris and
Euphrates, which made it the ideal location for human beings to move from a hunting and
gathering society to a farming society. Today, this area of land is called the Middle East or
Southwest Asia, and countries such as Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria currently sit where
Mesopotamia once thrived. Understanding the geography of Mesopotamia is critical to
conceptualizing why the area was the perfect location for the establishment of the first
successful civilizations.
Mesopotamias climate was generally very warm, with summers being particularly hot. Rainfall
was minimal - less than ten inches would fall per year which made it very difficult for the
people to maintain a consistent water supply. To provide a bit of context, by definition, deserts
experience less than six inches of rainfall per year. Mesopotamia also experienced a great deal
of severe, unpredictable weather. Floods could strike at any time between April and June, and
droughts also happened periodically, ruining crops and starving the local populations. In order to
combat the unpredictability of droughts and floods, Mesopotamians developed advanced
methods of irrigation by building canals and dams, which gave them a more consistent water
supply. Irrigation is a way of supplying water to an area of land.
All of the worlds first civilizations were formed near river valleys because these areas were
ideal for farming. Rivers were used as a water source, a means for travel, and for trade. Trade
was essential to the Mesopotamians, and rivers were vital to trade because very few roads
existed in ancient times. Boats carried heavy loads that were unable to be transported by land
long distances for trade. Although the land was useful in many different ways, it did lack some
resources. Water trade routes allowed Mesopotamians to have access to resources that were
not plentiful in their region, like timber and metals. These water routes also connected the
Mesopotamian population with smaller groups of people that lived in Europe and North Africa.
Although the slow-moving rivers that surrounded Mesopotamia were essential to the survival of
the people, they were also responsible for a great deal of the destruction that these civilizations
experienced. The unpredictable floods that happened during the spring caused major issues
with the rivers, but fortunately people eventually built canals and dams to protect themselves
from droughts and prevent flooding.
Mesopotamia can be split into two areas: the mountainous north and the flat south. The small
northern section of Mesopotamia is characterized by mountains, hills, valleys, and plains.
Timber, metals, and stone were harvested from this part of Mesopotamia and used for trading,
building, creating tools, and more. However, these resources were not plentiful, so it was
oftentimes easier for the Mesopotamians to trade for them than to find and harvest the
resources themselves. The southern section of Mesopotamia made up the majority of the land
in Mesopotamia and was characterized by marshy areas and flat plains. This area was
vulnerable to attacks and invasions because it lacked natural barriers such as mountains and
forests. Rain carried minerals and nutrients from the mountainous northern section and
deposited them in the plains, which made the land in the south very fertile. In fact, Mesopotamia
is sometimes called the Fertile Crescent because of the rich soil that was found there. Farmers
could grow wheat, barley, and other grains very easily.
The river valley geography of Mesopotamia was ideal for farming, and Mesopotamians were
able to overcome the unpredictability of droughts, floods, and a lack of forests and mountains by
developing irrigation systems, utilizing the fertile soil of the plains, and trading to obtain
whatever else they needed. Their unique ability to utilize the land as they did is the reason why
Mesopotamians were able to successfully move from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to becoming the
first civilizations of mankind.

1. According to the first paragraph of the text, what is important about the meaning of

2. Describe the climate of Mesopotamia.

3. Explain why rivers were essential to early civilizations.

4. Explain the difference between the northern regions and the southern regions of

5. List the resources that were lacking in Mesopotamia.

6. Explain the meaning of the word irrigation.

7. How is the passage organized? (Chronological, cause/effect, comparison/contrast,

description, problem/solution). Use evidence from the text to explain your answer.

8. What is the key idea that the author wants readers to understand from this text? Use
evidence from the text to support your reasoning.