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Ancient Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent


Ancient Mesopotamia's complex civilization, based on city-states, developed a code of laws and a written language.


Mesopotamia's achievements led the way to the law codes and written languages in use today.

TERMS & NAMES Hammurabi Fertile Crescent Sumerian ziggurat class system cuneiform scribe

.-- RE, 1750 B.C URABI'S EMPI BABYLON, HAMM i has unveiled a huge

urab m Emperor Hamm laws given to hi containing 282 black stone first times the ash. For one of to the by the god Sham been presented laws has ever, a code of pire. people of the em murabi, punthe Code of Ham According to upon e law will depend t for breaking th ost ishmen and the victim. M of the offender the status ill be punished ch as murder, w serious crimes, su its owner, e falls down on death. If a hous by If the e will be killed. ilder of the hous the bu ilder's son will lled, then the bu owner's son is ki a crime should The idea is that be killed as well. Many of ilar punishment. repaid with a sim be ement: down to this stat ws can be boiled the la tooth." e, a tooth for a "An eye for an ey

Hammurab Culture · Emperor from the laws receives a code of ce. ash, patron of justi god Sham


The Mesopotamian City-State

Hammurabi (hah·moo·RAH·bee), a famous emperor of ancient Mesopotamia, ruled from 1792 to 1750 B.C. (See the map on page 218.) Mesopotamia, which means "land between the rivers" in Greek, covers about the same area as modern Iraq, northeast Syria, and part of southeast Turkey. The region is sometimes called the Fertile Crescent because of its shape and fertile soil.

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The Fertile Crescent

City-States Around 3000 B.C., the Sumerians, the first inhabitants of the area, organized the first city-states. A cityEuphr N a M SYRIA state is made up of a city and the areas it controls. Three major challenges influenced the development of city-states. One PALESTINE was the threat of hostile invaders. To proDead Sea tect themselves, the Sumerians sur0 100 200 miles rounded their cities with strong, high Pe Gu 0 100 200 kilometers walls. The second challenge was lack of GEOGRAPHY SKILLBUILDER: water. There was very little rainfall in the Interpreting a Map region. City-states built and maintained 1. Location · What two rivers irrigation canals for local use. formed Mesopotamia? The third challenge involved trade. 2. Place · What does the map tell you about the importance of water The Sumerians lacked stones, metals, in forming the Fertile Crescent? and timber for building and had to import these materials. The Sumerians wanted to export grain, dates, and cloth. But trade was risky. Traders often had to cope with bandits, pirates, and wild animals. Well-protected city-states would have helped traders feel more confident about doing business.

Fertile Crescent

iver is R gr Ti


an S ea

e Riv





iter ran e






Place · This is the gateway to a ziggurat built around 1250 B.C.

Government by Priests and Kings Mesopotamian city-states were centers of religious worship. The Sumerians believed in many gods. The most important gods, Enlil and Utu, controlled the rain and sun. Other gods, such as Inanna, Goddess of Love and War, cured diseases and helped kings fight wars. Each city-state built a temple to a specific god. The people believed this god was the city's special guardian. The temple was built on a pyramid-shaped tower called a ziggurat. From the winding terraces wrapped around the ziggurat, people could watch celebrations honoring their god. Temple priests were the first governors of Mesopotamian city-states. When the city-states began to argue about land and water rights, leaders were elected to defend their interests. Later these rulers became kings. Each king chose who would rule after his death. From then on, the city-states were governed by two groups. The priests controlled religious and economic life, and the king controlled political and military life.



n ia r s lf

A. Recognizing Effects What were three effects of the founding of city-states?

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B. Analyzing Causes How did some kings become emperors?

From Kings to Emperors Occasionally, kings conquered other city-states. Sometimes these kings allowed the conquered cities to keep worshiping their own special gods. They let the ruling families and temple priests keep local control. Other kings built empires from the lands they had conquered. An empire is a group of countries under one ruler's control. These emperors demanded that the conquered people honor them as gods. Local rulers could no longer turn to their own gods for advice. Now they had to take orders directly from the emperor.

The Class System

Mesopotamia had a class system. This meant society was divided into different social groups. Each social group, or class, possessed certain rights and was protected by law. The most favored classes enjoyed more rights than anyone else. The Three Classes Kings, priests, and wealthy property owners were at the top of the class system. The middle class included skilled workers, merchants, and farmers. Skilled workers specialized in one craft, such as making pottery or spinning thread. Merchants often sold goods brought from other Mesopotamian cities or from other countries. Farmers worked fields that belonged to the temple or the palace. Many workers in Mesopotamia were enslaved. These people were at the bottom of the class system. Some had been captured in war. Others sold themselves and their families into slavery to pay off a debt. Once they paid the debt, their masters had to set them free. Even former slaves had some rights in Mesopotamian society.

Culture ·

These necklaces, earrings, and headress were worn by a Sumerian queen.

Place ·

People in Mesopotamia raised animals, caught fish, raised crops, and traded goods.

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A Culture Based on Writing

The Sumerians developed one of the first systems of writing, called cuneiform (KYOO·nee·uh·FAWRM). With this wedgeshaped writing, they kept lists and records. They sent business letters. They recorded their history, their religious beliefs, and their knowledge of medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. Few Sumerians actually learned to read and write. Schools trained scribes to be society's record keepers and meet the different needs of the temple, the royal government, and the business world. Educating Scribes Only the wealthy could afford to send their children to school. Most of these children were boys, but a few girls also studied at the schools--called tablet houses. Most scribes were children of government officials, priests, and wealthy merchants. Some were orphans who had been adopted by rich people and sent to school. The school day lasted from sunrise to sunset. There were about 600 different characters which students had to memorize. Students who misbehaved were punished by "the man in charge of the whip." Here is how one student scribe described his monthly school schedule:

The Development of Cuneiform The Sumerians created one of the world's first written languages more than 5,000 years ago. Cuneiform--which means "wedge-shaped"--developed from pictographs. Early pictographs looked like the object they represented, such as a fish or a bird. Sumerians used a pen made from a sharpened reed to draw pictographs in vertical rows on soft clay tablets. Over time, the pictograph forms became more simplified and people began to write in horizontal rows. Eventually the forms became wedge-shaped. Scribes began using a pen that created the wedge-shaped signs when it was pushed into the clay.


THINKING CRITICALLY 1. Analyzing Information Why do you think

Sumerians wrote on clay tablets? 2.

picture writing cuneiform

Contrasting What were the differences

between early pictographs and cuneiform writing?


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The reckoning of my monthly stay in the tablet house is (as follows): My days of freedom are three per month. Its festivals are three days per month. Within it, twenty-four days per month (is the time of) my living in the tablet house. They are long days.

a student scribe

Scribes Played Many Roles Scribes did more than make lists, keep records, and write letters for their employers. Some wrote literary and scientific works of their own. Certain lullabies and love songs were written by women scribes. Traveling scribes from Mesopotamia shared their writings with people from neighboring countries. Since few people in Mesopotamia could read, scribes read out loud to audiences. One favorite tale was about a flood that covered the earth. It is one of a collection of tales in a book called Gilgamesh, which relates the adventures of a semidivine hero.

Culture · The hero Gilgamesh was both a king and a god.



(b) Fertile Crescent ( f ) cuneiform (c) Sumerian (g) scribe (d) ziggurat

Terms & Names 1. Identify: (a) Hammurabi (e) class system Taking Notes 2. Use a chart like this one to show how building city-states solved challenges faced by the Mesopotamians.

Challenge Solution

Main Ideas 3. (a) Why do geographers refer to Mesopotamia as the Fertile Crescent? (b) How did some Mesopotamian kings become emperors? (c) How did scribes contribute to Mesopotamian civilization?

Critical Thinking 4. Forming and Supporting Opinions Are the laws set forth in Hammurabi's Code too harsh?

Think About

x x x

the meaning of justice the reasons for punishment the role mercy plays in justice

Design a mural of ancient Mesopotamia showing the roles and activities of typical citizens.

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Comparing Climate and Vegetation Maps

>> Defining the Skill

A climate map shows the climate of a country or region. Climate has two important factors--average temperature and precipitation. A vegetation map shows what grows in the region. It shows, for example, whether the region has forests or deserts. The climate of a region influences its vegetation. The key shows what each map color means.

Climate Map




>> Applying the Skill

The maps shown here are of the country of Morocco in northwestern Africa. The top map shows Morocco's climate and the bottom map shows its vegetation.



0° ean Sea rran e d i te



0 0 150 300 miles


150 300 kilometers

How to Compare Climate and Vegetation Maps Strategy 1 Look at the climate map. Read the key to see what types of climates are represented on the map. Then study the map to see where each of those climate types can be found in the country of Morocco.






Strategy 2 Look at the vegetation map. Read the key, and then look at the map. What kind of vegetation is found in Morocco, and where? Strategy 3 Compare the maps. Look at the different climates and at the

vegetation in those areas. What kind of vegetation grows where there is little rain? What kind grows where it rains some of the year?

Vegetation Map




0° Mediterranean Sea




Make a Chart

A chart can help you organize the information that you gain from comparing the two maps. The chart below lists the types of vegetation found in Morocco and the kind of climate that vegetation is located in.


0 0


400 miles

200 400 kilometers

Desert and dry shrub Temperate grassland



Mediterranean shrub

3 Climate Desert Semiarid Semiarid and sub-tropical dry summer Vegetation Desert Semidesert Mediterranean evergreen forest/shrub

>> Practicing the Skill

Turn to page 216 in Chapter 8, Section 1. Look at the climate map and the vegetation map found there. Create a chart to organize and analyze the information found in those two maps.



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