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Fertile Crescent

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Map showing the larger area including Cyprus
Map showing the larger area including Cyprus

The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East, spanning modern-day Iraq, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan as well as the southeastern fringe of Turkey and the western fringes of Iran.[1][2] Some authors also include Cyprus.

The region has been called the "cradle of civilization", because it is where settled farming first began to emerge as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops. Early human civilizations such as Sumer flourished as a result.[3] Technological advances in the region include the development of writing, glass, the wheel, agriculture, and the use of irrigation.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Mesopotamia: Crash Course World History #3
  • ✪ Fertile Crescent
  • ✪ The History of the Fertile Crescent and the Rise of Civilization
  • ✪ Geography of the Fertile Crescent
  • ✪ Fertile Crescent Map


Hi there. I'm John Green, you're watching Crash Course World History, and today we're going to talk about "Iraq" No, you purportedly smart globe. We're going to talk about Mesopotamia. I love Mesopotamia because it helped create two of my favorite things: Writing and taxes. Why do I like taxes? Because before taxes, the only certainty was death. Mr. Green. Mr. Green, did you know that you're referencing Mark Twain? I'm not referencing Mark Twain, me from the past, I'm referencing Benjamin Franklin, who was probably himself quoting the unfortunately named playwright Christopher Bullock. Listen. You may be smart, kid, but I've been smart longer. By the way, today's illustration points out that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world monocular. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] So 5,000 years ago in the land meso, or between, the Tigris and Euphrates potomoi, or rivers, cities started popping up much like they had in our old friend the Indus River valley. These early Mesopotamian cities engaged in a form of socialism, where farmers contributed their crops to public storehouses out of which workers, like metalworkers or builders or male models or whatever—would be paid uniform "wages" in grain. So, basically— MR GREEN MR GREEN WERE THERE REALLY MALE MODELS? CAN YOU DO BLUE STEEL? Oh younger version of myself, how I hate you. [Scoots to strike dramatic chair pose, laughs at own buffoonery] Oh the humiliation I suffer for you people... that was my best Blue Steel. That was as close as I can get. So anyway, if you lived in a city, you could be something other than a shepherd, and thanks to this proto-socialism you could be reasonably sure that you'd eat-- STAN, Is there any way we could get another globe in here? I feel like this shot is inadequately globed. Yes, much better. You know you can tell the quality of the historian by the number of his or her globes. But even though you could give up your flock, a lot of people didn't want to. One of the legacies of Mesopotamia is the enduring conflict between country and city. You see this explored a lot in some of our greatest art such as The Beverly Hillbillies and Deliverance, and the showdown between Enkidu and Gilgamesh in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known works of literature and I'm not gonna spoil it for you— there's a link to the poem in the video info—but suffice it to say that in the showdown between country and city, the city wins. So what were these city states like? Well, let's take a look at one such city-state, Gilgamesh's home town of Uruk, in the Thought Bubble: Uruk was a walled city with an extensive canal system and several monumental temples, called ziggurats. The priests of these temples initially had all the power, because they were able to communicate directly with the gods. That was a useful talent, because Mesopotamian gods were moody and frankly pretty mean—like, according to Gilgamesh they once got mad at us because we were making too much noise while they were trying to sleep so they decided to destroy all of humanity with a flood. The Tigris and Euphrates are decent as rivers go, but Mesopotamia is no Indus Valley, with its on-schedule flooding and easy irrigation. A lot of slave labor was needed to make the Tigris and Euphrates useful for irrigation; they're difficult to navigate and flood unpredictably and violently. Violent, unpredictable, and difficult to navigate: Oh, Tigris and Euphrates, how you remind me of my college girlfriend. So I mean given that the region tends to yo-yo between devastating flood and horrible drought, it follows that one would believe that the gods are kind of random and capricious, and that any priests who might be able to lead rituals that placate those gods would be very useful individuals. But about 1000 years after the first temples we find in cities like Uruk, a rival structure begins to show up, the palace. This tells us that kings—and they were all dudes—are starting to be as important as priests in Mesopotamia. The responsibility for the well-being and success of the social order was shifting from gods to people, a power shift that will seesaw throughout human history, probably forever actually. But in another development we'll see again, these kings, who probably started out as military leaders or really rich landowners, took on a quasi-religious role. How? Often by engaging in "sacred marriage" -- specifically skoodilypooping with the high priestess of the city's temple. So the priests were overtaken by kings, who soon declared themselves priests. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So how do we know that these kings were skoodilypooping with lady priests? BECAUSE THEY MADE A SKOODILYPOOPING TAPE AND PUT IT ON THE INTERNET. No, because there's a written record. Mesopotamia gave us writing, specifically a form of writing called cuneiform, which was initially created not to like woo lovers or whatever but to record transactions like how many bushels of wheat were exchanged for how many goats. I'm not kidding, by the way; a lot of cuneiform is about wheat and goats. I don't think you can overestimate the importance of writing but let's just make three points here: 1. Writing and reading are things that not everyone can do. So they create a class distinction, one that in fact survives to this day. Foraging social orders were relatively egalitarian; but the Mesopotamians had slaves and they played this metaphorically resonant sport that was like polo except instead of riding on horses you rode on other people. And written language played an important role in widening the gap between classes. 2. Once writing enters the picture, you have actual history instead of just a lot of guesswork and archaeology. 3. Without writing, I would not have a job, so I'd like to personally thank Mesopotamia for making it possible for me to work while reclining in my lay-z-boy. So why did this writing happen in Mesopotamia? Well the fertile crescent, while it is fertile, is lacking the pretty much everything else. In order to get metal for tools or stone for sculptures or wood for burning, Mesopotamia had to trade. This trading eventually led Mesopotamia to develop the world's first territorial kingdom, which will become very important and will eventually culminate in some extraordinarily inbred Hapsburgs. So the city state period in Mesopotamia ended around 2,000 BCE, probably because drought and a shift in the course of rivers led to pastoral nomads coming in and conquering the environmentally weakened cities. And then the nomads settled into cities of their own as nomads almost always will unless—wait for it— ...You are the Mongols. These new Mesopotamian city states were similar to their predecessors in that they had temples and writing and their own self-glorifying stories but they were different in some important ways. First, that early proto-socialism was replaced by something that looked a lot like private enterprise, where people could produce as much as they would like as long as they gave a cut, also known as taxes to the government. We talk a lot of smack about taxes but it turns out they're pretty important to creating stable social orders. Things were also different politically because the dudes who'd been the tribal chiefs became like full-blown kings, who tried to extend their power outside of cities and also tried to pass on their power to their sons. The most famous of these early monarchs is Hammurabi or as I remember him from my high school history class, "The Hammer of Abi". Hammurabi ruled the new kingdom of Babylon from 1792 BCE to 1750 BCE. Hammurabi's main claim to fame is his famous law code which established everything from like the wages of ox drivers to the fact that the punishment for taking an eye should be having an eye taken. Hammurabi's law code could be pretty insanely harsh. Like if a builder builds a shoddy building and then the owner's son dies in a collapse, the punishment for that is the execution of the builder's son. The kid's like, that's not fair! I'm just a kid. What did I do? You should kill my dad. All of which is to say that Hammurabi's law code gives a new meaning to the phrase tough on crime, but it did introduce the presumption of innocence. In the law code Hammurabi tried to portray himself in two roles that might sound familiar: shepherd and father. "[I am] the shepherd who brings peace. My benevolent shade was spread over the city, I held the peoples of Sumer and Akkad safely on my lap." So again we see the authority for protection of the social order shifting to men, not gods, which is important, but don't worry, it'll shift back. Even though the territorial kingdoms like Babylon were more powerful than any cities that had come before, and even though Babylon was probably the world's most populous city during Hammurabi's rule, it wasn't actually that powerful, and keeping with the pattern is was soon taken over by the formerly-nomadic Kassites. The thing about Territorial kingdoms is that they relied on the poorest people to pay taxes, and provide labor and serve in the army, all of which made you not like your king very much so if you saw any nomadic invaders coming by you might just be like "Hey nomadic invaders! Come on in; you seem better than the last guy." Well, that was the case until the Assyrians came along, anyway. The Assyrians have a deserved reputation for being the brutal bullies of Mesopotamia. The Assyrians did give us an early example of probably the most important and durable form of political organization in world history, and also Star Wars history, the Empire. Let's define empire as the extension by conquest of control over people who do not belong to the same group as the conquerors. The biggest problem with empires is that by definition they're diverse and multi-ethnic, which makes them hard to unify. So beginning around 911 BCE, the neo-Assyrian Empire grew from its hometowns of Ashur and Nineveh to include the whole of Mesopotamia, the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean and even, by 680 BCE, Egypt! (INSERT MAP)They did this thanks to the most brutal, terrifying and efficient army the world had ever seen. More adjectives describing my college girlfriend. For one thing the army was a meritocracy. Generals weren't chosen based on who their dads were, they were chosen based on if they were good at Generalling. Stan, is generalling a word? [pauses, two thumbs up w answer] It is! The armies also used iron weapons and chariots and they were massive. Like the neo-Assyrian Empire could field 120,000 men. Also, they were super MEAN. Like they would deport hundreds of thousands of people to separate them from their history and their familes and also moved skilled workers around where they were most needed.Also the neo-Assyrians loved to find would-be rebels and lop off their appendages. Particularly their noses for some reason. And there was your standard raping and pillaging and torture, all of which was done in the name of Ashur, the great god of the neo-Assyrians whose divine regent was the King. Ashur, through the King, kept the world going, and as long as conquest continued the world would not end. But if conquest ever stopped, the world would end and there would be rivers of blood and weeping and gnashing of teeth. You know how apocalypses go. The Assyrians spread this world view with propaganda like monumental architecture and readings about how awesome the king was at public festivals, all of which were designed to inspire awe in the Empire's subjects. Oh that reminds me, ITS TIME FOR THE OPEN LETTER. An Open Letter to the Word Awesome: But first lets see what's in the Secret Compartment today. [opens door] Oh, Stan is this yellow cake uranium? You never find that in Mesopotamia... Dear Awesome, I love you. Like most contemporary English speakers in fact, I probably love you a little too much. The thing about you, awesome, is that awesome is just so awesomely awesome at being awesome. So we lose track of what you really mean, awesome: You're not just cool, you're terrifying and wonderful. You're knees-buckling, chest-tightening, fearful encounters with something radically other- something that we know could both crush and bless us. That is awe, and I apologize for having watered you down. But seriously, you're awesome. Best wishes, John Green So what happened to the Assyrians? Well, first they extended their empire beyond their roads, making administration impossible. But maybe even more importantly, when your whole world view is based on the idea that the apocalypse will come if you ever lose a battle, and then you lose one battle, the whole world view just blows up. That eventually happened and in 612 BCE, the city of Nineveh was finally conquered, and the neo-Assyrian Empire had come to its end. But the idea of Empire was just getting started. Next week we'll talk about mummies—oh, I have to talk about other things too? Crap, I only want to talk about mummies. Anyway, we'll be talking about [tapping stylus to talking globe replying Sudan] No! Dangit! We'll actually be talking about [taps globe to reply Egypt] Thank you, Smart Globe. See you next week. Crash Course was produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our Script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by Raoul Meyer my high school history teacher and myself and our graphics team is ThoughtBubble. Last week's phrase of the week was "Better Boyfriend." If you want to take a guess at this week's phrase of the week, you can do so in Comments where you can also suggest new phrases of the week. And if you have any questions about today's show, leave them in Comments and our team of semi-professional quasi-historians will endeavor to answer them. Thanks for watching and as we say in my hometown: Don't forget to be awesome.



The term "Fertile Crescent" was popularized by archaeologist James Henry Breasted in Outlines of European History (1914) and Ancient Times, A History of the Early World (1916).[4][5][6][7][8][9] Breasted wrote:[4]

This fertile crescent is approximately a semicircle, with the open side toward the south, having the west end at the southeast corner of the Mediterranean, the center directly north of Arabia, and the east end at the north end of the Persian Gulf (see map, p. 100). It lies like an army facing south, with one wing stretching along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the other reaching out to the Persian Gulf, while the center has its back against the northern mountains. The end of the western wing is Palestine; Assyria makes up a large part of the center; while the end of the eastern wing is Babylonia.

This great semicircle, for lack of a name, may be called the Fertile Crescent.1 It may also be likened to the shores of a desert-bay, upon which the mountains behind look down—a bay not of water but of sandy waste, some eight hundred kilometres across, forming a northern extension of the Arabian desert and sweeping as far north as the latitude of the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. This desert-bay is a limestone plateau of some height—too high indeed to be watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, which have cut cañons obliquely across it. Nevertheless, after the meager winter rains, wide tracts of the northern desert-bay are clothed with scanty grass, and spring thus turns the region for a short time into grasslands. The history of Western Asia may be described as an age-long struggle between the mountain peoples of the north and the desert wanderers of these grasslands—a struggle which is still going on—for the possession of the Fertile Crescent, the shores of the desert-bay.

1 There is no name, either geographical or political, which includes all of this great semicircle (see map, p. 100). Hence we are obliged to coin a term and call it the Fertile Crescent.

In current usage, the Fertile Crescent includes Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan, as well as the surrounding portions of Turkey and Iran. Water sources include the Jordan River. The inner boundary is delimited by the dry climate of the Syrian Desert to the south. Around the outer boundary are the Anatolian highlands to the north, the Sahara Desert to the west and the Iranian Plateau to the east.

Biodiversity and climate

1916 map of the Fertile Crescent by James Henry Breasted, who popularised usage of the word.
1916 map of the Fertile Crescent by James Henry Breasted, who popularised usage of the word.

As crucial as rivers and marshlands were to the rise of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, they were not the only factor. The area is geographically important as the "bridge" between Africa and Eurasia, which has allowed it to retain a greater amount of biodiversity than either Europe or North Africa, where climate changes during the Ice Age led to repeated extinction events when ecosystems became squeezed against the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Saharan pump theory posits that this Middle Eastern land bridge was extremely important to the modern distribution of Old World flora and fauna, including the spread of humanity.

The area has borne the brunt of the tectonic divergence between the African and Arabian plates and the converging Arabian and Eurasian plates, which has made the region a very diverse zone of high snow-covered mountains.

The Fertile Crescent had many diverse climates, and major climatic changes encouraged the evolution of many "r" type annual plants, which produce more edible seeds than "K" type perennial plants. The region's dramatic variety in elevation gave rise to many species of edible plants for early experiments in cultivation. Most importantly, the Fertile Crescent was home to the eight Neolithic founder crops important in early agriculture (i.e., wild progenitors to emmer wheat, einkorn, barley, flax, chick pea, pea, lentil, bitter vetch), and four of the five most important species of domesticated animals—cows, goats, sheep, and pigs; the fifth species, the horse, lived nearby.[10] The Fertile Crescent flora comprises a high percentage of plants that can self-pollinate, but may also be cross-pollinated.[10] These plants, called "selfers", were one of the geographical advantages of the area because they did not depend on other plants for reproduction.[10]


Area of the fertile crescent, circa 7500 BC, with main sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.  The area of Mesopotamia proper was not yet settled by humans.
Area of the fertile crescent, circa 7500 BC, with main sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The area of Mesopotamia proper was not yet settled by humans.

As well as possessing many sites with the skeletal and cultural remains of both pre-modern and early modern humans (e.g., at Tabun and Es Skhul caves in Israel), later Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, and Epipalaeolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers (the Natufians); the Fertile Crescent is most famous for its sites related to the origins of agriculture. The western zone around the Jordan and upper Euphrates rivers gave rise to the first known Neolithic farming settlements (referred to as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)), which date to around 9,000 BCE and includes very ancient sites such as Göbekli Tepe and Jericho.

This region, alongside Mesopotamia (which lies to the east of the Fertile Crescent, between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates), also saw the emergence of early complex societies during the succeeding Bronze Age. There is also early evidence from the region for writing and the formation of hierarchical state level societies. This has earned the region the nickname "The cradle of civilization".

It is in this region where the first libraries appeared, about 4,500 years ago. The oldest known libraries are found in Nippur (in Sumer) and Ebla (in Syria), both from c. 2500 BC.[11]

Both the Tigris and Euphrates start in the Taurus Mountains of what is modern-day Turkey. Farmers in southern Mesopotamia had to protect their fields from flooding each year, except northern Mesopotamia which had just enough rain to make some farming possible. To protect against flooding, they made levees.[12]

Since the Bronze Age, the region's natural fertility has been greatly extended by irrigation works, upon which much of its agricultural production continues to depend. The last two millennia have seen repeated cycles of decline and recovery as past works have fallen into disrepair through the replacement of states, to be replaced under their successors. Another ongoing problem has been salination — gradual concentration of salt and other minerals in soils with a long history of irrigation.

Early domestications

Prehistoric seedless figs were discovered at Gilgal I in the Jordan Valley, suggesting that fig trees were being planted some 11,400 years ago.[13] Cereals were already grown in Syria as long as 9,000 years ago.[14] Small cats (Felis silvestris) also were domesticated in this region.[15]


Diffusion of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent after 9000 BC
Diffusion of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent after 9000 BC

Linguistically, the Fertile Crescent was a region of great diversity. Historically, Semitic languages generally prevailed in the lowlands, whilst in the mountainous areas to the east and north a number of generally unrelated languages were found including Elamite, Kassite, and Hurro-Urartian. The precise affiliation of these, and their date of arrival, remain topics of scholarly discussion. However, given lack of textual evidence for the earliest era of prehistory, this debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.

The evidence which does exist suggests that by the third millennium BCE and into the second, several language groups already existed in the region. These included:[16][17][18][19][20][21]

Links between Hurro-Urartian and Hattic and the indigenous languages of the Caucasus have frequently been suggested, but are not generally accepted.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Haviland, William A.; Prins, Harald E. L.; Walrath, Dana; McBride, Bunny (13 January 2013). The Essence of Anthropology (3rd ed.). Belmont, California: Cengage Learning. p. 104. ISBN 978-1111833442.
  2. ^ Ancient Mesopotamia/India. Culver City, California: Social Studies School Service. 2003. p. 4. ISBN 978-1560041665.
  3. ^ The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Fertile Crescent". Encyclopædia Britannica. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  4. ^ a b Abt, Jeffrey (2011). American Egyptologist: the life of James Henry Breasted and the creation of his Oriental Institute. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 193–194, 436. ISBN 978-0-226-0011-04.
  5. ^ Goodspeed, George Stephen (1904). A History of the ancient world: for high schools and academies. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 56.
  6. ^ Breasted, James Henry (1914). "Earliest man, the Orient, Greece, and Rome" (PDF). In Robinson, James Harvey; Breasted, James Henry; Beard, Charles A. (eds.). Outlines of European history, Vol. 1. Boston: Ginn. pp. 56–57. "The Ancient Orient" map is inserted between pages 56 and 57.
  7. ^ Breasted, James Henry (1916). Ancient times, a history of the early world: an introduction to the study of ancient history and the career of early man (PDF). Boston: Ginn. pp. 100–101. "The Ancient Oriental World" map is inserted between pages 100 and 101.
  8. ^ Clay, Albert T. (1924). "The so-called Fertile Crescent and desert bay". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 44: 186–201. doi:10.2307/593554. JSTOR 593554.
  9. ^ Kuklick, Bruce (1996). "Essay on methods and sources". Puritans in Babylon: the ancient Near East and American intellectual life, 1880–1930. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-691-02582-7. Textbooks...The true texts brought all of these strands together, the most important being James Henry Breasted, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World (Boston, 1916), but a predecessor, George Stephen Goodspeed, A History of the Ancient World (New York, 1904), is outstanding. Goodspeed, who taught at Chicago with Breasted, antedated him in the conception of a 'crescent' of civilization.
  10. ^ a b c Diamond, Jared (March 1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1st ed.). W.W. Norton & Company. p. 480. ISBN 978-0-393-03891-0. OCLC 35792200.
  11. ^ Murray, Stuart (9 July 2009). Basbanes, Nicholas A.; Davis, Donald G. (eds.). The Library: An Illustrated History. Internet Reference Services Quarterly. 15. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. pp. 69–70. doi:10.1080/10875300903535149. ISBN 9781628733228. OCLC 277203534.
  12. ^ Beck, Roger B.; Black, Linda; Krieger, Larry S.; Naylor, hillip C.; Shabaka, Dahia Ibo (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. p. 1082. ISBN 978-0-395-87274-1.
  13. ^ Norris, Scott (1 June 2006). "Ancient Fig Find May Push Back Birth of Agriculture". National Geographic Society. National Geographic News. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  14. ^ "Genographic Project: The Development of Agriculture". National Geographic. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  15. ^ Driscoll, Carlos A.; Menotti-Raymond, Marilyn; Roca, Alfred L.; Hupe, Karsten; Johnson, Warren E.; Geffen, Eli; Harley, Eric H.; Delibes, Miguel; Pontier, Dominique; Kitchener, Andrew C.; Yamaguchi, Nobuyuki; O'Brien, Stephen J.; Macdonald, David W. (27 July 2007). "The near eastern origin of cat domestication". Science. 317 (5837): 519–23. doi:10.1126/science.1139518. PMC 5612713. PMID 17600185.
  16. ^ Steadman & McMahon 2011, p. 233.
  17. ^ Steadman & McMahon 2011, p. 522.
  18. ^ Steadman & McMahon 2011, p. 556.
  19. ^ Potts 2012, p. 28.
  20. ^ Potts 2012, p. 570.
  21. ^ Potts 2012, p. 584.
  22. ^ Bernice Wuethrich (19 May 2000). "Peering Into the Past, With Words". Science. 288 (5469): 1158. doi:10.1126/science.288.5469.1158.


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