The Rise of Sumerian City States

Chapter 4

The Sumerian's Story

    In 8000-3000 BCE, farmers living in the foot hills of the Zagros mountains were experiencing a food shortage due to a growing population. This left the villages a very important decision: to stay in the foot hills or to venture down to the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

      After deciding to move down to the area around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers known as Mesopotamia, Neolithic people were faced with another challenge: How to deal with the uncontrollable water supply? In the spring, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flooded, washing away young plants. However, in the summer through winter, the land was dry and difficult to farm. To solve this, the Sumerians learned to build a complex irrigation system that included canals for transferring water, levees and dams to control the flow of water, and reservoirs to store water while the land was dry. The irrigation system seemed to solve all of the Sumerians problems, however, the canals that crossed village boundaries began to clog with silt, which caused another error: The Sumerians could no longer live on their own, isolated from other villages. The Sumerians learned to work together to keep the canals clean, which resulted in one of the most inportant developments in Neolithic times: city states began to form. Now that the Sumerians were comfortably crossing village boundaries, people began moving to other cities, and as the population began to grow, city states were formed. City states are cities that operate as counties with their own leaders, laws, and sometimes individual languages.

    Fighting Among The Villages

         Now that cities were large, they began arguing about how much water was allowed for each individual city state. Larger city states claimed that they should be allowed more water because their population was larger. However, this commonly left smaller city states with very little water. Also, if a city state that was further up river took more than their fair share of water, city states further down river would have very little water. If one city state took much water, fighting would occur. To protect the villagers from the fighting, large walls made of dried mud bricks were placed around the village. In addition to the walls, moats were also added.

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