Mesopotamia: the Fertile crescent


The Reasons for Forming City-States

As the last Ice Age ended (in 10,000 B.C.), and people turned to agriculture as a replacement for hunting, the population of these groups began to steadily increase. They were no longer moving from place to place, and this enabled them to raise more young and pay better attention to taking care of themselves and their survival. But with the increase in population came certain problems that the people were not expecting or prepared for. One major problem that resulted from the increase in population was keeping order and management among the community.  It was no longer an easy task to make rules that every member of a group would abide by and consider just. In order to make laws and rules that would be followed and obeyed by all members of the group, the people made city-states, which was an early way of developing a formal government system.

When the population was smaller, it was much easier to work out agreements and systems of justice and punishment. For one thing, everybody in a group knew each other. “Since everyone was acquainted and frequently related, informal mechanisms, such as getting together and talking about punishment compensation normally sufficed,” (Judge, 18). But as the population increased, problems began to arise between people who were not acquainted, and simple solutions were no longer a possibility. With the new system of an established city-state, a precedent was being set whereby people would now be able to appeal to a government official as opposed to their family and friends, in order to determine the proper punishment for a crime.

Aside from the advantage of now being able to work out disputes more formally, city states also provided people with the organizational structure needed to work together on projects of irrigation. Many claim that the reason for creating city-states was “to organize vast numbers of people to build banks and dikes for flood control and to dig irrigation ditches for bringing river water to nearby farm fields,” (Judge,19). While this certainly is an advantage that came out of the establishment of city-states, there is much dispute as to whether the city-states were specifically created with these ideas in mind. The question remains as to whether people knew this would be a result of city-states and created the city-states for this reason, or created the city-states first and then came to realize afterwards, that they could be used to help navigate projects of irrigation.

Those who argue that the reason for creating city-states was solely in order to establish rules and management in the wake of the growing population, look for evidence that helping with irrigation might not have been the top priority at this time. These supporters of the population claim, cite as examples that ditches existed before the formation of states in the areas of West Asia and China (Judge,20). They claim that these regions had rivers that provided irrigation to the people for years, and yet the formation of city-states was never established until they were created in Mesopotamia first.

I believe the reason why the city-states began in Mesopotamia as opposed to anywhere else is because Mesopotamia is an area that features two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, as opposed to just one river that could be found in most of the other agricultural societies at the time. This notion of why city-states were first established in Mesopotamia lends support to the theory that they were indeed created with the idea of controlling irrigation in mind. The soil was extremely fertile in Mesopotamia and farming flourished due to the rich silt deposits by the two rivers (Judge,25). With the increase in agricultural production, more structured systems of working together were needed to maximize the amounts of food and water that could be taken from the area and given to the community. There was a lot of potential for food production in this area, and the creation of city-states helped the people to meet this potential.

I believe that city-states were established for population control and regulation as well as for the management of projects of irrigation. In support of this claim is the fact that city-states began in the area of Mesopotamia, which had two rivers as opposed to just one.  As the agricultural society developed and population began to increase even more, the advantages of living in a city-state and formally controlling methods of law, farming, and irrigation became more apparent to the people.


1.Judge, Edward H., 2009, Connections, A World History, Volume One, to 1650

Vango Books, Pearson Education Inc, New Jersey

Mesopotamia = The Land between two rivers. the fertile crescent was called this because it was a piece of land that lay between the tigris and euphrates rivers. all great early civilizations were built on rivers. egypt had the nile. india had the ganges. china had the yellow river. the sumerians of mesopotamia had two.

The Formation of city-states: