8 The Fertile Crescent

Fertile Crescent

Map of the Fertile Crescent. The red zone on the map illustrates that the Fertile Crescent stretched along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and into Egypt.
Fertile Crescent map by NormanEinstein under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fertile Crescent is the region in the Middle East which curves, like a quarter-moon shape, from the Persian Gulf, through modern-day southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt. The term was first coined in 1916 by the Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in his work Ancient Times: A History of the Early World, where he wrote, “This fertile crescent is approximately a semi-circle, with the open side toward the south, having the west end at the south-east corner of the Mediterranean, the center directly north of Arabia, and the east end at the north end of the Persian Gulf.” His phrase was widely circulated through the publications of the day becoming, finally, the common designation for this region. The Fertile Crescent is traditionally associated (in Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths) with the earthly location of the Garden of Eden.

Known as the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent is regarded as the birthplace of agriculture, urbanization, writing, trade, science, history and organized religion and was first populated c.10,000 BCE when agriculture and the domestication of animals began in the region. By 9,000 BCE the cultivation of wild grains and cereals was wide-spread and, by 5000 BCE, irrigation of agricultural crops was fully developed. By 4500 BCE the cultivation of wool-bearing sheep was practiced widely. The first cities began to rise (Eridu, the first, according to the Sumerians, in 5400 BCE, then Uruk and the others) around 4500 BCE and cultivation of wheat and grains was practiced in addition to the further domestication of animals (by the year 3500 BCE the image of the breed of dog known as the Saluki was appearing regularly on vases and other ceramics as well as wall paintings). The unusually fertile soil of the region encouraged the further cultivation of wheat as well as rye, barley and legumes and some of the earliest beer in the world was brewed in the great cities along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (the most ancient evidence of beer brewing coming from the Sumerian Godin Tepe settlement in modern-day Iran). From 3400 BC, the priests (who were earlier the rulers of the cities) were responsible for the distribution of food and the careful monitoring of surplus for trade.(1)


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