A sprightly overview of the rich, ancient civilizations that flourished in the land between the two rivers.
The former head of Central Asian Affairs at the BBC’s World Service, Kriwaczek (Yiddish Civilizations, 2005, etc.) brings a contemporary fire to his treatment of the age-old regional flux still demanding world attention, namely in headlines daily from Iraq, Iran and Syria. The ancient simmering conflict of the Fertile Crescent boils down to the question: “Should the Tigris-Euphrates Valley be mastered from the west or the east”? The emerging communities that sprang up from farming hamlets, a mix of Semitic and non-Semitic cultures, produced the civilized life we recognize today mainly through the use of cuneiform writing. The need to organize systems of irrigation in Eridu, the first southern settlement, spawned an “urban revolution,” with the invention of cities and all that came with them: division of labor, social classes, engineering, the arts, education, numbers and law, to mention a few. Kriwaczek is constantly sifting through changing theories resulting from continuous excavations, such as what might have prompted the progression from godly worship to the establishment of kings, somewhere around 4,000 BCE, in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh’s legendary kingdom. The author keeps close to biblical readings for comparative accounts of the Flood and the succession of kings of the city-states to the founder of the first true empire, Sargon. With Terah the Amorite’s move from Sumer to Babylon, a glorious kingdom developed, sowing seeds of science and music theory and offering a rich repository for the Jewish diaspora. Invasions by Hittites and Assyrians only spurred reinvention, and the civilization was rather more appropriated than eclipsed by Cyrus the Great of Persia in his invasion of 539 BCE.
A pertinent, accessible study, more lively than scholarly.