The region known as Mesopotamia refers to an area located between the Tigris and Euphrates river in what is now the Middle East. It includes the modern countries of Iran and Iraq. This area has always been known as a “hotbed” of civilization. Being in such a fertile region, positioned between these two rivers as well as having a coast line that runs along the Mediterranean sea, has always been an area where civilization could flourish.
Several ancient civilizations which began in this region created wondrous inventions, some of which were the predecessors of every day things we still use today. The very first known civilization anywhere was in Mesopotamia called the Sumerian’s. They were the first known civilization to invent a system of writing. Beginning in a type of pictograph form and eventually evolving to cuneiform, the writings of the Sumerian’s exist even today on clay tablets carefully preserved in museums. This way of recording things led to the first “printing press” of sorts. The Sumerian’s created blocks of stone and wood shaped into different symbols representing the majority of symbols used in the writing process and used them to repeat the symbols over and over again throughout their writing making it faster and easier for the recorder.
The Sumerian’s were the first people to invent organized medicine. People were trained especially to practice medicine. Recent research has shown that medicine was a highly organized thorough process. The medical practitioners of the age had an astounding knowledge of common illness and disease which plague even modern countries and the treatments were amazingly similar to what is prescribed to treat common ailments today. The process of washing and bandaging wounds as well as topical antibiotics found in the properties of plants available to the Sumerian’s are all recorded in surviving medical texts.(1)
The Sumerian’s also made tremendous strides in mathematics. They invented the first known calender with a seven day week, the 60 minute hour, the 24 hour day and even the 360 degree circle. It is a Babylonian astronomer who is believed to have been the first to prove the earth rotated on its own axis and revolved around the sun though it was not a common belief of the time. They also created the first complex arithmetic systems based on the numbers 10 and 6.(2)
Mesopotamian civilization is credited with having laid the foundations for many trades including: textile weaving, metal working, glass making and pottery. Useful items such as the metal headed ax, the kiln, the spinning wheel, the loom and the frying pan were among the many inventions that came from such industries.
Agricultural achievements from the Mesopotamian region include the first dams and aqueduct system to control water, and the invention of wine and beer. The wooden seed plow is probably the most useful agricultural invention of the pre-industrial age as it made farming faster and easier and hence improved greatly on the civilizations prosperity.
Sumerian’s and later Phonecian’s were known for their knowledge of ocean going vessels and were among the first civilizations to use the sail to harness the power of the wind for transportation. From the sea faring exploits made possible by these advancements, Mesopotamian’s gained the knowledge of navigation and map making.(3)
The ancient peoples of Babylon and Sumeria were the first cultures to create an organized system of laws and government. Laws and legal practices were surprisingly complex. The most famous of these is the Hammurabi Code of Laws which has been preserved through archaeological efforts. Among the interesting facts about this code which is often thought to be the most extensive and progressive of ancient law making are several practices which are similar to modern western cultures idea of law and justice. Divorce for women, protection of the poor, enforcement of written contracts, alimony support, power of attorney, prenuptial agreements, and even medical malpractice and bankruptcy were all covered by a code of judiciary conduct. (4)
The invention of the wheel is easily the most recognizable achievement of ancient Mesopotamia and certainly the most widely used and adapted invention. Beginning with the pottery wheel used to make pottery items on a mass scale, the Sumerian’s soon created other wheel related inventions including the chariot, the wheel pulley system and the load cart. (5)
Many modern recreational activities have their beginnings in Mesopotamian culture. Wrestling, boxing, the first wood wind instrument, the predecessors to the modern games of backgammon and cribbage, the first theater and more were among the many pursuits of entertainment created by ancient Mesopotamian’s.
Children amused themselves with these handy tried and true inventions: the spinning top, balls, rattles, jump ropes, hoops and miniature bow and arrows and slings. With our futuristic super computers and fantastic technological advancements, we cannot fail to recognize that our lives would not be so greatly enhanced were it not for the ingenuity of the ancient Mesopotamian’s and their wonderful inventions.
Resources for this article: