cities and city planning

   The world's first examples of what people today view as cities - urban centers with considerable populations and numerous houses and public buildings - appeared in Sumer, the region lying northwest of the Persian Gulf, shortly before 3000 B.c.But, of course, before there were cities there had to be towns and villages; and this was certainly the case in Mesopotamia. The first settled, permanent villages on the Mes-opotamian plains appeared sometime in the seventh millennium B.C. This was the result of the rapid spread of agriculture in the region, since the regular maintenance of fields and crops required that farmers remain in one place year after year. By the early 5000s b.c., villages like Hassunah, near the modern iraqi city of Mosul, had populations of five hundred or more. Somewhat later, Tell-es-Sawwan, on the Tigris near Samarra, and Choga Mami, north of Baghdad, had up to one thousand or more inhabitants each. Local populations grew as high as five thousand in the Ubaidian period (ca. 5000-4000 b.c.), perhaps qualifying the villages as towns. At least by this era, each city associated itself with a patron deity, who, it was thought, protected the inhabitants and brought the town prosperity. Thus, the sun god, Shamash, was the patron of Sippar, northwest of Babylon; and Enki, god of the primeval waters, oversaw the town of Eridu, then only a few miles west of the shores of the Persian Gulf.
   Eridu, which flourished during the Ubaidian period, steadily grew larger than its neighbors and is often called the first true city. Certainly the Sumerians themselves, who appeared in Mesopotamia in the mid-fourth millennium B.C., viewed it as such. They claimed that it was the site of the original mound of creation, the first land that rose from the sea at the beginning of time. They also saw Eridu as the home of the first Mesopotamian king. Some modern scholars agree that Eridu was the first true city, although others think that Uruk, not far northwest of Eridu, is also a candidate for that distinction. Perhaps both views are correct. The older Eridu may have been used mainly as a ceremonial center, and Uruk may have featured the first actual urban center with large numbers of houses.
   Other prominent Sumerian cities included Ur, a few miles north of Eridu; La-gash, some 50 miles (80 km) to the northwest; and, farther to the northwest, Larsa and Nippur. By 2700 b.c. each of these may have covered several square miles and had thirty thousand or more inhabitants. They were not dependent units within a larger Sumerian nation but rather independent city-states, each in a sense a tiny national unit in its own right. Each consisted of a densely populated central town with houses, shops, and temples, surrounded by dependent villages and farmland supported by irrigation ditches.
   At first none of these early cities followed any logical or systematic plan. All were very old and had grown organically, adding streets, houses, and public buildings haphazardly, as human needs dictated. Streets tended to be narrow and winding. Over time religious precincts, where the temples were, became separate entities with walls to protect the shrines; likewise, the entire city was surrounded by a larger defensive wall to keep attackers at bay. Only later, in the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek eras, when rich kings decided to refurbish an old city or build a new one from scratch, did cities have formal plans. Thus, the grid of straight avenues that Herodotus saw in Babylon in the fifth century b.c. was the result of a renovation of part of that city in the recent Neo-Babylonian period. By Herodotus's day, Babylon was the largest city in the world, covering more than 300 square miles (780 sq. km). Before its destruction by the Babylonians and the Medes, the Assyrian city of Nineveh was almost as large, at an estimated 290 square miles (750 sq. km). The populations of these cities are unknown but must have been in the hundreds of thousands.
   See also: Babylon; Choga Mami; Lagash; Nineveh; Ur; Uruk

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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