SOCIAL STUDIES NOTES
CHAPTER 2 THE FERTILE CRESCENT
Section 1: Land Between Two Rivers
-The first known schools were set up inSumerover 4000 years ago.
-Sumerian schools taught boys-and possibly a few girls - the new
invention of writing.
-Graduates of the school became scribes, or professional writers.
-Scribes were important because they kept records for the kings and
-The writings Sumerian scribes left behind help to tell the story of
this early civilization.
II. The Geographic Setting
-Sumerwas located in a region calledMesopotamia.
-Mesopotamiahad rich soil and life-giving rivers.
-Sumer’s central location within the ancient world drew many traders
from other regions.
-Sumerbecame one of the most prosperous areas of the ancient
-Mesopotamia’s name describes its location. The wordMesopotamia
comes from two Greek words that mean ‘between the rivers.
-Mesopotamia lay between the Tigris andEuphratesrivers
- Mesopotamia is part of theFertile Crescent, a region in Southwest
Asiathat was the site of the world’s first civilization.
-The area eastward from theMediterranean Seato the coast of
Mesopotamia to thePersian Gulfis shaped like a crescent moon.
The rivers of this crescent-shaped region helped to make it one of
the best places inSouthwest Asiafor growing crops.
-The Tigris andEuphratesrivers were the source of life for the
peoples ofMesopotamia. In the spring, melting snow picked up tons
of topsoil as it rushed down from the mountains and flooded the
land. Farmers grew crops in this soil.
-The rivers also supplied fish, clay for building, and tall, strong reeds
used to make boats.
-The floodwaters, racing down without warning, also swept away
people, animals, crops, and houses.
III. The First Cities
-As farming succeeded inMesopotamia, food surpluses encouraged
the growth of cities.
-By 3500 B.C., some of the earliest known cities arose in the
southern region ofSumer, along the Tigris andEuphratesrivers.
-Each Sumerian city acted as a separate state, with its own special
god or goddess, its own government, and, eventually, its own king.
-Sumerian houses faced away from the crowded streets onto inner
courtyards where families ate and children played. On hot nights,
people slept outdoors on their homes’ flat roofs. Oil lamps supplied
light for Sumerian homes.
IV. Sumerian Religion
-Religious, social, and economic activities all took place at the temple
-Ziggurats were pyramids made of terraces and some were more
than seven stories high. At the top of each was a shrine. The
Sumerians believed that gods descended to the earth using the
ziggurat as a stairway.
-The people ofSumerwere polytheistic, that means they worshiped
many gods and gods and goddesses.
-Poly-, a Greek prefix, means “many.” Theism means “belief in a god
-The Sumerians honored their gods in religious ceremonies.Temple
priests washed the statues of gods before and after each meal was
-Food was often eaten after it was presented to the gods. Perhaps
the worshippers thought that by eating the offering, they would be
taking in the qualities they admired in the gods.
-Unfortunately forSumer, its wealth became its downfall.
-Sumerian states fought each other over land and the use of river
-Around 2300 B.C.,Sumerwas conquered by the armies of
neighboring Akkadia. Their ruler, King Sargon, united the Sumerian
city-states and improvedSumer’s government and its military.
-Sumerremained united for about 100 years. It fell to a northern
rival,Babylonia, in the 1700s B.C.
Section 2: BABYLONIA AND ASSYRIA
I. The Two Empires of Mesopotamia
-The biggest and most important Mesopotamian civilizations were the
empires of Babylonia andAssyria.
-The beautiful city ofBabylonwas the center of the Babylonian
empire. This empire reached its height around 1750 B.C.
-The Assyrians, named after the northern city ofAssur, began
expanding their lands in the 1300s B.C. By the 600s B.C., they
controlled a large empire.
-The Babylonians and Assyrians had two things in common. In their
quest for riches, they were vicious warriors. And in the enjoyment
of their riches, they built grand cities where culture and learning
were highly valued.
II. The Babylonian Empire
-A Babylonian king named Hammurabi created the Babylonian Empire
by uniting the cities ofSumer. Then he conquered lands all the way
to Asia Minor (Turkey).
-Under Hammurabi’s steady rule,Babyloncreated a system of roads
throughout the empire.
-Babylon’s location made it a crossroads of trade.
-In about 1760 B.C., Hammurabi conquered the city ofMariand
seized war chariots, weapons and tools.
-By about 1600 B.C., the empire first conquered by Hammurabi had
shrunk and was finally destroyed.
III. The Empire of the Assyrians
-Since they were constantly defending themselves, the Assyrians
became skilled warriors.
-By 650 B.C.,Assyriahad conquered a large empire that stretched
across the Fertile Crescent, from theNileRiverto thePersian Gulf.
-The Assyrians were clever warriors. They invented the battering
ram and had expert archers and armed charioteers.
-Assyria’s capital ofNinevehbecame a city of great learning. It had a
remarkable library that held thousands of clay tablets with writings
-The Medes and Chaldeans joined together to defeat the Assyrian
Empire in 612 B.C.
IV. Babylonia Rises Again
-Under the Chaldeans,Babylonrose again to even greater splendor.
It became the center of the New Babylonian Empire.
-King Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt the city ofBabylonwhich the
Assyrians had destroyed.
-Under the rule of the Chaldeans, the New Babylonian Empire
became a center of learning and science. Chaldean astronomers
charted the paths of the stars and measured the length of a year,
-In 539 B.C., the New Babylonian Empire fell to the Persians led by
Cyrus the Great, but the city ofBabylonwas spared.
SECTION 3: THE LEGACY OF MESOPOTAMIA
I. Hammurabi’s Code
-Hammurabi ruledBabylonfrom about 1792 to 1750 B.C. He set
down rules for everyone in his empire to follow. These rules are
known as Hammurabi’s Code. The code told the people ofBabylonia
how to settle conflicts in all areas of life.
-Hammurabi’s Code, which was based partly on earlier Sumerian
codes, contained 282 laws organized into categories such as trade,
labor, property, and family.
-Hammurabi’s Code was based on the idea of “an eye for an eye.” In
other words, punishment should be similar to the crime committed.
-However, the code did not apply equally to all people. The
harshness of the punishment depended on how important the victim
and the lawbreaker were. The higher the class of victim, the greater
the penalty was.
II. The Art of Writing
-Writing first developed inMesopotamiaaround 3100 B.C. Long
before Hammurabi issued his code, the people ofSumerhad
developed a system of writing.
-Writing met the need Sumerians had to keep records.
-Since only a few people could write, it was one of the most valuable
skills in the ancient world. Scribes held positions of great respect in
-The scribes ofSumerrecorded sales and trades, tax payments, gifts
for the gods, and marriages and deaths.
-None of these records were written on paper, however. Paper had
not yet been invented. Instead, the scribes ofMesopotamiakept
their notes and records on clay.
-The Tigris andEuphratesrivers washed clay down from the
mountains each year, and scribes shaped the soft, wet clay into
tablets. When the clay dried, it was a permanent record.
-Like most inventions, writing developed over time. Long before the
Sumerians invented writing, they used shaped pieces of clay as
tokens or symbols to keep records of how many animals were
bought and sold or how much food had been grown. By 3100 B.C.,
this form of recordkeeping had developed into writing.
-At first, written words were symbols that represented specific
objects. As people learned to record ideas as well as facts, the
-Eventually, scribes combined symbols to make groups of wedges
and lines known as cuneiform.
SECTION 4: MEDITTERRANEAN CIVILIZATIONS
I. Phoenician Sea Power
-Tyrewas the major city in a region calledPhoenicia.
-Phoenicians had settled in a land that had limited but very important
resources. Besides the murex snails from whose glands they
extracted purple dye to color clothes, they had a great amount of
dense cedar forests. They sold their dyed cloth and wood to
-In time, the Phoenicians controlled trade throughout much of the
Mediterranean. From about 1100 to 800 B.C.,Phoeniciawas a great
-Trade brought valuable goods from lands around theMediterranean
Sea to the Phoenician cities ofTyreandSidon.
-The Phoenicians relied on writing to help them conduct trade. They
developed a writing system that used just twenty-two symbols to
represent the sounds of the language. It forms the basis of many
languages used today, including English.
-In the Phoenician alphabet, each letter stood for one consonant
-The simpler Phoenician alphabet was far easier to learn than
cuneiform. Before the alphabet, only highly educated scribes were
skilled in writing. Now many more people could write using the
-The alphabet simplified trade between people who spoke different
languages. The Phoenician sea trade, in turn, helped the alphabet to
II. The Rise of the Israelites
-South ofPhoenicia, a small band of people settled in the hills around
theJordan Rivervalley. Called Hebrews at first, they later became
known as Israelites.
-Much of what is known about the early history of the Israelites
comes from stories told in the Torah or Hebrew Bible.
-The Israelites traced their beginnings toMesopotamia. For hundreds
of years, they lived as shepherds and merchants who grazed their
flocks outside Sumerian cities.
-According to the Torah, a leader named Abraham taught his people
to practice monotheism, a belief in one god.
-The Torah says that God told Abraham to leaveMesopotamiaand
-The Torah goes on to say that Abraham led the Israelites from
Mesopotamia to settle in thelandofCanaan.
-According to the Torah, a famine then spread acrossCanaan. The
famine caused the Israelites to flee south toEgypt.
-InEgypt, the Israelites lived well for a few hundred years. But then,
an Egyptian king forced them into labor after he got suspicious of
-According to the Torah, an Israelite leader named Moses led his
people out ofEgypt. The Israelites departure out ofEgyptis called
-For the next forty years, the Israelites wandered through the desert
of theSinai Peninsula.
-The Torah says that while in the desert, God gave the Israelites the
Ten Commandments, a code of laws.
-Eventually, the Israelites returned toCanaan. As they moved father
north, they were able to settle in many parts ofCanaan.
-They united under their first king, Saul, who defended them against
-The next king, David, established his capital in the city ofJerusalem.
-After David died, his son, Solomon, inherited the kingdom. After
Solomon’s death, the country split into two kingdoms. The northern
kingdom was calledIsrael. The southern kingdom took the name of
-The divided kingdom was ripe for invasion. Its neighbor,Assyria,
conquered the Israelites and gained control ofJudah.
-In 722 B.C., the Israelites resisted Assyrian rule. In response, the
Assyrians exiled thousands of people to distant parts of their empire.
-The Assyrians controlledJudahuntil 612 B.C., whenAssyriawas
conquered by the Chaldeans.Judahthen fell under the control of the
-Later, in 587 B.C., the King of Judah rebelled against the Chaldeans.
King Nebuchadnezzar responded by destroying the capital city of
Jerusalemand exiling the people ofJudahtoBabylonia.
SECTION 5: JUDAISM
I. The Beliefs of Judaism
-The early Israelites came to believe that God was taking part in their
-The Torah records events and laws important to the Israelites. It is
made up of five books. They are called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Later, Christians adopted these books
as the first five books of the Old Testament.
-Most ancient people thought of their gods as being connected to
certain places or people. The Israelites, however, believed that God
is present everywhere. They believed that God knows everything
(omniscient) and has complete power (omnipotent).
-According to the Torah, God promised Abraham that his people
would become kings and build nations.
-At the heart of Judaism are the Ten Commandments. The Israelites
believed that God delivered the Commandments to them through
-Some Commandments set out religious duties toward God. Others
are rules for correct behavior.
-In addition to the Ten Commandments, the Torah set out many
other laws. Some had to do with everyday matters, such as how
food should be prepared. Others had to do with crimes.
-Some laws protected women. One of the Commandments, for
instance, requires that mothers be treated with respect. But, as in
many other religions, women were considered to be of lower
social status than men.
-Prophets are religious teachers who are regarded as speaking for
-The Israelites were told by their prophets that all people were equal
before God. In many ancient societies, a ruler was seen as a god. To
the Israelites, however, their leaders were human. Kings had to
obey God’s law just as shepherds and merchants did.
II. The Effects of Judaism
-After their exile from Judah in 587 B.C., the Jews, or people who
followed Judaism, saw their homeland controlled by various foreign
powers, including the Romans.
-The Romans drove the Jews out of their homeland in A.D., 135. As a
result, the Jewish people scattered to different parts of the world.
-The Romans carried on the Jewish diaspora, the scattering of a
group of people begun by the Assyrians and Chaldeans.
-Wherever they settled, the Jews preserved their heritage. They did
so by living together in close communities, taking care to obey their
religious laws, worshipping at their temples, and following their
-Passover marks a time when Israelites believed their children were
spared from destruction. Death “passed over” them, and they were
led out ofEgyptby Moses.
-Judaism had an important influence on two later religions,
Christianity and Islam. Both religions have their beginnings in
-Both faiths originated from the same geographical area.
–Both were monotheistic.
-Jews, Christians, and followers of Islam all honor Abraham, Moses,
and the prophets.