Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape

Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape

Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape

Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape

Synopsis

The alluvial lowlands of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia are widely known as the "cradle of civilization" owing to the scale of the processes of urbanization that took place in the area by the second half of the fourth millennium BC. InAncient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization, Guillermo Algaze draws on the work of modern economic geographers to explore how the unique river-based ecology and geography of the Tigris-Euphrates alluvium impacted the development of urban civilization in southern Mesopotamia. He argues that these natural conditions granted southern polities significant competitive advantages over their landlocked rivals elsewhere in Southwest Asia, most importantly the ability to easily transport commodities. In due course, this resulted in increased trade and economic activity and higher population densities in the south than were possible elsewhere. As southern polities grew in scale and complexity throughout the fourth millennium, revolutionary new forms of labor organization and record keeping were created, and it is these socially created innovations, Algaze argues, that ultimately account for why fully developed city-states emerged earlier in southern Mesopotamia than elsewhere in Southwest Asia or the world.

Excerpt

In Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons, Charles Tilly (1984, 60–65) distinguishes four possible (and complementary) levels of analysis that social scientists can use to understand social change. In decreasing order of breadth, these levels are world-historical, worldsystemic, macrohistorical, and microhistorical. According to Tilly, the broadest level, world-historical analysis, is concerned primarily with comparative studies across deep time, for instance, “schemes of human evolution, of the rise and fall of empires, and of successive modes of production.” At this level, “the relevant processes for analysis … are the transformation, contact, and succession of world systems.” One level down in breadth are world-systemic studies, a term that Tilly borrows from the work of I. Wallerstein (1974) and his followers. Such studies are concerned with “big networks … of geographically segregated and … strongly interdependent social structures” that exist in any given historical era. In contrast, the third level—macrohistorical research—focuses on individual societies forming part of larger world systems and seeks “to account for particular big structures and large processes and to chart their alternate forms.” This is the level of “history as historians ordinarily treat it.” It is also the level in which “processes [such] as proletarianization, urbanization, capital accumulation, statemaking, and bureaucratization lend themselves to effective analyses.” The final—and most narrowly focused—level within Tilly's analytical perspective is the microhistorical level, in which “we trace the encounters of individuals and groups with those [macrohistorical] structures and processes.”

I find Tilly's analytical scheme quite useful in conceptualizing various aspects of my ongoing research interests in the emergence of early Sumerian civilization—widely acknowledged as the world's earliest—along . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.