Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Ancient Mesopotamia 101 | National Geographic

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- [Narrator] The story of writing,

astronomy, and law.

The story of civilization itself begins in one place.

Not Egypt, not Greece, not Rome.

But Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamia is an exceedingly fertile plain

situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers.

For five millennia, the small strip of land

situated in what is today Iraq, Kuwait and Syria

fostered innovations that would change the world forever.

Inhabited for nearly 12,000 years,

Mesopotamia's stable climate, rich soil

and steady supply of fresh water made it ideal

for agriculture to develop and thrive.

About 6,000 years ago, seemingly overnight,

some of these agricultural settlements blossomed

into some of the world's first cities.

In the period between 4,000 and 3,100 BC,

Mesopotamia was dotted with a constellation

of competing city states.

At one point, they were unified under

the Akkadian Empire and then broke apart

forming the empires of Assyria and Babylon.

Despite near constant warfare,

innovation and development thrived in ancient Mesopotamia.

They built on a monumental scale

from palaces to ziggurats,

mammoth temples served as ritual locations

to commune with the gods.

They also developed advanced mathematics,

including a base 60 system that created

a 60-second minute, a 60-minute hour

and a 360-degree circular angle.

The Babylonians used their sophisticated system

of mathematics to map and study the sky.

They divided one earth year into 12 periods.

Each was named after the most prominent constellations

in the heavens, a tradition later adopted by the Greeks

to create the zodiac.

They also divided the week into seven days,

naming each after their seven gods

embodied by the seven observable planets in the sky.

But perhaps the most impactful innovation to come out

of Mesopotamia is literacy.

What began as simple pictures scrawled onto wet clay

to keep track of goods and wealth

developed into a sophisticated writing system

by the year 3,200 BC.

This writing system would come to be called cuneiform

in modern times and proved so flexible that

over the span of 3,000 years, it would be adapted

for over a dozen different major languages

and countless uses including

recording the law of the Babylonian king Hammurabi,

which formed the basis of a standardized justice system.

But Mesopotamia's success became its undoing.

Babylon in particular proved too rich a state

to resist outside envy.

In 539 BC, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon

and sealed his control over the entirety of Mesopotamia.

For centuries, this area became a territory

of foreign empires.

Eventually, Mesopotamia would fade like its kings

into the mists of history.

And its cities would sink beneath the sands of Iraq.

But its ideas would prevail in literacy, law,

math, astronomy and the gift of civilization itself.

The Description of Ancient Mesopotamia 101 | National Geographic