Last month, the Penn Museum published a fine lecture on the growth of population centers along the Nile from predynastic to Roman times—a span of more than 3,000 years. Much of what Dr. Josef Wegner presents is equally relevant to the growth of riverine cities in Mesopotamia, and especially in Southern Mesopotamia.
The Nile was a navigable floodplain from the Mediterranean south to Elephantine and the cataracts, until the Aswan Dam was built by the Russians in the last century to control flooding. So, the process Dr. Wegner describes is certainly applicable to the cities of Southern Mesopotamia that were founded beside navigable portions of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, especially those accessible to the Persian Gulf.
The Egyptians’ biggest advantage over Mesopotamia was the availability of stone for monumental construction, shipped downstream from the south via the Nile, and from west beyond the floodplain for much of monumental west bank construction. However, since I am focused upon the early 4th millennium BC Ubaid and Botai, the use of stone for monuments had not yet become the key differentiator between urban formation in either culture. For many reasons, but particularly for economy and flexibility, mudbrick was the material used for village housing and merchants in both cultures for several millennia, and also for monuments in southern Mesopotamia long after the Egyptians started using stone.
Listen intently to this high-quality (video and audio) presentation, pause to examine the close-ups of diagrams and other exhibits, and you’ll understand many of the nuances of early riverine city formation. Don’t be misled by the lack of emphasis on the agricultural production supporting the Egyptian cities, for the floodplain between the cities and the Nile and upstream and downstream was where the growing was done, and that mostly as a single annual crop of huge proportions. Moreover, before the Aswan dam, the alluvial soil deposited by the annual Nile flood was refreshed before each growing season, and did not suffer the salinity problem of irrigated Mesopotamia.
I learned much from this presentation, and hope you will as well.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke