Mesopotamia: Geography & Climate

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

While many people imagine ancient Mesopotamia as a hot and dry region, its inhabitants settled there because of the plentiful water supply. Continue reading to learn more about the climate as well as the natural and political geography of Mesopotamia in this lesson.

Ancient Mesopotamia

When you think about ancient Mesopotamia, you probably imagine a huge desert area that is hot and dry. While some of the area was like this, some of Mesopotamia was actually a temperate region that was full of life and abundance. Mesopotamia was located in an area called the Fertile Crescent, named such because of the fertile soil created by the abundance of water sources. The name Mesopotamia itself means ''in the middle of the rivers.'' The region was located between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. To get a better understanding of what ancient Mesopotamia was like, let's look at some details about the geography and climate of the region.

Geography of Mesopotamia

Bodies of Water

As we have already discussed, the Mesopotamian region was well-supplied with water from several natural land forms. The Tigris River formed the northern-most boundary of Mesopotamia. The Euphrates River formed the southern-most boundary. Both rivers flowed from the north to the south east, emptying into the Persian Gulf, which formed the eastern border of Mesopotamia. Today, the area we consider Mesopotamia is located mostly in Iraq.

The Tigris River flowing through Baghdad, Iraq
The Tigris River flowing through Baghdad, Iraq.

Political Geography

Because of the rich soil, it is not surprising that some of the ancient civilizations decided to settle in Mesopotamia. Three of the greatest and earliest civilizations resided there. The Akkadians, whose language was used to write great literary works like 'The Epic of Gilgamesh', resided in the middle of the Mesopotamian region. The Sumerians resided towards the southeastern end of the region, on the banks of the Persian Gulf. They were the earliest major civilization and were responsible for creating the wheel and the base-60 numerical system we use today. The Assyrians were one of the greatest empires of the time and lived towards the northwest of Mesopotamia, but expanded their control because of their strong military.

Because of the instability of the rivers, the empires relied on irrigation systems to both prevent flooding and draw water from the rivers into their land. Imagine relying on crops to grow your food instead of being able to go to the grocery store. In ancient Mesopotamia, the crops, of course, needed to be watered, but with little rain, agricultural workers had to connect their irrigation systems to the rivers with canals to draw water into the land. However, when it did rain, the rivers often overflowed which could kill crops or wash them away. The workers had to build diversion dams which would keep the water from flowing into the fields, preserving the crops needed for the livelihood of the Mesopotamians.

A map of the Fertile Crescent with Mesopotamia in dark brown; the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in royal blue; the Persian Gulf in light blue; and the red, green, and yellow dots represent Assyria, Akkad, and Sumeria.
Map of the Fertile Crescent

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