Villages to Cities: How Cities Were Invented

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  • 0:07 The First Farmers
  • 0:44 Problems Being a Lone Farmer
  • 2:25 The First Villages
  • 3:48 The City of Uruk and…
  • 5:35 Becoming an Empire
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Max Pfingsten

Max has an MA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Behavioral Genetics, a Master of Education, and a BA in Classics, Religion, Philosophy, Evolutionary Psychology.

In this video lesson, you'll meet Uruk, a lone farmer living in ancient Mesopotamia. As Uruk tries to become a successful farmer, he realizes the difficulties in sustaining a fruitful farm without the help of a community. Watch to understand how these difficulties contributed to the creation of villages and cities throughout history.

The First Farmers

The year is 5300 BCE, the beginning of what archaeologists now call the Ubaid period. The place - Mesopotamia, a fertile tract of land between the Tigris and Euphrates.

Meet Uruk the farmer. Uruk has found himself a beautiful place to farm. Fertile land, plenty of water, a commanding view of the plains around him. He's got his seeds and he's got his livestock. Surely, Uruk has everything he needs to be a successful farmer.

The problem is that farming requires much more than planting and reaping.

Problems Being a Lone Farmer

To succeed, Uruk the farmer must also practice dozens of other skills.

To use the food he's grown, he'll need to be a miller and a brewer. To store his food, he'll need some sort of vessel, which means he has to be a potter and a weaver.

Most baskets and pots don't do well without a roof overhead, so he's going to need buildings. To create and maintain these buildings, Uruk needs to be a carpenter, a thatcher, a mason and a blacksmith.

To take care of his livestock, he needs to be a shepherd, and by extension, a hunter, a sheep shearer and a tanner.

To get any of his products to market, he'll need to be a wheelwright and a carter.

To keep track of his accounts, he'll need to be an accountant and a scribe.

To ever make children he's going to have to find someone unrelated to breed with.

Finally, Uruk is going to need to be able to defend himself; Uruk must be a warrior. Why? Barbarians! Barbarians are the bane of farmer. Why do all the work of growing food? Why not instead find someone, like Uruk, who has done all the work for you and take what you want from him? You see, for a barbarian to get all the things civilization can do, he can either learn to do all the things Uruk does, or just train to be a better fighter than Uruk and take his things.

So you can see, being a solitary farmer is a very difficult life. You must have dozens of skills and specialized equipment. Most of all, you're constantly in danger of attack.

The First Villages

To overcome these problems, Uruk invites nearby families to live with him in the valley. They form a village. This village allows them to band together for common defense. This also allows for a division of labor. With all of these farmers living together, not everyone needs to be a farmer. Now someone can be a blacksmith, someone else can be a thatcher, someone can be a potter, someone can be a weaver, and Uruk, all Uruk has to be is a farmer. And probably most importantly for Uruk, this village gives him a place to meet girls on a Saturday night.

Yet this cute little village is still vulnerable to barbarians. The village of Uruk can now fight off a small barbarian clan, but the bigger the village, the more tempting the target. While the farm of Uruk might have escaped the attention of raiding barbarian bands, by contrast, the village of Uruk is just begging to be pillaged.

Despite these risks, the benefits of living in a community are so great, more and more people come to live there. Gathered together, they still have a better chance of defending themselves from barbarians than they do on their own.

Over the course of a thousand years, the village of Uruk grows into the town of Uruk. In the course of this history, Uruk gets invaded, flooded and burned, but people keep returning to this ideal place for a town.

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