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Ancient Near East - Northern Mesopotamia

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


The agricultural regime of Northern Mesopotamia and Syria differed from that of the south in that it relied on rainfall, rather than river irrigation for growing crops. Larger areas had to be cultivated to feed the same number of people, and as a result, the cities in the north tended to be smaller than those in the south, with more of the population living in outlying villages. These cities were also more secular. Unlike in the south, where temples were the central and foremost institutions, palaces usually dominated the cityscapes. These cities were the centers of small states incorporating the surrounding countryside where villagers farmed. Settlements in the states were more spread out than in the south and the hinterlands were larger. They were still in constant contact with one another. Kings and other foreign state representatives were often visitors at temple sacrifices and diplomatic marriages, where gifts were exchanged. Warfare was also a part of these contacts. Ebla had a long-lasting conflict with Mari, probably for control over the trade route to Babylonia, and for some time had to pay a heavy tribute.

The political organization of the north, a much larger area than Babylonia, was still similar to the south in some ways. Urban centers were the seats of power that dominated the surrounding countryside, even if the northern states were geographically larger. The city of Kish, in the far north of Babylonia, functioned as an intermediate point between these two worlds. It maintained closed contacts with both the northern and southern states and may have had a political organization that was based more on secular than on religious power.


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