In Greek, Mesopotamia means “between rivers.”
This is the ancient name for the land between and along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now the nation of Iraq. The civilizations that rose there were among the earliest on earth. Some of them were flourishing while the pyramids of Egypt were being built!
Before 3000 B.C., a people of unknown origin, the Sumerians, settled in Mesopotamia and built the world’s first cities and canals. The region where they lived, near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, was called Edin, perhaps the Eden of the Bible.
Nomadic peoples from the desert later entered this region and set up their own kingdoms, such as Chaldea and Babylonia, and built the world’s first large cities.
The Assyrians, a people from the upper parts of the two rivers, began to conquer Mesopotamia in the twelfth century B.C. The first to arm their soldiers with iron weapons, the Assyrians eventually set up an empire that included not only Mesopotamia, but Palestine, Egypt, and part of Asia Minor, too.
Mesopotamia was conquered by the Persians around 500 B.C. and by the Greeks and the Romans later. Then in the seventh century, the region was invaded by the Arabs.
Iraq’s present capital, Baghdad, became the center of an Arab empire and the home of “The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” But again invaders came, first the Turks and then the Mongols. Britain gained control of the region after World War I, and Iraq did not become an independent nation until 1932.
Today, Iraq is a country of 172,476 square miles, with a population of almost 13 million. The land will never be as fertile as it once was. Irrigation over the course of many centuries has caused the salt that lies under the soil to rise, and much of ancient Mesopotamia is now barren desert.
There’s another substance under the soil of Iraq, oil. Iraq is now one of the world’s leading oil producers, ranking sixth in some years and as high as fourth in others.