Mesopotamian Irrigation

The development of irrigation system in Mesopotamia was one of the major trails towards civilization and modernization. The irrigation systems in Mesopotamia unlike the modern irrigation systems had some major components like the canals, gated ditches, levees and gates.

This invention had two main purposes – to protect Mesopotamia, and other ancient civilizations to the threat of flooding. Using flooding, however, with this system, could actually make the crops grow, instead of washing away crops. Furthermore, the main water sources of this irrigation system were the rivers Euphrates and Tigris.

In the ancient Mesopotamia the water supply was not regular be it in the form of rains or any other source which resulted in high temperature and the ground use to become hard and dry and unsuitable for cultivation of plants for almost eight months in a year.

Consequently, agriculture without risk of crop failure, which seemed to have begun in the higher rainfall zones and in the hilly borders of Mesopotamia began, irrigation had been invented then so as to bring water to large stretches of territory through a widely branching network of canals.

Through a system of dikes, dams and canals the precipitation in the mountainous region in the north was used in the south. The Mesopotamian irrigation system was of the basin type which were opened by digging a gap in the embankment and closed by placing mud back into the gap.

Water was hoisted using the swape. Furthermore, Laws in Mesopotamia not only required farmers to keep their basins and feeder canals in repair but also required everyone to help with hoes and shovels in times of flood or when new canals were to be dug or old ones repaired.

Some canals may have been used for 1,000 years before they were abandoned and others were built. These canal systems, in fact, supported a denser population.

In addition the Assyrians also developed extensive public works. Sargon II, invading Armenia in 714 B.C.E. discovered the qanat (Arabic name) or kariz (Persian name), which is a tunnel used to bring water from an underground source in the hills down to the foothills.

Sargon’s son Sennacherib also developed waterworks by damming the Tebitu River and using a canal to bring water to Nineveh, where the water could be used for irrigation without hoisting devices.

During high water in the spring, overflows were handled by a municipal canebrake that was built to develop marshes. When this system was outgrown, a new canal, nearly 19 kilometers (30 miles) long, was built, with an aqueduct that had a layer of concrete or mortar under the upper layer of stone to prevent leakage.

Together with the change of river flow this irrigation system stimulates throughout the Mesopotamian history and laid the foundation of new settlements and cities in ancient Mesopotamia which in turn contributed in the formation of the cradle of civilizations.