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Agriculture in Assyrian civilization

Agriculture is one of the most important and oldest economic activities practiced by man, knowledge of agriculture was a turning point in the history of humanity, by practicing it, his life was transformed from mobility to stability. He built houses with many rooms and roofs as an alternative to caves, he built them primarily from furnished beds with pillows, and used more utensils, and he made a small table on which he arranged all kinds of food for him to eat. 

His livelihood depended on hunting and hunting animals, domesticating them, raising them, producing victories from his dairy products, and his food changed from relying on picking fruits from plots on the plateaus, to cultivating those plots in the valleys near his place.

Since long times ago, agriculture has basically been  associated with the emergence of ancient times, the presence of agriculture was close to the river valleys in the Nile valley in Pharaonic Egypt and the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq and successive ancient civilizations, it is necessary to tame these rivers, so irrigation engineering emerged, including digging canals and constructing dams, for protection from the danger of flood, overcoming the repercussions of drought, and providing irrigation for agriculture.   

Agriculture was formed and grew in Mesopotamia after it became the cradle of human civilization in the ancient world, and it differed as a result of the difference in environment and place, agriculture in southern and central Iraq was different from agriculture in the regions of northern Iraq, this is what made the Assyrian civilization, which was in accordance with the cultural development witnessed by ancient Iraq, a major point in cognitive progress and the acquisition of craftsmanship, skill, and thinking, agriculture and irrigation had a wide-ranging role within this transformation and tremendous development in it.

Mesopotamia and agriculture

Mesopotamia has possessed all the elements of civilization since ancient times, it contains the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which flow from the northwest to the south and east, bringing with them fresh irrigation water and enhancing the fertility of the soil suitable for agriculture, which paved the way for several cultural transformations that formed the beginning. These transformations were embodied in the emergence of villages and the emergence of cities in the regions, the North witnessed the beginning of the agricultural revolution.

The transition from a life of hunting to domestication of animals, and from movement to settlement in the regions of the ancient Near East was slow and gradual, and the mountainous regions in the northern part of Iraq were among the first places in this regard, due to the availability of a moderate climate, abundant fresh water, natural plants, carnivorous animals and carnivorous Herbs, in addition to a strong, active human being, were all among the components of the establishment of civilization,the human ability of the upper regions of Mesopotamia to enter into a safer and more stable life when he achieved the knowledge of producing his own strength when he knew agriculture and animal domestication more than 10 thousand years ago.

Through these data imposed by the environment and the new social life of the first humans in northern Mesopotamia, the first agricultural villages were established in ancient Mesopotamia, as the village of Jarmo is one of the oldest agricultural villages discovered, through excavations in it, sixteen archaeological layers or residential houses were discovered, built with irregular clay, along with the presence of pottery industries in it, excavations revealed the presence of many other villages in the same area, where rain was sufficient for rain-fed agriculture to take place in them, even after the end of the rainy era and the onset of drought far from the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, where it was The rain is sufficient to enable the cultivation of food crops such as wheat and barley, along with the natural vegetation represented by fruit trees and grasses necessary for grazing.

Reasons for the existence of agricultural activity

Mesopotamia, or the Fertile Crescent, was one of the first regions settled by humans, the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia were classified into four types, according to their agricultural lifestyle and living conditions:

The first category represents the inhabitants of the mountainous regions in present-day northern Iraq, it is likely that they have inhabited this region since ancient times, and they were the first to practice agriculture and establish villages in Mesopotamia.

The second category represents the shepherds, whose original homeland is the desert of the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula.

While the third category represents the Semitic groups that settled on the shores of the Euphrates River, and were displaced from the Arabian Peninsula following the gradual drought there after the last ice age, and they were the first to establish cities as the nucleus of ancient empires, as is the case in the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires.

The fourth and final category represents the inhabitants of the marshes in southern Mesopotamia.

Climatic conditions and their changes

The climate of Mesopotamia at the beginning of the third millennium BC was under the influence of winter rains resulting from Mediterranean depressions, according to the climate of the Mediterranean Sea. 

On the other hand, it seems that southern Mesopotamia was still affected by the extreme summer monsoon rains resulting from the monsoon winds coming from the Indian Ocean. That is, the climate of Mesopotamia had a constant rain system.

As the end of the third millennium BC approached, the extent of the summer monsoon retreated southward to the areas where it occurs today or close to it, while all parts of Mesopotamia remained far from the influence of the summer monsoon rains, and were under the influence of the winter rains resulting from the frontal depressions coming from the West.

Our opinion regarding the possibility of seasonal rains falling on central and southern Iraq in the first half of the third millennium BC can be supported here with two additional basic pieces of evidence:

The first is that although many paleoclimate records of all types, especially those concerned with studying monsoon rains in the middle and end of the Holocene, began to decline since 3000 BC, the retreat of the subtropical encounter front “ITCZ” towards the south, and what accompanied it seasonal weakness occurred gradually, not suddenly, as a result of the gradual decrease in solar radiation. 

This transformation continued for a long period of time until it reached what it is now, this paved the way for the southern and central parts of Mesopotamia to be affected by these rains for a longer period, knowing that the period 3000-2000 BC witnessed activity in the summer monsoons, according to what was shown to us through a number of studies concerned with verifying the ranges of seasonal rains.

These studies indicated that summer monsoon rains reached the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan during the same period.

Interest in agriculture

The interest in agriculture in Mesopotamia during the Assyrian era reached great interest, agricultural lands were surveyed, those lands were divided and invested in a correct manner. Drying and irrigation canals were dug, the agricultural system witnessed forced labor, and slaves were exploited in this field.

Designs of water basins and tanks were also created, and laws were legislated that specified the conditions for agriculture, the duties and wages of the farmer, and the rent for rented lands.

In addition, the country has known a system of small real estate ownership, and a system of distributing agricultural land ownership, and because of the interest in agricultural activity, land has become a source of national income and a manifestation of social prestige.

Soil fertility and agricultural tools

Soil fertility played a vital and fundamental role in the interest of agriculture in its development and prosperity, the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers gave a comparative advantage to those lands, in addition to the regular availability of irrigation water from those lands, which was helped by the irrigation system.

The ancient Iraqis also used various types of agricultural tools, such as knives and sickles. Sickle blades and stones for pounding grain were found at the Karim Shahir site.

For plowing, they relied on a sharp-edged triangular stone tool, and they used pottery dishes to separate the grains from the ears.

The Assyrian king Adad-Narari says in this regard: 

“I built buildings in my country, installed irrigation facilities in them, increased the number of granaries more than they were in previous days, and increased the number of horses prepared for the yoke''.

Through the above, the fame of agricultural wealth continued to spread in Assyria. Greece, as a country with limited agricultural lands, was distressed when the Assyrians cut off the export of grain to them.

Their king (Tglatbriz I) mentioned some of his agricultural achievements by saying: 

(I made the plows work in all parts of Assyria, and therefore I accumulated more grain than my ancestors, I created a wealth of cattle, horses, and donkeys from the spoils that I took, with the help of my lord, the god Assyria, from the lands that I spread. My influence over her.

Tawakkalti-Ninurta I mentioned the construction of canals, and Tawakkalta-Ninurta II proposed digging 470 wells..

The most important agricultural crops 

Field grains

Field grains such as wheat, barley, spelled, and corn are among the first agricultural interests of the Assyrians, they were keen to cultivate and care for them, as they are their main staple food and one of their sources of national export income.

Historical sources indicate that their main crop was barley, followed by wheat, and other grains that were popular with them at that time were millet (emmer) and corn, there is a possibility that rice reached Assyria through Persia in the first millennium.

In cultivating field grains, they used plows, which were of two types, one for breaking up the soil and the other for sowing seeds, both types were pulled by either ox or donkey, and sometimes horses.

There were other crops such as lentils, millet, chickpeas, and sesame used in oil production, and excavations resulted in the discovery of cucumber seeds in the Nimrud region.

The Assyrians achieved knowledge of fungi and algae of all kinds, and they achieved their medicinal uses in various diseases. For this reason, it can be said that the Assyrians used antibiotics in their primitive form and in their healthy places, and they also used sesame seeds for many medicinal uses, many medicinal plants were mentioned in the Assyrian dictionary as a clear indication of what they achieved,there has been progress made not only in agriculture, but also in medicine.

Gardens and orchards

The Assyrians were considered the first to work in the field of gardening and creating gardens, King (Tijlatbeleser 1115 d. 1093 BC) during the Middle Assyrian era, planted trees and plants in his gardens that his previous ancestors did not know, such as cedar, coffee and oak trees.

Also from the Middle Assyrian era, there are cuneiform texts from Nuzi in the city of Kirkuk, indicating that Prince Shilu Teshub had vast properties, and that his agricultural province included vineyards, orchards, fields, and hundreds of livestock and sheep.

Historical sources also indicate that King Sennacherib planted gardens and orchards, which were filled with rare trees that he brought from many distant provinces, and added to them more other gardens.

King Sargon II entrusted the engineer Nabuchar Ashur with supervising the planting of a large orchard around his new capital, Dor Shurkin

Many trees spread throughout the Assyrian kingdom, such as cypress, pine, pistachio, pomegranate, olive, quince, pear, vine, and fig.

Historical sources indicate that vines were not cultivated in Assyria until the first millennium BC, when their cultivation became widespread, all orchards were planted with vines in the late Assyrian era, and the multiplicity of vine trees depicted in Assyrian sculptures is evidence of their abundance and widespread cultivation, and wine was made from them. Assyrian wine was one of the most important types of wine in the ancient world.

The palm tree appeared naturally in Assyrian art as an expression of their natural environment, which they wanted to transfer to their country despite the cold climate for its cultivation.

They believed that the palm tree was a source of goodness and blessing, and so the palm tree was engraved on Assyrian cylinder seals, including an Assyrian seal that is perhaps the oldest among the seals and dates back to 1500 BC, in which the palm tree appears in its natural form.

The Assyrian murals emphasized the existence of a special feature of the palm tree as a symbol of giving, fertility, and growth, in addition to the benefits that the palm conferred from raw materials such as palm trees, branches, and palm wood, and also the preference for its shade and benefiting from it, as banquets were held under it, and they used to grow agricultural crops under its shade to protect it from Cruel weather factors.

The Assyrians demonstrated the palm pollination process in one of their murals. 

Breeding and domestication of animals

Raising and domesticating animals, especially livestock, is one of the first manifestations of the interest of the Assyrian kings in developing agriculture and animal production, by taking advantage of these animals and developing them in providing food materials such as meat, eggs, hides, etc.

Livestock had a dual importance, as it was not only a source of food, but also one of the tools of agriculture, they were used to pull plows and carts, trample, and sow seeds. 

Cow meat was an acceptable meat, but it was not common among the rich, Ashur Nasir Bal’s feast included 100 pickled bulls in the form of slices, one of the important processes in animal production is milking cows and extracting dairy products from them, such as cheese, butter, and so on.

  Lamma))Human-headed winged bulls

The Assyrians sanctified the bull in the Neo-Assyrian era, and it was accompanying the sun god in their murals, the bull man appeared carrying the winged disk of the sun, and they embodied him by giving him a human face and wings, and they carved statues of the bull to be crouching in front of the gates of cities and the palaces of kings to guard them.