The First Cities

the first cities
Photo by Russ McCabe on Unsplash


The first larger urban settlements appeared in antiquity in the Middle East, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. These cities were a proof of human progress, giving birth to the world’s first great civilization.

Cities could only develop when people learned to build settlements and turn them into permanent homes. This is what happened 10-12,000 years ago, on a large tract of land along the Middle East, from where Turkey is today to Iran. The natives of these places had initially lived from hunting and gathering, but gradually began to live in small communities, grow plants and grow animals.

But these settlements were not yet cities. The city is not only larger than a village, but the majority of its population does not deal with agriculture – craftsmen, traders, priests, soldiers, officials. Cities can exist if farmers produce a surplus of food to feed those who have other activities, indispensable to the development of civilization.

The existence of quite large settlements was dated quite early. The city known in the Bible as Jericho was permanently inhabited before 8000 BC, and Catal Huyuk, an old settlement discovered in Turkey, flourished between 6500 – 5000 BC. Unfortunately, information about these cities is limited, as there is no written evidence about them. The writing appeared later, before 3000 BC, in Sumer (now southern Iraq).


Unlike the areas further north, Sumer has never been a good agricultural land. Its rich soil could yield rich crops, but only after the marshes were dried and irrigated land. This involved an organized effort and probably required the participation of the entire population; Similar efforts were also needed to keep the system running. Being extremely productive and prosperous, the Sumer was soon divided into independent city-states – city walls – like Ur, Uruk, Kish, Lagash and Nippur, each with the role of capital of the surrounding territories.

Except for the food that was not lacking, the Sumer did not have resources. The lack of timber and stones, too heavy to be imported in large quantities, had the consequence of building buildings made of clay, dried in the sun and burned in ovens. Given the perishability of this material, it is surprising that many of these fragile structures have survived. These are the ziggurats, tall pyramids, lateral with steps, which initially led to the temple or sanctuary of a saint. Each city had its own saint and was built around an imposing temple. The priests had a power that was not negligible in Sumer and the first monarchs were born here. Moreover, it seems that the first code of laws was that of Ur, during the reign of King Ur-Nammu.

Sumer’s contributions to the development of civilization include the first wheeled vehicles, the potter’s wheel, and especially the writing. Starting with simple icons and ideograms, the Sumerians eventually developed the cuneiform writing, which was made on wet clay tablets, which were then dried to keep the message. These tablets kept the first literary texts, based on the myths and legends of the Sumerians.


indus valley

The civilization was born and developed in Sumer several hundred years before appearing in ancient Egypt. Only one civilization developed before 2000 BC. namely a mysterious urban culture located in the Indus Valley (today Pakistan) around 2500 BC. Apart from the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa settlements, very few vestiges have been preserved from this early civilization; in addition, because the preserved icons could not be deciphered, it is not known how the people of the Indus Valley were and how they managed to build those truly remarkable cities.

The cities of the Indus Valley looked like a network, with roads intersecting at right angles. This detail shows that the cities were designed and built before they were inhabited. The organized civilization of the Indus Valley collapsed around 1700 BC, but it is not known how and for what reasons.

And the Sumer had the same fate. His cities began to fight each other, thereby encouraging outside attacks. The Sumerians succeeded several times in defeating their enemies, and the Ur dynasty, founded by Ur-Nammu, marked one of the highest points reached in the development of this civilization. But after they were conquered by the lovebirds, around 1900 BC, the history of the Sumerians was integrated into that of the Babylonian civilization.


Middle East BC.

  • 10,000 – 3500 BC. -> Neolithic (early Neolithic): beginnings of agriculture, domestication of animals, potter
  • 8000 BC. -> Permanent settlement established in Jericho (West Bank, Palestine / Israel)
  • 6500 – 5500 BC. -> Urban settlement at Catal Huyuk
  • 3500 BC. -> Bronze Age: the first settlements in Sumer
  • 2500 BC. -> The first Sumerian dynasty in Ur; the tombs of the kings reveal a special culture and great wealth; the foundations of the civilization of the Indus Valley were laid
  • 2350 BC. -> Semites, under the rule of King Sargon, conquer the Sumer
  • 2130 BC. -> The sum destroyed by the Gutians
  • 2100 BC. -> Founding of the third Ur dynasty
  • 1900 BC. -> The Amorites conquer the Sumer; the Sumerian civilization is absorbed into the Babylonian one

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