Civilization could not be possible without water. Recorded history shows that human beings started forming sedentary settlements around Egypt and Mesopotamia. These settlements’ survival and prosperity relied heavily on the availability of food, which could only be produced where there was water.
Water had a critical role in the development and sustenance of early human civilizations. When human beings started adopting sedentary lifestyles, they needed to produce more food. This food was required to feed the growing number of people living in the newly established urban settlements. Therefore, water had a critical role to play in food production, a critical aspect of civilization. Prosperity also made the new settlements susceptible to outside interference. Coinquirers often raided cities with surplus food and well-developed farming systems. This susceptibility prompted the early settlements to form defense mechanisms. This essay explores how water influenced civilization through Agriculture and infrastructure development.
Agriculture first developed in Mesopotamia and later in Egypt. The catalyst for the development of Agriculture in the two regions was the presence of flooding rivers. Mesopotamia used waters of the fast-flowing Rivers of Tigris and Euphrates (Wiesner et al., 2015). Egypt, on the other hand, used the waters of the Nile. The need to produce food was necessitated by the abandonment of the hunting and gathering tradition. Human beings had discovered fire and had started cooking food. They had also started domesticating both animals and crops. They needed to produce these crops and animals in sufficient quantities to feed the growing populations. However, the areas where Agriculture started did not receive reliable rainfall, so the early civilizations resorted to using the river water through irrigation.
Irrigation enabled the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians to grow food without rainfall. Year-round food production created surpluses that were kept for times when production was inadequate. Irrigated Agriculture became so crucial that laws were created to govern the use of water. One such law is found in the Code of Hammurabi in 17500 BC said: “if a man opens his canal for irrigation and neglects it and the water carries away an adjacent field, he shall pay out the grain on the basis of the adjacent field.” (Wiesner et al., 2015). This law is a demonstration of the contribution of water in the development of legal systems through Agriculture.
Technology and Infrastructure
Technology and infrastructure developed out of the need to move water from the river to the cultivated fields and the settlement areas. Innovative ideas such as the building of canals and other systems like the Screw system and the Noria system formed the basis of ancient engineering (Wiesner et al., 2015). The early civilizations also developed water transport for transporting food and building materials. It made a cheap and easy way of transporting heavy and bulky items. It made transportation of such items possible to be used to construct buildings and monuments that were significant for the ancient cultures.
Mechanical systems like the Saqiya that used gears and ox power were complex engineering devices developed because of water (Wiesner et al., 2015). It is through such simple machines that later complex equipment developed. The need to draw water from deep reservoirs or steep river banks also led to the construction of the Shaduf, which also contributed to the earliest form of machines. Building infrastructure and developing technology for water use made human beings develop more complex ideas and set the foundation for modern technology.
Wiesner, M., Evans, A., Wheeler, W., & Ruff, J. (2015). Discovering the Western Past (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.10 Likes