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By permission of "Asia," the Magazine of the Orient.

SOUTHWESTERN ASIA

LESSON IV

MESOPOTAMIA, THE LAND BETWEEN THE RIVERS

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The first home of the human race was probably in the southwest corner of the great continent of Asia. This is a land whose influence upon the history of the world can scarcely be overestimated. Natural barriers separated certain portions of the region. Where water was available for irrigation great nations developed and soon spread over the less protected regions, conquering them as the Babylonians conquered the Jews. Recent excavations in Mesopotamia reveal written records and remains showing that the Babylonians and other people of the TigrisEuphrates Valley were highly civilized long before the time of Abraham.

A name that fits.—The word “Mesopotamia,” which means “the middle of the river,” is the name for a long and comparatively narrow strip of land extending from the Taurus Mountains and Armenia to the Persian Gulf. The lower part of this region is the land where the Hebrews lived as captives and of which it is written in the Psalms, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof” (Psa. 137. I, 2). The passage shows that in Bible times, as well as now, there were many marshes in that region with the usual fringe of that lover of water, the willow.

SURFACE

Mesopotamia's border on the northern and northeastern side is a rim of mountains. From these extends a great plain southwestward a distance of 700 to 800 miles, where it fades away into the Arabian desert. Its greatest width is 200 miles. The region is almost as large as California and in latitude covers a stretch of land equal to that from San Francisco southward 200 miles into Mexico.

A link and a barrier.—The Tigris-Euphrates basin is a natural highway for commerce between the Far East and Europe. It has a western outlet to the Mediterranean. This passage is through an opening or breach in the mountains and desert which are on the eastern border of that sea, and which are a barrier to commerce as well as a hindrance to agriculture. Its eastern outlet is through the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

The Arabian and Syrian plateaus which border this area are ill adapted to travel and transportation. So the trade of that portion of the world probably always will be carried over this highway. The Mesopotamian passage connects now, as it did 5,000 years ago, two regions of very different climates, products, and civilizations. These two regions are the temperate countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the tropical Asiatic lands on the coasts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The barrier in this route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf is a double mountain wall in most places. In Syria, where the water cuts fifty miles into the coast line, th elevation drops to a single mountain chain called the “Syrian Saddle,” the crest of which is 5,000 feet high. The ancients used to cross this barrier through three passes, just as our forefathers used the Cumberland Gap to enter the Mississippi Valley from the eastern settlements of the United States. The Bagdad Railroad (of which we shall learn later) on its way to Aleppo pierces one of these passes with a three-mile tunnel. 1. Make a sketch map of the Tigris and Euphrates basins. Put

in the surrounding highlands and desert regions. Keep it in your notebooks and add the names of the cities and old

ruins as we study them. 2. What is the approximate size of Mesopotamia? Compare it

with your own State in size; in latitude.

CONDITIONS THAT DETERMINE LOCATION OF SETTLEMENTS

Climatic and other geographic conditions have determined the distribution of settlements and the main lines of travel in Mesopotamia. This is a region of little winter rain and long summer drought. The lower portion of the plain, Babylonia, gets less than eight inches of rainfall, or about that of the Colorado plateau. This portion, with the exception of the few miles of date palm forests near Bagdad, is a dreary region. The highlands of the Taurus Mountains wall in the upper portion of the plain, or Mesopotamia proper. These foothills average about 4,000 feet in height and wring out enough moisture from the clouds to make a reservoir of it in the form of snow on their tops. In the spring this melts and many slender torrents go down to the plain.

These irrigating streams have for centuries made this region a belt of towns. The towns are surrounded by well-watered gardens, orchards, vineyards, and fields of wheat and barley. The annual rainfall of from ten to twenty inches is sufficient to supply herbage for the caravans of camels and horses which journey between them. These market towns link the settlements on the Tigris with the western bend of the Euphrates and the low mountains of Syria. In olden times they formed a part of the chain along the trade routes from the Mediterranean Sea to ancient Babylon and Nineveh. I. Make list of the products carried over the Mesopotamian pas

sage from the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea in

olden time. To what regions were they sent? 2. List those from the tropical Asiatic lands. Tell their probable

destination.

RIVER SYSTEMS

The rivers that make this arid region a home for man are the Tigris and Euphrates. They drain a troughlike plain extending from the foothills of the Taurus Mountains to the Persian Gulf, which they enter as one stream.

Great rivers in a thirsty land.- The Euphrates is 2,000 miles long, or the same length as the Colorado River, with a basin twice as large. The Tigris, the oldest historical river in the world, is shorter, as it flows in a more direct course. Both of these ancient rivers are navigable for long distances.

A study trip on a kelek.—Could you imagine a more pleasant way of getting your history-geography lesson than by floating down on a mighty river where the events you are studying were enacted centuries ago? Would you not in this way get a clearer picture of the struggles of the people and the great men who led them in their development? Then, too, you would see the geographic conditions that gave rise to these struggles and aided man in overcoming his difficulties. There are three rivers in the world where because of their antiquity you could float and carry on a study of very ancient civilizations. They are the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Nile.

Let us, in imagination, embark on the Tigris, on whose banks tradition tells us Adam and Eve had their first home in the Garden of Eden. Our raft, or kelek, is constructed on the bank of the river. It is made of many poplar poles tied firmly together to form a framework, and then placed on goat skins. The skins are cut as little as possible in removing them from the animal. They are soaked over night in water, then tied at the openings to make them air tight, and inflated by blowing into them as you would inflate a toy balloon. From 100 to 250 of these skins are needed for a good-sized raft. The outside ones are tied together to form a border, but the others are not tied, as buoyancy keeps them in place. No metal is used excepting, two large bolts of iron to fasten the sweeps to the raft.

Life on the trip. Our men place our tents on one of these rafts, and we arrange for servants and supply of food. We have many cans of meat, soup, vegetables, etc., put up by Chicago firms, as well as boxes of biscuits, and packages of chocolate and tea, for our journey will take from ten to thirty days. The

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