Since time immemorial, western Asians relied on the Mesopotamia irrigation canals for a promise of immense agricultural harvest. Strategically located between two rivers, Mesopotamia unveiled the road toward the birth of civilization, which proved phenomenal. You are a witness to the contributions of Mesopotamia to the world, and this historical breakthrough emanated from the wonders of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

Agricultural skill was paramount to the survival of the early Mesopotamians. You must recall that it was not easy to plant in an arid climate with a lack of water supply because of the topography of the land. To conquer this enormous agricultural problem, the Sumerians, who were the first settlers in the Mesopotamian region, devised an irrigation canal to hold the flow of water from the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers.

The Formation of the Ancient Mesopotamia Irrigation Canal

Irrigation was critical for grain production in the ancient world. Mesopotamia, which in Greek means “land between the rivers,” was highly reliant on irrigation systems. The first civilization flourished in this bountiful land in western Asia, alongside the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where agriculture was a primary industry.

You must realize that Mesopotamia began cultivating its agricultural lands. The use of irrigation began in approximately 8000 BC when a steady food source was required. You must also know that between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the ancient Mesopotamians, particularly the Sumerians, benefited much from this generous terrain.

Mesopotamia’s geographical position allowed many people to cultivate crops and anticipate the annual floods that replenished the land with silt. Dams, canals, dikes, and levees were constructed for the complete operation of the irrigation systems.

Every year was devastating for the ancient farmers in Sumer due to the unstable water supply for the farm. They sometimes suffered from drought, yet there was a deluge for the most part. You should remember that it’s a place with an extremely high temperature, in addition to the perennial low rainfall in the deserted regions of western Asia.

To augment the assistance for this agricultural scenario, the people of Sumer carefully studied how to keep the farm from destruction. You are aware that sometimes, the overflowing of the riverbanks was equally catastrophic for the economy of Sumer and its neighboring countries.

Apparently, to solve this perennial mess, ancient agricultural engineers devised a plan to build irrigation systems and dams using levees and canals to hold the water and manage its flow down to the vast field around the city-state.

This innovation worked well for the farmers along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, who eventually produced an enormous harvest. This progress in farming marked the way toward the economic development of the Sumerians, which brought forth the birth of the first civilization when irrigation in ancient Mesopotamia came to happen.

The Innovations of the Sumerians

The first settlers in Mesopotamia were the Sumerians. They occupied the southern region of the island in 4100–1750 BC and spearheaded farming to thrive. Before the construction of the ancient Mesopotamia irrigation, early Sumerian farmers suffered considerably due to the insufficient flow of water in the field or, worse, the recurring inundation of crops.

You know that they had low rainfall in the south, but the accumulated snow in the mountains of Anatolia caused the overflowing of rivers when the snow started melting. This made the farmers suffer even more, but the problem ended when the dams held water, which they regularly distributed in the field.

Advanced techniques in irrigation systems boosted the management of adequate water sources for the fields of Sumer. From the ingenuity of the Sumerians, the early farmers in Kish, Lagash, Ur, Umma, and Uruk were also able to free themselves from devastation.

The ambitious dream of building irrigation in ancient Mesopotamia began in 8000 BC. Ancient Sumerian farmers were eager to produce a bountiful harvest to help their families during drought and famine. However, the topography in Mesopotamia caused frustrated farming, and the usual failure in crop production resulted from insufficient water when they needed it and unnecessary overflowing of water at an unexpected time.

You know, the Sumerians were affluent people. Modern civilizations owe them the inventions of advanced language, architecture, fishing, sculpture, trading, and many more. To top it all, they methodically introduced governance in the community, which gave birth to a systematic society.

The Sumerians are regarded as the forerunners of modern civilization that we currently enjoy. As evidence, the Sumerians built organized cities with temples, residential areas, farmlands, markets, and workplaces. Since they introduced industries, such as carpentry, shipbuilding, pottery, and textile production, they practically made proper places for these jobs.

You notice that they contributed remarkably to the first civilization, but their incomparable skills in construction were able to produce an outstanding engineering feat for the world to know.

The Wonders of the Two Rivers

Mesopotamia, the land discovered between two rivers, takes pride in its location, which serves as a refuge for the Assyrians in the north and the Babylonians and Sumerians in the south. They were protected by the Euphrates River and its 2,800 km length flowing along the Mesopotamian region.

Likewise, the Tigris River stretches to approximately 1,900 km from Lake Hazer in Turkey. Both important rivers trace their origin in the eastern part of Turkey, which cross the southeast route passing through Syria and Iraq. They traverse greater Mesopotamia parallel to each other with 50 miles distance until they finally meet again in the Persian Gulf.

This river route is divided into three parts: the upper, middle, and lower rivers. You can see valleys and gorges in the north, uplands in Syria and Iraq, and the alluvial plain in the south.

With centuries of farming, the southern part has been a host to a great many civilizations that inhabited the alluvial plain of Mesopotamia. You must realize that the rivers have been silent witnesses to the courage, pride, and even greed of mankind.

Every year, this river system contributed to the rise and fall of ancient men. The early farmers rejoiced when the harvest was good, and they cried out to their gods when the deluge caused catastrophic outcomes for the economy of Mesopotamia and its neighboring countries.

Consequently, the construction of irrigation systems along the rivers was an innovation that primarily helped the ancient farmers of Mesopotamia. Their progress resulted in the stability of agriculture, which eventually paved the way toward the economic progress of Sumer.

The Mesopotamia Irrigation System

Given the topography and climatic condition in Mesopotamia, it was tough for local farmers to win against the wrath of nature. Ancient farmers knew that they had a lesser chance of harvest when the rivers dried up or when they overflowed due to the melting of snow in the mountains.

They have already offered loads of supplications to the ancient gods to rescue the farmlands from devastation, but the greatest innovation that happened was the construction of the Mesopotamia irrigation system.

You could tell that the farmers themselves were able to identify the irrigation problem and its solution to secure an abundant harvest. According to archeologists who studied the lives of the Sumerians, large amounts of silt had been collected inside the flat and poorly drained riverbeds of Kish, Lagash, Ur, Umma, and Uruk by the time the water flowed down into the Sumer area.

Furthermore, the Euphrates River, which is higher in altitude than the Tigris and frequently spilled into villages on the Tigris side of the land, worsened the problem. These geographical circumstances caused difficulties with oversalination, silt, floods, and dehydration among the city-states throughout Sumer’s early history.

They learned that a massive construction of Mesopotamia irrigation canals was a must to help Sumerian farmers develop the fields. They knew they could only depend on the building of irrigation canals, which made farming viable at that time. Canals were formed to supply water that was inevitable to grow their crops. Those canals were also used to divert water from the river source to the vast fields in the Sumerian region.

Canals were cut to provide the water for crops and other plants to grow, to divert water, and to limit the damage from floods. The larger canals became navigable and could be used for communication or trade whenever there was an increase in water level.

Irrigation was also adopted in areas where it was not absolutely necessary to increase yields. Communities and rulers made the maintenance, repair, and dredging of irrigation infrastructure one of their highest priorities.

To make their work easy, engineers made large canals directly from the rivers. The large canals supplied water directly to smaller canals, which flowed directly to even smaller canals, then down to smaller irrigation systems, and finally to the fields.

This first irrigation system in Mesopotamia varied in depth and design. Due to some smaller channels, the higher elevation of the water, or narrow passages, engineers painstakingly created irrigation canals that could fit with the requirements of the land.

Hence, they sometimes built aqueducts for a sufficient supply of water and raised canals when the location required them. To make it more advanced, engineers implemented some mechanisms to control the flow and level of water, such as the shadoof or an irrigation tool used by farmers and the noria, a powerful device used to move water and turn the wheel for irrigation systems. They helped in ensuring the constant flow of water to fields.

You must recall that all these inventions in ancient irrigation systems were carefully documented by scribes in cuneiform writing and meticulously kept for future generations to learn.


Considering that agriculture was a vital part of Sumerian life, you can expect that the people wanted an abundant harvest every year. However, due to the unstable water supply caused by the annual drought and the perennial overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, farmers ended up devastated.

To solve this agricultural trauma, the ardent construction of irrigation systems in Mesopotamia paved the way to the modernization of farming in the ancient world. You will be in awe at the brilliance and wisdom of the ancient Mesopotamians, who devised plans to provide an efficient water supply in the country.

Once again, the creation of early irrigation systems has proven that human innovation can yield success, bringing forth an amazing legacy for the rest of mankind.

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