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The raw material that epitomizes Mesopotamian civilization is clay: in the almost exclusively mud-brick architecture and in the number and variety of clay figurines and pottery artifacts, Mesopotamia bears the stamp of clay as does no other civilization, and nowhere in the world but in Mesopotamia and the regions over which its influence was diffused was clay used as the vehicle for cuneiform literature, and cuneiform law can apply only where people had had the idea of using soft clay not only for bricks and jars and for the jar stoppers on which a seal could be impressed as a mark of ownership but also as the vehicle for impressed signs to which established meanings were assigned—an intellectual achievement that amounted to nothing less than the invention of writing.Questions as to what ancient Mesopotamian civilization did and did not accomplish, how it influenced its neighbours and successors, and what its legacy has transmitted are posed from the standpoint of modern civilization and are in part coloured by ethical overtones, so that the answers can only be relative.
Between Baghdad and the mouth of the Shaṭṭ al-ʿArab (the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, where it empties into the Persian Gulf) there is a difference in height of only about 100 feet (30 metres).
As a result of the slow flow of the water, there are heavy deposits of silt, and the riverbeds are raised.
South of this lies Babylonia, named after the city of Babylon.
However, in the broader sense, the name Mesopotamia has come to be used for the area bounded on the northeast by the Zagros Mountains and on the southwest by the edge of the Arabian Plateau and stretching from the Persian Gulf in the southeast to the spurs of the Anti-Taurus Mountains in the northwest.
An English survey of ruined settlements in the area 30 miles around ancient Hatra (180 miles northwest of Baghdad) has shown that the southern limits of the zone in which agriculture is possible without artificial irrigation has remained unchanged since the first settlement of Al-Jazīrah.
The availability of raw materials is a historical factor of great importance, as is the dependence on those materials that had to be imported.
codes, of which the best-known is the Code of Hammurabi.
Throughout these codes recurs the concern of the ruler for the weak, the widow, and the orphan—even if, sometimes, the phrases were regrettably only literary clichés.
The extreme south is a region of extensive marshes and reed swamps, s, which, probably since early times, have served as an area of refuge for oppressed and displaced peoples.
The supply of water is not regular; as a result of the high average temperatures and a very low annual rainfall, the ground of the plain of latitude 35° N is hard and dry and unsuitable for plant cultivation for at least eight months in the year.
Consequently, the rivers often overflow their banks (and may even change their course) when they are not protected by high dikes.