Agriculture was a vitally important part of Mesopotamian society. The most common job in Mesopotamia was farming; most peasants worked on a farm of some kind, working to produce food for their families and for the people of the city they lived in. Most peasants had to pay their taxes using crops, and they were accepted as a stand-in currency in most Mesopotamian cultures.
Though there were many individual kingdoms and empires in Mesopotamia, all of them shared this emphasis on agriculture. Because trade links with other countries had not been established, the country was entirely self-reliant and needed a large number of farmers to produce food for the people. Even the largest Mesopotamian cities had space dedicated to farming within their walls.
Evidence which shows how important farming was to Mesopotamian civilization is its popularity in artwork from the time.
Many decorative urns, paintings, and pieces of jewelry depict images of the harvest and farmers at work. As the aim of Mesopotamian art was to portray elements of its art to outsiders, this shows us that it must have been an important element of life there.
The development of a proper system of agriculture also allowed the Mesopotamian people to shift from a nomadic lifestyle to a settled one. Before learning how to control the growth and harvest of crops, Mesopotamian peasants would have to move from place to place to follow food which had already been planted. The knowledge of farming gave Mesopotamians a chance to settle in one place for a length of time, and therefore establish civilization.
The most popular foods were grains (such as barley and wheat), legumes (including lentils, chickpeas, beans), vegetables (including beans, onions, garlic, leeks, eggplant, turnips, lettuce, cucumber), fruits (apples, grapes, melons, plums, figs, pears, date, pomegranates, apricots) and a wide variety of nuts and spices.
Some foods, like melons and figs, were eaten primarily by the very wealthy, while the most common food for poor Mesopotamians were the grains and legumes. As previously stated, farmers would pay their taxes to the kingdom in the form of crops, and keep only enough to feed their families.
The Mesopotamians watered their crops through a combination of canals (which they dug by hand) and irrigation. Irrigation is the practice of supplying controlled amounts of water to plants at needed intervals (which basically means that they would manually water their plants).
Because Mesopotamia was a desert region in general, irrigation was needed to ensure that crops would grow. Water would be transported to plants by means of channels, pipes, and tubes, or would be carried in buckets/pots by young men.
Many farms would also have been established near the natural rivers of Mesopotamia, to reduce the amount of irrigation required. This is why many Mesopotamian cities were built first on the banks of a river; as groups of farmers clustered around the natural water source, cities eventually blossomed.
The most common farm animals kept were cattle and goats, though artwork suggests that cattle were the most important of the two. Cattle would be kept for their milk and meat, and their skins would be used to make leather clothing and armor.
In some parts of the continent, wild sheep were also domesticated (trained) and farmed. Oxen were also kept for their strength, and used to help with the harvest.
The most important tools in any Mesopotamian farmer’s arsenal were their hoe, drill, saw, and ox-driven plow. With these tools, any farmer would be able to prepare a field for harvest.
– With crops.
– It appears frequently in Mesopotamian artwork, urns, and jewelry.
– Chickpeas and beans. (There are many acceptable answers for this one.)
– They were used to plow the fields before planting season.