CITIES
   Mesopotamian scribes considered urban life as the only form of civilized communality. Aperson’s civic identity was that of a citizen of a particular city with its suburbs and surrounding countryside. Nonurban members of the population defined themselves by tribal allegiance.
   Myths describe cities such as Babylon to have been created by the gods to be their dwelling place. Each city was thus intimately connected to a particular deity, whose image resided in the temple. Ur, for instance, was the seat of the moon god Nannar-Suen, Sippar of the sun god Shamash, and so forth. The fate of individual cities was linked with the prestige and popularity of their main deity. Royal patronage of the cult could sustain a city with a famous sanctuary in periods of economic hardship or ecological problems. Awell-developed temple economy, more or less independent from central control, could also contribute substantially to a city’s survival. The city of Uruk, which boasted two ancient and important shrines, of the goddess Inanna/Ishtar and the sky god Anu, owed much of its longevity and prosperity to the religious prestige of the city.
   Economically the city functioned as a regional center, controlling the agricultural production of the surrounding fields and organizing the craft and textile manufactory. Temples as well as governmental institutions (see PALACES) organized the administration. Since the early third millennium B.C., cities competed over land and especially water resources and engaged in intense intercity rivalry that often escalated into warfare. As a result, cities came to be surrounded by fortified walls and military commanders could achieve positions of power.
   Competing interests of individual cities could be reconciled through alliances and leagues, which ensured cooperation and mutual support. They also prepared the way for centralized state formations that subordinated the control of individual cities to a single political entity controlled by a king (see AKKADIAN DYNASTY; THIRD DYNASTY OF UR). Such centralized control could only be maintained for limited periods since the resentment of city leaders fostered rebellions and resistance. It was the Kassite Dynasty that managed to form the first unified state to endure for centuries; this was no doubt to some degree at the expense of cities. Small towns and villages became the dominant settlement form during this time. The old cities benefited in subsequent periods as centers of production, sacred centers, and political capitals (see BABYLON; NINEVEH; URUK). The Babylonian cities survived the demise of the country’s political independence under the Achaemenid and Seleucid regimes.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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