During the height of the Uruk period (c. 3400–3200 B.C.), so called after the old city of Uruk, southern Mesopotamia had close economic links to northern and eastern neighboring regions. Sites in southern Anatolia, northwest Syria, and eastern Iran show the same material culture, architecture, and accounting devices as in Uruk. This city appears to have been the center of administration for this complex system of trade and exchange, the largest and earliest urban settlement, with its impressively monumental public buildings and evidence of early bureaucracy (discussed later). Though it is still a matter of debate to what extent Uruk exercised political control over the vast area in which Uruk-style buildings and artifacts have been found, it is clear that the regularized contact with an urban center made an impact on the peripheral regions and that the administrative expertise gained during this period was invaluable for the subsequent development of the Mesopotamian economy.
   The Uruk “world system” fell apart toward the end of the fourth millennium, and southern Mesopotamia became relatively more isolated. During the Early Dynastic period (c. 3000–2350 B.C.), many new urban centers developed. The most efficient exploitation of cultivated land was achieved through institutional control over coordinated seasonal tasks, storage, and distribution of food and seed. The city-state emerged as the most suitable socioeconomic unit in response to these demands, with its production and administrative centers, the temples and palaces. Such city-states were composed of a more or less coherent territory of fields, canals, and villages. The walled city accommodated the majority of the population as well as public buildings and sanctuaries that embodied the “identity” of the community as residences of the city gods. City dwellers rather than rural people provided the bulk of the labor force to sustain the agricultural basis of the Mesopotamian economy. They were also recruited to maintain the irrigation works and public buildings. Most of the general workforce labored for subsistence rations in one of the large institutional or, later, private households. Of great importance for the efficient management of such complex landholding organizations were written records. Uruk literacy achievements were superseded by a system that allowed phonetic values to be represented in writing. Scribal skills were taught in a largely homogenized system, making use of syllabaries, sign lists, and lexical lists. By the mid-third millennium, cuneiform writing, still primarily pictographic, was used for several languages with very different linguistic structures (e.g., Sumerian, Semitic Akkadian and Eblaite, and Elamite). The success of Mesopotamian agriculture was its ability to produce enough surplus not only to feed the laboring masses but to free a large sector of the population from subsistence efforts. There was enough grain to support full-time craftsmen, bureaucrats and administrators, cult performers, and other professionals. The early lists of professions from the Early Dynastic period enumerate a great variety of occupations. Prolonged intensive exploitation of the available resources, however, could lead to conflict over rights to land and water. The historical records of the Early Dynastic period document violent clashes between neighboring cities. Mesopotamia was also seen as a breadbasket by peoples inhabiting less fertile lands. Raids on villages and fields were a constant threat in border regions, and population pressures from such peripheral areas with limited carrying capacity for expansion, such as the desert in the west and the mountains in the east, could result in sometimes massive waves of immigration.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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