In my ongoing series about ancient civilizations throughout the millennia, I have described a 1,000-year-old city in America, a 2,000-year-old city in Mexico, and a 5,000-year-old city in Peru. Now, I want to go back even further into the past and look at a 7,000-year-old city in Iraq. To be more specific I want to tell you about the oldest city in recorded history. Eridu was the very Cradle of Civilization itself. Circa 5400 BCE, it was established on the southernmost tip of a conglomeration of Sumerian cities that grew larger as temples got taller in the Middle East. The structures they built were made of complex mud brick buildings for the upper and middle class along with simple reed houses for the lower class. This ushered in a brand new era in what is now Iraq, unfortunately, much of that invaluable antiquity is now under threat if not altogether gone forever. Nonetheless, about seventy-four centuries ago, Eridu was the home of the original dynastic god-king who lived in the first palace in the world. His name was Alulim.
He lived in the time before people wore clothing made from woolen fabric back when everyone still had garments made from skin and raw wool. Regardless, Alulim’s administration developed the framework for centralized control among monarchies driven by taxation and bound by contracts that are still in use today. At the time, everyone gave what they had to offer as tithing for the deity Enki through his avatar their leader the god-king Alulim and his successors, who always redistributed the wealth by giving more to the rich and less to the poor, which still happens as well. The Sumerian upper class consisted of a strict patriarchy of government officials, military officers, and priests. As part of that, beginning around 375 generations ago in the time of Alulim, Eridu was home to the Abzu Temple of Enki. The initial construction of that ancient religious center gave rise to a 12-foot by 15-foot building, within which was a simple altar and a modest statue, to which offerings of freshwater fish were given. This is the oldest piece of modern architecture in the world, and it served as the focal point of the very first metropolis on the planet. It all began in Ancient Mesopotamia in the marshes of the lower Euphrates, among the Biblical “Garden of Eden”.
There, at the dawn of the modern world, city-states first emerged on the Mesopotamian Plain, long before other great places like Athens which would come along in the Mediterranean. Then, after the establishment of Eridu and other cities, Sumerian culture and customs spread north throughout Iraq, as well as out into what is now part of Iran, and also Syria. This opened up the first trade routes in human history, bringing in new commodities like whole forests of cedar and jars and jars full of tar. Undoubtedly, agriculture and literature initially took hold there because water was so abundant in that region. After all, the Fertile Cresent stretches from the Hills of Judea to the Zagros Mountains, crossing over the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and ending in the Persian Gulf. More to the point, since early Sumerian urbanization depended on irrigation, the proximity of Eridu to large bodies of water along with all the rainfall in that area made it possible to grow bushels of wheat and barley in record numbers. The crop yields they achieved were quite impressive, to say the least.
Seven millennia ago, the full-blown domestication of plants and animals rose to industrial levels, when sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs were all bred on a large scale along with various fields of grains. For the first time ever, people even migrated from the country to the city in search of work, because jobs needed to be done all over the place. For one thing, with large food stores on hand as a result of select few farmers, Sumerian rulers were always on guard against invading marauders, so soldiers were in high demand. This initial influx of laborers is when the division of labor as we know it first became necessary. Thus, as prehistory began to come to an end, it became important to develop letters and numbers to keep track of everything, including everyone. Moreover, the first time that bureaucrats wrote something down heralded the beginning of the end of the oral tradition. This was a defining moment in the course of human evolution. The development of cuneiform changed everything forever. When you get right down to it, history began the first time that words were written.
Of course, along with being important historically, Eridu was also very much geographically significant, along with sociologically, and so on and so forth. The first city was constructed in the near corner of the Fertile Cresent, at the edge of the Arabian Desert, on the eastern side opposite of Jericho in the west. This is important to note because Jericho is the oldest inhabited city in the world but it began as a town which dates all the way back to the beginning of the end of the age of villages, almost 8,000 years before the present, after Ziusudra, otherwise known as “Noah”, went through the “Great Flood” caused by the Supreme Being Enlil. Ziusudra saved mankind and his flocks of animals by building an ark after Enki had warned him of the wrath of Enlil. Put another way, the end of the last Ice Age gave rise to the Deluge around the world at different times and places, then small towns finally started giving way to big cities above the present water level beginning in Mesopotamia. The first of these covered about 25 acres of territory, which was considered to be rather extensive around 7,000 years ago. Eridu was also home to a population of several thousand people, who all lived together in a single society governed by the same criminal and civil laws, thus beginning the end of the Stone Age in the Middle East.
As the god-king’s own personal paradise, Eridu served as a major port in the early rise of the developing world. It also changed over time as ziggurats and other things were built in places such as Nippur, Uruk, and of course Eridu. The long-lost city actually lasted from 5400 BCE up until 2050 BCE before finally going into full decline. The thing is that although it was abandoned from time to time along the way, Eridu wasn’t completely destroyed until the 6th century BCE. Furthermore, nowadays in the 21st century of the Common Era, the archaeological remains of Eridu are acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This grants the 7,000-year-old city in Iraq legal protection by way of international treaties. Today, though, all that remains of Eridu are seven mounds less than fifteen miles from what used to be Ur. Hopefully, terrorists, looters, soldiers, and everyone else will just leave it all alone, but only time will tell. If people aren’t diligent enough in this regard, humanity will most certainly lose invaluable and irreplaceable relics. The Cradle of Civilization is an all-important record of the past, and we would do well to preserve it.
As always, thanks for reading! Plus, if you enjoyed learning about Eridu then you might also like what Nineveh had to offer, not Babylon as others have claimed. If you haven’t already heard the real story about the hanging gardens then you might want to read this: