Identify the region known as the Fertile Crescent and discuss what advantages led it to be the earliest site of human food production, as well as the reasons why it later lost its comparative...
Identify the region known as the Fertile Crescent and discuss what advantages led it to be the earliest site of human food production, as well as the reasons why it later lost its comparative advantages. How does the evolution of Assyria illustrate these arguments? This question is regarding the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.
The Fertile Crescent is an area of the Middle East that was very important in the history of the ancient world. The Fertile Crescent is so named because it is somewhat in the shape of a crescent. On one side, the crescent ends at the Persian Gulf in what is now Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran. The crescent arcs to the northwest up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and over to the Mediterranean. It then follows the Mediterranean coast down to Egypt. In ancient times, this region had fertile soil and a climate that was very good for agriculture. So far as we know, agriculture began in this area. The factors that made the Fertile Crescent good for agriculture can be found beginning at the bottom of p. 134 of Guns, Germs, and Steel.
On p. 136, Diamond lists the first factor that helped make the Fertile Crescent good for agriculture. He says that the region was part of a zone of Mediterranean climate. This kind of climate is good for plants that have characteristics that make them useful to people. This fact leads to the second factor that Diamond cites. This factor, also on p. 136, is the fact that there were many species of plants that people could domesticate in the Fertile Crescent. These plants were not yet domesticated but were still so useful that it was easy for people to use them to start engaging in agriculture. On p. 137, Diamond discusses a third factor. This is the fact that many Fertile Crescent plants reproduced in ways that made it easy for humans to domesticate them. These are the main advantages that, according to Diamond, led the Fertile Crescent to become the first site of food production.
Late in the book, on p. 410, Diamond gives reasons why the Fertile Crescent lost the advantages with which it started. The major reason why this happened is ecological. Simply put, the Fertile Crescent stopped being fertile. Diamond points out on p. 410 that
Large areas of the former Fertile Crescent are now desert, semidesert, steppe, or heavily eroded or salinized terrain unsuited for agriculture.
The formerly Fertile Crescent lost its fertility, Diamond says, through the mistakes of the people who lived there. On p. 411, he says that those people “committed ecological suicide by destroying their own resource base.” They cut down the trees, causing erosion. They used irrigation excessively, causing salinization of their soil. By overusing their environment, he says, they destroyed their land’s fertility.
According to Diamond, the Fertile Crescent enjoyed advantages because it had good soil, a good climate, and many native plant and animal species. The region stopped being fertile largely because it lost the first advantage. It lost its fertility when the people of the area abused their environment and caused it to become eroded and the soil salinized.
Diamond does not discuss the evolution of Assyria at all in Guns, Germs, and Steel. There is a great deal of controversy as to whether the evolution of that empire supports Diamond’s thesis at all. For example, Norman Yoffee, who coedited a book that takes issue with Diamond’s book Collapse, argues that Assyria developed and eventually fell for purely political reasons. Other scholars believe that Diamond is correct and that Assyria fell because of complications brought on by environmental catastrophes. However, this is not discussed in Guns, Germs, and Steel.