Journal of Earth Sciences and Geotechnical Engineering

The Greeks and the Sassanids - A new Glorious Era for Agriculture (330-625 AD)

  • Pdf Icon [ Download ]
  • Times downloaded: 9183
  • Abstract

    The Achaemenid Empire collapsed after the failure of King Darius III to stop the sweeping advance of Alexander in Anatolia towards Persia. Therefore, Alexander entered Babylon in 331 BC before advancing into the heartland of Persia itself and occupying its other major cities and advancing from there into India. At this point, begins to describe the period of the Greek domination at the return of Alexander to Babylon, which was followed, later on by yet another period of Persian domination of Mesopotamia. During his stay in Babylon Alexander looked into the conditions of the irrigation and water works. Although the canal networks were in good conditions when they were left from the Archimedean’s time, he nevertheless ordered the cleaning of all the canal intakes on the Euphrates River. His major undertaking, however, was to solve the problem of the canal called the Popallacopas. This canal was used to pass the floodwater of the Euphrates down to the marshes and from there to the Persian Gulf while the Euphrates continued its course through Babylon in the reach, which was known, as the Babil River. Every flood season the Popallacopas closing dike was breached to pass the flood but the task of constructing it back afterwards was very difficult. The closure was necessary to ensure suitably high water levels to serve Babylon itself during the low water season, the closing operation of the intake, which was located in a ground of  sandy soils, needed  large working force of not less than 10000 men. Following the advice of his engineers, Alexander solved this problem by excavating a new head reach channel from another location above the first one but located in good and firm ground. Alexander ‘s next move was aimed at the reclamation of the marshy lands located near the present day of Najaf and to this end he constructed a massive earthen dyke between Babil River and the marsh north of the present day town of al-Shanafiyah as a preliminary step to dry the marsh and then prepare it for canalization and cultivation. Alexander premature death in June of the year 331BC however put an end to this work. In the aftermath of Alexander’s death his empire was divided between his generals; Persia, Mesopotamia and Anatolia passed to Alexander’s general Seleucus I Nicator who founded the Seleucid Empire (648-312BC) and succeeded in extending it also to cover the whole region of the Fertile Crescent. Various Persian satrapies  (vassal kingdoms) such as Aria, Parthia, Fars, Media, Atropatene,  paid taxes to the Seleucids but ruled with a great deal of independence. Seleucus inaugurated his reign by building a new capital for the empire, which was the Seleucia-on-Tigris on the western bank of the Tigris 60 kilometers northeast of Babylon, not far from the confluence of Tigris and Diyala.  The lands of Mesopotamia at this point in time, had been already irrigated successfully by a system of canals maintained under the supervision of the State and agriculture was as usual the prime and most important basis of all the prosperity the empire had enjoyed. However, being a corridor between east and west Mesopotamia remained at the middle of conflicts with other outside powers and new rising tribal forces seeking to have their own kingdoms and empires. This was the case with the Parthians coming from the Persian heartland that had rebelled against the Seleucids after being vassals to them, and then vanquished their empire and took over its domains including Mesopotamia. In establishing themselves in Mesopotamia the Parthians moved their capital to Ctesiphon on the eastern bank of the Tigris opposite to Seleucia-on-Tigris about 58 BC, and remained the capital of the this empire until it was passed to the hands of the next Persian dynasty of the Sassanid. During the Parthian empire rule the economic prosperity was directly related to the upkeep of the irrigation systems and agricultural practices. Mesopotamia and the Persian lowlands of Khuzestan were the traditional centers of growing wheat, barley, and other cereals, while dates and other fruits were regularly produced and often exported. In the highlands of northeastern part of Mesopotamia and the Persian plateau, pastoralism and other forms of animal husbandry outweighed farming, although sowing various grains, most importantly wheat, as well as growing fruits, was also common. An earlier presence of rice in west Asia especially Mesopotamia might have also occurred through initial farming in eastern Persia and Transoxania. In the middle and south of Mesopotamia the Parthians looked well over the irrigation systems. In northeastern part of Mesopotamia and in Transoxiana the Kariz underground systems were used and maintained for the water supply of agriculture. The maintenance of all these systems was an important task of the Parthian Empire, often hinting on the strength or weakness of the government in certain periods of its history. It was also the case that in times of chaos and destabilization, that the maintenance of both the Kariz and the irrigation canals were neglected, causing further problems by weakening the agrarian, economy and causing further destabilization. Land tenure during the Parthian era did not differ much from the Babylonian or the Achaemenids eras. There were always two groups of people, either landlords or landless population, owners with large land holdings, usually members of the nobility and the court, controlled most of the productive land in the empire and, therefore families having such vast land areas would provide the basis of the later decentralized system under the Parthians. Another class of land-owning gentry, called the Azatan, also existed who were entitled to royal property in exchange for military service. The Azatan cavalry formed the hard core of the Parthian army and was mainly responsible for the Parthian success in external wars and in the quick initial expansion of the empire.

    Keywords: Greeks, Sassanids, Achaemenid Empire, Alexander, Iraq