Ancient Mesopotamian Foods and Festivals

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Mesopotmia, the Land Between the Rivers

Mesopotamia was an ancient piece of land to many different communities of people.
Map of ancient Mesopotamia
Map of ancient Mesopotamia
The area was also known as "the land between the rivers", and its origins came from the Greek words "mesos" meaning middle, and "potamos" meaning river. It mostly lies between the Tigris and Euphrates River, and today, it's within the boarders of Iraq and also partly in Turkey and Syria. The northern part of Mesopotamia was often called Assyria, and the "cradle of civilization" was often used to describe the southern region, which was known as Sumer ,but later on Babylonia.

People there, called Mesopotamians depended on the rivers to help them meet their basic needs and survive. They used canals and other forms of technology that were dug across the plains to help get water to their crops to help them grow, since it hardly ever rained. Mesopotamians had to use and change their natural
Sattelite view of fertile crescent
Sattelite view of fertile crescent
environment for survival. Mesopotamians learned how to farm on the land of the Fertile Crescent. The fertile soil, which was provided by the Tigris and Euphrates, so they no longer had to travel and live as nomads. Instead of travelling in search of food and animals, farming allowed them to have more food than they needed, and not everyone had to farm. This allowed people to have free time, so that they could work on different things. As town and cities began to grow, the people who lived in Mesopotamia began developing social order, which includes ranking people in the society. Farmers were then considered the most important ones although they are sometimes considered as lower-class.

Farming and Food

is one of the world's most important and oldest industries. It provided people with basic needs such as clothing, food and shelter. It also provided people with materials that are used to make products like paints and medicine. About half of the world's workers are involved with agriculture. Agriculture was developed in the Middle East, the area known as Mesopotamia about 10,000 years ago.

Farmers were one of the most important people to the Mesopotamian society, which made farming one of the most important activities to the Mesopotamians. There were more people working the land to help grow crops, look after the water supply, and tend animals than any other jobs that were in the civilization, such as developing technology and inventions. Assyria, the northern part of Mesopotamia was a plateau with mild climates. And, in parts of it, farmers relied on precipitation and rainfall to water their fields and crops. Although the southern region, Babylonia, was a plain with layers of fertile soil that was created by the floodwaters of the rivers, summers' temperature was unbearable and there was almost no precipitation. What did farmers have to do? Well, they used technology and different inventions like canals for the water to be channeled to fields. This process was called "irrigation". It was an extremely essential for the Mesopotamians and farmers to dig and clear the canals since it could keep their lands more fertile for the crops. Harvesting, planting and hunting seasons were very important as well!
An idea of what a plough would look like
An idea of what a plough would look like

Early settlers of Mesopotamia domesticated two types of wheat called einkorn and emmer. Every year, farmers saved seeds from the best plants within each harvest. They used wooden ploughs to soften the fertile soil and planted, or sowed, the seeds the following year. Barley was considered the most useful grain since it could be grounded into flour to make bread. Crops such as onions, garlics, lettuces, cabbages, cumcumbers, turnips, grapes, peas, lentils, carrots, and leaks all fitted into the category of vegetables. Mesopotamian fruits then included apples, cherries, plums, dates, figs, and pears. There were also corn, sugarcane, yerba mate, manioc, flaxeseed, tobacco, mandarin oranges, and rice. With all these agricultural surplus, the people there cooked fine and delicious dishes and did not starve during winter like the nomads did during the hunters and gatherers period.

The main animals that farmers raised on a farm were animals like pigs, sheep, goats, deer and cattle. They also domesticated ducks, geese and hens for the eggs and meat. The Assyrians tamed horses as well, which helped them to travel large distances and won wars. Not only the Mesopotamians ate the animals that they fed, they also made meals out of wildlives, especially fish. The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were the source of the main source for the people. They also fished in lakes and the Mediterranean and Gulf Seas. Fishermen trapped fish in large nets and brought them ashore. Some also hooked fish with lines and rods or small fish nets. Fish could be eaten fresh, but they could be "preserved" by salting for smoking. Hares, birds, and gaselles were also often appeared in meals. The Babylonians even caught locusts, which they loved as a crunchy insect delicacy.

Mesopotamians not only took their crops for "eating", they took their farming for granted and dared not to wasted anything. Sometimes, they made bread and drinks out of their crops. Like it was mentioned before, barley could make bread after it has been grounded into flour. Mesopotamians added cheese, sesame seeds, milk, butter, and fruit into the flour in order to make different kinds of delicous bread. Not only that barley could be grinded into flour, people also used them to make low-alcohol drinks. In fact, they were some of the first settlers to make beer and wine out of them!! They drank it through straws to aviod swallowing solid pieces of grain. Mesopotamia people used every bit of their animals too, whether it was for food or clothing. The goats would provide them with milk and farmers shaved the sheep' fur for the wool. The cattle hides provided leather for the farmers, and both sheep and cattles would be use for clothes. Mesopotamians used the fur or skin of some animals for clothing and ate the meat of pigs, sheep, deer and cattle.

Before Mesopotamians learned how to farm, the only way they could get food was by hunting, gathering and fishing. People were always travelling and following herd of animals to where they were going. They had to do this because if they didn't, there would be no source of food. Mesopotamians were always in short supply of food. They never had more than they needed, and always had to hunt or gather, so that the food supply met their needs. They were constantly in search of food. This left no time for extra activities. Eventually when farmers learned how to farm, they had more food than they needed (extra or more food). Because there was always more and extra food than the people needed, this allowed people to learn or do other jobs that they were good at. Not everyone needed to work in the agriculture field, so people could develop and learn other things like arts, music, religion and more. This is slowly how civilization began to develop. More and more people began moving to the Mesopotamian area because people there, were never short of food supply. After more and more people came, the people decided that they needed a government, rules, laws and consequences that everyone needed to follow. This is the reason why farming and agriculture is so important.

Word Bank

Agricultural surplus- the extra food that is more than enough for everyone in the community (created by farming)
Agriculture- the production of growing crops/ plants
Irrigation- to supply land with water by using ditches, canals etc… (technology)
Domesticated- to tame/ train an animal or plant to live in a human environment & to be used to humans


The Mesopotamians actually have a lot of festivals, some of which you wouldn't expect them to have. They had many festivals like we do today that have a purpose for celebrating them. One of the festivals that a group of people called the Babylonian celebrated was called Akitu. Assyrians also took part in this festival. It happened during spring time and was marking the rebirth of nature and the renewing of vegetation. Akitu was also the celebration of the New Year. It lasted for a total of twelve days. On each day, Mesopotamians did something different. On the first day everyone prepares vegetation for the following festival days. Over the next couple of days, the Mesopotamians recited prayers to the gods asking for a blessing and had special religious ceremonies. It was celebrated in almost all of the cities at Ur and Nippur during the third millennium BC. Overall, Mesopotamians celebrated this festival as a way for their gods, including Tammuz, Marduk and Ashur, who were one of the few vegetation gods to bring them good luck an stability for the New Year. Akitu is one of the oldest recorded festivals in the world. It is also more than a religious ceremony. It was also about politics.

(This is a video about the Assyrian New Year in 2007, which took place in Sydney, Australia. This tells us that this celebration is still widespread and famous today. In this video, you could also see a lot of Mesopotamian tradition's music and art.)

Another really important festival was the Gudsisu Festival. This festival was a major festival of Ninurta, the husband of Queen Nippur. This festival marked the beginning of the ploughing season in Nippur. Ninurta was like the god of ploughing and the plow. He was a farmer's version of a god in thunder and rainstorm in the spring time. Ninurta was also the power of the floods during spring time. Before he changed his name, he used to be Imdugud, which means "raincloud'.

The Babylon International Festival was focused on musical arts, including singing, dancing, ballet, opera, folkloric music and musical theater shows. It represents many different cultures and civilizations. It first started on September 22nd 1987 and is now celebrated all over the world.
external image bab5.gif
Mesopotamians also had sacred seasons. During these seasons, Mesopotamians worshipped things like their community. These months were very important to the Mesopotamians.

A lapis lazuli pendant
A lapis lazuli pendant
During festivals people would often dress up and wear more jewelry, including lapis lazuli, topaz, carnelian which was one of the most prized. Wealthy people would wear gold animals and plants on a lapis lazuli bead backround to show wealthiness. Most women would also wear
A lapis lazuli and carnelian necklace
A lapis lazuli and carnelian necklace
head dresses to complete their outfit (clothing).

Word Bank
Lapis lazuli, topaz, carnelian - all a type of precious stone
Worshipped- to honor and respect
Vegetation- the process of plants and crops growing

More Interesting Facts on Ancient Mesopotamia!!

(This video originally came from the page of Mesopotamian Fashion by Laura and Denby. Click here to link to their socials-la-wiki page!!)

Other Interesting Links:

Egyptian Food- click here to learn about Egyptian foods and festivals!
Greek Food- click here to also learn about Greek foods and festivals!

Challenge!!!: Compare either Egyptian or Greek foods and festivals to what you learned
about Mesopotamian foods and festivals!


Halsey, William D. Collier's Encyclopedia. Macmillan Educational Center. New York, 1990.
Inman, Samuel Guy. "Mesopotamia". Collier's Encyclopedia. 2008.
Malam, John. Historic Civilization: Ancient Mesopotamia. Gareth Stevens Publication. 1957.
Richardson, Seth F. C. "Mesopotamia." World Book Online Reference Center. 2008.
Trede, Larry D. "Agriculture". World Book Online Reference Center. 2008.

[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapis_lazuli%3C/span%3E%3Cspan|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapis_lazuli<span]] style="FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-ansi-language: FR-CA"> "Mesopotamian Lapis Lazuli Pendant Image"
http://www.babylonfestival.net/pages/cebabylonfestival.html#Babylon%20Festival "Babylon International Festival", and picture
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/cultures/images/mesopotamia_map.jpg "Mesopotamian Lapis Lazuli and carnelian necklace image"

http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9055892/Ninurta#225083.hook "Ninurta"
http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-11660/Akitu "Akitu (Mesopotamian Festival)"
http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-248180/Gudsisu-Festival "Gudsisu Festival"
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=mesopotamia&searchmode=none "Word Origins--Mesopotamia"
http://www.mindspring.com/~mysticgryphon/bitakitu.htm "Rites of the Bit Akitu"

http://www.nineveh.com/Akitu%20and%20Newruz.html "Akitu (New Year Festival) and Newruz (Nuroz)"
http://www.nofa.org/tnf/fall99/ironplow.gif "Plough Image"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wksHEDgBRnM "Ancient Mesopotamia Video"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OWb5vPqrr0 "Assyrian New Year Video"