Daily Archives: August 22, 2012

Canals of Baghdad

A recent photo from Wilkinson showing the remnant of a Mesopotamian canal.

If you ever think about ancient Baghdad you’re likely to picture a sand-blasted landscape and a city growing alongside the river in a narrow band where the ground is rendered fertile by the water. A least, that’s how I used to imagine it, probably influenced by all the reading I’d done as a kid about ancient Egypt.

But 8th century Baghdad, while it surely was beside the river, didn’t rise up from a desert wasteland. At the time, the entire region was criss-cr0ssed by great canals. The Abbasid caliphate inherited a system that had been carefully managed by the Babylonians and the Persians and a whole slew of prior civilizations that had worked very hard to bring water to the land lying between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. That whole “fertile crescent” thing isn’t hyperbole.