The land between rivers, part 1
عراق العربي (Erāq al-'Arab):
The Ancient Greeks called it Mesopotamia, the Arabs call it Bilad al-Rafidayn, for both the land between rivers was a land of great age, wealth, and splendour. In the wetlands along the banks of the Euphrates and the Tigris human civilisation was 'born', it was here that many of the world's first farmers worked their land, and their descendants continued to do so until this very day. In 1080 AD, Mesopotamia was a land of ancient traditions under a new order, and this preview will show you its southern half, the region that was generally known as Erāq al-'Arab: Arabian Iraq. Modern-day Iraq is named after this region, called 'Arabian' so to distinguish it from its eastern counterpart, Persian Iraq. This region, with the great metropolis of Baghdad as its capital, is one of the most opulent of all divisions of the world.
Before we go into further detail about this province, here is an overhead view of the region with full visibility of all its geographical features:
Geography and agriculture:
The feature that to mankind has defined Arabian Iraq is the vast amount of water that runs through the region by means of the Euphrates and the Tigris, both being among the greatest rivers of Asia and indeed, the world. It is at the northern border of the region that the two rivers start flowing closer and closer together, creating a vast expanse of wetlands where crops such as wheat grow very well, the wild variants of these nutritious plants being indigenous to the region. However, the rivers also have a downside, one which has since the dawn of agriculture been a major obstacle for the people living along those waters: they flood in October, just after the new crops have been planted. Leaving the farmland exposed to the unrelenting waters of the river meant certain devastation of the recently sown fields, and as such the people of Arabian Iraq have developed and over the course of millennia perfected a way to control the water and save their crops: irrigation. By 1080 AD, a multitude a great canals crossed the land, providing water to a great many farms, of which the produce was so abundant that the cereals and fruits that they yielded was exported to many distant lands.
As we move south however, settlement becomes more sparse as the Euphrates and the Tigris converge ever closer, the rivers becoming so large that they discharge water in every direction, creating a enormous swathe of marshland. In these wetlands the rivers flow into each other and also receive various streams from the north, bursting out of the swamps as a mighty expanse of water, slowly flowing down into the Persian Gulf. In this downstream area, the river is also joined by Karun river from Khuzestan. This last region does not belong to the province of Arabian Iraq, but geographically it does belong to Mesopotamia, as its rivers join up with the Euphrates and the Tigris, and as such it is presented here. These lands were the rivers join and flow into the sea are distinguished by their hot climate and fertile soil, which is a perfect climate for the production of dates and sugarcane that is so prevalent here. This whole southern half of Mesopotamia is bordered by mountain to the east and desert to the west.
We have tried to give this region a very authentic look, a defining feature of course being the new and unique textures we use. Not just that however: we have also conducted research on how the region's geography differed in the Middle Ages from what it is now. This includes historical courses of rivers, the absence of several lakes, and the fertility of the various parts of the region. An interesting example is that the Tigris today goes around the marshes to join up with the Euphrates much further downstream than it did in the Middle Ages.
Here follow two screenshots that show all the settlements of the region in more detail:
Demography and politics:
For the year 1080 AD it can be said with certainty that of all the cities that are represented in our mod, Baghdad, the capital of Arabian Iraq, was the largest by far. Baghdad was a true metropolis, where people of every known culture and religion were gathered in a city sprawling in all direction on both banks of the Tigris. The city, though in decline by then, was the most prised possession of the Shah of Eransahr (also known as the Great Seljuq Empire) The surrounding lands were just as wealthy as the capital itself, many towns and cities forming a great urban web around the rivers and the channels that took water from them. Of these many places around Baghdad, the greatest were Hillah, Karbala, Kufah, Takrit and Wasit.
The largest city of the region after Baghdad was Basrah however, one of the earliest Muslim capitals, and in nearby Khuzestan the largest cities were Tustar and Dizful.
An interesting feature of Arabian Iraq is that while most of the region is under the control of Eransahr, the western part along the Euphrates is almost exclusively under the control of Sham (Syria). At the heart of this division lies the divergence between the main religion of the region: the Islam. The Islamic faith knows two great sects: the Sunni Islam and the Shi'a Islam. The Seljuq dynasty of Eransahr followed the Sunni teachings, and most of Arabian Iraq was also of Sunni faith, because it was the home province of the Abbasid Caliphs, who had done much to promote their Sunni beliefs. The western part of the region however, had a Shi'ite majority, mostly because several of the most sacred Shi'ite shrines are located in this region. These people affiliated themselves not with the Seljuqs but with the Shi'ite rulers of Sham, therefore creating a fragile political situation. Though as of 1080 Eransahr and Sham are at peace with each other, the divided state of Arabian Iraq may well become a cause of war between the two in the future...
Here ends this preview, I hope you have enjoyed it!
The next preview will be The land between rivers, part 2. If you want to see it posted next Sunday, don't forget to contribute to the mod as described in the original post!