Soil plays an important part in people’s daily lives. It plays a factor in how plants grow, how it can filter our water, provides essential nutrients to our forests and crops, and it also helps regulate the Earth’s temperature. It also plays a role in our food source. Without soil how would we grow our vegetables and fruits? Without proper care for the soil most civilizations would rapidly decline. For example, many ancient civilizations rose in power but declined rapidly due to their soil health. Ancient civilizations including the Ancient Roman Empire, Mesopotamians, Indus River Valley, and the Ancient Egyptians fell due to soil degradation. Even today with all our buildings and all the compaction happening to our soil, one day we may end up like the civilizations that fell before us. This paper will go over how each ancient civilization fell due to the improper care of the soil that they lived on. The Ancient Roman Empire was one of the biggest civilizations in the ancient world with more than 50 to 90 million people, which was about 20% of the world’s population when it was at its height in 117 AD.
It lasted from 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. However, most powerful empires can crumble due to multiple reasons. One of the reasons for the Roman Empire included soil depletion. The empire had farming practices that lasted for more than 1000 years in which they grew grains, olives, and grapes due to the Mediterranean climate of dry, hot summers and cool, rainy winters. However, Roman farmers faced many problems which still occur today such as weather, rainfall, and pests. Based on some research deforestation was also one of the main reason for the fall of the empire. Deforestation was caused due to war fare and livelihood. “As the great Roman orator Cicero said in a speech which no one apparently heeded: serit arbores quae alteri seculo prosint (‘He plants trees so that another age may profit’)” (Ltd).
For warfare, you can’t have enemies hiding in the trees, so the Romans would cut the forest downs by the thousands and thousands of aces. Also, because Rome needed to meet the needs of the luxurious elite it caused a whole host of problems eventually weakening the Empire to the point that it could no longer stand. Wood was needing to be burnt for the winters; homes and buildings need to be built and the primary material for the empire was wood. Runoff and eroded soil from the deforested hillsides increased the amount of silt and impeded the flow of water into agricultural areas. Eventually, due to the Mediterranean climate and the increased depletion of soil nutrients from hundreds of years of harvesting, yields diminished. This was a devastating blow to the empire due to the massive size it needed to feed and they soon became dependent on North Africa for food. Sometimes due to bad weather food was delayed which caused riots to breakout. Because of the soil erosion from hillsides, water and rich soils built up in lowland areas, forming large marshes which are which is “a type of wetland, an area of land where water covers ground for long periods of time. Unlike swamps, which are dominated by trees, marshes are usually treeless and dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants (National Geographic Society).
The spread of malaria from these marshes was so bad that it forced the abandonment of the few remaining cultivable lands. By the time the of the invasions the empire was already a starving parasite that sucked its lands dry. Hence, the fall of the Roman Empire. Mesopotamia was another empire that was prospering until its downfall started around 2300 BC. Mesopotamia which is the Greek word for ‘between two rivers’ was an ancient region located in the eastern Mediterranean. The ‘two rivers’ of the name referred to the Tigris river to the north and the Euphrates river to the south where Mesopotamia was located. Mesopotamia was mainly an agrarian society. They grew many crops and raised livestock. Due to the lack of wood aka forests, they would build most of their homes and buildings using sun-dried bricks. “The domestic architecture of Mesopotamia grew out of the soil upon which it stood. Unlike Egypt, Mesopotamia –especially in the south– was barren of stone that could be quarried for construction.”
The land was equally devoid of trees for timber, so the people “turned to other natural resources that lay abundantly at hand: the muddy clay of its riverbanks and the rushes and reeds that grew in their marshes. With them, the Mesopotamians created the world’s first columns, arches, and roofed structures.” (Mark). Rain was often seasonal in the winter and spring and would cause flooding. Which meant that in the other seasons water was very scares. So, irrigation techniques are one of the reasons for the decline of the empire. When irrigation water is allowed to evaporate in the fields it can leaves behind mineral salts. These mineral salts become highly poisonous for the plants. Its irrigation water is drained, erosion occurs. Unfortunately, by 2300 B.C. agricultural in Mesopotamia was reduced to a tiny fraction of what it had been. Many fields were abandoned because they became useless. Another downfall of an ancient civilization due to improper handling of agricultural.
The Indus River Valley civilization that was located mainly in the northwestern regions of South Asia from 3300 – 1300 BC. Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early cradles of civilizations of the Old World. Ancient Egypt is another civilization that fell and will be discussed later in the paper. The downfall of this civilization was mainly due to climate change and shifting in the earth’s crust. It only took 200 years for the decline to happen. Around 1900 BC the Saraswati River started to dry up and according to many scholars this was the starting point of the decline. By 1800 BC tectonic event may have taken place causing the Indus river, which most of the cities lived on, would overflow often which caused buildup of salts in the soil and that made it hard to grow crops. Near the same time this was happening the Ghagger Hakra River (another river in the area) dried up. This caused many people to abandon the cities. By around 1700 BC most of the Indus Valley Civilization cities had been abandoned. Thus, the downfall of the Indus River Valley civilization. Ancient Egypt. One of the most well know civilizations due to popular movies and books. However, do many people really know what may have contributed to their downfall? Ancient Egypt was around for more than 30 centuries from 3100 BC to 332 BC. The Nile played a big role in the lived of the ancient Egyptians.
The river would bring food supply of wild edible plants and seeds, fish, birds, and big game. “The Nile overflowed its banks each year around September. The water went onto a flood plain that extended the length of the river and averaged a dozen miles wide. Each year the floodwaters deposited new fertile silt into natural basins. Farmers did not have to add fertilizer to the soil” (Costly). As you can see the Nile river did most for the work for the farmers. After the water soaked into the earth, farmers would plant in rich soil and it was plowed over with wooden plows pulled by oxen. Nature did the rest until it was time to harvest the crops in the spring. The cycle started all over again with the next Nile flood. This was how the Egyptians would survive every year. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. By 2300 BC scientists think that a shift in the circulation of the atmosphere may have reduced rainfall and caused widespread climate change in many places. This would cause the Nile to stop overflowing and enriching the land. Due to this it caused the food supply to shrink. At this point due to a lack of a strong king and as the drought continued it played a major part in the collapse of the Old Kingdom. In conclusion, based on all the research of the ancient civilizations that collapsed due to agriculture. Some civilizations could have prevented it like the Romans but other not so much. The Romans declined due to their choose in cutting down all the trees and causing deforestation. Others couldn’t really help their downfall. The Egyptians had a system in place for a very long time until the climate changed, and the Nile stopped overflowing and helping with the crop productions.
I suppose they could have found some ways to try and help their agriculture continue but they may not have had the science that we have now a days to test soils. Due to all the science and new discoveries land managers now have access to new, innovative soil management strategies that can mitigate soil, water, and air pollution, while also enhancing ecosystem performance. So all in all we are a little better of then the old civilizations were but that doesn’t mean we as humans should do anything to help contribute to a better and heather environment.