During the second millennium B.C.E., environmental factors were a challenge to ancient civilizations around the world. These challenges could create food shortages, decrease trade, slow innovation, allow for invasion, or even cause the weakening and fall of a powerful civilization. A combination of these factors enabled the downfall of two strong civilizations around 2000 B.C.E., the city of Ur and the Xia Dynasty. While both the city of Ur and Xia Dynasty ultimately failed due to natural disasters, the causes of these disasters and the responses to them were drastically different.
The city of Ur experienced a drought-induced famine, invasions from Nomadic groups, and mass evacuation because the God Enlil decided that it was time to put an end to the city in order to disable it from becoming eternal; however, the Xia Dynasty experienced a corrupt emperor that displeased the Heavens, so a period of natural disasters occurred to weaken the city until a new, more moral emperor was given possession of the empire and control of the people.
Ur was a Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia around the mouth of the Euphrates River; Ur, at its peak, was both economically proficient and spiritually rich, as it was harbored a group of Gods that protected the land and its inhabitants. However, the city-state met its demise around 2000 B.C.E. due to environmental crises that led to food shortages and violent attacks and invasions from surrounding Nomadic groups.
To kickstart the fall of Ur, Enlil, the God of the Earth, wind, and air, used a drought to create an evil famine in the city. Ur, with its location in the modern-day Middle Eastern region, had a hot and dry climate that was impossible to farm without irrigation. During this long period of drought, the farmlands failed. The population, fueled by the previously prosperous economy and bountiful harvests, had grown too large to be sustained by the resources available after the failure of the farmlands, and the inhabitants of Ur were starved; even the King of Ur “who used to eat marvelous food grabbed at a mere ration”.
This famine led to a mass evacuation of the city; as the population grew smaller, the city of Ur lost its strength. As the city faltered and grew weak, surrounding Nomadic groups stole from the gardens and the livestock pens. The geopolitics of Ur made the city vulnerable to such attacks from these Nomadic groups, as the open plains and lack of natural defenses of the Sumerian region provided little protection from attack and invasion. Those who stayed in the city would starve, and those who tried to leave would face their Nomadic enemies.
As the city of Ur grew weaker, the Gods pleaded for Enlil to save the city; however, Enlil refused, as “Urim was indeed given kingship but it was not given eternal reign”. While Ur was a powerful city in Sumer for a period of time, Enlil enforced that it could not remain strong forever. When the Gods realized that the city had fallen, they abandoned it as well. The city of Ur, which was once one of the largest and most proficient cities in the world, was left by both the citizens and the Gods to succumb to the effects of the drought, famine, and Nomadic invasions.
The Xia Dynasty was the first dynasty of Chinese history, originating around 2000 B.C.E. The Xia Dynasty was in power for many generations and was located near the Yellow River in northern China. The Dynasty began to decline following a series of devastating droughts, significantly hotter weather, and large earthquakes that resulted in the emergence of a new emperor, Emperor Gui. This was a common occurrence in the dynasty, as the exchange of emperors always followed periods of natural disasters.
During the entirety of Gui’s rule, the dynasty was in crisis. The Yi and Luo Rivers ran dry, Mount Qu collapsed, meteors rained from the sky, earthquakes continued, and the drought got worse. The people of the Xia Dynasty, starving, unable to save for the next season’s harvest, and scattered due to the natural disasters, suffered greatly; however, Emperor Gui continued to live extravagantly as a tyrant, even implementing the “use of an imperial chariot drawn by human beings”.
The city of Shang, led by Cheng Tang, had successfully conquered the Chinese cities of Jing, Wei, and You Luo; the Shang army began to pursue other surrounding cities. Tang was informed that the “Jie of Xia lacked moral principles”. The Mandate of Heaven, which stated that only one ruler could rule China at a time, but that ruler could be overthrown if he was unjust, gave Tang the power to take action against the Xia Dynasty. He proposed an expedition against Xia, as Jie was corrupt and cruel to his people. Because this pleased the Heavens, precious metals flowed out of the mountains, and Tang was given possession of the Xia empire. After many years of drought, it began to rain, the Xia Dynasty ended, and the Shang Dynasty began.
Therefore, both the city of Ur and the Xia Dynasty failed because they were weakened by natural disasters, specifically disasters that created a famine and difficulty with farmland. The reasons behind these disasters and the responses to them were drastically different. In the city of Ur, the God Enlil created a famine in order to drive people out of the city and weaken it because the city was not given the right eternal rule, and it was time for the city to end. He allowed the city to grow weak and susceptible to attacks from neighboring Nomadic groups; eventually both the people of Ur and the Gods that were previously protecting it abandoned the land.
In the Xia Dynasty, a corrupt leader displeased the Heavens so much that they unleashed a period of devastating natural disasters on the land, which hurt the people but left the emperor unbothered, as he continued to live a lavish life. The people did not abandon the Dynasty, but they suffered through famine, drought, and earthquakes; the Dynasty grew weak. This weakness allowed a new, moral leader with approval from the Heavens to take over. This prompted the end of the Xia Dynasty and the creation of the Shang Dynasty, in which the droughts stopped and the lives of the people improved.
So, environmental factors, such as natural disasters, created difficulties for civilizations in the ancient world. These disasters could create famine, allow for invasion, disable growth, slow innovations, and ultimately even bring an end to a civilization. This was the case for both the city of Ur and the Xia Dynasty, although the reasoning behind the natural disasters in each of these regions was different, they both were brought to their end due to the effects of their environmental challenges.