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In ancient Babylon there would have been no civilization without irrigation. Without irrigation the land would have turned back into an area of swamp and desert. For only a small area by the great rivers was naturally fertile. The rest of the land had been made fertile by irrigation. The crops, which were grown in the irrigated areas, were virtually the only source of food for the Babylonians. When the irrigation systems were destroyed it had disastrous effects.
All the water for irrigation was taken from the Tigris and the Euphrates, called Idiglat and Buranin in Sumerian. In early times the canals were old riverbeds when the river had moved to a new course. As civilization developed canals were being dug. The rivers of Mesopotamia are very unstable and tend even now to sometimes change course. The network of canals and flood banks helped to keep the great rivers in their original courses. If the course of a river changed, any cities nearby would be deserted for the cities relied on the river for their prosperity.
Officials were appointed to supervise the canals. They were entitled to call out all the able bodied men in the area, even men from towns. The official had to make sure that the canal was clear. The canal would often fill up with silt and weeds and these would have to be cleaned out. The official was also in charge of making sure that the flood banks were at the right height so that there would be no flood damage.