Fertile Crescent

Fertile Crescent

Once considered the “cradle of civilization,” the Fertile Crescent’s place among the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile rivers once led to an abundance of riches. Now the depleation of those resources has led to strife in the Middle East.


5 - 8


Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies


fertile crescent illustration

Fed by the waterways of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile rivers, the Fertile Crescent has been home to a variety of cultures, rich agriculture, and trade over thousands of years.

Photograph by Stefano Bianchetti
Fed by the waterways of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Nile rivers, the Fertile Crescent has been home to a variety of cultures, rich agriculture, and trade over thousands of years.

Named for its rich soils, the Fertile Crescent, often called the “cradle of civilization,” is found in the Middle East. Because of this region’s relatively abundant access to water, the earliest civilizations were established in the Fertile Crescent, including the Sumerians. Its area covers what are now southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and parts of Turkey and Iran. Two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, regularly flooded the region, and the Nile River also runs through part of it. Irrigation and agriculture developed here because of the fertile soil found near these rivers.

Access to water helped with farming and trade routes. Soon, its natural riches brought travelers in and out of the Fertile Crescent. This led to an exchange of culture and ideas, and advancements in the region as writing (cuneiform), math, and religion all soon developed there.

As time has passed, however, challenges have arisen in the Fertile Crescent. Turkey, Syria, and Iraq all depend on the waters flowing from the region. Increased population and demands on the rivers from urbanization have depleted the once-fertile soil. The construction of multiple dams has also put more pressure on the area, leading to lower water output and quality. As a result, much of the volume has declined to the point where nations utilizing the Euphrates River have to negotiate solutions to ensure each has access to needed water.

The environmental strain on the once lush and thriving area has been cited as a secondary reason for tensions in the region, including the conflicts in Syria. Political issues became entangled with geographical problems, and the result was a battle for control of the region, which began in the early 2000s.

While the current state of the Fertile Crescent is awash with uncertainty, its status as the cradle of civilization remains intact.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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