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Cooperation and Private Enterprise in Water Management in Iraq: Continuity and Change between the Sasanian and Early Islamic Periods (Sixth to Tenth Centuries)

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This article shows that the management of water resources in Late Sasanian and Early Islamic Iraq (sixth to tenth centuries ad) implied the participation of local communities and the mutual cooperation of landholders. The organisation of water management in the Late Sasanian Period (sixth to seventh centuries) depended on a highly complex system of interaction between local communities, aristocratic rulers and the imperial bureaucracy. This interaction allowed the government to gather information from different regions of the empire and to understand the needs of the different stakeholders. As such, the system provided a favourable institutional framework for the expansion of irrigated agriculture. The system changed when landholding conditions were transformed in the Early Islamic period, during the ninth century. These institutional transformations allowed the influence of a group of tax-farmers and merchant-bankers to increase. Irrigation policies were therefore bent to the interests of these new elites, which often lay in short-term gains rather than in long-term success. The article suggests that, in the long run, these socio-economic and institutional changes contributed substantially to the breakdown of the agricultural system in Ancient Iraq.
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Keywords: Iraq; Irrigation; Sasanian Empire; Sawād; property rights; water management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2017

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2017) of 0.538. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.792.
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