Mesopotamia is considered the cradle of civilization. The "Fertile Crescent," of present day Iraq, is where Western Civilization first emerged. At times of rapid growth in Mesopotamia, the value of wood was equal to precious gems, stones, and metals. Neighboring states were conquered for wood, gold and silver. By 2000 B.C. the last Mesopotamian empire had collapsed. The connection between their decline and deforestation is well supported. Excessive amounts of timber were felled around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and their tributaries. This caused increased siltation and salinity which compromised the water quality and soil productivity. Irrigation canals filled with sediment and the water ways required constant dredging. Barley was the staple food of the Mesopotamians, and as crops diminished the great cities fell. They realized too late what had happened.
The late Bronze Age saw a great surge in the population and economic strength of Mycenaean Greece. In the thirteenth century B.C. large tracts of forests were cleared to accommodate the needs of the rapidly growing population. The wood was used for construction and to feed the great bronze furnaces. The harvested land was heavily grazed, hampering natural regeneration of the forest. The decline of ancient Greek civilization was directly linked to deforestation and soil depletion.
In the 1st century A.D. Rome already devoured its own forests for fuel, shelter and transportation. The fuel wood was used to heat, cook, smelt metals and fire the public baths.
Rome's monetary system was based on silver which required huge quantities of wood, a renewable resource, to convert ore into metal, a non-renewable resource. As wood became scarce the silver content of the metal was drastically reduced. This created a monetary crisis and a shift back to the bartering system. The public baths were used to appease the masses and also used huge quantities of wood.
The deforestation of their own lands caused decreased soil stability, which resulted in decreased agricultural production. The gap between wood and agricultural needs and domestic supply was an impetus for Rome's conquests throughout the Mediterranean region. These conquests employed Rome's fleet of 60 wooden ships. The decline of the Romans was directly linked to their failure to manage their resources sustainably. The same pattern repeated itself throughout history all over the world. Growing populations, excessive consumption, the use of wood for energy to process non-renewable resources, deforestation, soil depletion, watershed destruction, and the resulting problems of famine, led to economic and social collapse. When societies fail to live sustainably they come crashing down, even the greatest ones.