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If so, how would they irrigate the crops? And if not, how did people live in such areas back then?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding.SE. If you have a moment, please take our tour. As written, this question is a little broad because all deserts are not created equal. You can improve your question by editing it to explain which desert is of greatest interest to you. Because climate changes over time, if you are indicating a desert of today, indicate that you're using it as a point of reference and not specifically that location during pre-roman times. This will help improve the answers you receive. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 8 '18 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garamantes $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Feb 8 '18 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize about the broadness of the question, I didn't have any specific deserts in mind. And that link actually answers it. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre S. Feb 8 '18 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ I suggest you look into ancient Babylon and the middle east in general $\endgroup$ – Reed Feb 8 '18 at 21:22
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Sure! But it depends on lotsa stuff.

Irrigation systems depend on the technological level of sophistication, the ease of access to non-salinated water supplies (is there a river nearby?), the political and sociological organization of the culture, and agricultural knowledge.

There are many examples of pre-Roman societies and their use of irrigation. See: http://mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu/cowen/~gel115/115ch17oldirrigation.html -and- https://www.cabrillo.edu/~crsmith/southwest.html (The second link gives information the ways irrigation was accomplished.)

And if not...

In cases where irrigation would be impossible, economically unfeasible, or technologically too difficult, cultures were mostly nomadic and/or hunter-gatherers. Pastoral cultures (herding) still depend on water, but occasional or oasis-type watering holes might work to provide for the beasts.

EDIT: Also, the Romans weren't—by any stretch of the imagination—the first to invent irrigation systems. However, I'm guessing you mean "pre Iron Age."

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Irrigation is at least 5,000 years old, predating the Roman empire by thousands of years.

For a concrete example, look at the Egyptians. Egypt is mostly a desert, with a big river running through it. According to Wikipedia, there's evidence they used irrigation about 3,800 years ago. That's hundreds of years before Rome was founded. (Rome itself was founded more than 700 years before the beginning of the Roman Empire).

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You don't have to have a culture that's technically advanced to practice irrigation. For instance, the ancestral Puebloan peoples of the southwestern US practiced irrigation. In particular, the Hohokam built an extensive system around the area that's now Phoenix: http://www.waterhistory.org/histories/hohokam2/ I don't see any reason why Eurasian people couldn't have done similar things long before the Romans, or FTM the Egyptians.

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