"The beginning is the most important part of the work." [Plato, The Republic]

  1. Overview
    1. First Civilizations in
    1. Tigris-Euphrates River valleys
    2. Nile River valley
    3. Indus River valley
    1. Metals
    1. Copper
    2. Bronze
    1. Fundamental Problems of Large Societies
    1. Government
    2. Food
    3. Workemployment
    4. How to improve life
    5. Preparation for afterlife
    6. Conflict with other societies
    1. Major Bronze Age Civilizations
    1. Middle Eastern river valleys
    2. India
    3. China
    1. Neolithic Revolutions — beginnings of village life — beginning about 8000 B.C.E. stone tools were made by polishing rather than chipping, making them stronger and capable of cutting more deeply. New tools seemed to be a response to the needs of the domestication of plants and animals, which coincided with the New Stone Age.

1. Domestication of animals — 10,000-7,000 B.C.

    1. Domesticated animals and plants brought about by climatic changes and population growth
    2. earliest domesticated herd animal was the sheep
    1. tamed about 9000 B.C. in Zagros Mts of northern Iraq
    2. Goat probably domesticated c. 7,500 B.C.

By taming animals and providing for their needs, herders were able to control the supply of meat much more effectively than hunters. The ability to select a time for slaughter meant that meat production could be scheduled to meet the needs of a village.

"Along with experiments in planting grain came attempts to control animals. By taming animals and providing for their needs, early herders discovered that they could select the time for slaughter and thus control the supply of meat much more effectively than could hunters." [Western Civ.: Origins and Traditions, p. 5.]

    1. beginnings of agriculture
    1. wheat and barley because of brief period of ripening
    2. people relying on what and barley had to do three things
    1. schedule movements — stopped when grain was ripening
    2. must be able to transport harvest
    3. must provide storage facilities

When these factors competed with other needs, people were encouraged to try and plant grain where they wanted to be rather than where grass grew wild.

"After the Ice Age, people in southwestern Asia took the first steps toward agricultre by harvesting wheat and barley — wild grasses that had become more common as the climate changed. Because gatherers have to schedule their movements to fit the demands of the grain (stopping for a harvest when the grain ripens, transporting and storing it until it can be consumed), people were encouraged to try to plant grain where they wanted to be, rather than where the grasses grew wild.

"The transition from wild to domesticated grain was slow. The ears of most wild grain become brittle as the ripen; when harvested with flint sickles, the ears would have shattered and most of the grain fallen to the ground. However, a small percentage of wild grain has tougher ears which would not have shattered, so that the grain could have been carried back to a village. There, whether spilled or deliberately planted, it created new stands of tougher-eared plants that eventually became domesticated grain." [Western Civ.: Origins and Traditions, pp. 4-5.]

    1. First step toward agriculture — wild Barley harvested around Mesopotamia plain by 9,000 B.C. — harvested with bare hands or simple flint sickle
    2. Ali-Kosh — early farming community in foothills of southwestern Iran — 7500-5000 B.C. — obtained resources from four zones
    1. open plain
    1. domestic sheep and goats
    2. Auroch
    3. Onager
    4. Gazelle
    5. Gerbils
    6. Nonita lizard
    7. Wild Cat (Trigoncella)
    8. Weasel (Procepis)
    9. Hyaena
    10. Canary grass
    11. Weeds
    12. ii. Barley Fields

      a. Rye Grass

      b. Aegilops

      c. Wheat

      d. Wild oats

      e. Bandicoot rat

      f. Wild Alfalfa

      g. Milk Vetch

      iii. marsh

      a. Wild boar

      b. Duck

      c. Turtle

      d. Goose

      e. Swamp plants

      f. Heron

      g. Carp

      h. Catfish

      iv. Salt River

      a. Mussels

      b. Black partridge

      c. Tamarisk

    13. Chenopods


At the same time people were domesticating grain and animals they "began to build small villages and towns. Often these settlements consisted of small tightly packed rooms with mud-brick or stone walls. By about 7500 B.C., early farming communities had emerged. The people that built these villages no longer depended on nomadic movement to secure resources but exploited a wide range of local resources." [Western Civ.: Origins and Traditions, p. 5.]

    1. Urban Revolution
    1. Egypt and Mesopotamia
    2. Development of cities
    1. Surplus crops
    2. Increased population
    3. Labor specialization
    1. Government officials
    2. Priests
    3. Soldiers
    4. Craftsmen
    5. Potters — people began to fire clay to produce pottery after early farming villages were established. Pottery vessels were more useful than baskets or skin bags
    1. cooking
    2. transporting and storing water
    3. protecting stored grain from mice

Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of a 6,000-year-old city in Syria, a find that suggests that urban civilization rose earlier than previous believed.

Scientists from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute found a protective city wall under a huge mound in northeastern Syria known as Tell Hamoukar. The wall and other evidence indicated a complex government at an early date

Until the discovery in 1999, the only cities dating back to 4000 B.C. were in the south in Sumeria, in southern Mesopotamia. …

The discovery at Hamoukar, dating from the same period, suggests that ideas behind cities may have predated the Sumerians….

Among the features indicating the site was a full-blown city, not just a town: thin, porcelain-like pieces of pottery indicating a sophisticated manufacturing technique, and huge cooking ovens (a commercial bakery), big enough to feed large numbers of people, and the oldest known brewery..

There also were stamps or seals) to make impressions in wet clay — like primitive hieroglyphics — used to make tokens that served as records for trade transactions. These seals, which range from simple stones with incised marking to ornate, beautifully carved figurines, were used for making impressions in clay to seal and identify food and trade goods. The seals suggest a hierarchy of authority with several layers of bureaucracy — a sure sign of civilization.

If Hamoukar was developing into a city at the same time as the Sumerians were building cities, it’s possible that ideas for urban development came from an even earlier culture…. [AP, May, 2000] and Thoms H. Maugh II (L.A. Times)

  1. Primitive Culture and Civilization
    1. Culture — a people’s way of life — that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. "The ways of living built up by a group and passed on from one generation to another." "A culture is the way of life of a group of humans. The group may be a primitive tribe, a large nation, or peoples of diverse origins sharing a civilization that spans a continent or rims an ocean." [Alf J. Mapp, Jr, The Golden Ages: Discovering the Creative Secrets of Renaissance Florence, Elizabethan England and America’s Founding, p. 9.] The culture of a particular group is its total way of life. It includes all the things the group as a whole thinks, believes, and does. It includes its art, literature, religion, philosophy, sports, clothing, politics, customs, and habits. Culture may refer to a country, region of the world or racial group. A culture that is especially large and complex is called a civilization. "the ways of living built up by a group and passed on from one generation to another." "Culture consists of what a group of people eats, wears, speaks, and believes. It also includes how they wage war, view art, use technology, and bury their dead. Culture is, especially, how a group of people views themselves in relation to others." Culture creates discernable patterns that not only aid in understanding civilizations, but also in comparing and contrasting those civilizations. It is neither superior nor inferior — it is simply different and unique. All culture is acquired, either by initiation or through the inheritance, imposition, or absorption of other cultures. It is through an understanding of the multiplicity of world cultures that the keys to unlocking the shackles of bias and prejudice are found and help a person learn the nature of mankind."
    1. Skills
    2. Techniques
    3. Cumulative — grows by
    1. Discovery — finding something that existed previously but was not known to man
    2. Invention — rearranging materials or ideas so as to produce something new
    3. Diffusion — spread of parts of one culture to another culture
    4. Building traits of one culture on another
    1. Characteristics of a Primitive Society
    1. Controls small area of land
    2. Illiterate
    1. no written literature
    2. oral history
    1. Few leaders — little specialization
    2. Nomadic or agricultural village society
    3. Trade by barter

"There is nothing so fragile as civilization and no high civilization has long withstood the manifold risks it is exposed to." [Havelock Ellis]


"What is civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t define it in abstract terms — yet. But I think I can recognize it when I see it…." [Kenneth Clark]

"… civilisation requires a modicum of material prosperity — enough to provide a little leisure. But, far more, it requires confidence — confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy;, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers. [It requires a] belief in law and discipline. Vigour, energy, vitality: all the great civilisations — or civilising epochs — have had a weight of energy behind them. People sometimes think that civilisation consists in fine sensibilities and good conversation and all that. These can be among the agreeable results of civilisation, but they are not what make a civilisation, and a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid." [Kenneth Clark]

"A human form of culture in which many people live in urban centers, have mastered the art of smelting metals, and have developed a method of writing." [Perry Rogers, Western Heritage, 5th ed.]

"Civilization is a subdivision of culture, denoting a way of life distinguished by complex advances in the arts, sciences, and technology, and in which there is sufficient diversification of labor to permit a significant number of people to pursue knowledge as well as (or instead of) game and to cultivate the mind as well as the earth." [Alf J. Mapp, Jr., The Golden Ages, p. 9.]


A civilization is a large and complex culture with systems of transportation and communication. It is run by an organized government that makes and keeps the laws. A civilization often has its own written language, religion, literature, and art. There are large buildings , and at least some of the people live in cities [civilization is derived from the Latin word for city]

Civilization: "a human form of culture in which many people live in urban centers, have mastered the art of smelting metals, and have developed a method of writing."


"Civilization is an interlude between ice ages…" [Will Durant]

"Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor. [Arnold Toynbee]



    1. Characteristics of a Civilized Society
    1. City — civilization: civia (citizen) of civitas (city) urbanism — city design and building projects that require complex systems of human mobilization and technological skill. The ascendance of man from the hunter-gather level of existence to the sedentary life of farming sets the stage for the growth of cities. Secure with a constant food supply, people began to develop specialized skills since each individual no longer had to devote most of his or her time to finding food. This development of specialization created certain trades and society was better equipped to expand and develop its repetoire for providing food, shelter, housing, government, and creative outlets for its increasing consciousness. This process has not yet stopped.
    2. Agriculture — subordinate to city
    3. Relatively large population
    4. Controls large territory — state government or polities — right to use force (army and police) arrange for international trade , alliances to ensure success of trade (Solomon and Hiram of Tyre)
    5. Separate, well-defined institutions
    1. Government — degree of political order and power
    2. Economy
    3. Arts — monumental architecture — public buildings and temples erected by king in name of state and financed by taxes and labor of lower classes — pyramids are evidence of the state’s ability to organize and direct massive projects requiring thousands of laborers
    4. Crafts
    1. Literate -- "Civilised man … must feel that he belongs somewhere in space and time; that he consciously looks forward and looks back. And for this purpose it is a great convenience to be able to read and write." [Kenneth Clark] Writing is key to success — complex societies require complex records — paperwork produced by scribes of bureaucracy
    2. sophisticated metallurgy — copper c. 5,500 B.C. metal smiths for bronze 3500-3000 B.C. employed by king to prepare for military campaigns — spear points and arrowheads
    3. A form of religion or theology — establishment of religious centers
    4. specialization of jobs — occupational specialization
    5. class differentiation or stratification

"How did people learn to cultivate ‘the jewel and ornament of the plain,’ … the holy furrows… [where] grain grows?’ How did they learn to live in a ‘well-supplied’ city, ‘awesome in its appearance,’ its temples ‘rich with abundance,’ its laws ‘perfected’?" [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 3, citing Sumerian poem from History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History, 3rd revised edition by Samuel Noah Kraemer, Un. Of Penn. Press, 1981, pp. 91, 94.]

"In the archaeological record the change to civilization comes when humans abandoned living exclusively in small, isolated farming hamlets of a few acres and gathered themselves more compactly into dense settlements based on significant food surpluses. Usually, though not always, this meant the appearance of cities. More importantly were t the emergence of social and economic specialization, the resulting need to exchange goods, and a more sophisticated political organization -- consciously organized state which governs a well-defined territory.

The first states could mobilize sufficient labor to create monumental architecture in the form of temples, palaces, and tombs. A new artistic outlook carefully represented man. And writing appeared for the purpose of keeping accounts and recording the great deeds of rulers. Civilization entailed a great growth of the material equipment of mankind, but even more importantly he developed his intellectual capabilities which enabled him to live within the complicated framework of civilized society. [Starr, Nowell, A History of the World, I, pp. 17-18.]

    1. long-distance trade — business contracts spread beyond kinship — need for bureaucracy of the state to guarantee contracts and maintain records — Governments tried to improve the competitive position of their own businessmen. Traders often had a protected status which allowed them to move freely within hostile societies. The states of the ancient world came to dominate increasingly large territories and populations. The development of widespread trade networks supported by powerful armies helped build the Assyrian, Persian, Greeks and Roman Empire
    1. International diplomacy — effort to improve position in international trade
    2. tribute — large quantities of goods transferred between regions — plundering — sacking of cities
    3. economic ambassadors located in cities of trading partners
    4. skilled artisans needed imported goods — trade networks

12. developed transportation system

13. standards of measurement (including currency) — coinage c. 700 B.C. — governments guaranteed weight of coin by stamping a mark into them

    1. formal legal system — system of judges and courts (king might be court of last resort)
    2. mathematics
    3. astronomy
    1. Savage and barbarian — most primitive of societies
  1. From Neolithic to Civilized Society
    1. Themes
    1. Influence of geography
    2. Cultural cross-fertilization
    3. Development of religion
    4. Government characterized by dynasties or theocracies
    5. Development of writing
    6. Conflict between nomads with superior military vs. Settlers with superior numbers
    7. Technological innovations
    1. Copper — "Traces of metalworking appear as early as 8000 B.C., when people simply cold-hammered native copper. Later, beginning about 6500 B.C., metalworkers improved the hardness of copper by annealing it — heating and then hammering and shaping it. True copper metallurgy began about 5500 B.C., when metalworkers started to smelt (or heat) copper ores to obtain the usable copper. Over the next several thousand years, craftsmen became skillful in the use of other metals, including bronze and gold." [Western Civilization: Origins and Traditions, pp. 8-9.]
    2. Bronze — Around 4000 B.C.E. copper began to be mixed with tin to make bronze. This development occurred around the Black Sear and in Southwest Asia. Use of the metal allowed faster manufacture of a greater variety of tools than those of stone or bone. Metal hoes, plows, and other implements proved useful to both agricultural and nomadic societies. This gave rise to a specialized artisans and encouraged trade because tin, in particular, was difficult to find.
    3. Iron
    4. Wheel
    5. Potter’s wheel
    6. Boats
    7. Third and second millennia in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia -- ‘Bronze Age,' -- people mastered the technology of making bronze -- alloy of copper and tin -- result, bronze frequently replaced stone as a primary material for everyday, practical use
    8. First millennium -- iron replaced bronze. [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10.]
    1. Additions to Barnyard and Field — agriculture became more complex after the domestication of wheat, barley, sheep and goats. Additional animals and plants were brought under control. Most were used as new sources of food. Others for
    1. use in rituals
    2. use in decoration
    3. for pulling
    4. for riding
    5. for protection
    1. Horse — Ukraine or steppes by 3,000 B.C.
    1. meat
    2. milk
    3. pack animals
    4. important in warfare (chariots) by 1500 B.C.
    5. riding
    1. chicken in Indus Valley by 2000 B.C. — in Mesopotamia by 1400 B.C.
    2. geese by 3000 B.C. in Egypt
    3. Nubian wild ass by 3000 B.C.
    1. food
    2. pack animals
    1. pigs by 6,500 B.C.
    1. meat
    2. nomads did not keep pigs because they are not easily herded and are poorly adapted to arid conditions
    1. cattle — southeastern Europe and Anatolia by 6,500 B.C.
    1. meat
    2. milk
    3. leather
    4. oxen — pulled plows
    1. dogs — highlands around Mesopotamia c. 10,000 B.C.
    2. onions in Near East by 2500 B.C. — also
    1. garlic
    2. leeks
    3. herbs
    4. lettuce
    5. carrots
    6. beets
    7. melons
    8. sesame
    1. pulses and legumes by 6000 B.C.
    1. peas
    2. lentils
    3. vetches
    4. chickpeas and horse beans added later
    1. Barley — porridge and beer
    2. Wheat — two varieties
    1. emmer
    2. einkorn

20 orchards — 3000 B.C.

    1. grapes — wine
    2. olives — oil
    3. figs
    4. dates
    5. pomegranates
    6. almonds

"Agriculture became increasingly complex after the domestication of wheat, barley, sheep, and goats, as people brought more and more plants and animals under control. Flax, peas, lentils, beans, grapevines, olive trees, and new types of wheat and barley appeared in fields and orchards. Pigs, cattle, horses, asses, water buffalo, camels, chickens, geese, dogs, and cats joined sheep and goats in pastures and barnyards. Although the earliest domesticates seem to have provided only ‘primary’ products — meat, hides, bones, and sinew — the newer ones also supplied milk, additional sources of food, and services — pulling, transportation, protection of their owners and of herds, and use in ritual." [Western Civ.: Origins and Traditions, pp. 6-7.]

    1. Early Neolithic Cultures
    1. Nile valley
    2. Mesopotamia
    1. Geographic Setting
    1. Dry region of Arabia
    2. Grasslands of Syria
    3. Fertile Crescent — northward from Persian Gulf region from Tigris-Euphrates River valleys, westward to the grasslands of Syria, Eastern Mediterranean coast, Nile delta
    1. Dangers of River Valleys
    1. Delta areas — swamps
    2. Floods
    3. Wild animals — poisonous snakes
    1. Advantages of River Valleys — fluvial civilizations
    1. Fertile
    2. Fish
    3. Birds
    4. Transportation

"The rivers yielded fish, a major element of the diet of the city's inhabitants. The rivers also provided reeds and clay for building materials. Since this entire region lacked stone, mud brick became the primary construction material of Mesopotamian architecture. [McKay, A History of World Societies, p. 14.]

"In the middle of the fourth millennium B.C. the climate of the Near East, which for some two thousand years had been warm and humid, gradually changed and became cooler and drier. Irrigation agriculture had by then proved so efficient in southern Mesopotamia that immigrants from the dry-farming plains and hills to the north migrated into the lower Euphrates valley, where the number of village-size settlements sharply increased. The new hamlets, like the earlier ones, were located along river banks, but they "tended to cluster around those Ubaid period settlements which were both the abodes of the great gods upon whom all prosperity depended and the centres of sizable agricultural communities. The need to feed a much increased and fast-growing population challenged man’s natural ingenuity, leading to the invention of the plow and also to the sled for dragging grain, the chariot for carrying goods and the sail for water travel. These technical innovations generated a large food surplus that could be stored, redistributed or traded for raw material and luxury imports, "while other inventions — such as the potter’s wheel and the casting of copper alloys — opened the era of industrial production."

Towards the end of the millennium desiccation started to affect southern Mesopotamia. As the Euphrates carried less water, some of its tributaries went dry. The previously familiar landscape of anastomotic watercourses and extensive marshes gradually disappeared to be replaced by a new landscape. This included bands of pal-groves, fields and orchards along the few remaining streams and, in between, patches of steppe or even desert. Many villages disappeared, their inhabitants regrouping themselves within and around the larger towns. Artificial irrigation developed to cultivate larger areas, "but the enormous common effort required to dig and maintain big canals and the need for an equitable distribution of water considerably reinforced the authority of the traditional town chiefs, the high priests. This, combined with the scarcity of fertile land, brought about the concentration of power and wealth. This resulted in continued technical progress, to spectacular architectural and artistic feats, to the invention of writing as a means of recording transactions, but also to armed conflicts. Thus, the genesis of the city-states of ancient Sumer, "with their fortified cities and well-defined territories, with their population of priests, scribes, architects, artists, overseers, merchants, factory workers, soldiers and peasants and their religious rulers or war leaders." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, pp. 66-67.]

"Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art." [Ruskin]

  1. Lower Mesopotamia: City Kingdoms
    1. Geographic setting
    1. Mesopotamia (Greek origin) — "Land between the rivers" -- "Mesopotamia drew its life from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Both have their headwaters in the mountains of Armenia in modern Turkey. Both are fed by numerous tributaries, and the entire river system drains a vast mountainous region. Overland routes in Mesopotamia usually followed the Euphrates because the banks of the Tigris are frequently steep and difficult. North of the ancient city of Babylon the land levels out into a barren expanse. The desert continues south of Babylon and still farther south gives way to a 6,000 -square-mile region of marshes, lagoons, mud flats, and reed banks. At last, in the extreme south, the Euphrates and the Tigris unite and empty into the Persian Gulf." [McKay, p. 13.]

"The area called Mesopotamia, which comes from Greek words meaning ‘between the rivers,’ lies between the Tigris to the east and the Euphrates to the west. Both rivers rise in the Armenian highlands and flow southeast to the Persian gulf. In their upper reaches, where the rivers lie far apart, the country is hilly and rolling. This region is watered by a number of major tributaries of the great streams as well as by winter rains, especially in the hills where early farmers raised their crops." [Chester G. Starr, Early Man, p. 76.]

    1. Tigris (TY- grihs) — fed by the waters from the Zagros Mountains and the Armenian Highland
    2. Euphrates River (yoo FRAY teez) — fed by waters from the Taurus Mountains and the Highlands of Asia Minor and Armenia

"The geographical unity of Mesopotamia was matched in pre-Christian times by a striking cultural unity. Within … flourished a civilization which in quality and importance was only equaled by the civilization of Egypt…. From roots set deeply in the darkness of prehistoric times, it slowly grew, blossomed in the dawning light of history and lasted for nearly three thousand years, remaining remarkably uniform throughout, though repeatedly shaken by political convulsions and repeatedly rejuvenated by foreign blood and influence. The centres which generated, kept alive and radiated this civilization over the entire Near East were towns such as Ur, Uruk, Nippur, Agade, Babylon, Assur and Nineveh, all situated on or near the Tigris or the Euphrates, within the boundaries of modern Iraq. At the beginning of the Christian era, however, the Mesopotamian civilization gradually declined and vanished …. Some of its cultural and scientific achievements were salvaged by the Greeks and later became of [western] … heritage; the rest either perished or lay buried for centuries, awaiting the picks of archaeologists. A glorious past was forgotten. In man’s short memory of these opulent cities, of these powerful gods, of these mighty monarchs, only a few, often distorted names survived. The dissolving rain, the sand-bearing winds, the earth-splitting sun conspired to obliterate all material remains, and the desolate mounds which since concealed the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh offer perhaps the best lesson in modesty that" is ever received from history. [Roux, Ancient Iraq, new ed., p. 3.]

    1. Fertile Crescent — "In this rough theatre of teeming peoples and conflicting cultures were developed the agriculture and commerce, the horse and wagon, the coinage and letters of credit, the crafts and industries, the law and government, the mathematics and medicine, the enemas and drainage systems, the geometry and astronomy, the calendar and clock and zodiac, the alphabet and writing, the paper and ink, the books and libraries and schools, the literature and music, the sculpture and architecture, the glazed pottery and fine furniture, the monotheism and monogamy, the cosmetics and jewelry, the checkers and dice, the ten-pins and income-tax, the wet-nurses and beer, from which … European and American culture derive by a continuous succession through the mediation of Crete and Greece and Rome." [Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, p. 116] "The Fertile Crescent is that wide belt of productive land which extends northwestward from the Persian Gulf and then down the Mediterranean coast almost to Egypt. It forms a semicircle around the northern part of the Arabian desert." [Burns and Ralph, World Civilizations, 4th ed., p. 25.]
    2. Lower Mesopotamia
    1. Fertile delta plain
    2. Karkheh River — Elam


Elam: Ancient kingdom at the head of Persian Gulf, east of Babylonia, dating back possibly to 5th millennium B.C.; from c. 3000 BC, there was a conflict between Elamites, non-Semetic inhabitants of Elam, and the Sumerians and Akkadians; with its capital at Susa, The kingdom of Elam flourished c. 1200-c. 640 BC, when it was absorbed by Assyria, which destroyed Susa. Susa later became one of the capitals of the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great.

"The region of Elam is on the western edge of ancient Persia…. The Zagros Mountains lie east and north while the Persian Gulf is to the south and the Tigris River is on the west. The ancient capital of the area is Susa. The region has been inhabited since before 3000 BC…."

Elam appeared in history when Sargon of Akkad subdued it about 2300 B.C. Soon, though, Elamites reversed the role, sacked Ur, and set up an Elamite king in Eshnunna. The Elamite presence continued in Babylon until the time of Hammurabi about 1700 B.C."

"After Hammurabi, Kassites invaded Elam. Their rule lasted until about 1200 B.C. The next century was the high point of Elam’s power. All of western Iran was theirs. Again the Babylonians brought Elamite power to an end. The Assyrian Ashurbanipal brought an end to the periods of strength and weakness. He swept through the region in a series of campaigns and captured Susa in 641 B.C. He may have moved some Elamites to Samaria at that time (Ezra 4:9). Earlier, Elam had incorporated Anshan, later home of Cyrus the Great, into the kingdom. As Assyria weakened, Elam and Anshan became part of the kingdom of the Medes. Thus, they participated, with the Babylonians, in the defeat of the Assyrian empire. Elam had little subsequent independent history, but it continued to be part of the Medes’ and the Persians’ empire…" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 405.]

    1. Early cities near Persian Gulf
    2. Tigris — frequent floods — melting of snows in the mountains of the north (Armenian highlands — Caucasus Mountains) — effect was to enrich the soil with moisture and to cover it over with a layer of mud of unusual fertility
    1. Divisions of Mesopotamia — reached from foothills of the Armenia Taurus Mts. in the northwest to the Persian Gulf in the south. Bounded on the west by Great Syrian Desert, on the east by the Zagros Mts.
    1. Northern Mesopotamia — Assyria
    2. Southern Mesopotamia — Babylonia
    1. Akkad in the north
    2. Sumer in the South
    1. North of Mesopotamia — mountains dividing it from Anatolia — The Amaus (a-ma’nus) Mts. (Alma Dag) are in southern Turkey in Asia and form part of the Taurus Mts; the southern end is in Hatay valley.
    2. East — Elam
    3. South — Arabian Desert
    4. West — Syrian grasslands
    1. Role of Geography
    1. Natural barriers only in the north
    2. Easily invaded — Geography played a major role in dictating the relationship between the inhabitants of the river valley system and the world beyond. "No natural barriers protected Mesopotamia. As a consequence, those who first mastered the Tigris-Euphrates Valley were constantly attacked by tough herders who lived in the Zagros Mountains to the east, by formidable nomads of the Arabian Desert to the west, and by hardy farmers from the plateau land along the upper reaches of the rivers to the north. The constant assaults of these peoples had a significant effect on Mesopotamian society, but they also made possible the spread of Mesopotamian influence outward into these more primitive areas." [Harrison, A Short History of Western Civilization, 6th ed., p. 6.]
    3. Flooding unpredictable
    1. Legend of world flood
    2. Annual flooding of the rivers from snows of Armenian Mountains. Difficult to construct and maintain an irrigation system in the broader plain area of Mesopotamia. As a consequence, an everlasting threat of flood , drought, and famine hung over the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, creating an attitude of uncertainty and fatalism that is reflected in literature and art. [Harrison, A Short History of Western Civilization, 6th ed. P. 6]
    1. Plentiful food
    1. Rich silt and water controlled by irrigation structures to produce grain, fruits, vegetables
    2. fertile soil


In Mesopotamia wheat yielded, says Herodotus, two hundredfold the sower. Pliny wrote that it was cut twice and afterwards yielded good fodder for sheep. There were also abundant palms and many sorts of fruit.

    1. Need for dikes and canals to control water led to elaborate political organization — The banks, or dikes, built by the Sumerians protected their small mud huts and their growing crops from the floods. In the summer, a hole in the dike could release water for the crops. Long, extensive canals, were dug on the flat land. In this way;, water was carried to what otherwise would have been barren land.
    2. Semi-arid climate led to need for irrigation -- "combined flood periods of the Tigris and Euphrates occur between April and June, too late for winter crops and too early for summer crops — problem was accumulation in flat, low-lying areas of the salt brought by irrigation and collected in the water-table which lies just beneath the surface. If no artificial drainage is installed — and it seems that such drainage was unknown in antiquity — fertile fields can become sterile in a comparatively short time." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, new ed. pp. 6-7.]
    3. Need for timber, metals, and semi-precious stones led Sumerians to begin exploitation of the Zagros and Amanus Mountains and to develop more distant trade routs to Persia, Anatolia and Tilmum (Bahrein)
    4. Plain of Shinar — between the rivers
    1. 8000 sq. miles
    2. 40 miles wide
    3. 7 inches annual rainfall

"As the Two Rivers approach most closely to each other (originally about a hundred and sixty or seventy miles from the Persian Gulf — mud carried down by the rivers has since filled up the Persian Gulf, extending the land c. 160 miles) they leave the desert and enter a low plain of fertile soil, formerly brought down by the rivers. This plain, at the eastern end of the Fertile Crescent, is generally known as Babylonia. But during the first thousand years of its history it was called the Plain of Shinar. It was hardly more than forty miles wide at any point and contained probably less than eight thousand square miles of farm land. … It lies in the Mediterranean belt of rainy winter and dry summer, but the rainfall is nevertheless so slight (less than three inches a year) that the fields must be irrigated in order to ripen the grain. When properly irrigated, however, the Plain of Shinar is very fertile, and so the chief source of wealth in ancient Shinar was farming. This plain was the scene of the most important and long-continued of … frequent struggles between the mountaineer and the nomad…." [Robinson and Breasted History of Europe, pp. 40-41.]


"The Tigris-Euphrates valley had "the notable advantage of a limited area of exceedingly fertile soil. … the rivers provided excellent facilities of inland transportation and were alive with fish and waterfowl for a plentiful supply of protein food. The distance between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers at one point was less than twenty miles, and nowhere in the lower valley did it exceed forty-five miles. Since the surrounding country was desert, the people were kept from scattering over two great an expanse of territory. The result … was the welding of the inhabitants into a compact society, under conditions that facilitated a ready interchange of ideas and discoveries." [Burns and Ralph, World Civilizations, 4th ed., pp. 26-27.]

"Another significant geographical aspect of Mesopotamia is its openness. To the south and west are the vast expanses of the Arabian desert, in which lived a semi-nomadic population of Semitic-speaking peoples. From prehistoric times on these peoples entered Mesopotamia, and by the time of Hammurapi they had become the ruling element. To the east and north were the mountains of Iran and Armenia; the leaders in the first stage of civilization, the Sumerians, seem to have come from somewhere in this direction. Traders could make their way down the Persian gulf to the Indus river in India. Up the rivers they sought wood, metals, stone, and other resources. Mesopotamian civilization was far more receptive of external influences and spread its achievements more widely over the Near East than did the secluded population of early Egypt." [Starr, Early Man, pp. 77-79.]

    1. Climate
    1. Summer heat — relentless — temperatures up to 100 degrees F
    2. Humidity is relatively high
    3. tropical diseases
    4. torrid winds from Indian Ocean
    1. enervating to humans
    2. good for ripening date palm fruit




  1. Neolithic Accomplishments in the Area, 7000-3000 BC
    1. At Jarmo — pottery mills and reasonably large community
    2. At Ubaid — pottery and signs of advanced copper-using culture — "The oldest known settlements in the Land between the Rivers were made by people called the Ubaidians (u-BAD-ians). This name was derived from the Tell el-Ubaid, a site near the ancient Sumerian city of Ur. Scholars believe that the Ubaidians probably migrated from the highlands of Iran, to the east of the Tigris River, about 5000 B.C., and that they were the first people to occupy the marshlands of southern Mesopotamia.
    3. The excavations of the site uncovered the remains of a village of mud-brick houses having staircase to the roofs, ovens still containing shells of freshwater fish, slings made from deer antlers, pottery decorated with geometric and animal designs, and a few weapons and tools made of copper. Archaeologist believe that the inhabitants probably cultivated wheat and barley with the help of a simple irrigation system. Small clay figurines found in the ruins may have represented deities." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 22.]

      "There is a controversy about who these Ubaid people were, whether they were direct ancestors of the groups …[seen] when writing was invented. And because of the muteness of the archaeological record, it does not seem likely that the controversy will ever be resolved. It is sometimes termed the Sumerian Problem because it involves the question of where the Sumerians, the first historically attested group in the region, came from. Were they Ubaidians? It seems likely that they were because there are no major archaeological breaks after the Ubaid …." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, PP. 14-15.]

    4. At Uruk (EE rek) — Uruk period (c. 3750-3000 BC)
    1. wheel for pottery-making
    2. temple
    3. Invented earliest known writing — cuneiform writing — of wedge-shaped signs on clay tablets 9c. 3500 BC) — "The most amazing achievement of the period, … is the invention of writing. This appears to have arisen as an aid to memory in connection with administration. As early as 3300 B.C.E, we begin to get what we call numerical notation tablets, small pillows of clay on which there are marks that seem to represent numbers. Sometimes someone will have rolled his cylinder seal over the tablet, as if signing for receipt of this many of something. What exactly was being received was not indicated, but if it was something important, as seems likely, the parties of greater Mesopotamia, from Susa at the eastern edge of the Iraqi plain all the way up to Habuba Kabira, which now lies under Lake al-Assad in central Syria. Sometimes in addition to numbers and sealings the tablets had small tokens stamped in them. Perhaps the tokens made the numbers more explicit and told exactly what was being counted. It may be that scribes eventually found it helpful just to draw the tokens on the wet clay instead of trying to find the very one they wanted, and this may be the origin of writing." The writing system of Uruk was already highly complex and had a great many signs which suggests that there were earlier stages to the system. ‘The signs of the writing system are pictographic, that is, they are little pictures of what is meant, but they are inscribed on the same clay tablets as the numerical notation signs were, though some are bigger." Everything in the texts cannot be understood but the administration of Uruk was "distributing a great variety of items, probably as salaries to people who worked for the administration" [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 16.]
    4. buildings constructed of brick

"A second settlement existed at Uruk from about 3500 to 3100 B.C., succeeding that of the Ubaid people. At this site, archaeologists found several large buildings constructed on a high terrace with a stepped altar at one end. As Leonard Cottrell, a British journalist and writer, described these buildings, each included:

examples of what is now recognized as

the characteristic architectural decoration of

the Uruk period. This consisted of thousands

of little cones of baked clay roughly the

shape of a rifle cartridge. The tips of these

were painted in various colors and the cones

driven into the mud-brick wall, forming a

charming mosaic pattern. Originally, these

cones may have been invented to strengthen

the buildings, but later they were developed

as an architectural adornment.

[Leonard Cottrell, The Quest for Sumer(New York: G.P. Putnam’s, 1965), p. 84, in Howe, The Ancient World, p. 22.]

    1. Small statues show that stone was being imported
    2. first appearance of a trinket: the cylinder seal — a small, cylindrical bit of stone or other hard material that was carved so that when rolled on soft clay, made a design
    3. colonies sent forth upriver into Syria and east to Susa
    1. possible desire for permanent relation with trading partners to obtain stone and wood
    2. abandoned toward the end of the period
    3. possibly part of a trade diaspora — settlements established only for trade

8. Uruk people were the first to use the wheel

    1. Agade
    2. Kish
    3. Use of gold, copper, bronze -- "The discovery of the casting of copper appears to belong to the Ubaid-Uruk period in Mesopotamia about 3300 B.C., when small flat objects such as axheads, arrowheads, and spearheads were made from open molds. For casting I the round, molds of two or more parts were used. The cutting edges of copper tools or weapons were hardened by cold-hammering, a treatment which gave them the hardness, though not the tensile strength, of mild steel. Soon after the introduction of copper metallurgy, copper alloys began to be use, the most common of which was the bronze ally of copper and tin. In fact it now appears from recent archaeological discoveries that no true age of copper preceded the Bronze Age anywhere except in Egypt, where the use of bronze did not become widespread until about 2000 B.C. because tin ore does not occur in Egypt." [The 1994 excavation of a tin mining village in the central Taurus Mountains, 60 mile north of the Mediterranean coastal city of Tarsus suggests that a local tin industry existed in the Near East as early as 2870 B.C. — a fully-developed industry with specialization of work.]
    4. Agrarian economic enterprise and creation of capital usually in hands of priests
    5. Perfection of writing technique but not distinct literature
    6. Ruled effectively by kings and priests
    7. Religious beliefs and concepts attempting to explain creation and life
    8. Gradual improvement in agricultural methods
    9. Growth of trade and commerce
    10. Expansions of individual cities — wars with neighboring cities
    11. states or kingdoms developed

"Excavations at Jemdet Nasr have uncovered remains of still another group of people who, like the Uruk people, probably migrated from the area now known as Iran. Between 3100 and 2900 B.C, these people made pottery with a characteristic latticework design and created figurines of cut stone." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 23.]


VI. Sumeria

    1. Arrived in Mesopotamia between 4000 and 3000 B.C. "Between 3500 and 30000 B.C., a people known as the Sumerians developed the first great civilization in the Tigris-Euphrates valley …." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 23.] There is no such thing as a Sumerian ‘race’ neither in the scientific nor in the ordinary sense of the term.
    1. Settled on plain of Shinar — The Garden of Eden is derived from the Sumerian edin meaning ‘plain’ or ‘open country’
    2. Came from
    1. East — from Persia
    2. Northern mountains via Elam
    3. origins are obscure
    4. language unrelated to any known tongue


"At a very early period, possibly before 4000 B.C., some of the Highland peoples migrated and settled on the Fertile Crescent. Among them the earliest people clearly revealed … by the excavations in the Plain of Shinar were called Sumerians." There race is still unknown. "Some of them appear on the monuments with shaven heads and without beards, but the monuments show that there were other Sumerians who wore beards and did not shave their heads. Long before 3500 B.C. they had begun to reclaim the marshes around the mouths of the Two Rivers. They finally held the southern portion of the Plain of Shinar, and this region at length came to be called Sumer." [Breasted, Ancient Times, pp. 141-142.]

"Why they eventually left the highlands for Mesopotamia is unclear. The cause may have been population pressure, competition for good land, or soil exhaustion." [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10]

"Whether they came up the Persian Gulf by sea or down from the hills by land, their woolen garments and cloaks seem to suggest origins in the mountains of eastern Iraq or western Iran. They called themselves ‘the black-bearded people,’ but their race, or mixture of races, remains obscure. So does their language, which is neither Semitic nor Indo-European but agglutinative, and has no known affinities. They shared the city states of Mesopotamia with Semitic-speaking peoples of unknown geographical origin (not necessarily nomadic), in a duality more intricate than plain opposition, for race and language did not always coincide; though on the whole Sumerians predominated in the south and Semitic speakers farther up the rivers." [Grant, The Ancient Mediterranean, p. 36.]

The Sumerian language is unrelated to any other but it is the source of the words for "abyss" and "Eden."

"The Sumerian language is ‘agglutinative’, which means that it is formed of verbal radical modified or inter-connected by the apposition of grammatical particles. As such, it belongs to the same category as numerous dialects spoken from Hungary to Polynesia, though it bears no close resemblance to any known language, dead or living. The Sumerian literature presents … picture of a highly intelligent, industrious, argumentative and deeply religious people, but offers no clue as to its origins. Sumerian myths and legends are almost invariably drawn against a background of rivers and marshes, of reeds, tamarisks and palm-trees … as though the Sumerians had always lived in that country, and there is nothing in them to indicate clearly an ancestral homeland different from Mesopotamia." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, pp. 81-82.]

    1. Mixed with natives
    2. Established cities by 3000 BC

"Arnold Toynbee suggested that the Sumerian civilization evolved to meet the challenges of living in the "jungle-swamp" created by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 23.]

"The civilization of Mesopotamia is built upon clay." [Hecataeus, 5th century Greek geographer]

D. The Sumerian Problem — for some the Sumerians came to Mesopotamia during the Uruk period; for others they were already there in Ubaid times at the latest.

"True, the Sumerian writing appears for the first time at the end of the Uruk period, but this does not imply that the Sumerian language was not spoken before. Again, there are in ancient Mesopotamian literature place names that are neither Sumerian nor Semitic, but do they necessarily represent the traces of an older and exclusive population? As for the change in pottery style which marks the beginning of the Uruk period… it was probably due to mass production rather than to foreign invasion or influence. In fact, in all respects the Uruk culture appears as the development of conditions that existed during the Ubaid period. In any case if … the Sumerians were invaders where did they come from? Some … have sought their origin in the mountainous countries to the east of Mesopotamia where they arrived by land or by sea, while others believe that they came from Anatolia following the Euphrates down to its mouth; but the arguments afforded in favour of these theories are not very convincing. Furthermore … numerous archaeological excavations … has revealed anything resembling, even vaguely, the Uruk and Jemdad Nasr cultures; nor have they produced any inscription written in Sumerian which of course would be the only decisive evidence. In these circumstances, why not turn to Mesopotamia itself?

"… many material elements of the Sumerian civilization — mud-brick buildings, coloured walls and frescoes, stone vases and statuettes, clay figurines, seals, metal work and even irrigation agriculture — originated in northern Iraq during the sixth and fifth millennia B.C., and the excavations at Choga Mami have established a definite link between the Samarra culture and the partly contemporary Eridu and Hajji Muhammade cultures, now recognized as the early stages of the Ubaid culture. To equate the Samarrans with the Sumerians, or even the Ubaidians, on the sole basis of their pottery and extraordinary statuettes would be unacceptably rash, but there is little doubt that the first settlers in southern Mesopotamia were in some way related to, or at least influenced by, their northern neighbors. And the Samarrans, in turn, might have descended from the Neolithic farmers of Hassuna or Umm Dabaghiya. Thus the more we try to push back the limits of our problem the more it thins out and vanishes in the mist of prehistory. One is even tempted to wonder whether there is any problem at all. The Sumerians were, … a mixture of races and probably of peoples; their civilization … was a blend of foreign and indigenous elements; their language belongs to a linguistic group large enough to have covered the whole of Western Asia and much more. They may therefore represent a branch of the population which occupied the greater part of the Near East in early Neolithic and Chalcolithic times. In other words, they may have ‘always’ been in Iraq, and this is all we can say. … ‘The much discussed problem of the origin of the Sumerians may well turn out to be the chase of a chimera.’" [Roux, Ancient Iraq, pp. 82-84.]

  1. Sumer’s Cities —civilization centered in some 12 independent city-states


"About 3500 B.C. the peoples of southern Mesopotamia began to build urban centers. These first cities were supported by the increased food production of commercial agriculture, based on extensive irrigation, and by improved technologies such as metallurgy. Ranked social classes emerged: craft specialists, bureaucrats, and farmers all were ruled b the kings of cities and the priests of the temples. A government bureaucracy controlled the irrigation systems essential to the cities’ survival. The pattern of settlement changed from one of many small independent villages to one of larger, complexly structured cities ruled by kings and surrounded by scattered villages." [Western Civilization: Origins and Traditions, p. 9.]

    1. Agriculture
    1. Date palms — Hecataeus, the 5th-century Greek geographer, visited Mesopotamia "speculated that the people must have had 360 uses for the date-palm tree, which was the only species of tree that grew along the river banks. The fruit of these trees provided nutritious food, while vinegar, thread, fuel, and fodder for animals were derived from the leaves and trunk." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 24.] "The hot and humid climate of southern Mesopotamia and the availability of ample water supplies in that region … were conditions highly favourable to the cultivation of the date-palm which grows along rivers and canals, ""its feet in water and its head in the scorching sun'’ in the words of an Arabian proverb. ... as early as the third millennium B.C. there were in the country of Sumer extensive palm-groves, and that artificial pollination was already practised."" [Roux, Ancient Iraq, new ed., pp. 8-9.]
    2. Olives
    3. Grapes
    4. Wheat
    5. Barley — main cereal, since it tolerated a slightly saline soil
    6. Livestock — sheep, goats, cows — "The Iraqi plain might seem a forbidding environment in which to raise animals, but human beings brought down from the foothills many of the domesticates that they had there and learned to use their labor and their products in the plain too,. Sheep and goats especially could be pastured on the margins of the cultivated land and on fallow fields in ways that complemented the growing of plants. Children, who would not have been useful in the fields, may have tended the sheep and goats so that in terms of the human labor involved such herding was complementary to sedentary agriculture. Doubtless to settlers on the plain exchanged products with nomads, people who followed their flocks from place to place where grass was to be found. Sometimes nomads were major sources of social tension, though that is not evident around 3100 B.C.E." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 22.]
    7. Dairy — Frieze forming part of a decoration on the front of a little temple of cow-goddess showing a dairy near ancient Ur (c. 3000 B.C.) "It was originally mounted on a plank, edged above and below with a strip of copper. The figures themselves, however, are carved from pieces of shell or limestone and mounted in a thin layer of black bitumen which filled the space between the strips of copper. Above is part of a frieze of marching bulls, while below is the dairy scene. At the right … two cows, each with her calf before her. According to Sumerian custom the milking was done from behind, and … the dairyman, therefore [is] seated behind the cow he is milking. This milking is going on in a cow-yard, of which the gate is seen near the middle, behind the left-hand cow. At this gate two calves are represented with only the fore quarters showing, to indicate that they are coming out of the gate and are only halfway out. At the extreme left four dairymen are at work with the milk. The man at the left plunges his arm deep into a tall pointed jar in order to dip out the last of the milk it contains. Two men in the middle are engaged in pouring the milk through a strainer into a jar on the ground. With his back to the gate the last man sits on a small, square stool while he rolls about on the ground a large jar which serves as a churn and is placed on its side in order that it may more easily be rolled about to produce the agitation of the cream which results in butter. [University Museum of Philadelphia, in Breasted, Ancient Times, p. 143, fig. 83.]
    8. emmer
    9. sesame
    10. vegetables and fruits
    1. pomegranates
    2. grapes
    3. chickpeas
    4. lentils
    5. beans
    6. turnips
    7. leeks
    8. cucumbers
    9. watercress
    10. lettuce
    11. onions
    12. garlic
    1. Meats
    1. dried fish
    2. mutton
    3. pork
    4. duck

Prosperity came to Mesopotamia, according to Sumerian legend, when the gods "made the ewe give birth to the lamb … [and] the grain increase in the furrows."

The Sumerians began almost immediately to create an agricultural system based on irrigation. Their efforts were successful, resulting in a growing population, a need for more farmland, and pressure to extend the irrigation system. The challenge was met by the organization of relatively large and complex city-state communities in which the authority to plan and manage an irrigation-based agricultural system was concentrated in the hands of a small circle of rulers. By 3000 BC. many rich and populous city states had been built on the swampy, flood-threatened land of Sumer…." [Harrison, p. 8.]

One Mesopotamian text described a farmer as "the man of dike, ditch, and plow."

"… control of the Tigris and Euphrates was key to developments in Mesopotamia. The rivers frequently rose in terrifying floods that washed away topsoil and destroyed mud-brick villages. To survive and protect their farmland, villages along the riverbanks had to work together. Even during the dry season, the rivers had to be controlled to channel water to the fields." [World History, p. 32.]

With the help of irrigation, the Sumerians grew wheat, barley, vegetables like onions and leeks and dates. The water also was used by the farm animals — donkeys, cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. With good soil and water from the rivers and the use of an ox-drawn plow, the people of Sumer were able to produce a surplus of grain. Grain was then transported on wagons with wheels —a great technological improvement. This surplus of grain was the foundation of the cities of Sumer. [Chapin, Chronicles of Time, p. 38.]

18th century B.C. farmer’s almanac containing explicit guidance to ensure a successful crop. "The almanac begins with instructions for the inundation of the farmer’s field, probably in May or June, preparatory to plowing, and describes each important step to be taken until the grain is harvested, winnowed and cleaned. In moistening the field for plowing, for example, the farmer is told to ‘… keep a sharp eye on the openings of the dikes, ditches and mounds [so that] when you flood the field the water will not rise too high in it …. Let shod oxen trample it for you; after having its weeds ripped out [by them and] the field made level ground, dress it evenly with narrow axes weighing [no more than] two thirds of a pound each.’ The correct seeding procedure is also described in detail, and the farmer is cautioned to ‘… keep your eye on the man who puts in the barley seed. Let him drop the grain uniformly two fingers deep…. If the barley seed does not sink in properly, change your share, the ‘tongue of the plow.’ Finally, the farmer is warned not to ‘let the barley bend over on itself’ but to ‘harvest it at the moment [of its full] strength." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 80.]

"To channel and collect the flood waters, the officials of the ziggurats directed the engineering and building of a system of earth banks, canals, and underground reservoirs. During the long, dry summer months, the water was then distributed to the farmers’ fields and the herders’ grazing lands. Due to these cooperative efforts, the Sumerians were successful in averting flood disasters and in developing a thriving agriculture. Farmers grew wheat, barley, dates and millet. Herdsmen raised pigs, goats, cattle, and sheep, from which they derived hides and wool for leather- and textile-making as well as food." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 24.]

"Eventually, with the development of a good irrigation system, the immigrants and their descendants turned the marshes and swamps, the dry plains and sand dunes of southern Mesopotamia, into rich farming soil. Nature, nonetheless, was never to be taken for granted in this land of extreme heat, scorching winds, and flash flood. Nor could the people of Mesopotamia afford to ignore the outside world. They depended on foreign trade for minerals and timber while, at the same time, they became uneasily aware that the neighboring peoples of the mountains and deserts welcomed the opportunity to conquer their cities." [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10.]

"If we conjure up in our mind’s eye one of these city-states, we should find ourselves first walking down a high road with fields stretching out on either side. Man now has imposed order upon nature. The roads are relatively straight, the fields are carefully marked out by the use of geometry, and here and there drainage and irrigation canals cut their regular courses. Farming with stone hoes and wooden plows is still hard work, despite the use of oxen; but the rewards of barley, wheat, and vegetables are relatively sure. Shepherds in the pastures watch the sheep and cattle, which are carefully registered n the temple accounts; groves of date palms and fruit trees stud the landscape." [Starr, Nowell, A History of the World, I, pp. 20-21.]


    1. Appearance of Cities — from 3500 to 3100 BC, the population increased dramatically in the cities of Sumer. With the surplus food, more people were able to tun to occupations other than farming. Specialists began to produce items such as bricks. The potter’s wheel was invented; this in turn started the mass production of pottery in the cities. The period after 3000 BC is also called the Bronze Age because workers began to produce stronger metals.
    1. Narrow streets
    2. Temples
    3. Walls — the wall of Uruk was five-and-a-half miles long and had over nine hundred towers — "Look at it still today: the outer wall where the cornice runs, it shines with the brilliance of copper; and the inner wall, it has no equal…. Climb upon the wall of Uruk [Erech]; walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the building; is it not burnt brick and good?" [Gilgamesh] [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 79.]
    4. Large gates
    5. Ziggurat — temple tower
    6. Simple houses — flat-roofed, mud-brick houses of ordinary people — thick-walled compound consisting of several windowless rooms with shoulder-high doors arranged around an open court.

"Since Sumer had no good stone or timber for building, the people adapted the materials at hand to their purposes. To build small homes, they bundled reeds together to form columns. Each bundle was tied securely for a length of several feet, but the tops were left untied. The bottoms were then set into shallow holes in the ground in two parallel rows, and the tops were bent and tied together to form arches. Crosspieces of bundled reeds were lashed into place and the framework was roofed over with reed mats." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 23.]

The houses of the citizens were "bare rectangular structures of sun-dried brick, each with a court on the north side, and on the south side of the court a main chamber from which the other rooms were entered. At first only a few hundred feet across, the town slowly spread out, although it always remained of very limited extent. Such a town usually stood upon an artificial mound …." [Breasted, Ancient Times, p.150.]

"… while an ordinary member of the working class dwelt in a humble, single-story house of mud-brick, a farmer, merchant, scribe or artisan whose services had earned him prosperity above the average lived in comfortable circumstances. Remains of homes of fairly well-to-do Sumerian citizens found at Ur and dating from around the 20th Century B.C. reflect a surprisingly high standard of living, and they differ only in minor details from most of their later Assyrian and Babylonian counterparts."

"Such a house in its day was a two-story structure made of the kiln-baked and sun-dried brick, neatly whitewashed inside and out and well-insulated against the blazing Mesopotamian sun by walls that were sometimes as much as six feet thick. From a small entrance vestibule one stepped down into a brick-paved court provided with a central drain to carry off water during the winter rainy season. Opening off the court were the doors to the ground-floor rooms. The number of these rooms might vary from house to house, but typically they consisted of a chamber where guests were received and entertained, and where they might spend the night; a lavatory; the kitchen with its fireplaces and utensils of clay, stone and copper; a servant’s room and a general workroom that probably also served as a storeroom. There may also have been on the ground floor a small chapel where the household gods were worshipped, and below some houses were mausoleums for the burial of the family dead.

"A flight of stairs led up to the second story, where a wooden gallery about three feet wide, and supported by wooden poles, ran around the courtyard, leading to the family’s private living quarters. A ladder probably gave access to the flat or slightly sloping roof, on which the family often slept on clear summer nights. The house was simply but comfortably furnished with beds and couches, chairs and tables, and there were wood or wickerwork chests for storing clothes. Rugs covered the floors and colored hangings decorated the walls." [Kramer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 85.]

"Burnt bricks … were in general reserved for the houses of gods and kings, though this was by no means the rule, and the vast majority of ancient Mesopotamian buildings were simple mud bricks. The roofs were made of earth spread over a structure of reed mats and tree-trunks and the floors of beaten earth sometimes with a coating of gypsum. A coat of mud plaster was also usually applied to the walls." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 19.]

"The houses with their thick walls were relatively comfortable, being cool in summer and warm in winter, but they required constant attention. Every summer it was necessary to put a new layer of clay on the roof in anticipation of the winter rains, and every now and then the floors had to be raised. The reason for this was that rubbish in antiquity was not collected for disposal but simply thrown into the street, so that the street level gradually rose higher than the floor level of the house that bordered it, allowing the rain and the filth to seep in. Earth was therefore brought into the rooms, rammed over the old floors and covered with another coat of plaster." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 19.]

"Each city-state consisted of a densely populated central community featuring mud-dried brick buildings surrounded by impressive walls and of adjoining agricultural land controlled by the city." [Harrison, p. 8]

"For more elaborate structures, the Sumerians used bricks made of clay, and they soon learned to bake and glaze the bricks to make a more durable material. Although baked clay was not an ideal material for large structures, they found that they could greatly increase the height and width of their buildings by creating arches in the walls and adding support columns" [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 23.]

"Their settlements of low huts, at first of plaited reeds (wattle) and then of mud brick, crept gradually northward, especially along the Euphrates, for the banks of the Tigris were too high for convenient irrigation. These people learned to control the spring freshets with dikes, to distribute the waters in irrigation trenches, and to reap large harvests of grain. They were already cultivating barley and wheat, which were the two chief grains in Western Asia as they were in Egypt…. They already possessed cattle, as well as sheep and goats. These animals played such an important part in the life of the Sumerians that one of their important goddesses had the form of a cow, and they believed that she protected the flocks and herds. … sculptures in her temple near Ur show … interesting pictures of the dairy industry among the Sumerians of nearly 3000 B.C. Oxen drew the plow, and horses and donkeys pulled wheeled carts and chariots. These Sumerian chariots are the earliest known wheeled vehicles, and the wheel as a burden-bearing device appeared here for the first time. Not long after 3000 B.C. horses from the northeastern mountains were already known, although they continued to be rear for nearly a thousand years. At the same time metal had also been introduced, and the smith had learned to fashion utensils of copper, but he had not yet learned to harden the copper into bronze by admixture of tin…." [Breasted, Ancient Times, p. 142.]

"Sumerian cities were often rectangular in shape, surrounded by high, wide walls. Inside the city gates were broad avenues used for religious processions of victory parades. The largest buildings were ziggurats (ZIHG uh rats), pyramid-temples that soared toward the heavens. Their sloping sides had terraces, or wide steps, that were sometimes planted with trees and shrubs. On top of each ziggurat stood a shrine to the chief god or goddess of the city.

"Rulers lived in magnificent palaces with spacious courtyards. Most people, though, lived in tiny houses packed in a tangled web of narrow alleys and lanes. Artisans who practiced the same trade, such as weavers or carpenters, lived and worked in the same street. These shop-lined streets formed a bazaar…." [Ellis, World History, p. 33.]

"Sumerian cities were surround by walls. Uruk, for example, was encircled by a wall six miles long with defense towers located along the wall every thirty to thirty-five feet. City dwellings, built of sun-dried bricks, included both the small houses of peasants and the larger buildings of the city officials, priests, and priestesses. Although Mesopotamia had little stone or wood for building purposes, it did have plenty of mud. Mud bricks, easily shaped by hand, were left to bake in the hot sun until they were hard enough to use of building. People in Mesopotamia were remarkably creative with mud bricks. They invented the arch and the dome, and they built some of the largest brick buildings in the world…." [Spielvogel, World History, the Human Odyssey, p. 25.]

"In the third millennium B.C. both Sumer and Akkad were divided into political units which we call ‘city states’. Each city-state consisted of a city, its suburbs and satellite towns and villages, and of a well-defined territory comprising gardens, palm-groves and fields of barley and wheat. The open steppe between irrigated areas served as pasture land. The average surface of a city-state is unknown, but one of the largest, Lagash, is said to have measured some 2,880 square kilometres and to have numbered 30,000-35,000 people." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 130.]

"The city-states included the cities and the surrounding supportive villages and farms, united under a single government. Just like those who lived within the city walls, those who lived several miles away in small villages identified with the city — trading there, paying taxes, and attending religious functions. Farmers in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, … lived within the city walls and walked an hour or so to their fields nearby. As the city grew in population and area, from approximately three and a half to ten miles in radius, outlying villages and fields were incorporated to supply the city’s needs, and farmers participated in civic affairs." [Fields, The Global Past, I, pp. 68-69.]

    1. Houses were close and divided by twisting, narrow, blank-walled streets
    2. lanes with shops of artisans, smiths, potters, etc — "bazaar" —" a maze of narrow passages shielded from the blazing sun by awnings and lined with booths. Here the city dweller could choose his daily groceries from a wide variety of foodstuffs …. Here too, he could find displayed alongside the pots, clothing, and other local products such imported luxuries as ivory combs from Indian or carnelian beads from Iran. Woolley’s findings at Ur also indicate that there may have been restaurants in the vicinity of the bazaar where shoppers could pause for a dish of fried fish or grilled meat." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 80.]
    3. streets — most were narrow, winding lanes, unpaved and untended. Nor was there any municipal sewage or garbage disposal system; all refuse was flung lustily from the close-packed, mud-brick houses into the street, where it accumulated until it rose above the level of the thresholds" [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life.]
    4. public square — "Here there were many entertainments and amusements — wrestling matches, games of chance, recitations by professional storytellers and the like — to tempt the schoolboy to loiter on his way to classes. As for the restless, pleasure-bent older citizen, there was the roistering tavern where he could enjoy" his local brew. [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life.]
    1. Canals
    1. Drain off excess water after flooding — floods from melted snows of Armenian mountains
    2. Bring water to fields for irrigation
    1. Political History of the Valley -- "The valley of the Tigris and Euphrates … resembles a wide, shallow trough with few natural defenses, crisscrossed by two great rivers and their tributaries, and easily encroached upon from any direction. Thus the facts of geography tended to discourage the idea of uniting the entire area under a single head. Rulers who had this ambition did not appear, … until about a thousand years after the beginnings of Mesopotamian civilization, and they succeeded in carrying it out only for brief periods and at the cost of almost continuous warfare. As a consequence, the political history of ancient Mesopotamia has no underlying theme… local rivalries, foreign incursions, the sudden upsurge and equally sudden collapse of military power — these are its substance. Against such a disturbed background, the continuity of cultural and artistic traditions seems all the more remarkable. This common heritage is very largely the creation of the founding fathers of Mesopotamian civilization, … Sumerians after the region of Sumer, which they inhabited, near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates." [Janson, History of Art, p. 70.]

Evolution of a system in which the temples and the nobility shared power in each city and then a system of monarchy.

"… in the early stages of the city-states, priests and priestesses played an important role in ruling. The Sumerians believed that the gods ruled the cities, making the state a theocracy…. Eventually, however, ruling power passed into the hands of … kings." [Spielvogel, p. 25.]

"The complexity of urban life that emerged in southwestern Asia before 3000 B.C. fostered a new form of political and social organization called the state. The unique feature of the state is government — an elaborate bureaucracy run by elite social classes, which manages power to maintain public order and to sustain an economic network. This organization has characterized much of western culture." [Western Civilization: Origins and Traditions, p. 10.]

    1. Theocracy (rule by priests) — en (‘lord’ implying secular and religious functions)
    1. Patesi or high priest — ensi (‘governor’) written as PA,TE, SI
    2. all land owned by patron deity of the city
    3. Patesi ruled by divine right for the deity
    4. Supervised
    1. canal maintenance
    2. irrigation
    3. surplus food and goods

"Records on clay tablets indicate that the governments of the city-states were centralized from a very early time. The ruler of each city derived his authority from the fact that he was considered to be the representative of the god who owned the land. This form of government is known as a theocracy. As stewards of the god, the ruler and his officials allocated land to users, supervised the collection of grain, and directed the maintenance of the irrigation system. They lived and worked within a walled enclosure of the ziggurat and wielded enormous political and economic power over the lives of the ordinary people." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 26.]

"Each Sumerian city was really an independent city-state. A city state consisted of the city and the surrounding lands. Each city-state had its own ruler. The city-states were rivals for land, power, and trade. Conflicts on rights to water and land frequently arose.

In the early history of Sumer, the highest priest, the priest-kings, had supreme power over the city residents and the people living in the nearby countryside. The priests had power because the Sumerians believed that the land of the city-state was owned by the gods. The priests, therefore, ruled on behalf of the gods. This kind of government, where the ruler is considered a god … or the ruler represents the gods, is called a theocracy. In the theocracy of Sumer, the priests owned the temples and part of the land of both the city and the rural area. They collected rents and taxes from the people for the use of the land.

The priests were the keepers of learning. They and their assistants knew how to measure land, use a calendar, and tell time. More importantly, they knew how to control the irrigation system. They made sure that the canals and dikes were kept in good repair." [Chapin, Chronicles of Time, pp. 38-39]


"Each Sumerian city-state had its own local god, who was regarded as its ‘king’ and owner. It also had a human ruler, the steward of the divine sovereign, who led the people in serving the deity. The local god, in return, was expected to plead the cause of his subjects among his fellow deities who controlled the forces of nature such as wind and weather, water, fertility, and the heavenly bodies. Nor was the idea of divine ownership treated as a mere pious fiction; the god was quite literally believed to own not only the territory of the city-state but also the labor power of the population and its products. All these were subject to his commands, transmitted to the people by his human steward. The result was an economic system that has been dubbed ‘theocratic socialism,’ a planned society whose administrative center was the temple. It was the temple that controlled the pooling of labor and resources for communal enterprises, such as the building of dikes or irrigation ditches, and it collected and distributed a considerable part of the harvest. All this required the keeping of detailed written records. Hence… the texts of early Sumerian inscriptions deal very largely with economic and administrative rather than religious matters, although writing was a priestly privilege." [Janson, p. 71.]


    1. ability to write

Around the palace-temple complex and supported by income from the city-state’s agricultural establishment developed specialists whose skills were needed to conduct the numerous rituals honoring the deity and to plan and oversee the city-state’s economy. Here, too, were cultivated the arts, architecture, writing, learning, and trade — all serving to glorify the patron deity and his or her city and to lift the level of life far above that prevailing in Neolithic villages." [Harrison, p. 8.]

    1. When one city state conquer another — victorious high priest became king of the state — lugal (‘great man’) — gal = great; lu=man — term also used in the sense of ‘master’ and usually translated ‘king’
    1. One of the first lugals about whom much is known was Eannatum (c. 2900 B.C.) of Lagash
    2. Another early ruler of Lagash, Urukagina (c. 2700 BC?) was a social reformer — Urukagina usurped power as lugal of Lagash about 2400 B.C.? and promulgated so many reforms in the interest of the oppressed common people that he has been called the first social reformer in history. "Urukagina’s inscriptions … begin with a description of the abuses which ‘since time immemorial,’ or so it seemed, had been undermining the original ‘divinely decreed way of life.’ It is Urukagina’s view that all the leading elements in society — priests, administrators, powerful men, and even the ensi (‘governor’) and his family — were guilty of acting each ‘for his own benefit.’ Particularly noteworthy among the many resulting abuses -- … partly because Urukagina seems to have taken greatest pride in eradicating it — was the seizure of the property and even the persons of debtors by temple officials working in collusion with corrupt judges (maskim) of special interest also is Urukagina’s use of a contract theory of government to justify both his usurpation of power and his reforms: he made a ‘covenant’ with Ningirsu, patron god of Lagash, and he carried out Ningirsu’s instructions." [Bailkey, Readings in Ancient History, 2nd ed., p. 18.]
    3. c. 2500 BC a lugal of Ur began conquering the other lugals until Sumer was united
    4. ensi was the vassal of a lugal
    5. ruler’s wife known as nin (‘lady’ or ‘queen’)

3. Continuous warfare between city-states during the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3000-2371 BC)

"Indeed each city, as long as it could, maintained a jealous independence, and indulged itself in a private king. It called him patesi, or priest-king, indicating by the very word that government was bound up with religion. By 2800 BC the growth of trade made such municipal separatism impossible, and generated "empires" in which some dominating personality subjected the cities and their patesis to his power, and wove them into an economic and political unity. The despot lived in a Renaissance atmosphere of violence and fear; at any moment he might be despatched by the same methods that had secured him the throne. He dwelt in an inaccessible palace, whose two entrances were so narrow as to admit only one person at a time; to the right and left were recesses from which secret guards could examine every visitor, or pounce upon him with daggers. Even the king’s temple was private, hidden away in his palace, so ;that he might perform his religious duties without exposure, or neglect them inconspicuously." [Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, p. 126]

‘The key to the survival and growth of these city-states was an effective system of government capable of controlling a large population engaged in a variety of mutually supportive activities. Such governments were grounded in religious belief. The Sumerians believed that each city-state had been created by a god or goddess. The city belonged to its divine founder, and its citizens were the slaves of the founder. At an early date the responsibility for making the decisions by which the will of the divine owner of the city would be carried out was concentrated in the hands of a single human leader. This agent of the patron god or goddess, called ensi or lugal, centered his activities in a palace temple located in the heart of the city-state. From there flowed divine order coordinating the numerous activities required to exploit the resources belonging to the patron deities, their house (the temple) , and their servants (the priest king and his aides)." [Harrison, p. 8.]

The rivers made "Sumer a geographical maze. Among the rivers, streams, and irrigation canals stretched open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and at times dangerous. Thus each Sumerian city became a state, independent of the others and protective of its independence. Any city that tried to unify the country was resisted by the other cities. As a result, the political history of Sumer is one of almost constant warfare. Although Sumer was eventually unified, unification came late and was always tenuous." [McKay, A History of World Societies, p. 15.]

"It was a land where geography was an obstacle to unification and where the scarcity of fresh water led to quarrels among cities over water rights. Separated from each other by desert and swampland, the twelve Sumerian cities were jealous and particularistic, even though they had much in common: language, literature, arts and sciences, and even religion (no small matter in a society that … was deeply religious). These cities, nonetheless, were rivals — sometimes friendly, often at war — and were always stubbornly independent." [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10.]

    1. Council of elders — early period (c. 3000-2700 B.C.)
    1. "The council probably was involved in day-to-day governance"
    2. membership probably restricted to landed elite
    1. Assembly of the people — early period (c. 3000-2700 B.C.)
    1. Called less frequently
    2. appointed and removed kings
    3. approved wars — even over the objection of the council
    4. served as courts
    5. degree of freedom of speech is unknown
    6. how open in membership is not known
    1. Emergence of monarchy — mid 3rd millennium B.C. — "big man" or lugal or "governor" (ensi)
    1. military emergency probably led to centralized rule under a monarch
    2. inter-city warfare was chronic
    3. first and foremost a warrior
    4. claimed to be representative of the gods — "When the Sumerians had established themselves in their new homeland, trade turned into imperialism on a scale which for the first time brought the militarism and aggression of major powers as far as the north-east corner of the Mediterranean. Shortly after 2400 BC the Sumerian monarch of the south Mesopotamian town of Umma claimed divine sanction for his rule ‘from the lower to the upper sea’ — perhaps the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean respectively. Even if this was less an accomplished fact than an unfulfilled hope, the boast implied a historic and sinister assertion of universal monarchy, or at least international acceptability as an arbiter." [Grant, The Ancient Mediterranean, p. 36.]
    5. sponsored irrigation works
    6. raised fortification walls
    7. restored temples
    8. signed peace treaties
    9. leading role in feasts, processions and other religious ceremonies
    10. male god in the Sacred Marriage rite
    11. built splendid palaces — "All had a square central courtyard surrounded by chambers on three sides and communicating on the fourth side, with a long, rectangular room which probably served as an audience hall. Two parallel thick walls separated by a narrow corridor surrounded the building. In Mari, the palace contained numerous ritual installations suggesting royal chapels. In Kish, a second building alongside the palace included a spacious hall with four central mud-brick columns and a pillared loggia." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 134.]
    12. In Ur and Lagash — king’s wife could be a power. In Girsu she managed the affairs of the temple of the goddess Baba
    13. Earliest — 2700-2600 B.C.
    1. Enmebaragesi of Kish
    2. Agga succeeded Enmebaragesi
    3. Gilgamesh of Uruk
    1. Divine kingship theory — "Humanity, however, was but a great, rather stupid flock. It needed shepherds, rulers, priestly kings chosen and appointed by the gods to enforce the divine law. At some remote date, therefore… ‘the exalted tiara and the throne of kingship’ were ‘lowered from heaven’, and from then on a succession of monarchs led the destinies of Sumer and Akkad on behalf of and for the benefit of the gods. Thus was justified … the theory of divinely inspired kingship, current in Mesopotamia from the third millennium onwards." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 107.]
    1. Royal cemetery at Ur
    1. human sacrifice
    2. presence of magnificent objects, ornaments and weapons
    3. theory — more than monarchs: "they were gods, or at least they represented the gods on earth and, as such, were entitled to take their court with them into another life, a life no doubt incomparably more enjoyable than that of the human beings"
    1. general trend towards a gradual separation of the Palace from the Temple

8. Evolution of kingship theory

    1. original political system of Sumer — primitive democracy
    2. monarchy developed comparatively late
    3. warrior chief (lugal) formerly elected by an assembly of citizens for short periods of crisis took power permanently — reflected in creation myth describing the election of Enlil to the rank of ‘champion of the gods’ for a specific purpose — waging war
    4. local assemblies composed of elder existed in Early Dynastic Sumer — probably merely consultative bodies summoned by the rulers on rare occasions
    5. No clear-cut evidence in the Sumerian tradition of a period when the city-states were ruled by collective institutions

"Sumerians viewed kingship as divine in origin. Kings, they believed, derived their power from the gods and were the agents of the gods. Regardless of their origins, kings had power. They led armies, supervised the building of public works, and organized workers for the irrigation projects upon which Mesopotamian farming depended. The army, the government bureaucracy, and the priests and priestesses all aided the kings in their rule. As befitted their power, Sumerian kings, their wives, and their children lived in large palaces." [Spielvogel, p. 25.]

"As Mesopotamian city-states grew and demand for greater public works increased, efficient political organization became essential. The growth of government, therefore, paralleled urban growth. Initially, cities were ruled by councils, usually composed of wealthy elders. Eventually the role of king developed, particularly because of increased hostilities between cities that encouraged people to look to a strong military leader. The king’s authority grew out of three primary responsibilities: military, civic, and religious. The king’s military responsibility gave him authority to lead the army against enemies and to defend the city against attack. The king’s civic responsibility gave him authority to raise taxes, to care for the people’s well-being through public works, and to keep the peace through the enforcement of customary and newly developing law codes. The king’s religious responsibility gave him authority as high priest to oversee all religious practices. The king’s role as high priest and lawgiver legitimized his rule." Field, The Global Past, I, p. 70.]

E. Early Sumerian Cities, 3000 BC

    1. Ur
    1. far south
    2. access to Persian Gulf
    3. Genesis 11:31 — "Terah took his son Abrah, his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, Abram’s wife, and they set out from Ur of the Chaldees from the land of Canaan."
    4. First Dynasty of Ur, 2500-2300
    1. Lugal of Ur recognized as lugal of Sumer
    2. Conquests further north up the rivers into Akkad
    3. increased military strength — archers, cavalry, infantry
    4. ruthless taxation
    5. commanded services and obedience from the people
    6. weak lugal of Ur — dynasty falls to the patesi of Umma — Lugal Zaggisi who claimed all valley to source of two rivers (see above)
    1. Shudi-Ad

"The 2500 B.C. city of Ur in Sumer was a stylish place, where music, fashion, and the arts flourished at a level of good taste and quality rivaled only by Egypt. Queen Shudi-Ad was one of Ur’s patrons, perhaps its inspiration….

"No one has ever worn headgear as exquisite as the Sumerians: delicately original creations of beech leaves and flowers in beaten gold, which must have made the most delightful shimmering effect as they moved. The queen herself wore a tall comb with rosettes of gold, carnelian, and lapis lazuli in her dark wig, and great hoops of gold in her ears. Shudi-Ad drank from goblets of worked gold; her wine was stored in tall jars of veined alabaster. She and her entourage played on gaming boards and musical instruments inlaid with mosaics, and rode in carriages carved with lions and other animals. Even the cylinder seals with which she signed her name were works of art."

" But it was music — not only in her circle, but throughout the land of Sumer — that got the most intense attention. Sumerians used the same musical scale [as in the modern era]…. And favored harmony and hot licks on the harp, lyre, pipes, and drums. It’s easy to imagine their sensual poems being sung; both women and men had honored careers as singers."

"As a group, the Sumerians didn’t think much of the afterlife. That disbelief, coupled with the absolute power of the ruling class and a very human desire to attend one’s own funeral, led them to create the world’s first party-and-funeral combination. A pre-death wake, as it were."

"Queen Shudi-Ad would have been pleased with her funeral — she was able to enjoy most of it. She was only about forty when she died, of causes unknown but most probably not natural ones. Marching with Shudi-Ad into the grave site, probably accompanied by music, went sixty-four female attendants, half of them wearing gold hair ribbons, the rest silver; an elaborate wooden carriage of gold and silver drawn by two oxen; four female harpists; and six soldiers. (Besides that of Shudi-Ad, archaeologists have found a number of mass burial sites in Sumer; no one really knows why the Sumerians went in for them.)"

"It appears to have been a cheerful death scene. Everyone was found in perfect repose — not a diadem out of place. … Each member of the funeral party was given a drink in a small cup. The harpists played. The singers sang. The crowd might have even done a little karaoke. After all, who would know? And when the music was done and the room became still with her drowsy and dying subjects… the beautiful queen [might have given] … them a round of applause before she drank down her won cup of nepenthe and lay down in her finery forever." [Leon, Uppity Women, pp. 8-9.]

    1. Erech (Biblical Uruk) — central Sumer
    1. Great white temple — built shortly before 3000 B.C. [at Warka, site of Uruk or Erech] — probably dedicated the Anu — god of the sky. "The mound, its sloping sides reinforced by solid brick masonry, rises to a height of 40 feet; stairs and ramps lead up to the platform on which stands the sanctuary, called the ‘White Temple’ because of its whitewashed brick exterior. Its heavy walls, articulated by regularly spaced projections and recesses, are sufficiently well preserved to suggest something of the original appearance of the structure. The main room, or cella, where sacrifices were offered before the statue of the god, is a narrow hall that runs the entire length of the temple and is flanked by a series of smaller chambers. But the main entrance to the cella is on the southwest side, rather than on the side facing the stairs or on one of the narrow sides of the temple, as one might expect. In order the understand the reason for this,’ the ziggurat must be viewed as a whole: "the entire complex is planned in such a way that the worshipper, starting at the bottom of the stairs on the east side is forced to go around as many corners as possible before he reaches the cella. The processional path, in other words, resembles a sort of angular spiral." [Janson, p. 72.]
    2. using pottery wheel by 3000 BC
    3. population of about 10,000 around 3100 B.C.
    4. By 2700 B.C. population had grown to about 50,000
    1. Nippur (nih PUR)
    2. Kish — very early wheeled vehicles — ruled by Ku-baba (r. ca. 2450 B.C.), the first reigning queen of recorded history

"The Sumerians … seemed … [to have] a powerful thirst, which they quenched with barley beer. Man, woman, and child, the Sumerians loved their suds. They even had a slogan: "Beer makes the liver happy and fills the heart with joy." There was a reasonable rationale for their enthusiasm. In ancient times, water was likely to make your whole system unhappy. Thick barley beer, on the other hand, was relatively germ-free and nourishing too, even if you did have to drink it through a tube. Religion was big with Sumerians, but the taverns probably saw more of them than the temples. Women dominated the beer cycle: They made most of it, sold most of it, and drank their fair share."

"Kubaba, a sharp and sturdy lady … kept a tavern in … Kish…. Then… taverns had a rep for rowdiness, rigged prices, and watered drinks. Although priestesses got as dry as the next Sumerian, they were forbidden by law to stop by for a cool one. Penalties were a bit stiff: death! Yet as ration lists show, priestesses drank beer daily, so barkeeps probably made beer runs to the temples."

"Kubaba herself had higher ambitions than pulling drafts …. With the possible help of some beer-oriented campaign promises, she managed to become queen of Kish, gaining the throne about 2500 B.C. … No splash-in-the-beer-barrel, one-term ruler, Kubaba rose to highest prominence and stayed there. Her sons succeeded her, and the dynasty she founded lasted for one hundred years.

"During her tenure, Kubaba ‘made firm the foundations of Kish.’ … [which] may mean she extended political control over other parts of Sumer. But kegmeister Kubaba never forgot her taphouse background. On the official Sumerian kings’ list, which has survived to this day, she simply styled herself as ‘Kubaba the beer woman.’" [Leon, Uppity Women, pp. 12-13.]


Beer: first breweries flourished in the ancient East. Subsequently in the hostelries of Babylon there were in fact five kinds of beer: ;mild, bitter, fresh, lager, and a special mixed beer for export and carrying, which was also called honey beer. This was a condensed extract of roots which would keep for a long time. All that had to be done was to mix it with water and the beer was ready….

    1. Lagash (LAY gash) -- "History’s earliest known reformer of law and society is Uru-inimgina, king of Lagash around 2400 B.C. Surviving documents describe Lagash as a society in which wealthy landowners encroached on the temples and oppressed the poor, and royal administrators mistreated ordinary people. The king’s aims seem to have been both to correct abuses and to weaken independent sources of power threatening royal authority. Uru-inim-gina attempted to control the bureaucracy, protect the property of humble people, and guard the temples. He also put into effect the first known attempt to control wages and prices. Uru-inim-gina’s proclaimed intention was to promote impartial justice, a goal that he expressed in the formula ‘[the king] will protect the mother that is in distress, the mighty man shall not oppress the naked and the widow.’" [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 12.]
    2. Umma
    3. Larsa
    4. Jarmo — pottery mills
    5. Ubaid — pottery and copper
    6. Eridu
    1. located to south with access to Persian Gulf
    2. Temple of Janna erected between 3500 and 3000 BC
    3. temple, perhaps dedicated to the god of fresh water because excavators have found a great many fish bones in it

"The first attempts at shaping a new political order were made by Sumerian cities. At various times between 3000 and 2400 BC, strong kings from Ur, Erech, Lagash, and Umma used military force to establish mastery over other cities, but these "empires" were short-lived. Ultimately, the Semites proved more talented in uniting Mesopotamia politically." [Harrison, pp. 8-9.]

F. Trade

"Although the favorable climate and the irrigation system allowed the Sumerians to develop a surplus of food and textiles, they had very little stone or metal with which to manufacture tools and weapons. For the purpose of developing a trade for these items with their neighbors, the Sumerians built boats and domesticated donkeys for use as pack animals. Their tub-like rowboats plied the rivers and their donkey caravans crossed the Arabian Desert and Zagros Mountains. They traded grain to their neighbors in Egypt and Nubia in return for copper;, ivory, and gold. Their caravans traveled through the passes of the Zagros Mountains to secure semiprecious stones in Iran. From Anatolia and Armenia to the north, they obtained silver and tin." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 25.]

    1. Sumerian Society — complex arrangement of freedom and dependence — categories —"Mesopotamian farmers and artisans produced a considerable surplus of products beyond their own personal requirements. They were not, however, able to keep this surplus, for the temples and the king channeled it off in each state in the form of rent, taxes, and gifts. These managers invested part of the savings of the whole state in canals, temples, walls, and other socially useful capital structures, and some of the food was also returned to the citizens in the months preceding a new harvest. The priests and king also utilized an appreciable fraction of this surplus to enhance their own comfort, even luxury; the tomb of one queen of Ur astounded the modern world with its wealth of delicate jewelry, harps, and sacrificed servants." [Starr, Nowell, A History of the World, I, p. 28.]
    1. nobles
    1. king and his family
    2. chief priests
    3. high palace officials

"Generally the king, at first elected by the citizenry, rose to power as a war leader. He established a regular army, trained it, and led it into battle. The might of the king and the frequency of warfare quickly made him the supreme figure in the city, and kingship soon became hereditary. The symbol of royal status was the palace, which rivaled the temple in grandeur." [McKay, p. 18.]

    1. Clients
    1. free men and women
    2. dependent on the nobility

"The king and the lesser nobility held extensive tracts of land that, like the estates of the temple, were worked by slaves and clients….. In return for their labor, the clients received small plots of land to work for themselves. Although this arrangement assured the clients of a livelihood, the land they worked remained the possession of the nobility or the temple. Thus the nobility not only controlled most — and probably the best — land but also commanded the obedience of a huge segment of society. They were the dominant force in Mesopotamian society."

    1. rent land from temple or nobles
    2. some were organized in work bands under foremen

"… in the great temple households labor was sometimes drawn from men and women who were called gurus and geme, terms that later refer to laborers who were doing forced labor, or corvee. Sometimes it appears that such work was a tax in labor on otherwise free peasants. We do not know how the labor was coerced, but we know that the laborers were given standard rations during the period of their work at least. Children were sometimes involved in forced labor." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, , p. 21]

    1. Commoners — free citizens — 90%
    1. independent of nobility
    2. belonged to large patriarchal families
    3. owned land in their own right
    4. could sell their land if the family approved
    5. even king could not legally take their land without their approval
    6. had voice in political affairs of the city
    7. full protection under the law
    8. could not rival nobility in social status and political power
    9. merchants -- there was "a vigorous trade in raw materials for luxury items. The gold had to come from elsewhere, perhaps even from Egypt, and stone came from the Iranian mountains or Turkey. Some raw materials may have been passed along from village to village. But there are indications that some people in Mesopotamia were systematically trying to acquire foreign goods. When there are texts, we can read of the existence of people called damgar, which we translate ‘merchant’ because it is an Akkadian loanword, understood as merchant in later related languages. The contexts for the work of these merchants are not clear in the archival lists of the earliest period, and we do not know if the merchants worked only for the city-rulers or if they also could execute private purchase orders. The crucial thing we do not know is whether the merchants themselves traveled anywhere to acquire goods or just took advantage of other people’s travels to buy things." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 23.]
    10. fishers — for fresh, brackish or sea water
    11. craftspeople — artisans — worked partly for private citizens and partly for the state (temple or palace)
    1. pottery
    2. jewelry
    3. wood products
    4. smithing — bronze castings
    5. construction

l. shepherds — for male and female asses

m. snakecharmers

4. Slaves — not an important institution

a. prisoners of war

b. foreigners

c. criminals — lost freedom as punishment

d. debtors — repayment of debts — law required freedom after three

years — some men sold wives and children to keep themselves out of debt slavery

    1. Treatment — not an especially degraded class
    1. at mercy of owners
    2. beaten
    3. branded
    1. rights
    1. could borrow money
    2. received some legal protection
    3. engaged in trade
    4. could make profits
    5. could buy freedom
    6. could marry free women
    1. palace officials used slaves on building projects
    2. temple officials used female slaves to weave cloth and grind grain
    3. rich landowners used slaves to farm their lands
    4. never very numerous
    5. manumission occurred frequently

"There were also slave in Sumer, originally captives from the mountains. Slaves formed a small group, ;much outnumbered by free peasants." [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10.]

"The earliest documented slave sales were in the southern city of Girsu around 2430 B.C.E. Slaves were not held in large numbers and were not very important in supplying labor." [Snell, Daily Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 21.]

"Each Sumerian city-state had a distinct social hierarchy or system of ranks. The highest class included the ruling family, leading officials, and high priests. A small middle class was made up of merchants, artisans, and lesser priests and scribes.

At the base of society were the majority of people, peasant farmers. Some had their own land, but most worked land belonging to the king or temples. Sumerians also owned slaves. Most slaves had been captured in war. Some, though, had sold themselves into slavery to pay their debts." [Ellis, World History, p. 34.]

"The Mesopotamian urban centers incorporated features generally associated with the state. Mesopotamian society fell into two broad divisions — the elite (the nobility and priests), a group with unimpeded access to resources, and the non-elite (craft specialists, workers, bureaucrats, etc.), who obtained goods and services through the exchange of personal labor or capital. At the top of the social order and government was a king. The king arranged for the construction of public buildings, and his government established judicial institutions, governed the economy, and maintained literary and ideological tradition through organized copying done by scribes." [Western Civilization: Origins and Traditions, p. 10.]

    1. Women
    1. worked alongside men in most professions
    2. priestesses were usually noble-women from wealthy families

"In the earliest Sumerian myths, a mother-goddess was the central figure of creation. She may have reflected the honored role of mothers in early farming communities. An ancient proverb advised, ‘Pay heed to the word of your mother as though it were the word of a god.’"

"As large city-states emerged with warrior-leaders at their head, male gods who resembled early kings replaced the older mother-goddess. Still, in the early city-states, wives of rulers enjoyed special powers and duties. Some supervised palace workshops and ruled for the king when he was absent. One woman, Ku-Baba, became a ruler herself, rising from the lowly position of tavern owner to establish a ruling family in Kish.

"Over time, as men gained more power and wealth, the status of women changed. Because they devoted their time to household duties and raising children, women became more dependent on men for their welfare. Despite these changes, women continued to have legal rights. Well-to-do women, for example, engaged in trade, borrowed and loaned money, and owned property." [Ellis, World History, p. 34.]

Early Dynastic III (2500-2334 BC) texts "show that the labor of lower-status women was exploited by the city-state in weaving sheep’s wool. Women wove, perhaps because weaving was a job that could be interrupted and thus was compatible with child care. But women also appear as priestesses and seem to function as high officials at least in some temples at Lagas-Girsu. The wife of the city-governor there was clearly someone to be reckoned with. Women bought and sold land, and they were legally capable persons." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 20.]

"Women participated in the economies of Sumerian cities, although in limited ways. They could own property (but most land remained in the control of men, because property generally passed from father to son). In some cases women controlled the making of cloth and sent it with their merchant husbands to supplement the family income. There are later records of Mesopotamian women demanding that their husbands send them the money their cloth brought at market. Women also engaged in other businesses and exclusively produced the most popular drink, beer."

"Gender roles became increasingly fixed as the civilization developed. Women’s responsibilities remained primarily in the household; the majority of women spent hours gardening, weaving, or grinding on stone grinders." [Field, The Global Past, I, p. 73.]

    1. Legal status in family
    1. Husband with support from his family paid a bride-price to father of the bride
    2. Man breaking his engagement forfeited his bride-price
    3. If woman broke engagement — man received twice the worth of the bride price
    4. signed marriage contract — enumerated conditions
    1. Duties of each
    2. division of property in a divorce settlement
    1. Women were subject to husbands and fathers
    2. Women who bore no children could be divorced


    1. Economy
    1. Primarily agricultural
    1. large estates controlled by rulers, priests and army officers
    1. Temple lands
    1. one-third of all arable land
    2. could not be sold nor exchanged
    3. divided into three parts
    1. Land of the Lord — fed priests and numerous persons employed by the temple
    2. food land — allotted in small parcels to the farmers who worked the ‘land of the Lord’ and to some temple officials for their subsistence — did not fully belong to them and could be taken away at any time
    3. ‘plow land’ — let out to tenants against one-seventh or one-eighth of the harvest

4. Exploited or hired out orchards, pastures, fisheries as well as cattle and flocks of sheep and goats

    1. Revenues in kind used
    1. for the maintenance of priests, scribes and other
    2. temple officials

    3. stored for provision against drought and for exchange for imported goods
    4. wages or gratuities to thousands of people — mostly women, but also men and slaves of both sexes — who permanently labored in temple workshops and premises, milling grain, spinning and weaving wool or hair, brewing beer or acting as cooks, gardeners and servants
    5. temple farmers — could be mobilized by the ruler in case of war or for such large-scale public works as the building of sanctuaries and fortifications and the digging of canals

"In theory the state was an earthly estate of the gods, and its early economic activities were focused on the temple. The land, which was owned by the gods, was partly farmed directly for the temple; the rest was allotted to individual farmers, who paid between one-third and one-sixth of their produce to the temple granaries. The temple owned great quantities of livestock, date orchards, and even its own boats and plows; about the temple lived and worked male and female slaves and free people who brewed and baked, carded and wove wool, or made jewelry and statues. Fishers and traders as well carried on their work for the temples. The economy of Babylonia was an intensification of the communal economy of the villages, and even the priests farmed in early days; but more and more the overseers and the priests separated themselves out as a directing element." [Starr, Nowell, A History of the World, I, 22.]

    1. Palace
    1. 600 to 700 soldiers — bodyguard
    2. estates — personal and land purchased from wealthy individuals or high officials
    1. Private property — private persons of all ranks could freely sell, exchange, donate or let out houses, fields, gardens, fishery ponds, livestock and slaves belonging to them or perhaps to family communities — wide variation in size of plots depending on social status of owner


b. tenant farmers

    1. serfs — peasants and workers who served the temple or the palace were maintained by them and possessed no land

"You can have a lord, you can have a king, but the man to fear is the tax collector." [Sumerian poem]

    1. Trade with surrounding countries
    1. Exports of agricultural products and manufactured goods — grain, wool, and textiles
    2. Imports of wood, metal (gold, silver, copper, lead), stone, cedar and cypress, luxury items that included ivory, pearls, and shells as well as malachite, carnelian, lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones
    3. Used bills, receipts, notes, and letters of credit
    4. custom required that deals be confirmed by written agreements, signed by witnesses
    5. merchants employed salesmen who traveled to distant regions and sold goods on commission
    6. bars or ingots of gold and silver served as money — standard unit of exchange — silver shekel (approximately equal in weight to a modern 50-cent piece)


"Besides… metal … the wool from the flocks made possible the development of weaving and the production of plentiful woolen cloth. Metal work, woolen goods, and some native products, like dates and grain, developed active trade with other countries of Western Asia. … this trade extended far into Asia, even reaching the mouth of the Indus and the lower valley of that river. At the same time the discovery in Sumer of a seal from the Indus makes the fact of such trade quite certain. There is every indication that this trade passed between the Tigris and the Indus by land. It is not yet clear whether the Sumerians had been able to develop sea-going ships for traffic on the Persian Gulf and beyond it. The region of the Two Rivers, of which Sumer formed the southern part, lay between the Eastern Mediterranean world on the west and remoter Asia on the east. Between these two widely separated regions the people of the Two Rivers began very early to carry on extensive commerce, which later spread in a great network of roads and sea routes. These communications not only connected the countries of the Near East with each other but likewise linked the Near East as a whole with the Asiatic world on one side and the Mediterranean world on the other. This commerce from the Two Rivers overlapped with that of Egypt in the Eastern Mediterranean and must have extended to Egypt itself. It was such intercourse between the Two Rivers and Egypt which already in prehistoric times gave these two regions a number of things in common, like the use of the cylinder seal, the pear-shaped war mace, and the use of balanced animal figures in decorative art." [Breasted, Ancient Times, pp. 143-145.]

"Cities traded with each other and with the outside world. They exported grain, dates, and textiles and other worked products in exchange for raw materials, including copper from Oman or Sinai, gold from Armenia or perhaps Nubia (modern Sudan), timber from the mountains east of the Persian Gulf, and carnelian (a reddish mineral used in jewelry) from India." [Noble, Western Civilization I, pp. 10-11]

"The people of Mesopotamia made woolen textiles; pottery; and metalwork, for which they were especially well known…. The Sumerians imported copper, tin, and timber in exchange for dried fish, wool, barley, wheat, and metal goods. Traders traveled by land to the eastern Mediterranean and by sea as far away as India. The invention of the wheel, around 3000 BC, led to carts with wheels, which made the transport of goods easier." [Spielvogel, p. 26.]

‘The trade in lapis lazuli, a semiprecious blue stone that is available in the Near East only in Badakhshan in Afghanistan, peaked in Early Dynastic III [2500-2334] and then almost disappeared in later periods. Archaeology reveals that toward the end of the period there was contact with the Persian Gulf trade, which may have led ultimately to the Indus Valley n modern Pakistan." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 23.]

"But it is not just objects that were imported. Because they are attested in texts, we can be sure that resins and spices were also brought in, perhaps from Iran and perhaps from Syria and Turkey. Wood may have been imported, sometimes from a considerable distance, though there were stands of poplar and other scraggly trees in Mesopotamia itself. We assume that what Mesopotamia was exporting to acquire these goods was, as in later periods, textiles and grain." [Snell, Life in the Ancient Near East, p. 23.]

"Copper was first discovered, it is generally believe, in north-western Iran or in the Caucasus, and was perhaps originally obtained from Azerbaijan or Armenia. Soon, however, were found alternative sources of supplies, such as Anatolia (which later produced iron), Cyprus and the country called in cuneiform texts Magan, which has tentatively been identified with the mountainous part of Oman. Tin seems to have been imported from Iran, the Caucasus, or perhaps even Afghanistan, before the Phoenicians in the first millennium B.C. brought it from Spain. Silver came mostly from the Taurus mountains, gold from various deposits scattered between Egypt and India. Several districts of Iran could provide hard stones and semi-precious stones, and Magan was reputed for its beautiful black diorite used by the sculptors of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ordinary timber could be found in the nearby Zagros mountains, but the valuable cedar was brought from Lebanon or the Amanus, while other varieties of wood came by sea from the mysterious country of Meluhha — possibly the ancient name for the Indus valley. At a very early date, therefore, an extensive network of trade routs was developed, which linked the various parts of Mesopotamia with each other and with the rest of the Near East." [Roux, Ancient Iraq,, p. 13.]

    1. Persian Gulf trade — "the ‘Bitter River’, the ‘Lower Sea’ or ‘Sea of the Rising Sun’… In antiquity, merchant ships sailed on it from Ur to Dilmun (Bahrain) and hence to Magan (Oman) and/or Meluhha (the Indus valley), probably putting into several as yet unidentified ports on their way. It has long been known from cuneiform texts and some objects, notably stamp-seals, and commercial relations between Mesopotamia and the Indus valley had been established as early as the third millennium, but until recent years the Arabian coast of the Gulf had been terra incognita on archaeological maps…."

i. Commercial intercourse between Mesopotamia and western coasts of Persian Gulf as early as the 5th millennium

    1. commercial contact with south-eastern Iran and Pakistan
    2. c. 2200 B.C. ships on Gulf transported troops and possibly ambassadors from the kings of Akkad
    3. kings of Assyria in the 1st millennium endeavoured to attract at least Dilmun and Magan within the sphere of their political and economic influence.




3. bitumen — "They used bitumen in many ways, not only in architecture (as mortar for brickwork and waterproof lining for bathrooms and drains), but in sculpture and inlay-work, as a material for caulking boats, as fuel and even as a drug. There is some evidence that, at least during certain periods in their history, they exported it." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 12.]

    1. Sumerian Law — basis for later codes such as that of Hammurabi of Babylon — essential features
    1. lex talionis — law of retaliation in kind — "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a limb for a limb," etc.
    2. Semiprivate administration of justice
    1. victim or his family had to bring the offender to justice
    2. court served principally as an umpire in the dispute between plaintiff and defendant — not an agency of the state to maintain public security
    3. constables attached to the court might assist in the execution of the sentence
    1. Inequality before the law
    1. Three classes
    1. patricians or aristocrats
    2. burghers or commoners
    3. serfs and slaves
    1. Penalties — graded according to the rank of the victim or sometimes according to the rank of the offender
    1. killing or maiming of a noble — more serious than similar crime committed against a commoner or slave
    2. a patrician offender — more severe punishment than man of inferior status [nobles usually army officers who were chief defenders of the state — could not be allowed to give vent to passions]
    1. Inadequate distinction between accidental and intentional homicide — fine required to be paid to family of victim [theory that children were the property of their fathers and wives the property of their husbands]
    2. Innashagga

"The Sumerians loved to go to court, as evidence of their lawsuits, property disputes, and legal grievances shows. One woman whose legal struggles approached the heroic was Innashagga, an ordinary citizen of Sumer forty centuries ago. A shrewd self-starter, she had income of her own with which she bought a house. The records make it clear that this was her property, because Innashagga was married at the time to a fellow name Dudu — every other Sumerian was named this equivalent of Jason or Michael.)" [Leon, Uppity Women, p. 10..]

  1. Sumerian Religion
    1. Belief in many gods — polytheistic (several ziggurats) — anthropomorphic — thought to control every aspect of life, especially the forces of nature -- animism (worship of deities residing in natural forces and objects such as wind, groves of trees, and mountains). "Sumerian believed that gods and goddesses behaved like ordinary people. They ate, drank, married, and raised families. Although the gods favored truth and justice, they were also responsible for violence and suffering." [Ellis, World History, p. 34.]
    2. Favored one god — patron god for each city and town (each of several districts of a city had its own god with his temple)
    1. Nippur — temples to Enlil and his consort Ninlil
    2. Uruk — virgin earth-goddess Innini — Ishtar
    3. Kish and Lagash — Mater Dolorosa — sorrowful mother goddess Ninkarsag, who, grieved with the unhappiness of men, interceded for them with sterner deities
    4. Lagash — Ningirsu
    5. Umma — Shara
    6. Ur -- Nanna
    7. C. Ziggurat (origin of church steeple?)

    8. Top — welcoming temple — originally the raised platform was designed to protect the sanctuary from flood
    9. Ground — abode of god
    10. Kitchens
    11. Dressing rooms
    12. Supply room — supervised by priests
    1. Food
    2. clothing
    3. tools
    1. Out buildings
    1. Work rooms for priestly scribes
    2. Work rooms for craftsmen
    1. Tower of Babel — Genesis 11:1-9 — Biblical story of Tower of Babel used to explain the origin of diverse languages of mankind. Also in its earliest form the story of the Tower of Babel expressed scorn for the proud culture of the Fertile Crescent symbolized by the famed ziggurat of Babylon. To the Babylonians "babel" meant "the gate of the gods" and is punned on through the verb balal, "to confuse," or to "make babble."

"Each ziggurat was topped by a shrine which was thought to be the home of the god. The stairways that connected the various levels permitted the priests to ascend to the deities and the deities to descend to the people. The Sumerians believed that the gods controlled all aspects of their lives, including peace, health, the abundance of fish in the waters, the fertility of livestock, and even success in manufacturing bricks or tools." [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 26.]

"Besides the many gods, each city-state had a chief god that protected the city. Under the leadership of the priests, a large temple was built in the central part of the city to honor the chief god. This type of temple is called a ziggurat. A ziggurat was built of mud bricks and decorated with patters and color. It was usually the largest building in the crowded city. The Sumerians built the temple tall so that it would not be flooded. The temple was a terraced pyramid. Each story was a little smaller than the one below. On the top was a small, high shrine where only the priests could enter. Later, as some cities grew richer, the ziggurat was decorated with precious emeralds and other jewels. At times of religious festivals, processions of people marched up ramps to the top of the temple"

"Inside a Sumerian temple was a statue of the chief god. The Sumerians believed that their gods were like human beings and would enjoy good food and other pleasures of life. So twice a day, the best of food was served to them. The statues were clothed and taken care of by the priests. Music was played before the gods. The gods in turn told the high priests what should be done in the cities. These messages were communicated through dreams, oracles, (who are people whose voices gods use to speak), and omens (which are events that priests know how to interpret)."

"But the temple was not just a religious center. On the lower levels were libraries, storage places, residences for the male and female priests, and workshops. There might be a school nearby. People came to the temple to take oaths to prove they were telling the truth. To the temple also came engineers, surveyors, overseers, and many unskilled workers employed by the priests."

At the temple, the priests made loans, regulated the interest rates, and invested the profit. In effect, the priests controlled the economic life of the community." [Chapin, Chronicles of Time, p. 40]

"The most important portion of the Sumerian town, and indeed the nucleus of its civilization, was the temple inclosure. Here were places of worship, storehouses, and business offices, surrounded and protected by a massive wall. Here ruled a wealthy priesthood. Assisted by scribes, they rented and cared for temple property. The ruler of the town was also the chief priest, and his temple duties kept him about as busy as did the task of ruling the community outside of the temple walls." [Breasted, Ancient Times, p. 148.]

"Rising high above the other buildings in the temple inclosure was the tower-temple, which was in general shape almost a cube, though it tapered slightly in a series of steps toward the top. In front were three lofty flights of stairs rising nearly a hundred and fifty feet and converging on a door almost halfway up the front of the building. In the upper part of the tower was a square temple, with a court open to the sky, and a holy place behind it. Probably the first of such tower-temples was built at Nippur as a sanctuary to Enlil, the Sumerian god of the air. Alongside the tower-temple was a low building serving as the temple proper. Here the arrangement was very simple, consisting of a court and the sanctuary. Indeed, it is clear that this lower temple was considered merely as a dwelling of the god, like the dwelling houses of the people in the town." [Breasted, Ancient Times, p. 149.]

"To this sanctuary under the shadow of the tower-temple the peasant brought his offering, -- a goat and a jar o water containing a few green palm branches intended to symbolize the vegetable life of the land, which the god maintained by the annual rise of the river. The worshiper’s jar with the green palm branches in it later became ‘the tree of life,’ a symbol often depicted on the monuments of the land. These gifts the worshiper laid before the gods of the earth and its green life, of the air, the sky, or the sea, praying that there might be plentiful waters and generous harvests, but praying also for deliverance from the destroying flood which the god had once sent to overwhelm the land. Of this catastrophe the peasant’s fathers had told him, and the tradition of this flood finally passed over to the Hebrews." [Breasted, Ancient Times, pp. 149-150.]

"In the early Sumerian cities the temple was the focus of loyalty and wielded great economic and political clout. Residents worshipped the city’s patron deity at a temple in the center of town. Often the highest building, this temple symbolized the city. Other deities were worshipped in other temples in the city. The temple controlled large landed estates, so the priests, scribes, and other temple officials were a major economic authority. The temple never had a monopoly on power, however, because individual wealthy families formed a separate landed elite." [Noble, Western Civilization, I, p. 10.]

    1. Council of Gods — the Annunaki
    1. Gods had rank
    2. Council could overrule will of a single god
    1. Ishtar (Inanna)
    1. Mother goddess of the earth
    2. Most popular
    3. Goddess of fertility
    4. Marriage to Tammuz (Dumuzi) -- Son of the Waters — assured productivity of the soil
    1. Tammuz died each year
    2. Went to land of darkness — autum
    3. Sought by Ishtar
    4. Rescued by Ishtar
    5. Brought back to living earth — spring
    6. Explained sequences of seasons

"… the rapports between Inanna and Dumuzi were not always harmonious, as shown by a famous text called ‘Inanna’s descent to the Netherworld’ of which two versions have been preserved, one Sumerian, the other Assyrian. In the Sumerian text Inanna goes down to the ‘land of no return’, casting off a piece of clothing or a jewel at each stage, in order to snatch this lugubrious domain from the hands of her sister Ereshkigal, the Sumerian equivalent of Persephone. Unfortunately, Inanna fails; she is put to death, then resurrected by Enki, but she is not allowed to return to earth unless she finds a replacement. After a long voyage in search of a potential victim, she chooses none other than her favourite lover. Dumuzi is promptly seized by demons and taken to the Netherworld, to the sorrow of his sister Geshtin-anna, the goddess of vines. Finally, Inanna is moved by Dumuzi’s lamentations: she decides that he will spend one half of the year underground, and Geshtin-anna the other half." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 92.]

"The most important ceremony occurred at the new year when the king sought and won the favor of Inanna, the life-giving goddess of love. The king participated in a symbolic marriage with the goddess. This ritual, Sumerians believed, would make the new year fruitful and prosperous." [Ellis, World History, p. 34.]

The myth of Dumuzi involved a human shepherd who fell for the moon-goddess Inanna and won her heart and bed. Erotic enthusiasm characterized the literature derived from this myth.

"Kubatum, a priestess in the city of Ur around 2030 B.C., relieved the myth and wrote about it. Each spring at the Sumerian New Year, she and the reigning king did an instant replay of the Sacred Marriage of Dumuzi and Inanna, to guarantee that both crops and local would prosper. Kubatum became a special favorite of King Shu-Sin; perhaps she reminded him of his grandmother Abisimti, a dynamic woman who helped rule Ur for forty-seven years and lived to age eighty. Shu-Sin laid beautiful jewelry on Kubatum and evidently spent quite a bit more than the regulation one hot night per year in her bed atop the multistory temple.

"In turn, besides erotic enthusiasm, Kubatum gave him immortality. She wrote several marriage songs about the ritual courtship they shared, whose rhythms, theme, and imagery were generously borrowed from by the later Hebrew writers to compose the Song of Solomon."

My sweet one, wash me with honey —

In the bed that is filled with honey,

Let us enjoy our love.

Lion, let me give you my caresses,

My sweet one, wash me with honey.

[milk and honey references are standard sexual euphemisms in Near Eastern love poetry.] [Leon, Uppity Women, pp. 16-17.]

"Inanna was the goddess of carnal love and as such had neither husband nor children, but she entertained many lovers whom she regularly discarded. Beautiful and voluptuous as she undoubtedly was imagined and portrayed, she often acted perfidiously and had violent outbursts of anger which made this incarnation of pleasure a formidable goddess of war. In the course of time, this second aspect of her personality raised her to the rank of the male gods who led the armies into battle. Dumuzi, the only god she seems to have loved tenderly, probably resulted from the fusion of two prehistoric deities, for he was both the protector of herds and flocks and the god of the vegetation that dies in the summer and revives in the spring. The Sumerians believed that the reproduction of cattle and the renewal of edible plants and fruit could be secured only by a ceremony, on New Year’s Day, in which the king, playing the role of Dumuzi, consummated a marital union with Inanna, represented by one of her priestesses. Love poems where overt eroticism mixes with tender affection celebrate this ‘Sacred Marriage’, while the ritual itself is described in some royal hymns, the most explicit of which is a hymn to Iddin-Dagan (1974-1954 B.C.), the third king of the dynasty of Isin. A scented bed of rushes is set up in a special room of the palace and on it is spread a comfortable cover. The goddess has bathed and has sprinkled sweet-smelling cedar oil on the ground. Then comes the King:

The King approaches her pur lap proudly,

He approaches the lap of Inanna proudly,

Ama’ushumgalanna (Dumuzi) lies down beside her,

He caresses her pure lap.

When the Lady has stretched out on the bed, in his pure lap,

When the pure Inanna has stretched out on the bed, in his pure lap,

She makes love with him on her bed,

(She says) to Iddin-Dagan ‘You are surely my beloved’.

Thereafter the people, carrying presents, are invited to enter, together with musicians, and a special meal is served:

The palace is festive, the King is joyous,

The people spend the day in plenty.

    1. Tammuz (Abu) — god of spring, flowers and grains
    2. Marduk — Amorite god to replace position of Tammuz
    3. Shamash (Utu) — "light of the gods" — sun — passed the night in the depths of the north, until Dawn opened its gates for him; then he mounted the sky like a flame, driving his chariot over the steeps of the firmament; the sun was merely a wheel of his fiery car. The god of justice who "laid bare the righteous and the wicked" as he flooded the world with blinding light.
    4. Ningirsu — god of irrigation, the "Lord of Floods"
    5. Nanna (Sin by the Semites) — god of the moon — represented in human form with a thin crescent about his head. Controlled time (the lunar months) and knew the destinies of all
    6. Enlil — air-god — lord of rain and winds — "Lord Wind"
    1. King of the gods
    2. laid down the rules by which the universe was run
    3. the active force of nature
    4. at times manifested himself in the raging storms of the plains

"At some unknown period and for some obscure reason the patron-god of Nippur, Enlil, was raised to what was in fact the supreme rank and became in a certain sense the national god of Sumer. Much later he himself was in turn wrested of his authority by the hitherto obscure god of Babylon, Marduk; but Enlil was certainly less of an usurper than Marduk. His name means ‘Lord Air’, which, among other things evokes immensity, movement and life (breath), and Enlil could rightly claim to be ‘the force in heaven’ which had separated the earth from the sky and had thereby created the world. The theologians of Nippur, however, also made him the master of humanity, the king of kings. If An still retained the insignia of kingship it was Enlil who chose the rulers of Sumer and Akkad and ‘put on their heads the holy crown’. And as a good monarch by his command keeps his kingdom in order, so did the air-god uphold the world by a mere word of his mouth:

Without Enlil, the Great Mountain,

No city would be built, no settlement founded,

No stalls would be built, no sheepfolds established,

No king would be raised, no high priest born …

The rivers — their floodwaters would not bring over flow,

The fish in the sea would not lay eggs in the canebreak,

The birds of heaven would not build nests on the wild earth,

In heaven the drifting clouds would not yield their moisture,

Plants and herbs, the glory of the plain, would fail to grow,

In fields and meadows the rich grain would fail to flower,

The trees planted in the mountain-forest would not yield their


[Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 88.]

"Enlil is a Sumerian compound word meaning ‘Lord Air’ — he was the moving force in effecting the separation of Father Heaven from Mother Earth, who not long after bore Enlil’s offspring. He is therefore described as the ‘father of the gods,’ ‘the king of the universe,’ ‘the king of all the lands.’ Enlil raised up the ‘seed of the land’ from earth, brought into existence ‘whatever was needful,’ invented the pickax and gave it to man to advance his agricultural pursuits and thereby bring him prosperity and affluence. The gods were eager for Enlil’s blessing. According to one myth, the powerful water-god Enki of Eridu, after building his resplendent Sea House, journeyed to Enlil’s temple, Ekur, in Nippur to obtain his benediction. Another myth tells of the moon-god Nanna, the tutelary deity of far-famed Ur, who wanted to make sure of the well-being of his city. He journeyed to Nippur in a boat loaded with gifts, and offered them for Enlil’s generous blessing." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, pp. 101-102.]

    1. Enki (Semitic Ea)— "lord earth" -- god of wisdom — put Enlil’s plans into effect.. Enki "was the god of the fresh waters that flow in rivers and lakes, rise in springs and wells and bring life to Mesopotamia. His main quality was his intelligence, his ‘broad ears’ as the Sumerians said, and this is why he was revered as the inventor of all techniques, sciences and arts and as patron of the magicians. Moreover, Enki was the god who held the me’s, a word used, it seems, to designate the key-words of the Sumerian civilization, and which also played a part in the ‘attribution of destinies’. After the world was created, Enki applied his unrivaled intelligence to the laws devised by Enlil. A long, almost surrealist poem shows him putting the world in order; extending his blessings not only to Sumer, its cattle sheds, fields and cities, but also to Dilmun and Meluhha and to the nomads of the Syro-Mesopotamian desert; transformed into a bull and filling the Tigris with the ‘sparkling water’ of his semen; entrusting a score of minor deities with specific tasks and finally handing over the entire universe to the sun-god Utu. This master architect and engineer who said that he was ‘the ear and the mind of all the land’ was also the god who was closest and most favourable to man. It was he who had the brilliant idea to create mankind to carry out the god’s work, but also, … who saved mankind from the Flood." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 89.]
    2. An (Anu) — god of the sky — the divine force which could be visualized in the bowl of Heaven; his name meant "sky" or "shining". "An (Anu or Anum in Akkadian) embodied ‘the overpowering personality of the sky’ of which he bore the name, and occupied first place in the Sumerian pantheon. This god, whose main temple was in Uruk, was originally the highest power in the universe, the begetter and sovereign of all gods. Like a father he arbitrated their disputes and his decisions, like those of a king brooked no appeal. Yet An — at least in the classical Sumerian mythology — did not play an important part in earthly affairs and remained aloof in the heavens as a majestic though somewhat pale figure." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 88.]
    3. Nergal — special deity of the plague (also god of the Netherworld)
    4. Ninhur-sag (Ninmah or Nintu) — mother-goddess
    5. Adad — the weather god
    6. air full of spirits — beneficent — one each as protector to every Sumerian and demons or devils who sought to expel the protective deity and take possession of body and
    7. No belief in heaven or hell by Sumerians — Land of No Return, a dismal and shadowy existence — "The afterlife was a mere temporary existence in a dreary, shadowy place which later came to be called Sheol. Here the ghosts of the dead lingered for a time, perhaps a generation or so, and then disappeared. No one could look forward to resurrection in another world and a joyous eternal existence as a recompense for the evils of this life; the victory of the grave was complete."
    1. No mummification
    2. no elaborate tombs
    3. corpses — commonly interred beneath the floor of the house without a coffin with comparatively few articles for the use of the ghost

"The dead were often buried in the town, under the court of a house on the floor of a room, although cemeteries outside a town were not unknown. Of the next world they had only vague and somber impressions, as a gloomy place of darkness and dust beneath the earth, to which all men, both good and bad, descended. However, they shared in the widespread belief that when a man died he would need his household in the next world. Provisions were made, therefore, that the dead man might not be obliged to live without his servants and animals in the life beyond the grave. Very early tombs … found at Ur have disclosed the dead man’s bodyguard, his servants, male and female, his draft oxen still yoked o the chariot, all lying slain at the door of the burial chamber, that they might accompany their master and continue to serve him after death." [Breasted, Ancient Times, p. 150.]

"At death, they believed, a person descended into a grim underworld from which there was no release. In The Epic of Gilgamesh … a character describes the underworld as

the house where one goes in and

never comes out again,

the road that, if one takes it, one never

comes back, …

the place where they live on dust,

their food is mud;

… and they see no light, living

in blackness:

on the door and door-bolt, deeply

settled dust.


"The ‘land of no return’ was a vast space somewhere underground, with a huge palace where reigned Ereshkigal and her husband Nergal, the god of war and pestilence, surrounded by a number of deities and guards. To reach this palace the spirits of the dead had to cross a river by ferry, as in the Greek Hades, and take off their clothes. Thereafter, they lived a wretched and dreary life…."

Yet … other sources …[reveal] that the sun lit the Netherworld on its way round the earth, and that the sun-god Utu pronounced judgment on the dead, so that they were probably not all treated with the same severity. It would seem that the Sumerian idea of hell was … vague…." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 101.]

"In general, the netherworld was conceived to be a huge cosmic space below the earth, corresponding roughly to heaven, the huge cosmic space above the earth. The soul of the dead went down to the underworld, probably from their last resting places in the earth, although there may have been entryways leading to it in the more important cities of the land. To reach the netherworld the souls had to ferry across a river. Ruling this gloomy domain from a palace barred by seven gates were Nergal and Ereshkigal, who were attended by a variety of gods, including seven Anunnaki who acted as judges and ‘dead’ gods of the heavens. In addition there were troops of ‘devils’ called galla, who acted as policemen. The entire company, except the galla, had to be supplied with all the trappings of mortal life — food, utensils, clothing and so forth.

"Even in death there was strict order of precedence. The souls of kings and high officials occupied the most desirable places. Any newly arrived distinguished dead had to offer sacrifices to their noble predecessors. Conduct in the netherworld, as elsewhere, followed certain rules, which were enforced by Gilgamesh, the great hero immortalized in myth who became a god after his death. The netherworld was in gloomy darkness during earth’s daytime; but when the sun set on earth it moved through the place of the dead, and the moon likewise made this trip at the end of each lunar month."

"When the deceased arrived in the netherworld they were judged by the sun-god Utu, and if he ruled favorably, their souls could presumably look forward to a contented existence. In spite of this gleam of hope Mesopotamians believed that life in the netherworld was at best a dismal reflection of its earthly counterpart. They had little reason to expect a blissful afterlife, no matter how blameless they may have been." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 105-106]

Q. Relationship with humans

"Human beings were too insignificant to pass judgment on the conduct of the gods, and the gods were too superior to honor human morals. Rather, the Mesopotamians worshipped the gods because they believed their gods were mighty. Likewise, it was not the place of men and women to understand the gods. The Sumerian equivalent to the biblical Job once complained to his god:

The man of deceit has conspired against me,

And you, my god, do not thwart him,

You carry off my understanding.

[Pritchard, ANET, p. 590.]

The motives of the gods were not always clear. In times of affliction one could only pray and offer sacrifices to appease them." [McKay, pp. 16-17.]

The young man stood up, rubbed his aching lower back with his hands, and kicked at the parched ground. Rain had been scarce, causing river levels to drop and irrigation ditches to dry up. If moisture didn’t come soon to the shriveling plants, the entire crop would be dead. He made up his mind to spend the next day traveling with other farmers from his area to the nearby city, where they could pay the priests to offer a special sacrifice to Ishtar, the fertility goddess. He believed that her intervention with Enki, the water god, would appease whatever insult had caused the god to withhold the precious life fluid. Perhaps Enki would allow the water to flow again in the mighty rivers. [Fields, The Global Past, I, p. 67.]

"To Sumerians, their highest duty was to keep these divine beings happy and thereby ensure the safety of their city-state. Each city-state had its own special god or goddess to whom people prayed and offered sacrifices of animals, grain, and wine." [Ellis, World History, p. 34.]

Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians looked up to their gods as servants look to their good masters: with submission and fear, but also with admiration and love. For kings and commoners alike, obedience to divine orders was the greatest of qualities, as the service of the gods was the most imperative of duties. While the celebration of the various festivals and the performance of the complicated rituals of the cult were the task of priests, it was the duty of every citizen to send offerings to the temples, to attend the main religious ceremonies, to care for the dead, to pray and make penance, and to observe the innumerable rules and taboos that marked nearly every moment of his life. A sensible man ‘feared the gods’ and scrupulously followed their prescriptions. To do otherwise was not only foolish but sinful and sin — as everyone knew — brought on man’s head the most terrible punishments. Yet it would be wrong to think of the Mesopotamian religion as a purely formal affair, when hymns and prayers disclose the most delicate feelings and burst with genuine emotions. The Mesopotamians put their confidence in their gods, they relied upon them as children rely upon their parents, they talked to them as their ‘real fathers and mothers’;, who could be offended and punish, but who could also be placated and forgive." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, p. 99.]

R. Creation myth — several myths

"According to one Sumerian myth … only the primeval sea existed at first. The sea produced heaven and earth, which were united. Heaven and earth gave birth to Enlil, who separated them and made possible the creation of the other gods."


"The earth … they believed [was] a flat disk, surrounded by a vast hollow space enclosed in the over-arching heaven — together forming a universe called An-ki, ‘heaven-earth.’ The space above the earth and below heaven was filled with a material to which they gave the name lil. All around heaven and earth — top, bottom and sides — rolled the sea, infinite and restless, miraculously anchoring the universe. The omnipresence of the waters convinced the Mesopotamians that they were primeval and eternal — the source of all things. From the waters had come the universe, that it, the heavenly arch and the disk of earth. The airy expanding atmosphere in between, separating ‘Father Heaven’ from ‘Mother Earth,’ also produced the shining stars, the sun and the moon, thus setting the stage for the creation of man and the establishment of civilization." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, Time-Life, p. 99.]

"Once the gods had decided what they wanted to do, they had merely to voice their plan of action and the thing was done. This idea developed into a credo that was shared as an accepted article of faith throughout the Near East: the Word of God — or various gods — has the power, of itself, to create something out of nothingness." [Kraemer, Cradle of Civilization, p. 100]

S. Origin of humans — made in divine image but without godlike powers

"… the gods decided to make their lives easier by creating servants in their own image. Nammu, the goddess of the watery deep, brought the matter to Enki. After some thought, Enki instructed Nammu and the others:

Mix the heart of the clay that is over the abyss.

The good and princely fashioners will thicken the


You, do you bring the limbs into existence.

[Kramer, The Sumerians, p., 150.]

Nammu, the goddess of the primeval sea, "the mother who gave birth to heaven and earth."

"They had not yet conceived heaven and hell, eternal reward and punishment; they offered prayer and sacrifice not for "eternal life," but for tangible advantages here on the earth. Later legend told how Adapa, a sage of Eridu, had been initiated into all lore by Ea, goddess of wisdom; one secret only had been refused him — the knowledge of deathless life. Another legend narrated how the gods had created man happy; how man, by his free will, had sinned, and been punished with a flood, from which but one man — Tagtug the weaver — had survived. Tagtug forfeited longevity and health by eating the fruit of a forbidden tree." [Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, pp. 128-129.]

"The Sumerians, like many agricultural people, believed in many gods. A belief in many gods is called polytheism. There were the gods of the sun, the moon, and the waters, and the violent and life-giving god of the air. The Sumerians believed that these and other gods could do both good and evil things to human beings. Good people sometimes seemed to suffer through no fault of their own. A flood or an invasion could come at any moment.

Besides the priests, many people consulted experts in astrology. These experts used the zodiac, or map of the heavens, to predict the future. Interpretations of dreams, omens and magic were also used as ways to know the uncertain future." [Chapin, Chronicles of Time, p. 39]

"The Mesopotamians considered natural catastrophes to be the work of the gods. AT times the Sumerians described their chief god, Enlil, as ‘the raging flood which has no rival.’ The gods, they believed, even used nature to punish the Mesopotamians. According to the myth of the Deluge, which gave rise to the biblical story of Noah, the god Enki warned Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah:

A flood will sweep over the cult-centers;

To destroy the seed of mankind …

is the decision, the word of the assembly of the gods.

[J.B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 3rd ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 44.]

The rampant flood which no man can oppose,

Which shakes the heavens and causes earth to tremble,

In an appalling blanket folds mother and child,

And drowns the harvest in its time of ripeness.

[Spielvogel, p. 30.]

Flood story:

After, for seven days [and] seven nights,

The flood had swept over the land,

[And] the huge boat had been tossed about by the

windstorms on the great waters,

Utu [the sun god] came forth, who sheds light

on heaven and earth…

    1. Monistic — regarded all deities as capable of both good and evil
    2. Little spiritual content — no blessing in the form of solace, uplift of the soul, or oneness with God
    3. Ethical content
    1. major deities extolled as lovers of truth, goodness, and justice
    2. deities also created such evils as falsehood and strife
    3. endowed every human being with a sinful nature — "Never has a sinless child been born to its mother."

"Offerings, sacrifices and the observance of religious prescriptions were not all that the Mesopotamian gods required from their worshippers. To ‘make their hearts glow with libation’, to make them ‘exultant with succulent meals’ was certainly deserving, but it was not enough. The favours of the gods went to those who led ‘a good life’, who were good parents, good sons, good neighbours, good citizens, and who practised virtues … highly esteemed …: kindness and compassion, righteousness and sincerity, justice, respect of the law and of the established order. ‘Every day worship your god, says a Babylonian ‘Counsel of Wisdom’, but also

To the feeble show kindness,

Do not insult the downtrodden,

Do charitable deeds, render service all your days…

Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report,

Do not say evil things, speak well of people…

As reward for piousness and good conduct the gods gave man help and protection in danger, comfort in distress and bereavement, good health, honourable social position, wealth, numerous children, long life, happiness." [Roux, Ancient Iraq, pp. 99-100.]

    1. personal god — a guardian angel attached to every person and acting as an intermediary between this person and higher gods
    2. humble deities — responsible for such tools as
    1. plow
    2. brick-mould
    3. pickaxe
    4. blacksmiths
    5. goldsmiths
    1. Nature gods
    1. rivers
    2. mountains
    3. minerals
    4. plants — Ashnan, the barley-god
    5. wild and domesticated animals — Shumuqan — the cattle-god
    1. Special events
    1. Gula — goddess of childbirth
    2. Pasag — protector of travellers


  1. Sumerian Arithmetic
    1. Early mathematicians
    2. Need to re-survey land
    1. Geometry — not as advanced as in Egypt
    2. Arithmetic
    1. 12 — a key unit
    2. 13 — unlucky
    3. multiplication
    4. division
    5. fractions
    6. extraction of square and cube root
    7. based on sixty (sexagesimal system) — "large number was given as so many sixties; that is, 120 would be two sixties. From this unity of sixty has descended the division of the circle (six sixties) and of the hour and minute." [ Robinson and Breasted, p. 43.]
    1. Cultural continuity
    1. Time: hours, minutes, seconds based on 60 — invented water clock
    2. Twelve months of year —supplementary or intercalary month inserted about every 3 years
    1. lunar calendar
    2. 354 days

"For the purpose of predicting when the floods would come, Sumerian astronomers observed and recorded the movements of the heavenly bodies. One result of these records was the invention of a calendar based on the lunar cycle of 28 days" [Howe, The Ancient World, p. 24.]

"In a perilous climate such as that of Mesopotamia it was absolutely essential to begin planting or harvesting at exactly the proper time; thus is was necessary to find some reliable way of marking the passage of days until the proper times for agricultural work came around. The simplest way of doing this was to utilize the cycles of the moon. Since the moon moves from the thinnest crescent back to the thinnest crescent over the course of twenty-nine and a half days, …a basic timekeeping unit. … and then count those units until the seasons themselves had made a complete revolution. Hence the Sumerians concluded that when the moon had passed through twelve such units (half assigned twenty-nine days and half thirty), a ‘year’ had passed and it was time to start planting again. Unfortunately they did not know that a ‘year’ is really determined by the completion of the earth’s rotation around the sun and that twelve lunar cycles or months fall eleven days short of the solar year. Over the centuries they learned that they had to add a month to their calendars every few years in order to predict the recurrence of the seasons with sufficient accuracy. The Sumerian lunar reckonings were the first known human steps in the direction of … (the measuring of nature toward the goal of fathoming its ‘rules of operation’). The fact that the lunar calendar itself is indeed usable if days are added from time to time is confirmed by the modern Jewish and Islamic calendars, both of which are based on lunar cycles that the Jews and Muslims inherited from ancient Mesopotamia." [Ralph, World Civilizations, 9th ed., I, pp. 30-31.]

    1. extra month added from time to time to bring lunar year into harmony with the solar year
    1. Weights — talent (about 60 pounds) divided into 60 minas -- leading unit was mina
    1. Divided into sixty shekels
    2. Approximately one pound
  1. Sumerian Writing
    1. Elam — developed pictograms (simplified pictures of objects — c. 3500 BC
    2. Evolution of ideograms — ideas associated to pictures — symbol representing an abstract idea such as drawing a heart to stand for the idea of love
    3. Phonograms — sounds — symbols representing a particular sound which could be arranged in various ways to represent the sounds of words
    4. Sumerian writing — cuneiform -- from Latin cuneus ("wedge")
    1. Wedge-shaped — accomplished by making lines with a reed-like stylus on clay tablets -- The stylus was usually square-tipped. The scribe pressed a corner of this square tip into the soft clay for each line of the picture sign. Lines so produced tended to be broad at one end and pointed at the other, that is, wedge-shaped. Each picture sign thus became a group of wedges … When the clay dried, it was hard enough to make the tablet a fairly permanent record. Such tablets were sometimes baked and thus became as hard as pottery.
    2. 560 different syllable combinations
    3. Clay tablets used — later baked
    4. Seal used to sign names — "Instead of signing his name to a clay-tablet document the early Sumerian rolled over the soft clay a little stone roller, or cylinder, engraved with beautiful pictures and sometimes also bearing the owner’s name…. The impression left by the roller in the soft clay served as a signature." [Breasted, Ancient Times,, p. 149, fig. 87.]
    5. Regarded as magical
    6. Recorded
    1. legal records
    2. business transactions — bills and receipts, accounts, contracts
    3. medical records on clay. The world’s oldest medical text: physician suggested remedies for illness: salt, extracts of myrtle, fig and date, and mixtures of milk, shell of turtle, and mashed snakeskin. More elaborate cure — grind to a powder pear-tree wood and moon plant, then pour … wine over it and let (plain)oil and cedar oil be spread over it.
    4. letters
    5. religious records (perhaps): magic formulas, ceremonial procedures, sacred legends, prayers and hymns
    1. Reads from right to left

"The business activities of the ziggurat required the keeping of accurate records. The oldest examples of such records are baked clay tablets, dating to about 3000 B.C., which were affixed to sacks of grain to identify the type and amount of grain. Pictographs were scratched on flat tablets of wet clay, which were dried in the sun and then baked in an oven. In time, the Sumerian scribes began to use pieces of sharpened reeds, which they pressed into the wet clay to make wedge-shaped marks. This system of writing came to be called cuneiform, from the Latin cuneus, meaning "wedge."

"In order to express abstract ideas, the Sumerians transformed their pictographs into ideograms. For example, a picture of a pot would have originally represented a real pot, but later might have been transformed to represent "eating." A picture of a foot might have come to stand for the idea "to go." By combining two or more such ideograms, it became possible to create new, more complicated words without inventing new pictures or symbols. In time, the cuneiform symbols came to represent syllables, or phonograms. The Sumerians used several hundred pictograms and about one hundred phonograms, but neither they nor their successors in the Land between the Rivers developed an alphabet.

"The Sumerians were the first people to develop a writing system. … But the writing system of the Sumerians spread widely throughout the Middle East. …

"Sumerian writing did not develop suddenly. Before the Sumerians invented writing, some records in the ancient world were kept with clay tokens. Archaeologists have found thousands of these clay tokens from as far as the Caspian border of Iran down to Khartoum in Africa and eastward to the Indus Valley.

"Some of these clay tokens were used as long ago as 8500 B.C. they had various shapes such as spheres, disks, and cones. They were often marked with incisions, or impressions. These incisions were of numbers, such as 1,10, 60, 600, and symbols of things such as wool, sheep, ewe, garment, granary, dog, cow, bed and metal. These symbols have been matched with the characters that appear in the earliest Sumerian writings. From these tokens came the valuable writing system of the Sumerians.

"The Sumerians used symbols to record numbers and words. The words were cut with the pointed end of a stylus, or stick, on moist clay tablets. The tablet with the marks was then baked or dried. The Sumerian system of writing is called cuneiform. This name means "wedge" because the cuneiform strokes are broad at one end and pointed at the other. The Sumerians used cuneiform writing mainly for business purposes. They also created literature, including poems." [Chapin, Chronicles of Time, pp. 40-41.]

"The origins of writing probably go back to the ninth millennium B.C., when Near Eastern peoples used clay tokens as counters for record keeping. By the fourth millennium people had realized that drawing pictures of the tokens on clay was simpler than making tokens. This breakthrough in turn suggested that more information could be conveyed by adding pictures of still other objects. The result was a complex system of pictographs in which each sign pictured an object. These pictographs were the forerunners of a Sumerian form of writing known as cuneiform, from the Latin term for ‘wedge-shaped,’ used to describe the strokes of the stylus.

This pictographic system evolved into cuneiform writing. "At first, a scribe who wanted to indicate a star just drew a picture of it [line A of Figure 1.1] on a wet clay tablet, which became rock-hard when baked. Anyone looking at the picture knew what it meant and thought of the word for star. This system had serious limitations, for it could not represent abstract ideas or combinations of ideas. For instance," it could not "depict a slave woman."

"The solution to that problem appeared when the scribe discovered that signs could be combined to express meaning. To refer to a slave woman, the scribe used the sign for woman (line B) and the sign for mountain (line C) — literally, ‘mountain woman’ (line D). Because the Sumerians regularly obtained their slave women from the mountains, this combination of signs was easily understandable.

"The next step was to simplify the system. Instead of drawing pictures, the scribe made conventionalized signs that were generally understood to represent ideas. Thus the signs became ideograms: they symbolized ideas. The sign for star could also be used to indicate heaven, sky, or even god.

"The real breakthrough came when the scribe learned to use signs to represent sounds. For instance, the scribe drew two parallel wavy lines to indicate the word a or ‘water’ (line E). Besides water, the word a in Sumerian also meant ‘in.’ The word in expresses a relationship that is very difficult to represent pictorially. Instead of trying to invent a sign to mean ‘in,’ some clever scribe used the sign for water because the two words sounded alike. This phonetic use of signs made possible the combining of signs to convey abstract ideas."

"This Sumerian system of writing was so complicated that only professional scribes mastered it, and even they had to study it for many years." [McKay, A History of World Societies, p. 15.]

"The transition from the picture stage to the phonetic stage was early made. Sumerian writing finally possessed over five hundred and sixty signs, but each of these signs represented a syllable [the only exceptions were later the vowels and some surviving pictorial signs which served as graphic hints] or a word, that is, a group of sounds; the Sumerian system never developed an alphabet of the letters which made up the syllables. That is, there were signs for syllables, like kar and ban but no signs for the letters k or r, b or n, which made up such syllables." Hence there was no alphabet. [Breasted, Ancient Times, pp. 147-148.]

"The Sumerians had begun to draw conventionalized pictograms (representations of physical objects) on clay tablets by about 3500 B.C. Three hundred years later, about 3200 B.C., tablets show that the scribes of Sumer took a tremendous step by developing ideograms (marks expressing concepts such as ‘day’) and phonograms (symbols expressing syllabic phonetic values, as we might draw a bee for the sound ‘be’). These ideograms and phonograms became ever more conventionalized marks, which were impressed on the clay by a pointed stick or stylus; in the 3rd millennium B.C. the signs were rotated 90 degrees for easier writing and then lost almost all relation to any original pictorial value. From the Latin word cuneus for wedge the Mesopotamian script is described as ‘cuneiform.’" Few learned to read and write, "for the script involved about 500 to 600 signs, many of which are complicated. In the ancient Near East only professional scribes commonly wrote, and the evidence they provide is usually most revealing for the upper classes — unless commoners got into a lawsuit." [Starr, Early Man, p.81.]

"To say that writing was ‘invented’ is slightly misleading inasmuch as the emergence of writing in Sumer was gradual, evolving over the course of a millennium (c. 3500 to c. 2500 BC.E.) from the representation of ideas by means of pictorial conventions to writing (albeit not alphabetic writing) as we currently know it. Around 3500 B.C.E. Sumerians had begun to carve pictures in stone or to stamp them on clay as ownership marks: a picture might have stood for a person’s nickname (perhaps a rock for ‘Rocky’) or dwelling (a house by a tree). Some five centuries later the evolution toward writing had advanced vastly farther. By then Sumerian temple administrators were using many standardized schematic pictures in combination with each other to preserve records of temple property and business transactions. Although the script of this period was still pictographic, it had advanced beyond pictures standing for people and tangible things to pictures standing for abstractions: a bowl meant any kind of food and a head with a bowl conveyed the concept of eating. After five more centuries full-fledged writing had taken over, for by then the original pictures had become so schematized that they were no longer recognizable as pictures but had to be learned purely as signs, and many of these signs no longer represented specific words but had become symbols of syllables that turned into words when combined with other such signs."

"The writing system that reached its fully developed form in Sumer around 2500 B.C.E. is known as cuneiform because it was based on wedge-shaped characters (cuneus is Latin for wedge) impressed on wet clay by a reed stylus with a triangular point. In total there were about 500 cuneiform characters, and many of these had multiple meanings (the ‘right one’ could only be identified in context), making the system much more difficult to learn than subsequent writing systems based on alphabets. Nonetheless, cuneiform served well enough to be used as the sole writing system of Mesopotamia for two millennia and even to become the standard medium of commercial transactions throughout most of western Asia until about 500 B.C.E."

    1. Literature — fragment at Nippur — prototype of epic of Gilgamesh — later developed in Babylonia — evolved from reworking of at least five earlier myths
    1. epic — narration of the achievements, labors, and sometimes the failures of heroes
    2. embodies a people’s conception of its own past
    3. reflects various aspects of a society

"The Sumerian epic recounts the wanderings of Gilgamesh — the semihistorical king of Uruk — and his companion Enkidu, their fatal meeting with the goddess Ishtar, after which Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh’s subsequent search for eternal life. Although Gilgamesh finds a miraculous plant that gives immortality to anyone who eats it, a great snake steals it from him. Despite this loss, Gilgamesh visits the lower world to bring Enkidu back to life, thereby learning of life after death"

    1. Shows Sumerians grappling with enduring questions: life, death, humankind, deity, and immortality

"The Sumerians were prolific writers, scratching their cuneiform script with a stylus on moist clay tablets …. They recorded stories and poems, songs and technical data, laws, receipts, medical prescriptions. They recorded, it seems, everything of interest in their world and to their imaginations, and much of what they recorded has survived, an enormous body of documentation that surpasses that of the Romans and the Chinese. ‘We have more from the Sumerians than from any culture in history before the invention of the printing press,’ … We know the names of their gods and the list of their kings, we know their epics … including the world’ first tales of creation and the Flood, and the oldest written tale of paradise… and, whether we realize it or not, we know their legacy: the legal and religious tradition the Sumerians bequeathed to Israel, and of the magical, astronomical and mathematical lore bequeathed to Greece."

    1. Dialogues — "genre in which two characters would argue opposing sides in debates — summer versus winter, axe versus plow, or farmer versus shepherd. Since both sides had much to recommend them, there was usually no winner; rather, the genre seems to have been devised for teaching purposes, to help students in temple schools learn as much about a given subjects as there was to know."
    2. Proverbs

where servants are, there is quarrel; where cosmeticians are, there is slander

In a city that has no watch dogs,

the fox is the overseer.

Who possesses much silver may be happy;

who possesses much barley may be glad;

but he who has nothing at all may sleep.

Flatter a young man, he’ll give you anything;

Throw a scrap to a dog, he’ll wag his tail.

The poor men are the silent men in Sumer.

Writing is the mother of eloquence

and the father of artists

Pay heed to the word of your mother

as though it were the word of a god.

A sweet word is everybody’s friend.

Friendship lasts a day; kingship forever.

For a man’s pleasure there is marriage;

on thinking it over, there is divorce.

Conceiving is nice; pregnancy is irksome.

The wife is a man’s future;

the son is a man’s refuge;

the daughter is a man’s salvation,

the daughter-in-law is a man’s devil.

If you take the field of an enemy,

the enemy will come and take your field.

Who builds like a lord, lives like a slave;

Who builds like a slave, lives like a lord.

Be gentle to your enemy as to an old oven.



The First Case of Juvenile Delinquency: "Father and Son"

"… Wayward, disobedient, and ungrateful children were the bane of their parents thousands of years ago …. They roamed the streets and boulevards and loitered in the public squares, perhaps even in gangs, in spite of the fact that they were supervised by a monitor. They hated school and education and made their fathers sick to death with their everlasting gripes and complaints." All of this is evident from a Sumerian essay c. 1700-2000 B.C.

    1. Sumerian Schooling — scribal school — edubba ("tablet house")
    1. Set the educational standards for Mesopotamian culture — copied by Akkadians and later Babylonians
    2. Students from wealthy families (poor could not afford the cost and time which a prolonged education demanded) — fathers of the scribes (of school graduates) were governors, "city fathers." Ambassadors, temple administrators, military officers, sea captains, high tax officials, priests of various sorts, managers, supervisors, foremen, scribes, archivists, and accountants [Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumner: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), p. 5]
    3. Organization
    1. Head was the ummia ("expert" "professor") also called the "school father"
    2. Pupil called the "school son"
    3. Assistant professor ("big brother") — duties were to write the new tablets for the pupils to copy, to examine the copies made by the pupils, and to hear them recite their studies from memory
    4. "Man in charge of drawing"
    5. "The man in charge of Sumerian"
    6. Monitors in charge of attendance
    7. "A man in charge of the whip" — responsible for discipline
    8. No knowledge about sources of income — tuition and fees?
    1. practical emphasis
    1. economics
    2. administrative
    3. Some graduates devoted their lives to teaching and learning

"Most scribes took administrative positions in the temple or palace, where they kept records of business transactions, accounts, and inventories." [McKay, p. 16.]

    1. Curriculum
    1. math — learned simple arithmetic for keeping accounts
    2. botany
    3. linguistics

"Advanced students copied and studied the classics of Sumerian literature. Talented students and learned scribes wrote composition of their own. As a result, many literary, mathematical, and religious texts survive … giving a full picture of Mesopotamian intellectual and spiritual life." [McKay, p. 16.]

My headmaster read my tablet, said:

"There is something missing," caned me.


The fellow in charge of silence said:

"Why did you talk without permission," caned me.

The fellow in charge of the assembly said:

"Why did you stand at ease without permission,"

caned me.

[S.N. Kramer, The Sumerians, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), p. 238.]

"When I arose early in the morning, I faced my mother and said to her: ‘Give me my lunch, I want to go to school’" He then hurried to school, knowing that if he were late he could be beaten with a cane:

"The fellow in charge of punctuality

said: ‘Why are you late?’ Afraid and

with pounding heart, I entered before

my teacher and made a respectful


"With that hurdle cleared, they boy worked hard copying his tablets. The ‘school-father’ (teacher) and ‘big brother’ (assistant teacher) monitored his work with a sharp eye. If he wrote untidily or talked without permission, he could be ‘caned.’

In the tablet-house, the monitor said to me: "Why

are you late?" I was afraid, my heart beat fast. I

entered before my teacher, took my place. [made a respectful curtsy]

My ‘school-father,’ read my tablet to me, said,

‘The word is cut off,’ caned me.

He who was in charge of drawing

said ‘Why when I was not here

did you stand up?’ caned me

He who was in charge of the gate

said ‘Why when I was not herd

did you go out?’ caned me.

My teacher said ‘Your hand is not

good,’ caned me.

Once he even begged his father to pay the teacher more so that he would be treated more kindly.

"To that which the schoolboy said his father gave heed. The teacher was brought from school, and after entering the house he was seated n the seat of honor. The schoolboy attended and served him, and whatever he had learned of the art of tablet-writing, he unfolded to his father."

The father then wined and dined the teacher, "dressed him in a new garment, gave him a gift, put a ring on his hand."

Warmed by this generosity, the teacher reassures the aspiring scribe in poetic words, which read in part:

"Young man, because you did not neglect my word, did not forsake it, may you reach the pinnacle of the scribal art, may you achieve it completely …. Of your brothers may you be their leader, of your friends may you be their chief, may you rank the highest of the schoolboys…. You have carried out well the school’s activities, you have become a man of learning."

"Each day had its routine, the student later recalled:

"I recited my tablet, ate my lunch,

prepared my [new] tablet, wrote it,

finished it then my prepared lines

were prepared for me

and in the afternoon my

exercise tablets were brought to me.

When school was dismissed, I went

home, entered the house, and found

my father sitting there. I explained my

exercise tablets to my father, recited

my tablet to him, and he was


[Ellis, World History, p. 36.]

    1. learned by copying and reciting
    2. No sparing of the rod — depended primarily on the cane for correcting the students’ faults
    3. Most students were boys — a few girls from wealthy families learned to read and write
    4. Attendance from sunup to sun down — attended for many years
    5. fond memory of teacher

He guided my hand on the clay, showed me how

to behave properly, opened my mouth with

words, uttered good counsel, focused [my]

eyes on the rules that guide the man of


  1. Other Accomplishments
    1. Potter’s wheel
    2. Wheeled vehicles — "One of the Sumerians’ most remarkable inventions, which they perfected about the time the Sumerian era was opening (around 3200 B.C.E.), was wheeled transport. To appreciate how advanced this invention was from a comparative perspective, it should be noted that wheeled transport was unknown in Egypt until about 1700 B.C.E. and that wheels were unknown in the Western Hemisphere (except for Peruvian children’s toys) until they were introduced by Europeans. Probably the first Sumerian to think of employing a circular device turning on an axis for purposes of conveyance had seen a potter’s wheel, for as early as about 4000 B.C.E., wheels were used in pottery-making in Iran, from whence they entered Sumer about 500 years later. The process of extending the principle of the wheel from pottery-making to transport was by no means obvious: the Egyptians knew the potter’s wheel by at least 2700 B.C.E., but they did not use the wheel for transport until a millennium later, and even then they probably did not ‘reinvent the wheel’ but learned of it from contacts with Mesopotamia. Thus the unknown Sumerian who first attached wheels to a sledge to make a better transportation vehicle really does have to be counted among the greatest technological geniuses of all time. The earliest Sumerian wheeled vehicles were two-wheeled chariots and four-wheeled carts. Both were drawn by oxen (horses were unknown in western Asia until they were introduced by Eastern invaders sometime between 2000 and 1700 B.C.E.), and both were mounted on wheels that were not solid, not spoked: two or three slabs of wood were shaped into a circle and fastened together with studs or braces. Ox-drawn chariots obviously did not move very quickly, yet they appear to have contributed to an advance in phalanx warfare, for surviving illustrations dating from about 2600 B.C.E. depict them trampling the enemy. Carts meant for hauling freight had less need for speed and must have aided the Sumerians immeasurably in their numerous irrigation and urban building projects." [Ralph, World Civilizations, 9th ed., I, p. 29.]
    3. Plow by 3500 BC
    4. Architecture
    1. sun-dried brick
    2. Palace at Kish with stairways, columns, paneled halls
    3. Used arch — arched doors were common at Ur — 2000 BC — also true arches — stones were set in full voussoir fashion — each stone a wedge taper downward tightly into place
    4. vaults
    5. domes

"The dominant role of the temple as the center of both spiritual and physical existence is strikingly conveyed by the layout of Sumerian cities. The houses clustered about a sacred area that was a vast architectural complex embracing not only shrines but workshops, storehouses, and scribes’ quarters as well. In their midst, on a raised platform, stood the temple of the local god. These platforms soon reached the height of true man-made mountains, comparable to the pyramids of Egypt in the immensity of effort required and in their effect as great landmarks that tower above the featureless plain. They are known as ziggurats." [Janson p. 71.]

    1. ziggurats
    1. used bent-axis approach [see ‘White Temple’ of Uruk] — fundamental characteristic of Mesopotamian religious architecture in contrast straight single axis of Egyptian temples
    2. elaborated into ever taller and more tower-like ziggurats rising in multiple stages
    3. Ziggurat of King Urnammu at Ur — 2500 B.C.
    1. three levels
    2. lower level faced with brick
    1. reflected the widespread belief that mountain tops were the dwelling places of the gods — artificial mountain was residence for the deity

"The use of mud brick and baked brick led to heavy, massive architecture, but only builders in brick could have developed the true arch as the Mesopotamians eventually did. To cover the ugly brick walls and to protect the surfaces, the Sumerians decorated their temples with bands of colored clay cones rammed into the walls and semicolumns. Soon they proceeded to sheathe the walls with stone reliefs and painted frescoes. The gods by now were visualized as immortal beings in human shape who must be represented by statues. As the kings grew prouder, they began to erect statues and reliefs commemorating their smugly devout piety." [Starr, Nowell, A History of the World, I, 23.]

    1. Metallurgy
    1. Skilled with stone and metals
    2. Knew how to fuse copper and tin to make bronze — weapons and tools
    1. Stone Sculpture

1. Female head from Uruk (Warka) c. 3500-3000 BC — Iraq Museum -- Baghdad

    1. Marble
    2. 8"
    3. eyes and eyebrows -- originally inlaid with colored materials
    4. hair covered with a "wig" of gold or copper
    5. body -- probably life-sized — made of wood
    6. softly swelling cheeks
    7. delicate curves of lips
    8. steady gaze
    9. huge eyes
    10. created a balance of sensuousness and severity — worthy of a goddess
    11. geometric and expressive
    1. Figures from Abu Temple, Tell Asmar, c 2700-2500 BC -- Iraq Museum, Baghdad and The Oriental Institute, Un. Of Chicago
    1. height of tallest figure c. 30" — Abu — god of vegetation
    2. marble
    3. second largest — mother goddess
    4. priests
    5. worshipers
    6. deities
    1. taller
    2. larger diameter of the pupils of their eyes
    3. insistent state — emphasized by colored inlays
    1. probably stood in the cella of the Abu temple
    2. conic-cylindrical simplification

"’Representation’ here had a very direct meaning: the gods were believed to be present in their images, and the statues of the worshippers served as stand-ins for the persons they portrayed, offering prayers or transmitting messages to the deity in their stead. Yet none of them indicates any attempt to achieve a real likeness. The bodies as well as the faces are rigorously simplified and schematic, in order to avoid distracting attention from the eyes, the ‘windows of the soul.’" The Sumerian sense of form was essential based on the "cone and cylinder. Arms and legs have the roundness of pipes, and the long skirts worn by all these figures are as smoothly curved as if they had been turned on a lathe. Even in later times, when Mesopotamian sculpture had acquired a far richer repertory of shapes, this quality asserted itself again and again." [Janson, pp. 73-74.]

    1. Bronze or Assembled Sculpture
    1. flexible
    2. made by addition — either modeled in soft materials for casting in bronze or put together by combining such varied substances as wood, gold leaf, and lapis lazuli
    3. Billy Goat and Tree — University Museum, Philadelphia
    1. Found in tombs of Ur
    2. offering stand in the shape of a billy goat rearing up against a flowering tree
    3. goat — marvelously alive and energetic — possesses an almost demonic power of expression as it gazes … from between the branches of the symbolic tree" [Janson, p. 74]
    4. sacred to the god "Tammuz and embodied the male principle in nature
    1. Inlay on the Soundbox of a Harp, from Ur, c. 2600 BC — University Museum, Philadelphia
    1. hero embraces two human-headed bulls in top compartment — so popular a subject that its design became a rigidly symmetrical decorative formula
    2. other sections depicted animals performing a variety of human tasks in surprisingly animated and precise fashion
    1. wolf and lion carry food and drink in an unseen banquet
    2. ass, bear, and deer provide musical entertainment
    1. bull-headed harp was the same type as the instrument to which the inlaid panel was attached
    2. bottom section — scorpion-man and goat carry some objects they had taken from a large vessel

"Such an association of animals with deities is a carry-over from prehistoric times. What distinguishes the sacred animals of the Sumerians is the active part they play in mythology." [Janson, p. 74.]

"The skillful artist who created these scenes was far less constrained by rules than his contemporaries in Egypt, even though he, too, places his figures on ground-lines, he is not afraid of overlapping forms of foreshortened shoulders." May have been humorous but "probably meant to be viewed with perfect seriousness." [Janson, p. 75.]

H. Excelled in gem carving

XII. Significance

"What does matter is that Sumer was in fact a great civilization that existed and for a time flourished, a civilization in which men and women lived and fought battles and made poems and wove legends about where they came form, what they were doing there and where they were going — even as we do today: Where they were going — different legends, perhaps, but the impulse -- the uniquely human impulse — remains the same. It is to record, to register, to make a mark, to tell, and it was as true of the Sumerian poets whose names are lost as it was of the unknown author of the Book of Job, as it was of Herman Melville, who wrote on the last page of Moby Dick the lone from Job, ‘And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.’"


"Yet whenever someone today counts the minutes, whenever a group of people engage in a political debate, whenever someone quotes the law, the Sumerians live, for these are all legacies of that first literate society."

The Sumerian civilization "survived the disappearance of the Sumerians as a nation in about 2000 B.C. and was adopted and carried over with but little modification by the Amorites, Kassites, Assyrians and Chaldaeans who, after them, ruled in succession over Mesopotamia. The Assyro-Babylonian civilization of the second and first millennia is therefore not fundamentally different from that of the Sumerians, and from whatever angle " approached, invariably goes back to a Sumerian model.

  1. Rise of Empires
    1. Sumer open to invasion
    2. Akkadians (uh-KADE-ee-unz) to the north -- Semitic people
    3. Sargon I — leader of Akkadians — c. 2340 B.C. — conquered city-states of Sumer and established an empire

Summary: The City States of Sumer

During the Bronze Age, the peoples of Mesopotamia flourished and developed a complex civilization in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Geography provided irrigation for surplus food supplies and Sumerians built cities along these two rivers. Mesopotamian artistic, technological, and legal advances gave much to succeeding civilizations. Having won agricultural prosperity from a harsh environment, the farming settlements of the Sumerians evolved into true urban centers by 3100 B.C.

Around 3500 B.C. the Sumerians developed the first system of writing. Originally used in business record-keeping, cuneiform evolved into a semi-alphabetic system by 2350 B.C. The Sumerian pictographic form evolved by the fourth millennium into cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") writing. The signs in the cuneiform system later became ideograms and an intricate system of communication. The writing system was so complicated that only professional scribes mastered it. Scribal schools flourished throughout Sumer. Although practical, scribal schools were also centers of culture and learning. These schools set the standard for all of Mesopotamia.

In the third millennium B.C. Mesopotamia had twelve independent city-states that traded from Sinai to India. The twelve were intense rivals but nevertheless shared a common civilization. Mesopotamian society was socially stratified. Ordinary people were free but were subordinate to temple clergy and to the owners of private property. The temple, or ziggurat, was the center of Sumerian life and religion. The temple priests oversaw the agricultural work and the distribution of the agricultural yield. Sumerian government evolved from a system in which the temples and nobility shared power in each city to a system of monarchy in which a king seems to have been responsible to a council of elders. The king (lugal) was first and foremost a warrior; but, as the representative of gods on earth, he was also responsible for his subjects’ welfare. Sumerian society was organized into four major classes: nobles, free clients of the nobility, commoners, and slaves.

Mesopotamian religion was polytheistic. Gods and goddesses existed to represent almost everything in the cosmos. Mesopotamian gods were anthropomorphic (looking and behaving much like humans, only with supernatural powers); they often intervened in human affairs; and people were careful to placate them, lest some natural disaster occur. The keynote of Mesopotamian religion was a certain pessimism about the human condition. Every Mesopotamian city had a temple complex, the most striking feature of which was a ziggurat.

The Sumerians were speculative people and many of the eternal questions that still haunt humankind (such as the origins of humans, whether there was life after death) were first considered by them. Mesopotamian literature is remarkable and includes the creation epic Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh, which contains elements that later appear in the Hebrew Bible.

The Sumerians also made noteworthy contributions in math, law, engineering and art. They devised the first wheeled vehicle and drafted the first written code of law. Their architecture utilized the arch and vault. Their numerical system, based on sixty, allowed for dividing the circle into degrees and the hour into minutes and seconds.

The Sumerians established the basic social, economic, and intellectual patterns in Mesopotamia and then were followed by the Akkadians and the Babylonians, who united Mesopotamia. They gave western civilization two of its most important political institutions — the city-state and divinely sanctioned kingship.