I. History A. Location 1. An ancient region in southern Mesopotamia (now southeastern Iraq), was the birthplace of the world’s first civilization. 2. Scholars do not know where these people orginially came from. 3. This civilization began about 3500 B. C. and flourished until about 2000 B. C. 4. Several Sumerian cities grew into independent city-state. 5. It was later absorbed by the great empires of Babylonia and Assyria. B. Property 6. People had inhabited the Sumer region since the 5000’s B. C. 7. The more powerful city states conquered their neighbors and became small kingdoms, including Kish, Lagash, Umma, Ur, and Uruk. . Sometime during the 2300’s B. C, Uruk controlled all of Sumer for a brief time until Sargon of Akkad conquered Sumer.
9. Shortly before 2100 B. C, Ur won control first of Sumer and then of nearby Assyria and Elam. 10. But Semites, who may have come from the Arabian Peninsula, ruled Sumer for most of the period from 2300 to 539 B. C, when the Persians conquered the region. 11. The Semites spoke Semitic spoke Semitic languages related to Arabic and Hebrew, but they absorbed most of the traditions of Sumerian civilization. II. Economy C. Basis for livelihood . The Sumerian civilization developed in the fertile plain formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
2. The Sumerians built cities that had magnificent palaces and temples. 3. The Sumerians built walls around their cities for protection against invaders. 4. Most Sumerians made their living by growing crops or raising livestock. 5. Sumer’s dry climate prompted the Sumerians to construct canals to irrigate their fields. 6. The major crops were barley, wheat, dates, and vegetables. 7. Sumerians also raised cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. . Wool from the sheep was used to make textiles, the main export of the area. 9. Sumerians were accomplished craft workers and traders. 10. Many were skilled in metalwork or stonework even though nearly all stone and metal had to be imported. 11. Textile workers wove fine cloth. 12. Other craft workers made jewelry, pottery, armor, and weapons. 13. Traders carried their goods to nearby regions by land and by boat. 14. Sumerian ships sails to lands bordering the Persian Gulf to obtain ivory and other luxury items.
15. They made the cuneiform symbols by pressing a tool with a wedge-shaped tip into wet clay tablets. 16. The tablets were then dried in the sun. 17. Hundred of thousands of these tablets have survived. 18. They provide information about Sumerian politics, literature, economy, law, and religion. 19. They also indicate that they had knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. 20. They founded some of the earliest schools, mainly to train scribes. Scribes kept records for government offices, temples, and other institutions. III. Signs of Civilization D. Power and Politics
12. Common Sumerians remained illiterate and without power, while kings once elected by common people, became monarchs. 13. The monarchs were viewed as agents of and responsible to the gods. 14. It was the religious duty of their subjects to accept their rule as a part of the plan of the gods. 15. Governments drafted common people to work on community projects, and common people were obliged to pay taxes to the government in the form of a percentage of their crops, which the city could either sell or use to feed its soldiers and others it supported.
E. Men Dominate Women 16. Physically stronger than women, men could rule women by brute force, and in societies where men were the warriors it was they who got together and made decisions for their society. 17. Presumably before the time of Sumerians, kings were chosen by the warriors, with the king as the leading warrior 18. The Sumerians put the domination of men over women into law. 19. If a husband died, the widow came under the control of her former husband’s father or brother, or if she had a grown son she was put under his control.
20. A woman in Sumer had no recourse or protection under the law. 21. A woman’s power, if she had any, was the influence of her personality within her family. F. War and Slavery 22. Sumerian kings sent men out to plunder people in hill country, and they acquired slaves. 23. The Sumerian name for female slave was mountain girl, and a male slave was called a mountain man. 24. The Sumerians used their slavery mainly as domestics and concubines. 25. As Sumerian cities grew in population and expanded, the swamps that insulated city form city disappeared.
26. Wars with distant people were fueled by the greed and ambitions of kings. 27. In battle, the entire community would enter the field of battle. 28. The younger and stronger went to war while the others remained at home, working at farming or other chores. G. Education 29. Early in Sumerian civilization, schooling was associated with the priesthood and took place in temples. 30. Education apart from the temples arose for the children of affluent families, which these families paid for. 31. Most students were male. 32. They were obliged to work hard at their studies, from sun up to sun down. 3. Students were encouraged with praise while their inadequacies and failures were punished with lashes from a stick or cane. H. Writing System 34. The Sumerians invented the world’s first writing system, chiefly a set of word pictures 35. This system developed into a script called cuneiform, which used symbols composed of triangular marks. 36. Cuneiform was used to write various languages throughout southwestern Asia during ancient times. 37. The Sumerians wrote arithmetic based on units of ten, the number of fingers on both hands.
38. Concerned about their star-gods, they mapped the stars and divided a circle into units of sixty, from which our own system of numbers, and second and minutes, are derived. 39. They wrote poetically, describing events as the work of their gods, and they wrote to please their gods. 40. The Sumerians wrote by pressing picture representations into wet clay with a pen, and they dried the clay to form tablets. IV. Sumerian Polytheism, Sin and a Myth of a Great Flood I. Priests and Political Power 41. A corporation run by priests became the greatest landowners among the Sumerians.
42. The priests hired the poor to work their land and claimed that land was really owned by the gods. 43. Priests had become skilled as scribes, and in some cities they sat with the city’s council of elders. J. Serving the Gods 44. The Sumerians believed they had been created to serve their gods, and they served their gods with sacrificial offerings and supplications. 45. They believed that the gods controlled the past and the future that the gods had revealed to them the skills that they possessed, including writing, and that the gods had provided them with all they needed to know. 6. They had no vision of their civilization and of technological or social progress. 47. They did not believe in social change, but Sumerian priests altered the stories that they told, creating new twist to old tales. 48. By around 2500 BCE, the Sumerians had become individualistic enough to believe in personal gods. 49. Men hoped that their god would intercede for them in the assembly of gods and provide them with a long life and good health. K. Paradise and a Great flood
50. Clinging to their belief in the goodness and power of their gods and wondering about their sin and the toil and strife with which they lived, the Sumerians imagined a past in which people lived in a god-created paradise. 51. This was expressed in the same poetic tale that described the conflict between the king of Uruk and the distant town of Arrata — the earliest known description in writing of a paradise and the fall of humankind. i. The poem describes a period when there were no creatures that threatened people — no snakes, scorpions, hyenas, or lions — a period in which humans knew no terror. ii.
There was no confusion among various peoples speaking different languages, with everyone praising the god Enlil in one language. iii. Then, according to the poem, something happened that enraged the god Enki (the god of wisdom and water who had organized the earth in accordance with a general plan laid down by Enlil). iv. The clay tablet on which the poem was written is damaged at this point, but the tablet indicates that Enki found some sort of inappropriate behavior among humans. v. Enki decided to put an end to the golden age, and in the place of the golden age came conflict, wars and a confusion of languages.