Ancient Sumerians

The people that settled in Mesopotamia about 3500 B. C. were a short, stocky, black-haired people called the Sumerians. The area that they settled in was called Sumer.

The Sumerian civilization is the earliest known civilization on Earth. For the first time, people controlled their physical environments. The umerians knew that they had to control the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In the spring the rivers flooded, and when they receded, they left natural levees behind. The Sumerians built the levees higher and used them to keep back the floodwaters. In the summer, when the land was dry, the Sumeians poked holes in the levees. The river water ran through the holes and made irrigation channel in the soil. The Sumerians’ cros were: barley, wheat, sesame, flax, fruit trees, date palms, and many different types of vegetables.

An irrigation system took much planning. People had to learn to work together. In time, the Sumerians organized themselves. They set up governments to make laws. These laws were made so the Sumerian powple would know what was expected of them. They began to build cities as population grew.

There was no building stone and very little lumber in the desert where the Sumeians leved. To solve this problem, Sumerians usd mud from the river mixed with crushed reeds to make bricks. They baked the bricks in the sun, and then used them to build their cties. Some great cities of Sumer wee Ur and Uruk. The Sumerians were the first to build cities in this part of the world.

Each of the Sumerian city-states was made up of the city nd the farmland around it. Walls of sun-dried brick surrounded all cities. The walls had bronze gates that were opened in daylight and closed at night to keep out animals and bandits.

Narrow and winding streets went from the gates to the city center. The houses of the upper class were in the center of town. The upper class was priests and merchants. Their houses wre two stories high with wooden balconis that looked out over courtyards. The courtyards provided light and air for roons. Outside walls were windowless to keep out the heat and smells of the street.

Behind te upper class’s houses were the hauses of the middle class. The middle class was government officials, shopkeepers, and artisans. These houses were built around open courtyards, but were only one story high. Farther out was where the lower class lived-farmers, unskilled workers, and fisherman.

At the center of each Sumerian city was a temple, called a ziggurat. The word “ziggurat” meant “mountain of god” or hill of heaven. Each ziggurat was made up of a series of square levels. Each level was smaller than the one below it. Stairwaysld to the top of the colossal ziggurats, which were believed to be the home of the city’s chief god. Only priests could enter this sacred area.

Around the ziggurat were courts, the center of Sumerian life. Artisans worked there; children went to school there; farmers, artisans, and traders stored their goods there; and poor were fed there.

The Sumerians believed that all forces of nature were alive. They viewed them a gods because they could not control them There were more than 3,000 Sumerian gods and godesses.

Only priests could know the gods’ will. Because of this, Sumerian priests were very powerful For example, the city’s god owned all land. But the priests administered the land in the god’s name Also, the priests ran schools.

Schools were for the sons of the rich only. Poorer boys worked in the fields or they learned a trade. Schools were roms off the ziggurat courtyards. They were called tablet houses because they were built to teach childten how to write. The childern wrote with sharp-ended reeds on clay tablets the size of a postcard. Sumerian writing was called cuneiform. It was made up of hundreds of wedge-shaped markings.

Writing in Sumerian culture developed so that people could keep track of business deals. Whenth Smrian lve i villages, the could keep track of everything easily. When they began living in cities, it became harder to keep track of everyting in their heads. To solve this problem, they developed cuneiform.

When a pupil graduated from school, he became a scribe. The ziggurat, the palace, the government, or the army employed him.

Although Sumerian women did not go to school, they did have many rights. They could buy and sell property, run businesses, and own and sell slaves.

Although a woman handled the house’s affairs when the man was away, the men were the head of the Sumerian household. He could divorce his wife by saying,” You’re not my wife.” If he needed money, he could sell or rent his family into slavery for up to three years. The man also arranged the marraiges of his children.

Children were expected to support their parents when the parents got old. They were also expected to obey older family members. Everyone was to obey the gods and priests.

At first, Sumerian priests were kings of city-states. One of the most famous priest kings was Gilgamesh of Uruk.

The Sumerian priest-kings received advice from a general assembly made up of free men. When war broke out, the assembly would choose one of its members to serve as leaders until the war was over, but often these leaders stayed in power even when peace had returned. By about 3000 B. C., they took their place as permanent kings. At the same time, kingship became heredity, and the world’s first monarchies were established.

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