Sumerian Art

The art of the Sumerian civilization, as revealed by excavations at Ur, Babylon, Uruk (Erech), Mari, Kish, and Lagash, among other cities, was one of enormous power and originality that influenced all of the major cultures of ancient western Asia. Their techniques and motifs were made widely available by means of cuneiform writing, which they invented before 3000 B.C. Poor in the raw materials of art, the Sumerians traded crops from their fertile soil for the metal, stone, and wood that they required. Clay was their most abundant native material, and its qualities determined their style of baked-mud building and the nature of their fine-textured pottery.

Sumerian craftsmanship was of marked excellence from very early times. A vase in alabaster from Erech (c.3500 B.C.; Iraq Mus., Baghdad) shows a detailed ceremonial procession of men and animals to the fertility goddess Inanna, carved in four bands on an elegant vase shape. A major peak of artistic achievement is represented by a female head, called Lady of Warka (Erech) from about 3200 B.C. (Iraq Mus.). It is carved in white marble with simplicity and subtlety.

The vast royal cemetery at Ur has yielded many masterpieces of Sumerian work. Outstanding among these are a wooden harp detailed with gold and mosaic inlay picturing mythological scenes on the soundbox, surmounted by a black-bearded golden head of a bull (c.2650 B.C.; Univ. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia); a gaming board of wood inlaid with bone, lapis lazuli, shell, and stone, mounted in bitumen (c.2700 B.C.; British Mus.); a ritual offering stand in the shape of a ram, made of silver, lapis lazuli, and mussel shells, rearing on his hind legs to eat from a tree of gold; and a splendid gold helmet fashioned from a single sheet of metal and beaten into the form of a head of wavy hair with a chignon at the back (c.2500 B.C.; Baghdad).

At Lagash a strongly modeled head of stone (c.2500 B.C.) portrays a Sumerian man, clearly representing the structural type of these ancient people. Its large and widely spaced features set on a heavy round skull are revealed in bas-relief and inlay work of the period. Examples of the famous votive stone sculptures of Sumer discovered at Tell Asmar represent tall, long-haired, bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts, standing rigidly with hands folded above the waist. Some are portrayed kneeling.

The ziggurat temple form was the most striking architectural achievement of the Sumerians. One ziggurat at Erech extended over an area of half a million square feet (46,500 sq m). It was set upon a mound, and the platform built to support its crowning shrine was 40 feet (12 m) high.

Among other Sumerian arts, one of the most sophisticated was the cylinder seal, a small carved cylinder of stone or metal that, when rolled over seals of moist clay, would leave the reverse image of its carving in relief as an identifying mark or signature. Used to mark documents and property, the cylinders were worn on a wristband or necklace during their owners’ lifetime and were buried with them. A great many examples survive, bearing primarily scenes of religious ritual, often portraying the legendary hero Gilgamesh.

With the ascent to power of Sargon of Akkad, Sumerian art reached new heights of expression, particularly in sculpture. The greatest known examples reflecting that splendor include a bronze head thought to be a portrait of Sargon himself (from Nineveh, c.2300 B.C.; Iraq Mus., Baghdad), from which the gemstone eyes have been stolen, and the stele of Naram-sin, a triumphal relief showing the deified grandson of Sargon in battle (2261–24 B.C.; Louvre). The Akkadians spread cuneiform writing throughout the Middle East, and even after the destruction of Sargon’s empire by invasions from the east in the latter part of the 3d millennium B.C., Sumerian artistic techniques and styles exerted profound influence on contemporary and later cultures. The city of Lagash survived the invasions and was beautified by its governor Gudea with numerous works of art. These were carved of dark, hard diorite; many represented the dignified and serene seated figure of Gudea himself. Although most are small in stature, they convey a sense of grandeur and monumentality. After the invasions the glory of Sumer was revived from 2200 to 2100 B.C. During this period the great ziggurat of the moon god at Ur was built.

Invasions of Semitic peoples from what are now Iran and Syria ended the last Sumerian golden age. The site of Mari has yielded the most complete archaeological evidence of Sumerian civilization during that transitional time. The great Mari royal palace with its labyrinthine corridors, frescoed walls, royal residential rooms, courts and temple buildings, and scribal school containing more than 25,000 cuneiform tablets, reveal the brilliance of a vanished world.

http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/ent/A0861356.html

Cylinder Seal

  • Akkadian Period
  • Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C.

This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner’s behalf with the great goddess Ishtar. Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders indicate her war-like nature.

Ancient Akkad

Akkad was the northwestern division of ancient Babylonian civilization. The region was located roughly in the area where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are closest to each other and its northern limit extended beyond the line of the modern cities of Al Fallujah and Baghdad …..

http://ancientneareast.tripod.com/Akkad.html

Akkadian period

Sargon of Akkad’s (reigned c. 2334-c. 2279 BC) unification of the Sumerian city-states and creation of a first Mesopotamian empire profoundly affected the art of his people, as well as their language and political thought. The increasingly large proportion of Semitic elements in the population were in the ascendancy, and their personal loyalty to Sargon and his successors replaced the regional patriotism of the old cities. The new conception of kingship thus engendered is reflected in artworks of secular grandeur, unprecedented in the god-fearing world of the Sumerians.

Architecture

One would indeed expect a similar change to be apparent in the character of contemporary architecture, and the fact that this is not so may be due to the paucity of excavated examples. It is known that the Sargonid dynasty had a hand in the reconstruction and extension of many Sumerian temples (for example, at Nippur) and that they built palaces with practical amenities (Tall al-Asmar) and powerful fortresses on their lines of imperial communication (Tell Brak, or Tall Birak at-Tahtani, Syria). The ruins of their buildings, however, are insufficient to suggest either changes in architectural style or structural innovations.

Sculpture

Two notable heads of Akkadian statues have survived: one in bronze and the other of stone. The bronze head of a king, wearing the wig-helmet of the old Sumerian rulers, is probably Sargon himself (Iraqi Museum). Though lacking its inlaid eyes and slightly damaged elsewhere, this head is rightly considered one of the great masterpieces of ancient art. The Akkadian head (Iraqi Museum) in stone, from Bismayah, Iraq (ancient Adab), suggests that portraiture in materials other than bronze had also progressed.

Where relief sculpture is concerned, an even greater accomplishment is evident in the famous Naram-Sin (Sargon’s grandson) stela (Louvre), on which a pattern of figures is ingeniously designed to express the abstract idea of conquest. Other stelae and the rock reliefs (which by their geographic situation bear witness to the extent of Akkadian conquest) show the carving of the period to be in the hands of less competent artists. Yet two striking fragments in the Iraqi Museum, which were found in the region of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq, once more provide evidence of the improvement in design and craftsmanship that had taken place since the days of the Sumerian dynasties. One of the fragments shows a procession of naked war prisoners, in which the anatomic details are well observed but skillfully subordinated to the rhythmical pattern required by the subject.

Some compensation for the paucity of surviving Akkadian sculptures is to be found in the varied and plentiful repertoire of contemporary cylinder seals. The Akkadian seal cutter’s craft reached a standard of perfection virtually unrivaled in later times. Where the aim of his Sumerian predecessor had been to produce an uninterrupted, closely woven design, the Akkadian seal cutter’s own preference was for clarity in the arrangement of a number of carefully spaced figures.

The Akkadian dynasty ended in disaster when the river valley was overrun by the mountain tribes of northern Iran. Of all the Mesopotamian cities, only Lagash appears somehow to have remained aloof from the conflict and, under its famous governor Gudea, to have successfully maintained the continuity of the Mesopotamian cultural tradition. In particular, the sculpture dating from this short interregnum (c. 2100 BC) seems to represent some sort of posthumous flowering of Sumerian genius. The well-known group of statues of the governor and other notables, discovered at the end of the 19th century, long remained the only criterion by which Sumerian art could be judged, and examples in the Louvre and British Museum are still greatly admired. The hard stone, usually diorite, is carved with obvious mastery and brought to a fine finish. Details are cleverly stylized, but the musculature is carefully studied, and the high quality of the carving makes the use of inlay unnecessary. The powerful impression of serene authority that these statues convey justifies their inclusion among the finest products of ancient Middle Eastern art.

http://ragz-international.com/akkad_and_the_arts.htm

History of Akkadia

During the 3rd Millennium BC, the Sumerians and the Akkadians lived peacefully together and created conditions for a common high civilization.

A few centuries later the first Akkadian king, Sargon of Akkad, ruled over an empire that included a large part of Mesopotamia. The ancient name Akkadian is derived from the city-state of Akkad. It appears that Semitic speaking people had lived for centuries amidst the Sumerians and gradually became an integral part of the Sumerian culture. We don’t hear much about them in the first part of the 3rd millennium, because the scholarly language used in writing at that time was Sumerian.

Akkadia was founded by Sargon I when he conquered Sumeria. Sargon reigned from 2334 to 2279 BCE, and during those fifty-five years Akkadia became the world’s first empire. During his reign, the Akkadian language became the lingua franca of the region. Along with the language came the Semitic culture it represented. The Biblical Shinar, the home of the tribe of Terach, father of Abraham, about 2400 BCE, was ancient Akkadia. It later became Babylonia, and it is now (roughly) Iraq. The art of glassmaking was born in Akkadia. It was a Semitic, and then a Jewish, art for the next three millennia. Glassmaking was unique among the arts, for it was invented only once in all of human history. Its spread through the world was parallel to, and coincident with, the dispersal of the Jews.

Akkadian is one of the great cultural languages of world history. Akkadian (or Babylonian-Assyrian) is the collective name for the spoken languages of the culture in Mesopotamia, the area between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Deciphered in the 1850s, Akkadian is the medium of innumerable documents from daily life as well as a vast literature, including the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, the quest of a man for eternal life.

Akkadian, the oldest known member of the family of Semitic languages, succeeded Sumerian as the vernacular tongue of Mesopotamia and was spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians over a period of nearly two thousand years. It was written in the cuneiform script invented by the Sumerians, and the surviving documentation covers the period from 2350 BC to the first century AD. The oldest known writing system employed by Semitic-speaking peoples is cuneiform. It was adopted by the Akkadians ca.2500 BC from the Sumerians, whose language was not a Semitic tongue.

The city of Babel is thought to have been Babylon and the word babel comes originally from the Akkadian Bab-ilu meaning “gate of God”.

The earliest surviving inscriptions in the language go back to about 2,500 BC and are the oldest known written records in a Semitic tongue. The Semitic languages are named after Shem or Sem, the oldest son of Noah, from whom most of the languages’ speakers were said to be descended.

By the first century AD Akkadian had become an extinct language replaced as a spoken language by Aramaic.

http://www.geocities.com/templestmichael/Akkadian.html

The Code of Hammurabi 18th Century BCE


Of the several law codes surviving from the ancient Middle East, the most famous after the Hebrew Torah is the Code of Hammurabi, sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty of Old Babylon. It is best known from a beautifully engraved diorite stela now in the Louvre Museum which also depicts the king receiving the law from Shamash, the god of justice. This copy was made long after Hammurabi’s time, and it is clear that his was a long-lasting contribution to Mesopotamian civil ization. It encodes many laws which had probably evolved over a long period of time, but is interesting to the general reader because of what it tells us about the attitudes and daily lives of the ancient Babylonians. In the following selection, most of the long prologue praising Hammurabi’s power and wisdom is omitted.

What do these laws tell us about attitudes toward slavery? What indication is there that some Babylonian women engaged in business? Clearly men had more rights than women in this society; but what laws can you identify that seem aimed at protecting certain rights of women? Which laws deviate from the egalitarian standard of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” What qualities does this text say a ruler should have to enable him to write new laws?

. . . Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. . . .

15: If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates [to escape], he shall be put to death.

16: If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the [police], the master of the house shall be put to death.

53: If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the [grain] which he has caused to be ruined.

54: If he be not able to replace the [grain], then he and his possessions shall be divided among the farmers whose corn he has flooded.

108: If a [woman wine-seller] does not accept [grain] according to gross weight in payment of drink, but takes money, and the price of the drink is less than that of the corn, she shall be convicted and thrown into the water. (1)

109: If conspirators meet in the house of a [woman wine-seller], and these conspirators are not captured and delivered to the court, the [wine-seller] shall be put to death.

110: If a “sister of a god”[nun] open a tavern, or enter a tavern to drink, then shall this woman be burned to death.

129: If a man’s wife be surprised [having intercourse] with another man, both shall be tied and thrown into the water, but the husband may pardon his wife and the king his slaves.

130: If a man violate the wife (betrothed or child-wife) of another man, who has never known a man, and still lives in her father’s house, and sleep with her and be surprised [caught], this man shall be put to death, but the wife is blameless.

131: If a man bring a charge against [his] wife, but she is not surprised with another man, she must take an oath and then may return to her house.

132: If the “finger is pointed” at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught sleeping with the other man, she shall jump into the river for [the sake of her] husband. (2)

138: If a man wishes to separate from his wife who has borne him no children, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father’s house, and let her go.

141: If a man’s wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt [to go into business], tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband’s house.

142: If a woman quarrel with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house. (3)

143: If she is not innocent, but leaves her husband, and ruins her house, neglecting her husband, this woman shall be cast into the water.

195: If a son strike his father, his hands shall be [cut] off. (4)

196: If a [noble-]man put out the eye of another [noble-]man, his eye shall be put out. (5)

197: If he break another [noble-]man’s bone, his bone shall be broken.

198: If he put out the eye of a [commoner], or break the bone of a [commoner], he shall pay one [silver] mina.

199: If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

200: If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.

201: If he knock out the teeth of a [commoner], he shall pay one-third of a [silver] mina.

In future time, through all coming generations, let the king, who may be in the land, observe the words of righteousness which I have written on my monument; let him not alter the law of the land which I have given, the edicts which I have enacted; my monument let him not mar. If such a ruler have wisdom, and be able to keep his land in order, he shall observe the words which I have written in this inscription; the rule, statute, and law of the land which I have given; the decisions which I have made will this inscription show him; let him rule his subjects accordingly, speak justice to them, give right decisions, root out the miscreants and criminals from this land, and grant prosperity to his subjects.

Hammurabi, the king of righteousness, on whom Shamash has conferred right (or law) am I. My words are well considered; my deeds are not equaled; to bring low those that were high; to humble the proud, to expel insolence.

Translated by L. W. King (1915), edited by Paul Brians.

Chronology of Ancient Mesopotamia

Chronology of Ancient Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia Egypt Israel / Palestine
3500-3100 BCE Uruk
3100-2900 BCE Jemdet-Nasr 3100-2686 Early Dynastic 3150-2200 Early Bronze
2900-2700 BCE Early Dynastic I
2700-2500 BCE Early Dynastic II
2500-2300 BCE Early Dynastic III 2686-2200 Old Kingdom
2300-2150 BCE Sardonic/Akkadian
2150-2100 BCE Guti 2200-2040 1st Intermediate
2100-2000 BCE Ur III 2040-1786 Middle Kingdom
2000-1600 BCE
2000-1700 BCE
Old Babylonian
Old Assyrian
2000-1200 Middle Bronze II
1600-1500 BCE Dark Age 1786-1558
2nd Intermediate
1600-1050 BCE Kassite/Middle Babylonian 1558-1085 New Kingdom 1100 “Conquest”
1400-1000 BCE Middle Assyrian
1000-626 BCE Neo-Assyrian 1050-925 United Kingdom
625-539 BCE Neo-Babylonian 586 Exile
539-330 BCE Persian/Achaemenid 539 Return
330-65 BCE Alexander and Seleucid successors
250 BCE – 230 CE Parthians (Arsacid)
230-650 CE Sassanian
650 CE – present Arab / Islamic