Sumerians Civilization Definition Essay

Essay on Early Civilizations

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Early Civilizations

     From 3000 BC to 1500 BC four civilizations arose that historians to this day marvel at, the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Indus River Valley people, and the Shang dynasty in China. They all had great accomplishments in government, and religion and inventions. While they had their own different civilizations many similarities arise, such as depending on the river and their polytheistic religions. They had very isolated civilizations with the exception of the Sumerians. The geography, religion, and their governments all contributed to their success as a civilization.
     The Egyptians were situated in northern Africa around the Nile. The Mediterranean Sea,…show more content…

Sumerians also had a polytheistic religion, and like the Egyptians each region or city-state worship a local god primarily. They pictured their gods as having little regard for human life. The Sumerians did not believe in an afterlife. The Shang dynasty’s religion is rather different compared to the others Shang Ti was a god that ruled over lesser gods. They also believed that ancestors were able to go between through gods and people. Also Oracle Bones were used to tell the future. Lastly, The IRVC was also polytheistic religion they revered bulls and some trees, and held them as sacred.
     The governments of these four civilizations were rather different with kings, pharaohs, and nobles. In Egypt a pharaoh had god’s blood and was an absolute monarch. In Sumeria had twelve city-states that were very populated somewhere from 20,000 to 250,000 people in each. Each city-state was governed independently and had their own kings. The king was a military leader, and a priest, making Sumeria a theocracy. The IRVC had a centralized government, which is indicated, by very intricately planned cities. Priest-kings were the leaders of the land. The Shang dynasty had kings that ruled over nobles who ruled over providences.
     All four civilizations were different but significantly similarly in the sense

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"Sumeria" redirects here. For other uses, see Sumeria (disambiguation).

For other uses, see Sumer (disambiguation).

Not to be confused with summer.

Sumer ()[note 1] is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and arguably the first civilization in the world with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley.[1] Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Proto-writing in the prehistory dates back to c. 3000 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date back to 3300 BC; early cuneiform script writing emerged in 3000 BC.[2]

Modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a West Asian people who spoke the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence), an agglutinative language isolate.[3][4][5][6] These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called "proto-Euphrateans" or "Ubaidians",[7] and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia.[8][9][10][11] The Ubaidians (though never mentioned by the Sumerians themselves) are assumed by modern-day scholars to have been the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.[7]

Some scholars contest the idea of a Proto-Euphratean language or one substrate language; they think the Sumerian language may originally have been that of the hunting and fishing peoples who lived in the marshland and the Eastern Arabia littoral region and were part of the Arabian bifacial culture.[12] Reliable historical records begin much later; there are none in Sumer of any kind that have been dated before Enmebaragesi (c. 26th century BC). Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians lived along the coast of Eastern Arabia, today's Persian Gulf region, before it was flooded at the end of the Ice Age.[13]

Sumerian civilization took form in the Uruk period (4th millennium BC), continuing into the Jemdet Nasr and Early Dynastic periods. During the 3rd millennium BC, a close cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians, who spoke a language isolate, and Akkadian-speakers, which included widespread bilingualism.[14] The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence.[14] This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the 3rd millennium BC as a Sprachbund.[14] Sumer was conquered by the Semitic-speaking kings of the Akkadian Empire around 2270 BC (short chronology), but Sumerian continued as a sacred language.

Native Sumerian rule re-emerged for about a century in the Third Dynasty of Ur at approximately 2100–2000 BC, but the Akkadian language also remained in use. The Sumerian city of Eridu, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, is considered to have been the world's first city, where three separate cultures may have fused: that of peasant Ubaidian farmers, living in mud-brick huts and practicing irrigation; that of mobile nomadic Semitic pastoralists living in black tents and following herds of sheep and goats; and that of fisher folk, living in reed huts in the marshlands, who may have been the ancestors of the Sumerians.[15]

Origin of name[edit]

The term Sumerian is the common name given to the ancient non-Semitic-speaking inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Sumer, by the East Semitic-speaking Akkadians. The Sumerians referred to themselves as ùĝ saĝ gíg ga (cuneiform: 𒌦𒊕𒈪𒂵), phonetically /uŋ saŋ gi ga/, literally meaning "the black-headed people", and to their land as ki-en-gi(-r) (cuneiform: 𒆠𒂗𒄀) ('place' + 'lords' + 'noble'), meaning "place of the noble lords".[16] The Akkadian word Shumer may represent the geographical name in dialect, but the phonological development leading to the Akkadian term šumerû is uncertain.[17] Hebrew Shinar, Egyptian Sngr, and Hittite Šanhar(a), all referring to southern Mesopotamia, could be western variants of Shumer.[17]

City-states in Mesopotamia[edit]

Further information: Cities of the Ancient Near East and Geography of Mesopotamia

In the late 4th millennium BC, Sumer was divided into many independent city-states, which were divided by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.

The five "first" cities, said to have exercised pre-dynastic kingship "before the flood":

  1. Eridu (Tell Abu Shahrain)
  2. Bad-tibira (probably Tell al-Madain)
  3. Larsa (Tell as-Senkereh)
  4. Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah)
  5. Shuruppak (Tell Fara)

Other principal cities:

  1. Uruk (Warka)
  2. Kish (Tell Uheimir & Ingharra)
  3. Ur (Tell al-Muqayyar)
  4. Nippur (Afak)
  5. Lagash (Tell al-Hiba)
  6. Girsu (Tello or Telloh)
  7. Umma (Tell Jokha)
  8. Hamazi1
  9. Adab (Tell Bismaya)
  10. Mari (Tell Hariri) 2
  11. Akshak1
  12. Akkad1
  13. Isin (Ishan al-Bahriyat)

(1location uncertain)
(2an outlying city in northern Mesopotamia)

Minor cities (from south to north):

  1. Kuara (Tell al-Lahm)
  2. Zabala (Tell Ibzeikh)
  3. Kisurra (Tell Abu Hatab)
  4. Marad (Tell Wannat es-Sadum)
  5. Dilbat (Tell ed-Duleim)
  6. Borsippa (Birs Nimrud)
  7. Kutha (Tell Ibrahim)
  8. Der (al-Badra)
  9. Eshnunna (Tell Asmar)
  10. Nagar (Tell Brak) 2

(2an outlying city in northern Mesopotamia)

Apart from Mari, which lies full 330 kilometres (205 miles) north-west of Agade, but which is credited in the king list as having “exercised kingship” in the Early Dynastic II period, and Nagar, an outpost, these cities are all in the Euphrates-Tigris alluvial plain, south of Baghdad in what are now the Bābil, Diyala, Wāsit, Dhi Qar, Basra, Al-Muthannā and Al-Qādisiyyah governorates of Iraq.

History[edit]

Main article: History of Sumer

The Sumerian city-states rose to power during the prehistoric Ubaid and Uruk periods. Sumerian written history reaches back to the 27th century BC and before, but the historical record remains obscure until the Early Dynastic III period, c. the 23rd century BC, when a now deciphered syllabary writing system was developed, which has allowed archaeologists to read contemporary records and inscriptions. Classical Sumer ends with the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 23rd century BC. Following the Gutian period, there was a brief Sumerian Renaissance in the 21st century BC, cut short in the 20th century BC by invasions by the Amorites. The Amorite "dynasty of Isin" persisted until c. 1700 BC, when Mesopotamia was united under Babylonian rule. The Sumerians were eventually absorbed into the Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) population.[citation needed]

Ubaid period[edit]

Main article: Ubaid period

The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu (Cuneiform: nun.ki𒉣𒆠), c. 6500 BC, by farmers who brought with them the Hadji Muhammed culture, which first pioneered irrigation agriculture. It appears that this culture was derived from the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia. It is not known whether or not these were the actual Sumerians who are identified with the later Uruk culture. The rise of the city of Uruk may be reflected in the story of the passing of the gifts of civilization (me) to Inanna, goddess of Uruk and of love and war, by Enki, god of wisdom and chief god of Eridu, may reflect the transition from Eridu to Uruk.[19]:174

Uruk period[edit]

Main article: Uruk period

The archaeological transition from the Ubaid period to the Uruk period is marked by a gradual shift from painted pottery domestically produced on a slow wheel to a great variety of unpainted pottery mass-produced by specialists on fast wheels. The Uruk period is a continuation and an outgrowth of Ubaid with pottery being the main visible change.[20][21]

By the time of the Uruk period (c. 4100–2900 BC calibrated), the volume of trade goods transported along the canals and rivers of southern Mesopotamia facilitated the rise of many large, stratified, temple-centered cities (with populations of over 10,000 people) where centralized administrations employed specialized workers. It is fairly certain that it was during the Uruk period that Sumerian cities began to make use of slave labor captured from the hill country, and there is ample evidence for captured slaves as workers in the earliest texts. Artifacts, and even colonies of this Uruk civilization have been found over a wide area—from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and as far east as central Iran.[22]

The Uruk period civilization, exported by Sumerian traders and colonists (like that found at Tell Brak), had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies and cultures. The cities of Sumer could not maintain remote, long-distance colonies by military force.[22]

Sumerian cities during the Uruk period were probably theocratic and were most likely headed by a priest-king (ensi), assisted by a council of elders, including both men and women.[23] It is quite possible that the later Sumerian pantheon was modeled upon this political structure. There was little evidence of organized warfare or professional soldiers during the Uruk period, and towns were generally unwalled. During this period Uruk became the most urbanized city in the world, surpassing for the first time 50,000 inhabitants.

The ancient Sumerian king list includes the early dynasties of several prominent cities from this period. The first set of names on the list is of kings said to have reigned before a major flood occurred. These early names may be fictional, and include some legendary and mythological figures, such as Alulim and Dumizid.[23]

The end of the Uruk period coincided with the Piora oscillation, a dry period from c. 3200 – 2900 BC that marked the end of a long wetter, warmer climate period from about 9,000 to 5,000 years ago, called the Holocene climatic optimum.[24]

Early Dynastic Period[edit]

Main article: Early Dynastic Period (Mesopotamia)

The dynastic period begins c. 2900 BC and was associated with a shift from the temple establishment headed by council of elders led by a priestly "En" (a male figure when it was a temple for a goddess, or a female figure when headed by a male god)[25] towards a more secular Lugal (Lu = man, Gal = great) and includes such legendary patriarchal figures as Enmerkar, Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh—who are supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens c. 2700 BC, when the now deciphered syllabic writing started to develop from the early pictograms. The center of Sumerian culture remained in southern Mesopotamia, even though rulers soon began expanding into neighboring areas, and neighboring Semitic groups adopted much of Sumerian culture for their own.

The earliest dynastic king on the Sumerian king list whose name is known from any other legendary source is Etana, 13th king of the first dynasty of Kish. The earliest king authenticated through archaeological evidence is Enmebaragesi of Kish (c. 26th century BC), whose name is also mentioned in the Gilgamesh epic—leading to the suggestion that Gilgamesh himself might have been a historical king of Uruk. As the Epic of Gilgamesh shows, this period was associated with increased war. Cities became walled, and increased in size as undefended villages in southern Mesopotamia disappeared. (Both Enmerkar and Gilgamesh are credited with having built the walls of Uruk[26]).

1st Dynasty of Lagash[edit]

Main article: Lagash

c. 2500–2270 BC

The dynasty of Lagash, though omitted from the king list, is well attested through several important monuments and many archaeological finds.

Although short-lived, one of the first empires known to history was that of Eannatum of Lagash, who annexed practically all of Sumer, including Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Larsa, and reduced to tribute the city-state of Umma, arch-rival of Lagash. In addition, his realm extended to parts of Elam and along the Persian Gulf. He seems to have used terror as a matter of policy.[27] Eannatum's Stele of the Vultures depicts vultures pecking at the severed heads and other body parts of his enemies. His empire collapsed shortly after his death.

Later, Lugal-Zage-Si, the priest-king of Umma, overthrew the primacy of the Lagash dynasty in the area, then conquered Uruk, making it his capital, and claimed an empire extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. He was the last ethnically Sumerian king before Sargon of Akkad.[15]

Akkadian Empire[edit]

Main article: Akkadian Empire

c. 2270–2083 BC (short chronology)

The Eastern Semitic Akkadian language is first attested in proper names of the kings of Kish c. 2800 BC,[27] preserved in later king lists. There are texts written entirely in Old Akkadian dating from c. 2500 BC. Use of Old Akkadian was at its peak during the rule of Sargon the Great (c. 2270–2215 BC), but even then most administrative tablets continued to be written in Sumerian, the language used by the scribes. Gelb and Westenholz differentiate three stages of Old Akkadian: that of the pre-Sargonic era, that of the Akkadian empire, and that of the "Neo-Sumerian Renaissance" that followed it. Akkadian and Sumerian coexisted as vernacular languages for about one thousand years, but by around 1800 BC, Sumerian was becoming more of a literary language familiar mainly only to scholars and scribes. Thorkild Jacobsen has argued that there is little break in historical continuity between the pre- and post-Sargon periods, and that too much emphasis has been placed on the perception of a "Semitic vs. Sumerian" conflict.[28] However, it is certain that Akkadian was also briefly imposed on neighboring parts of Elam that were previously conquered, by Sargon.

Gutian period[edit]

Main article: Gutian dynasty of Sumer

c. 2083–2050 BC (short chronology)

2nd Dynasty of Lagash[edit]

Main article: Lagash

c. 2093–2046 BC (short chronology)

Following the downfall of the Akkadian Empire at the hands of Gutians, another native Sumerian ruler, Gudea of Lagash, rose to local prominence and continued the practices of the Sargonid kings' claims to divinity. The previous Lagash dynasty, Gudea and his descendants also promoted artistic development and left a large number of archaeological artifacts.

Ur III period[edit]

Main article: Third Dynasty of Ur

c. 2047–1940 BC (short chronology)

Later, the 3rd dynasty of Ur under Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, whose power extended as far as southern Assyria, was the last great "Sumerian renaissance", but already the region was becoming more Semitic than Sumerian, with the resurgence of the Akkadian speaking Semites in Assyria and elsewhere, and the influx of waves of Semitic Martu (Amorites) who were to found several competing local powers in the south, including Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna and some time later Babylonia. The last of these eventually came to briefly dominate the south of Mesopotamia as the Babylonian Empire, just as the Old Assyrian Empire had already done so in the north from the late 21st century BC. The Sumerian language continued as a sacerdotal language taught in schools in Babylonia and Assyria, much as Latin was used in the Medieval period, for as long as cuneiform was utilized.

Fall and transmission[edit]

This period is generally taken to coincide with a major shift in population from southern Mesopotamia toward the north. Ecologically, the agricultural productivity of the Sumerian lands was being compromised as a result of rising salinity. Soil salinity in this region had been long recognized as a major problem.[citation needed] Poorly drained irrigated soils, in an arid climate with high levels of evaporation, led to the buildup of dissolved salts in the soil, eventually reducing agricultural yields severely. During the Akkadian and Ur III phases, there was a shift from the cultivation of wheat to the more salt-tolerant barley, but this was insufficient, and during the period from 2100 BC to 1700 BC, it is estimated that the population in this area declined by nearly three fifths.[29] This greatly upset the balance of power within the region, weakening the areas where Sumerian was spoken, and comparatively strengthening those where Akkadian was the major language. Henceforth, Sumerian would remain only a literary and liturgical language, similar to the position occupied by Latin in medieval Europe.

Following an Elamite invasion and sack of Ur during the rule of Ibbi-Sin (c. 1940 BC)[citation needed], Sumer came under Amorites rule (taken to introduce the Middle Bronze Age). The independent Amorite states of the 20th to 18th centuries are summarized as the "Dynasty of Isin" in the Sumerian king list, ending with the rise of Babylonia under Hammurabi c. 1700 BC.

Later rulers who dominated Assyria and Babylonia occasionally assumed the old Sargonic title "King of Sumer and Akkad", such as Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria after c. 1225 BC.

Population[edit]

Uruk, one of Sumer's largest cities, has been estimated to have had a population of 50,000-80,000 at its height;[30] given the other cities in Sumer, and the large agricultural population, a rough estimate for Sumer's population might be 0.8 million to 1.5 million. The world population at this time has been estimated at about 27 million.[31]

The Sumerians spoke a language isolate, but a number of linguists have claimed to be able to detect a substrate language of unknown classification beneath Sumerian because names of some of Sumer's major cities are not Sumerian, revealing influences of earlier inhabitants.[32] However, the archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the early Ubaid period (5300 – 4700 BC C-14) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Some archaeologists have speculated that the original speakers of ancient Sumerian may have been farmers, who moved down from the north of Mesopotamia after perfecting irrigation agriculture there. The Ubaid period pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries. The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where eight levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware. According to this theory, farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.[citation needed]

Others have suggested a continuity of Sumerians, from the indigenous hunter-fisherfolk traditions, associated with the bifacial assemblages found on the Arabian littoral. Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians may have been the people living in the Persian Gulf region before it flooded at the end of the last Ice Age.[33]

Culture[edit]

Social and family life[edit]

In the early Sumerian period, the primitive pictograms suggest[34] that

  • "Pottery was very plentiful, and the forms of the vases, bowls and dishes were manifold; there were special jars for honey, butter, oil and wine, which was probably made from dates. Some of the vases had pointed feet, and stood on stands with crossed legs; others were flat-bottomed, and were set on square or rectangular frames of wood. The oil-jars, and probably others also, were sealed with clay, precisely as in early Egypt. Vases and dishes of stone were made in imitation of those of clay."
  • "A feathered head-dress was worn. Beds, stools and chairs were used, with carved legs resembling those of an ox. There were fire-places and fire-altars."
  • "Knives, drills, wedges and an instrument that looks like a saw were all known. While spears, bows, arrows, and daggers (but not swords) were employed in war."
  • "Tablets were used for writing purposes. Daggers with metal blades and wooden handles were worn, and copper was hammered into plates, while necklaces or collars were made of gold."
  • "Time was reckoned in lunar months."

There is considerable evidence concerning Sumerian music. Lyres and flutes were played, among the best-known examples being the Lyres of Ur.[35]

Inscriptions describing the reforms of king Urukagina of Lagash (c. 2300 BC) say that he abolished the former custom of polyandry in his country, prescribing that a woman who took multiple husbands be stoned with rocks upon which her crime had been written.[36]

Sumerian culture was male-dominated and stratified. The Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest such codification yet discovered, dating to the Ur III, reveals a glimpse at societal structure in late Sumerian law. Beneath the lu-gal ("great man" or king), all members of society belonged to one of two basic strata: The "lu" or free person, and the slave (male, arad; female geme). The son of a lu was called a dumu-nita until he married. A woman (munus) went from being a daughter (dumu-mi), to a wife (dam), then if she outlived her husband, a widow (numasu) and she could then remarry another man who was from the same tribe.

Marriages were usually arranged by the parents of the bride and groom;[37]:78 engagements were usually completed through the approval of contracts recorded on clay tablets.[37]:78 These marriages became legal as soon as the groom delivered a bridal gift to his bride's father.[37]:78 One Sumerian proverb describes the ideal, happy marriage through the mouth of a husband who boasts that his wife has borne him eight sons and is still eager to have sex.[38]

The Sumerians generally seem to have discouraged premarital sex,[39] but it was probably very commonly done in secret.[37]:78 The Sumerians, as well as the later Akkadians, had no concept of virginity.[40]:91–93 When describing a woman's sexual inexperience, instead of calling her a "virgin", Sumerian texts describe which sex acts she had not yet performed.[40]:92 The Sumerians had no knowledge of the existence of the hymen[40]:92 and whether or not a prospective bride had engaged in sexual intercourse was entirely determined by her own word.[40]:91–92

From the earliest records, the Sumerians had very relaxed attitudes toward sex[41] and their sexual mores were determined not by whether a sexual act was deemed immoral, but rather by whether or not it made a person ritually unclean.[41] The Sumerians widely believed that masturbation enhanced sexual potency, both for men and for women,[41] and they frequently engaged in it, both alone and with their partners.[41] The Sumerians did not regard anal sex as taboo either.[41]Entu priestesses were forbidden from producing offspring[42][38] and frequently engaged in anal sex as a method of birth control.[42][41][38]

Prostitution existed but it is not clear if sacred prostitution did.[43]:151

Language and writing[edit]

Main articles: Sumerian language and Cuneiform

The most important archaeological discoveries in Sumer are a large number of clay tablets written in cuneiform script. Sumerian writing, while proven to not be the oldest example of writing on earth, is considered to be a great milestone in the development of humanity's ability to not only create historical records but also in creating pieces of literature, both in the form of poetic epics and stories as well as prayers and laws. Although pictures — that is, hieroglyphs

The first farmers from Samarra migrated to Sumer, and built shrines and settlements at Eridu.
Upper part of a gypsum statue of a Sumerian woman with her hands folded in worship dating to c. 2400 BC, currently held in the British Museum in London
A reconstruction in the British Museum of headgear and necklaces worn by the women in some Sumerian graves
Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer, 3100–3000 BC

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