THE SUMERIAN CIVILIZATION
I. The Sumerian Civilization (C. 3500-1600 BC) was
perhaps the first civilization.
Sumerian people originally migrated from the Armenian region of
the Black and Caspian sea area.
The early dynastic era developed around the delta area of the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The oldest city founded was Eridu which has been suggested as the
site of the "Garden of Eden".
Other city-states, including Ur, Lagash, Nippur and Kish also
were founded around the same time.
Early city-states were ruled by a priest-king who was originally
elected by the people.
Later, the ruler assumed his throne through a birthright.
The early dynastic period ended C. 2600 BC when a destructive
flood destroyed the Sumerian city-states.
This has been suggested as the source of "Noah's
II. The source for most of our knowledge of the
dynastic period came from the excavations of the city of Ur.
Ur was excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley in the 1920's.
City was dominated by a large step-pyramid known as a
The ziggurat was made of sun-dried bricks and served as a
religious and government center.
Ur is also known as the home of the Biblical "Abraham".
III. Akkad and Sumer were united after the flood C.
Sargon of Akkad consolidated the two areas.
Considered the first great ruler of the world.
Sargon ruled for 56 years.
Led the conquest of most of the Mesopotamian river valley.
IV. Sargon's empire was overran by the Amorites
(Babylonians) C. 2000 BC.
Amorites swept down into Mesopotamia from Northern land of Nimrod
(present-day upper Iraq).
Hammurabi, also known as Amraphel in the O.T., (C. 1792-1750 BC)
was the greatest of the Amorite kings.
Hammurabi built the city of Babylon which became the greatest
city of the early ancient world.
also wrote down a law code which was among the first in history.
CULTURAL AND SCIENTIFIC ACHIEVEMENTS
I. Sumerian writing is generally regarded as the
first written language.
Sumerian writing was called "Cuneiform".
Tools included clay tablets and a wedged shapped stylus to
Over 200,000, many from city of Mari, have been preserved.
Writing was deciphered by Sir Henry Rawlinson after finding the
"Rock of Behistun" in present-day Iran.
II. Sumerian literature is among the earliest known
Literature was almost always religious oriented or a historical
record of kings.
The "Gilgamesh Epic" is generally regarded as the
greatest literature prior to the O.T.
Epic poem centered around the heroic tales of a great king.
Epic is very similar to parts of the O.T. suggesting they were
III. Hammurabi's law code was the earliest known law
code in existence.
The code contained 282 laws.
Code was based on retribution, not justice.
Code was not fair between social classes.
IV. Social Classes were similar to those in other
Upper class contained nobles, priests, government officials and
Merchants, traders and artisans made up a middle or
Serfs and slaves made up majority of population and were
responsible for all manual labor.
Sumerian society was "Matriarchal" and women had a
highly respected place in society.
V. Sumerian religion was the unifying and dominant
force which provided the basic value structure of the society.
Sumerian civilization was characterized by polytheism, animism, anthropomorphism.
Sumerians had a strong belief in life after death.
Sumerians also believed that each person had a "Ghost"
which followed the individual at all times.
Earth was looked upon as a scary and gloomy place.
Priests used divination (fortune-telling), astronomy and temple
prostitution to control society.
Sumerian gods were cruel and capricious.
Sumerian pantheon included (A) Enlil: ruler of all other gods
represented by the air or wind; (B) Anu: the Sky god; (C) Enki or Ea:
god of the earth and water; (D) Ishtar: referred to as the "Whore
of Babylon" in the O.T., she was the goddess of love and fertility.
VI. Sumerian art and architecture was ornate and
Art was primarily used for religious purposes.
Painting and sculpture was the main median used.
while most cities were simple in structure, the ziggurat was one
of the world's first great architectural structures.
Sumerians developed a complex system of sewers and flush toilets
to rid cities of waste and unhealthy affects of swamps.
VII. Sumerian scientific achievements were important
to the modern world.
Sumerians invented the wheel C. 3700 BC.
Sumerians developed a math system based on the numeral 60 which
was the basis of time in modern world.
Earliest concepts in algebra and geometry were formulated.
A system of weights and measures were developed which served the
ancient world until the Roman period.
Many of the constellations were mapped by the Sumerians.
VIII. The Sumerian civilization ended when the Tigris
Euphrates valley was overrun by the Hittites C. 1600 BC