Ancient History 101, pt. 3 : Sumerians.

Remember, there were several major kingdoms to rise from early Mesopotamia. It can get confusing because there was a lot of overlap and interaction, and available historical records are frequently a mix of facts and mythology. Some of the important early kingdoms and civilizations included the following:

Sumerians
Akkadians
Hittites
Assyrians
Babylonians

Sumerians

3500s BCE

The Sumerians relied on annual floods to deposit rich soil onto their riverbanks every spring. They became masters of irrigation and drainage to control water flow. They should be posthumously awarded engineering doctorates.

But when floods destroyed areas, they began developing explanations for why destructive things happened...remember my little explanation of myths an era or two back?

Religion

They hoped that if they obeyed and served the gods that they would get a good harvest. They built ziggurats to the important gods or goddesses of each city. Yes, they were polytheistic - they believed in multiple deities. A deity is like a god or a pharaoh. Except we’re not to the Egyptians yet, so disregard that reference.

Sumeria was a theocracy. Priests held an important role, because they believed gods ultimately ruled the land. Kings ruled by divine right. Sort of like me as a father. I answer to no one. Except the children’s mother.

There were huge gaps between the powerful and the powerless. This meant life was good for some, and not good for some. And in between for others. As often happens with progress, or “progress,” there were a lot of good things that happened as a result of the society hierarchy, even though there were obvious...not good things.

But the good things: for example, the kings and priests and important people needed to be kept happy, so many specialized jobs and occupations developed in order to meet the needs of a growing society: bakers, brewers, coppersmiths, woodworkers, etc.

And perhaps most important...scribes.

Writing & Education (3000ish BCE)

Around 5,500 years ago, Sumerians created the first primitive form of writing called cuneiform. It was based on making wedge-shaped impressions with reeds on soft clay tablets, then drying them out in the sun.

They were able to keep records write stories and poems, and very importantly, start to write down laws. It took a long time to write cuneiform, so specialized workers called scribes had to be trained. They were good at patience. Hear that, children and impatient non-children? Scribes studied at schools and became teachers, lawmakers, and leaders. Thanks to them, we have records of their lives in words.

Yes, Sumerians started the very first schools. They were so awesome.

Stuff The Sumerians Either Invented Or Were Super Good At

Writing
Sails
Plows
Schools|
Systems of laws and government
System for telling time
The Wheel. Yeah, that.

City-States

Their ingenious irrigation techniques enabled them to expand and absorb other villages into their various cities, which meant steady flows of food and trade. As they expanded, this brought them into increased conflict with other cities, which led to alliances and power brokering and the rise of the city-state.

City-states were cities that were politically independent - they had their own governments, armies, and kings. They bartered with each other, exchanging, for example, timber and imported copper for wool and wheat. Priests and religious temples acted as regulators and intermediaries with the gods.

They also fought with one another for land and water. SPOILER ALERT: eventually this led to their downfall.

Sumeria falls / Akkadia rises (2300 BCE)

King Sargon I is considered the first great king in history. He led for 50+ years and united the city-states. Oh yeah, he's also the one who took down the Sumerians. Why did they go down? Remember about those city-states that kept fighting with one another over stupid rivalries? Well, when a kingdom is constantly fighting with itself, does it make it stronger, or weaker?

That seems like a simple answer, and it is. But kingdoms and nations throughout history have failed to realize this, time and time again. So the Sumerians went down to Sargon because they couldn’t stop fighting with each other. And he got the glory of building a massive empire; an empire that inspired later rulers to try and copy him and his control over the entire Mesopotamian region.

Akkadians spoke a Semitic language. This was a group of languages that spread throughout North Africa and Southwest Asia. For example, Arabic is a Semitic language.

Footnote

Introduction to Ancient History, from the Paleolithic Era to the fall of Rome, and how the lives, cultures, decisions, and actions of these periods affects our modern lives.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.