We explain who the Sumerians were and what their main inventions were. Also, its characteristics, society and more.
Who were the Sumerians?
The Sumerians were the first and oldest civilization to exist , located in the southern part of Mesopotamia , in the Middle East , on the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They appeared around 3100 BC, after the Agricultural Revolution, and their empire controlled the area until about 2000 BC, when they were conquered by neighboring civilizations.
The Sumerians spoke their own language and had their own religion , which was central to their social order . Their civilization established great city-states throughout their territory, which operated as temples from which their prince-priests addressed the people. Then the first military kings would appear.
This ancient people is particularly famous for having invented the first writing system and having composed the first religious-literary text of which there is record: the Poem of Gilgamesh .
The language of the Sumerians was not related to the languages of their own region.
The word Sumeria comes from the Arcadian language , successors of the Sumerians in lower Mesopotamia, as the Sumerians called themselves sag-giga , which means “ the people with black heads .” However, the exact etymological origin of this name is unknown, since in the Sumerian language the region was called ki-en-gi : something like the land of the lord of the cane field.
It doesn’t help that the original homeland of the Sumerians, who would reach Mesopotamia from the east, is unknown, no one knows how . Furthermore, their language is not at all related to the languages that would emerge in the region later.
One of the main Sumerian cities was Uruk.
The Sumerians built numerous city-states , each controlled by a monarch-priest who addressed the people from great temples called ziggurats , around which the city developed. One of the main ones was Uruk, called Erec in the Bible and Warka by the Arabs.
Social order of the Sumerians
The society was initially governed by the priests , who administered the cult and the legal, economic and social affairs of their cities . However, as these grew and the leading of an army to defend them from nomadic invaders became essential, the door was opened for the appearance of the first military kings.
The rest of the citizens were heterogeneous groups of merchants and artisans , free peasants who made up the majority of the population , and slaves.
Each city-state had its particular religious vision with its list of gods.
The Sumerian religion is a complicated subject, since although they were the first to write about their myths and beliefs, the truth is that each city-state had its particular religious vision with its list of gods , since the Sumerians were Pantheists: they saw deities behind everything, from the sun and the moon , to the beer they distilled or the reeds that grew in the open.
Agriculture and livestock were two of the main Sumerian economic branches , as well as fishing and the raising of pack animals . They were a very active and industrious civilization, who devised irrigation canal methods for planting and cultivated wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils, dates, onions, garlic, leeks, turnips, and mustard, among others. The surplus production was traded between cities or with wandering travelers.
The deterioration of the buildings forced the Sumerians to constantly rebuild them.
The Sumerians were lavish in architecture , especially in fired brick buildings but without mortar or cement. Therefore, their buildings ended up deteriorating and had to be destroyed and rebuilt from time to time. This eventually raised the level of the cities above the surrounding plains, further contributing to the grandeur of their ziggurats.
They also became interested in mathematics , creating arithmetic, geometry, and algebra; and by literature , since they were the first to record their mythologies in writing . They wrote on clay tablets through a cuneiform system, and from them it is possible to know how much they advanced in medicine and pharmacology, using natural compounds to treat diseases.
The following periods in the history of the Sumerians are known:
- Uruk period. It ranges from the arrival of the Sumerians to the region, on an unknown date, until the founding of the city of Uruk and its great development.
- Archaic dynastic period. The culture of Uruk expands, giving rise to the Sumerian civilization, and numerous cities are founded around it. Wars are frequent, judging by the appearance of walls around cities.
- Arcadian Empire. Under the rule of Sargon, a nobleman of Arcadian origin, the Sumerian cities are conquered and unified in the first great empire in history. This causes a decline of the Sumerian culture in favor of that of the Arcadians. This empire would last 141 years, until they were defeated by the Guti nomads who would take the entire region.
- Sumerian Renaissance. The king of the city of Uruk, Utu-hengal, defeated the Gutis in 2100 BC and re-imposed the Sumerian culture, copying from the Arcadians the idea of a great unified Empire. This kingdom would fall under siege by the Amorites from Arabia in 2003 BC.
- Period of Ur III. The fall of the Sumerian Empire allowed the return to the city-states, among which Ur III will stand out as a cultural and development center. However, this city will not survive the looting of the Amorites from the Iranian plateau and who will rule Babylon from 1792 BC.
The Sumerians had professional soldiers and military training.
Wars were almost constant in this segment of the world for almost 2000 years , which strongly drove Sumerian inventiveness, both in techniques and technology . They had professional soldiers and formal military training, as well as innovations such as the onager cart, the simple bow, and the forging of metals into spears and helmets.
Today Sumerian pieces and even temples have been discovered.
The Sumerian world was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century , through excavations in Assyrian places, where thousands of tablets written mostly in Arcadian were obtained. From their study it was possible to conclude that some were in a non-Semitic language, which was the first encounter with Sumerian. Later, important pieces of ceramics would be found and even the temples of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonido, Sumerian kings of importance.
Legacy of the Sumerians
The Sumerians are attributed, among their many inventions, the wheel and writing , around 3500 and 3300 BC respectively, as well as the first astronomical notes , according to which the Solar System was made up of five observable planets . They invented beer, the float and a calendar very similar to the current one.
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