The slow transition from semi-nomadic hunter/gatherer existence to a slightly more urbane, village-centered existence takes hold in various regions of Southern Africa
and the Fertile Crescent
regions around this time. Specific to the Tigris
area, early shepherd communities seem to have come down from the mountainous north, after several continuous harsh winters, to settle on the valley plain.i
Villages and towns were established along the shores of the two rivers – and with these settlements livestock breeding, grain cultivation and primitive irrigation emerged as sound practice. The people of this pre-historic culture are often referred to as proto-Sumerians or the Ubaid
“Droughts, catastrophic storms, even a few decades of marginally lower temperatures, could force entire peoples in to migration and subsequently help bring on civilization by throwing together people of difference cultural, linguistic and technological traditions. In collision and cooperation they learnt from one another and so increased the total potential of their societies.” –J. Roberts, History of the World, 36.
With better resource sharing, farming & communal effort, the villages grow into towns, and towns into cities. The town of Eridu
is established on the grassland marsh just south of the lower Euphrates
, the oldest extant town-site in the region.
practices and food surpluses lead to increased birth rates, decreased infant mortality, and even larger communities. City-life begins to adhere, with increased specialization and more productive division of labour. Ur
now rise alongside Eridu
as the principal centers in the region. Simultaneous with the ascendance of these city-states, early cuneiform scripts are developed. Previously, as far back as 75,000 BCE, special rock tokens, bone wands or carved wooden counters had been used to calculate trade or track goods
, but for the first time, in Sumer, an actual syllabic form of writing emerged for the first time beyond crude pictograph
With these foundations, Archaic Sumerian
culture flourishes and grows for centuries. Sheep, goats, milk, grain, wool, bread, honey and fish became the major components of the local market. Increased trade leads to increased competition between various competing interests leading each city-state, who begin to vie for wider control. At the same time, cultural, economic and technological exchange from Sumeria extends to Anatolia
(Lower Turkey), Syria
(Iran) and as far away as the Indus River
valley. Internal wars between city-rulers erupt as cities begin to fortify their walls and mobilize crude, four-wheeled chariots. 2
2400-2350 BCE: Sargon I
unites Sumer into a loose confederation of city-states, the first in a chain of Mesopotamian empires. The Akkadian
prince (from the hilly region north of the lower Tigris
) pushes his troops3
and influence to the cedar forests of Lebanon, the silver rich Taurus Mountains
(southern Turkey), and to the rich stone quarries of Elam
(southern Iran). Trade and diplomatic missions are extended to Egypt
, as well as Harappa
on the Indus
. The Akkadian Sumerians supply barley, grain, glasswork, bronze, millet, and alcohol to most of their trade partners. 4
The raw metal resources of the Akkadians had to be imported, as there were few productive mines in the mostly marshy region. As an early example of economic interdependence, when the tin supplies of the Levant
were exhausted around this time, Sumerian weapons reverted from bronze to copper.
The Sumerian pantheon of elemental gods is solidified – ISHTAR
, goddess of love, fertility and war;ENLIL
, Air Lord; ENKI
: god of wisdom and life; ANU
, father of the gods. Sumerians were a deeply animistic, fatalist people, who believed themselves surrounded by elemental spirits and malevolent demons, most notably the evil Kur
. As a result demonology
became crucial components of their cosmology (subsequently passed down to the Chaldean
culture). The Sumerian vision of the afterlife
was a wholly nihilist conception: ”The house where they sit forever in darkness, where dust is their food and clay their wheat, they are clothed like birds with feathers or garments, over bolt and door lie dust and silence
The city of Akkad
is invaded by Gutian
forces, severing three centuries of Akkadian rule. The city of Ur
, now some 80,000 souls, becomes the major political center, with provinces extending from Susa
(Elam/Iran) to Byblos
over 100 ft. high are build with baked mud bricks.
”The great storm howls above…in front of those clouds, fires burn. All our people moan. In its boulevards, where our feast were celebrated, scattered they lay. The children lay in heaps. Cry for my city! Tears for my home!” – Lament for Ur, dated est. 2000 BCE
Elamites revolt against Sumerian dominion and destroy Ur. The now fragile priesthood class governing the region disperse in fear, and the unity of the region collapses. However, in Nippur
, the Epic of Gilgamesh
is written down for the first time, and added to an extensive library of hymns, omens, laments, aphorisms, creation tales, legends, epics, grammars and dictionaries. Amid a crumbling empire, the first organized libraries, with catalogues and indices, first appeared in Nippur
Sumerian writing, much like Latin, remained the lingua franca
of the Near East’s literate class for another millennium.
friend of mine asserts, "8,000-9,000 BC:
Civilizations like Sumer started right at the end of the Ice Age
. It was just too hard to farm before: weather pattern
s were too chaotic, big storms, unreliable growing season
s. It wouldn't take a fledgling farmer too many years of snow in June
to go back to hunting. Right after the biblical flood period, climates all over the world settled down, and the Fertile Crescent
was lush and wet (not dry like today). This all started there for the weather."
Archeologists date clay tablets of ‘proto-cuneiform’ script found in the temple ruins of Uruk
, as it appears in the Bible) around 3500-3100 BCE. Temples, in Sumerian
culture as in others, were powerful nodes of religious, political and administrative power, and were viewed as owners (or at the least distributors) of all agricultural product. Hence the need for accounting
to encode the raw data of materials passing through officials hands – context, titles, etc. were rarely recorded at first, the scribe
taking them for granted, and records were poorly maintained. Most tablets became landfill soon after their use.
“Iraq: Cradle of Civilization”, National Geographic
, v.179, n.5, May 1991, 102-115.
The development of the bone-reinforced composite bow
, chariots and bronzed weapons, backed up with a refined communication/writing system, made Sargon
the first true imperial power. The military, with 6,000 specialized troops as a result, became a crucial check on the power of the city-based priest class. See J.M. Roberts, History of the World
C.N. Parkinson, East & West
(Mentor, 1966), 21. Incidentally, the word alcohol
is derived from the original Sumerian – and beer and wine was a major export, as one can imagine. The Tigris-Euphrates was a plentiful source, by geological estimates its soil was at that time, roughly 2000 BCE, able to yield a grain harvest on par with the best Canadian grain fields.
D. Diringer, The Book before Printing
(Dover, 1982), 87-96. Most of the Nippur
material is now at the University of Pennsylvania (see http://www.upenn.edu/museum/Games/cuneiform.html, to render your name in Sumerian cuneiform