A language probably centered around and thus named after the land of Sumer; origins are uncertain, but the first Sumerian texts most likely date from about the end of the 4th millennium. Without any related languages, the ethnic group of its speakers is still unknown, and is commonly referred to as the Sumerian Problem.

By about the year 2000, Sumerian had probably already become a dead language, but was used continually thereafter in Babylon and Assyria as a literary and official language; there seems to be evidence that scribal education was conducted in Sumerian (quite naturally, considering the cuneiform script was only adapted for the Akkadian language). Comparisons are often made with the development of Medieval Latin. Features of Sumerian include:

The Sumerians made the first ancient civilization. They lived in Mesopotamia in the area known as the "Fertile Crescent" which exists between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

One of the things that they are best known for is that they were the first literate society. At first, they communicated via simple pictures, but by 2000 BC, they had developed a completely phonetic language. (Editor's note, 12 November 2002: read "writing system" instead of "language" in that sentence. All spoken languages are phonetic. -fab)

The Sumerians were also the first culture to use widespread irrigation techniques. Since they lived in what is now Iraq, rain was scarce, and they had to invent other methods of sustaining their agriculture.

Their religion was polytheistic and centered around many gods who had human qualities. In fact, according to their creation myth, the lower class of gods was stuck doing the drudge work. The gods became lazy, and created humans out of clay to do the work for them. This myth also explains the importance of clay to their society. They used clay to make pottery, tablets for writing, as well as bricks for their houses.

Socially, they had a hierarchy similar to that of the caste system in India. The highest-ranking citizens were the priests who were believed to be in direct communication with the gods.

Their impact is still felt today, as they invented the wheel, astrology, and they had a very advanced mathematical system. They wrote lots of poetry and literature which has been preserved on clay tablets. Even after the Babylonians conquered them, their culture was adopted by the Babylonians.

Su*me"ri*an (?), a. [Written also Sumirian.]

Of or pertaining to the region of lower Babylonia, which was anciently called Sumer, or its inhabitants or their language.


© Webster 1913

Su*me"ri*an, n. [Written also Sumirian.]

A native of lower Babylonia, anciently called Sumer.


© Webster 1913

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