The Sumerians - World History

The Sumerians - World History
Posted on 27-12-2022

The Sumerians ( 4000 ) The Sumerians invent writing.

With the invasion of 4000, Lower Mesopotamia went through several centuries of disorder and decay, but the invaders ended up assimilating the culture of the region they had conquered and they strove to reach the previous standard of living. Thus arose a new civilization, known as Sumer. The Sumerians dominated Lower Mesopotamia throughout the fourth millennium and were forced to defend it from the incursions of neighboring peoples, who harassed it as they had harassed it during the previous millennium.

Naturally, the Sumerians brought with them their own gods, which were soon combined with those of the conquered peoples. The resulting pantheon had three prominent gods: Anu was the god of the sky, and had his most important sanctuary in the city of Uruk, Enlil was the god of the earth and his main sanctuary was in Nippur, while Ea was the god of the rivers and was especially worshiped in Eridu.The last two were probably pre-invasion gods, as land and rivers are typical concerns of farmers, while Anu would be the main god brought by the Sumerians, a god of shepherds. Of course, each city also worshiped other lesser gods.

Unsurprisingly, the most important god turned out to be Anu. This is reflected in the creation myth: at the beginning of time, the world was in chaos dominated by Tiamat, goddess of the sea (the sea was a sign of chaos and destruction for a people who had no knowledge of navigation). It was Anu who defeated her and with her body created the Universe. This victory was what gave him preeminence over the other gods.

The usual way that shepherds have to please their celestial gods is to burn sacrificed animals, thus making the pleasant scented smoke reach them. Perhaps the Sumerians felt that by moving from the mountains to the valley they had moved away from their gods, so they used to choose high places to make their sacrifices and erect their temples. However, the main Sumerian capitals were in low places, so the custom of creating large raised platforms on which to perform sacrifices arose, so that they could be better contemplated by the gods.ziggurats. Today none of them remain intact because they were made of mud bricks. Sumerian religion became more sophisticated in keeping with its new agricultural culture, but it never lost its skyward orientation. Sumerian priests became the first astronomers. From the Ziggurats they observed the stars and got to know them well. They discovered how the Sun moves during the year through the band of the zodiac. It was they who divided this band into twelve parts and created myths around each zodiac sign.

The number twelve is not accidental: the Sumerians (and perhaps also their ancestors) counted by pointing the thumb to the twelve phalanges of the other four fingers of the hand, and marked the multiples of twelve with the five fingers of the other, so that the greatest number they could count on their fingers was 60. For this reason they divided the zodiac into 12 signs, and the year into 12 months and the day into two groups of 12 hours, and each hour into 60 minutes.

Meanwhile Egypt was organizing. Neolithic culture fostered the typical development of religion and the rise of a powerful priestly class. The first gods must have been modeled by hunters, who linked them to certain animals, in such a way that by worshiping the appropriate god one could expect a good hunt for the desired animal. Thus, there were gods with the head of a falcon, a jackal, a hippopotamus, etc. With agriculture, new gods appeared, the most important of which was Ra, the god of the sun, who was linked to seasonal changes, the flooding of the Nile, etc. The Egyptians said that it was the god Osiriswho taught them the agricultural arts. Osiris was thus a god of vegetation. He was represented to him in human form. He was killed and torn to pieces by his brother De he Set de him, but his wife De he Isis picked up the pieces of him and brought him back to life. However, one of the fragments was lost, and Osiris did not want to remain like this among men, but he descended into the underworld, where he reigned ever since over the souls of the dead. Isis and Osiris had a son, Horus, represented with the head of a falcon (which suggests a myth from the time of hunters that survived in the legends of farmers). Horus avenged the death of his father by killing Set.

The Egyptians were possibly the first people to develop a sophisticated theory of life after death. Survival of death was not automatic, but depended on certain rites controlled by the priests. It is probable that these beliefs were expressly developed by the priests to get the people to submit to their authority. And in truth they could not have been more successful. Surviving death must have been for hundreds of years almost an obsession for Egyptians of all social classes, who never in their history abandoned unconditional submission to religious authority.

Around the year 3500 , semi-subterranean houses began to appear in Mexico.

The Sumerians discovered how to extract copper from certain rocks, making the use of this metal more widespread and allowing the Sumerians to build better weapons with which to defend themselves against the nomadic peoples. They also invented the wheeled cart, drawn by a donkey. In Uruk the cylindrical seal was invented,a small stone roller with a relief that was repeatedly marked in the clay when rolled over it. Merchants used these stamps as a mark of their products. Over time they acquired the custom of marking clay containers with signs that represented the nature or amount of their content. They soon discovered that they did not need to make the marks on the containers themselves, but by marking clay tablets records of stocks etc. could be kept. At first each merchant would use his own conventions, but by 3400 the same common code was already widespread.

At that time the Egyptian kingdoms of the Nile delta ( Lower Egypt ) were unified under the monarchy of Buto, whose kings wore the red crown, while the rest of the territory ( Upper Egypt ) was ruled by the kings of Hierakonpolis, who They wore the white crown. It does not appear that these unifications occurred violently, but rather through political means. Egypt had never suffered external threats, so it lacked armies.

Canaan's commercial activity was on the rise. Around the year 3300 the city of Byblos was founded , which would soon begin to trade by sea with Egypt and the Mediterranean islands. It was probably through Canaanite traders that Egypt learned of the cultural advances that were taking place in the fertile crescent.

Around 3200 , King Nármer of Hierakonpolis united Upper and Lower Egypt into a single kingdom and attached both crowns. He and his descendants (the I dynasty of kings of Egypt) consolidated the royal power and the unity of the country by spreading the idea that the king was a god who owned the entire Nile valley. Nármer established the capital of the kingdom in Tinis, from where he apparently originated, although he built the city of Memphis on the border between Upper and Lower Egypt, perhaps with the intention of making it a capital if Lower Egypt was wary of being ruled from Upper Egypt, which was not the case. to happen.

Under the first dynasty, the Egyptians built canals to irrigate the areas of the valley farthest from the Nile. Specialized workers arose, boats were devised to transport materials down the river, agriculture and livestock, etc., were encouraged. Undoubtedly all this is a clear trace of Canaanite-Mesopotamian influence.

The Sumerian priests took advantage of the code of signs that had been developed by the merchants and extended it to reflect abstract ideas. Around 3100 the Sumerians had an authentic script. They wrote on clay tablets using a stylus that produced wedge-shaped marks. Each word was represented by a sign that, although originally it could have been a scheme of its meaning, practice had reduced it to a purely conventional grouping of wedges. This type of writing is known as cuneiform writing. Writing was then a very complex technique, since the Sumerians had a sign for each word, which meant a huge inventory of signs that only the priests mastered. This provided a lot of power to the priestly class.

Thus, Sumerian is the oldest language of which we have written evidence. It is a language completely different from all those known today: its words are monosyllabic and sentences are formed by agglutinating words, so that many of them act as prefixes and suffixes for others.

Meanwhile, the rest of the fertile crescent fed on Sumerian culture. East of Lower Mesopotamia, south of the Zagros Mountains, in present-day Iran, a people known as Elam formed, prospering by controlling trade between Iran and Mesopotamia. The Elamites adopted the Sumerian culture, but retained their own language, which survived until the 11th century AD.


The rest of the world continued its slow Neolithic evolution. By 4000 a new farming community had emerged in China on the lower Yang-Tse Kiang,probably due to the influence of the Yellow River civilization. In the Indus Valley, civilization improved significantly over the millennium: brick cities were built, copper began to be used, and trade with Mesopotamia began. In Europe the Neolithic was already widespread. There are not many data, but it seems that "typical" Neolithic Europe was made up of matriarchal, non-warlike, sedentary agricultural societies, which tended to form relatively large towns and cities. On the contrary, the Indo-European peoples, who inhabited West Asia, formed eminently pastoral societies, with a patriarchal character and a warrior spirit.

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