Mesopotamian Civilization Primary Phase: lower TigrisEuphrates river valley  Persian gulf to modern Baghdad  habitable area: app

. 10,000 sq... miles  bottom 1/3 of the river valley 

Mesopotamia: 3 parts Sumer  Akkad 

± Sumer and Akkad: eventually form Babylon 

Earliest human occupation
± ca. 7000-6000 B.C. 

archaeologists detect several different phases
± settlement: from north to south, downriver


Proto-literate Period ca. 3500-3100 B.C.  most characteristics of Mesopotamia have developed  towns and cities  rudimentary system of writing and metal technology  temple architecture 

The Early Dynastic Period ca. 3100 B.C.  the Sumerians  not the first inhabitants  arrived by sea ?? 

Sumerian language unique  unrelated to any known language  but we cannot read it 

Pre-Sumerian element Semites?  continues to survive  but dominated by Sumerians  until 2350 B.C., more or less 

Political organization city-states  ruled by ³kings´ 

± (lugals)

who fought more or constantly  over land and water-rights 


Political organization, con¶t territorial acquisition by conquest  gradual incorporation and civilizing of Semites  ca. 2350 B.C., Semites become dominant 

Map of ancient Nippur

Sargon of Akkad 

name means: ³True King´ first empire in history first ³personality´ in history legendary figures:
± Miracle birth, evil king, baby-in-a basket, found eventually becomes the leader of his people ± The original story from which all others are copied 

dynasty ruled until 2200 B.C.

Sargon the Great King of Akkad

Third Dynasty of Ur Sumerian renaissance  claim to be kings of Sumer and Akkad  influence on northern TigrisEuphrates 

Ur III , con¶t provinces, with royal governors  moved regularly  kings claim to be divine, unlike earlier kings  Ur-Nammu: most significant  built a great city and issued a code of laws 

Collapse of Ur III civilization over 1,000 years old  but much of what developed survives into modern times  math, time-keeping, beer (!!!), astronomy, astrology, medicine, etc. 

Sources of Information archaeological remains  texts: stone, metal, clay, tablets  cloths, art, etc.  remember our ³archaeological lesson´ ? 

Problems evidence not equal for all times and all places  hard to interpret ±but some things can be known 

Architecture lack stone and wood  use sun-dried brick  resulting in a somewhat ruined state of things  focal point of the city: the Temple complex  successive temples built on the same holy spot 

Architecture, con¶t the temple form: ziggurat  a sort of ³step-temple´  usually seven layers, 

± with a shrine on top

a magic mountain  a ³landing place´ for the god/goddess 

The great ziggarut at the city of Ur ca. 1200«only partially surviving

Ziggarut of king Ur-Nammu,

The ziggarut at Ur from a city wall

ziggurat of Choga Zambil, ca. 1250 B.C

The ziggarut at Ur

Sculpture crude and primitive  clay, not stone  metal sculpture and jewelry more sophisticated 


Gold lapislazuli



Cylinder Seal

Goat in a tree...

Lady-inwaiting to the Queen of Ur

Sacrificed and buried with the Queen at the time of her death

Clay tablets writing medium  religious texts to contracts  with written texts we enter ³History´  documents as insights into peoples thoughts  as well as records 

Cuneiform Writing different from modern scripts  written on damp clay with a wedgeshaped stick  cuneiform (³wedge-shaped writing´) 

Cuneiform, con¶t evolved from use of simple symbols  rebus theory  eventually became conventionalized abstract shapes  used first for business, trade, records  ³literature´ came later.... 

Partial text of Hammurabi¶s law code

Tokens«for games?

Game board with counters: Ur

Bullae with tokens

token shapes pressed into the outside of each

³flattened-out´ bulla = a tablet

Evolution of symbols from simple line drawings to cuniform

Fully developed cuniform tablet

Agriculture grain, mostly barley, planted in the fall  land prepared by hand tools and intensive labor  irrigated by complex system  harvest in the spring  the whole community helps with planting, harvesting, etc. 

Development of irrigation systems

Agriculture, con¶t average crop: 25 to 30 bushels per acre  land controlled by large, temple corporations 

Bureaucracy fundamental to efficiency  necessary for urban living and for the temple corporation  and the civil government 

Social Classes freemen ±priest, aristocrats and warriors, commoners  slaves 

Religion polytheistic  hundreds of deities  each usually had a special function ±but you could have your own, special god ±to ³get lucky´ translates as ³to get a god´ 

‡ Ex. Yahweh as the ³god of Abraham´

Religion, con¶t ancient religion (and modern) is contractual: quid pro quo  Nippur was the religious center of Mesopotamia  major deities associate with major heavenly bodies  and with specific cities 

Religion, con¶t gods and humans were similar  but gods were more powerful and immortal  gods were the masters  humans were the slaves  gods were ill-tempered, erratic, and very dangerous 

Worshippers from the ziggarut at Ur

Goddess figure northern Mesopotamia fertility? Or water goddess?

Skirt decorated with fish and stylized water

centerpiece in a fountain

Religion: the afterlife cold and dark  believed in ghosts of dead relatives  demons 

Literature: began in Sumer priests began to try to explain the how and why of things  creation stories: Enuma Elish and other stories  flood stories: Utnapishtim (etc.)  practical works: farmer¶s almanacs  medicine, divination, astronomy, math, astrology, etc. 

Literature, con¶t Epic of Gilgamesh  the first piece of literature  dealing with comic questions 

± more later

Literacy taught in temple schools  to scribes and priests  we do not know the percentage of literacy  probably fairly small 

Ur III, collapse assaults of peripherial peoples  internal localism  desires for independence 

Hammurabi most successful leader  king of the Amorites  a Semitic people  ruler of Babylon 

Hammurabi, con¶t sixth king of Babylon, of his line  1800¶s B.C.  ruled for 43 years 

Hammurabi, capable administrator  legal reformer 

± (Hammurabi¶s Law Code) 

military leader

The Law Code his most famous achievement  fusion of Sumerian and Semitic customs and usages  designed to render ³justice´  that is, ³what a person deserved´  what is appropriate to the circumstance 

An example of columns (stelae), which were set up in public places, on which were inscribed the laws of Hammurabi.

Hammurabi receiving the law from the God Shamash, who lives on a mountain. Predates the Moses story by over one thousand years, and is probably the model for it.

His rule 

to legitimize: a revision of traditional theology substitution of Babylonian Marduk
± for the older Sumerian god Enlil ± in a new version of the Enuma Elish ± common practice in the ancient world 

similar to later Old Testament stories
± Yahweh assumes the place of El and of Baal

The Enuma Elish describes the creation of the universe  in a system based on ³sevens´  the first three generations: gods of water, earth, sky  next three: gods of moving things  finally: Marduk make man so the gods can rest 

The Enuma Elish, con¶t 

corresponds with early Hebrew stories
± with which you are more familiar ± which are much later, derived from Sumerian models

creation based on a system of ³sevens´  corresponding to the creation story in Genesis 

Changes during the era of Hammurabi development of agriculture  trade and commerce  private enterprise  private property 

Changes, con¶t. writing more widely adopted (cunieform)  algebra and astronomy were developed  The Epic of Gilgamesh ±the first ³tragic hero´ ±earlier ³edition´ of many Genesis stories 

Questions about Life 

the Epic of Gilgamesh
± containing everything from the original flood story ± to the tree of life ± stolen by a serpent

Gilgamesh and mythical animals

Mesopotamian Empires 1800-600 BCE

More books to read 

The Cambridge Ancient History J.N. Postgate. Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History Samuel Noah Kramer. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. A. Leo Oppenheim. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilizastion. A. Bernard Knapp. The History and Culture of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt Jean Bottero. Mesopotamia: Writing, Reasoning, and the Gods J.B. Pritchard. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament J.B. Pritchard. The Ancient Near East, 2 vols., An anthology of Texts and Pictures

More good books to read 

Robert M. Seltzer. Religions of Antiquity Guy E. Swanson. The Birth of the Gods] Alexander Heidel. The Babylonian Genesis Maureen Gallery Kovacs. The Epic of Gilgamesh Hans J. Nissen. The Early History of the Ancient Near East Georges Roux. Ancient Iraq Robert M. Seltzer. Religions of Antiquity Ancient Religions bibliography online:

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