Sumerian Civilization and It’s Contributions!
The Sumerian civilization grew up in the river valley of Tigris and Euphrates. The Sumerian civilisation formed a part of it.
The lower valley of Tigris and Euphrates was famous as Sumer. This civilisation grew up 5000 years before the birth of Christ.
The people of Sumer established cities like Nipur, Ur, Umma, Eridu, Kish and Lagash and enriched this civilisation. Idea regarding the administration, art of writing, art, architecture, literature, trade and commerce of the Sumerians are known from the analysis of archaeological remains of that land.
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The Sumerians were the true builders of the Mesopotamian civilisation. This civilisation became matured around 3500 B.C. The Sumerians built many cities. Nipur, Lagash, Ur and Kish were the four major cities of the Sumerians. In every city state king was the highest authority.
The Chief place of political activities of a city state was Ziggurat (Sumerian temple). The Sumerian priests were known as Patteshi. They were the chief architects of the Sumerian administration. The king ruled the state by their advice.
Art of writing:
The Sumerians made their noblest contribution in the field of writing. They adopted a system of writing which was popularly known as ‘Cuneiform’. An English man named Henry Rowlison who stayed in Iran first deciphered this writing. The Sumerians used more than 350 signs.
Each sign was treated as a letter. As the upper part of each letter was sharp and wedge-shaped it was thus knows as ‘Cuneiform writing’. The term ‘Cuneiform’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘Cunus’ which means wedge? They pressed wedge shaped marks on soft clay tablets with the help of sharp reed pen.
They hardened these tablets by drying them up in the sun. Most of those tablets were of small size because large ones often cracked in the process of baking. These Cuneiform writings of the “Sumerians were read from right to left. Thousands of such tablets containing Cuneiform writing are found from Sumerian library.
All these tablets give a lot of information regarding Sumerian civilisation. After the reading of the ‘Rock of Behistan’ many facts regarding the Sumerian civilisation came to lime light. Thus the development of Cuneiform script was the outstanding contribution of Sumerians to the civilisation of mankind.
The Sumerians had big libraries. These libraries were store house of knowledge. From the ruins of Tello, 30,000 clay tablets have been discovered. Those tablets were kept one after another in series. In many other places, many tablets have been discovered. All these evidence prove that those were the ancient libraries of the Sumerians.
The religious belief of the Sumerians was superb. They built temples at the centre of the city state for the worship of gods and goddesses. The Sumerian temple was known as Ziggurat. The meaning of ‘Ziggurat’ is “Hill of the Heaven”. These temples were a sort of multi-storeyed tower temples.
The top of the temple was a squared room partitioned into two. One room was meant for the presiding deity or the temple and the other room was used by the priest as his residence. The priest was known as ‘Patteshi’.
The Sumerians were Polytheists. Among the Ziggurats of the Sumerians, the Ziggurat built at Nipur for their chief god ‘Enlil’ was the biggest. He was the deity of the sacred city Nipur. He was also worshipped as the earth god and air god. Another Ziggurat was built at Ur for ‘Nannar’, the man god.
The most popular deity of the Sumerians was goddess ‘Ishtar’: She was the daughter of ‘Anu’, the deity of the sky. The mode of worship of the Sumerians was unique. Largely, the Sumerians were agriculturists.
The farmers brought water in a pot, a got or sheep and green plam leaf and kept all those things before the god or goddess. They prayed gods for rain and grain. The priest sacrificed the animal and predicted the future by studying its liver and entrail.
The priests played prominent role in the religious life of the Sumerians. They believed in dreams and omens and claimed to predict the future events. The Sumerians also believed life after death. They believed that after death the soul enters into a dark place.
The Sumerian priests also composed many mythological stories. They wrote the ‘Story of Creation’, ‘Story of Flood’, “Story of the Fall of Man’, and ‘Story of the Tower of Babel’ etc. Later on, the Hebrews made these Sumerian stories popular.
The Sumerians left indelible foot prints on the sands of time by erecting many cities, palaces Ziggurats. They used burnt bricks for the construction of different structures. The Ziggurats were seven or eight storeyed buildings and were narrower around the top. They gave proper attention to give a finishing touch to, every architecture. They knew to column, vault, arch and dome with proportion.
The Sumerians contributed a lot in the field of art. The craftsmen like potters, goldsmiths and stone-cultures produced work of high excellence several decorated clay pots discovered from Ur bear ample testimony of their artistic skill. The seals with carving and pictures show their talent as skilled artists. They also made ornaments with beautiful designs. The ruins of big metallic animals have been discovered from many Sumerian cities. They also built several stone images which reflect their artistic skill.
The Sumerians showed exceptional ability in the field of science. They had deep knowledge in the field of Mathematics and Astrology. The priests stayed inside the chamber of Ziggurat and kept eye on the movement of planets and stars. By that, they were able to predict good or bad time. Thus, they were quite thorough in astrology.
The Sumerians prepared calendar to determine the months and year. They divided one year into 12 lunar months. They determined a month on the basis of the movement of moon. Each month was divided into 30 days. After some years the Sumerian kings added one month more in a year and made it 13 months.
Their calendar was defective because it could not adjust 5 days in a year, thus making it 365 days (360+5 extra). That is why; they had to change the calendar time and again. Later on the Hebrews and Arabians accepted the Sumerian calendar after modification.
The Sumerians used water clock to measure the time. They divided one hour into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds. The water fell down drop by drop from the hole of a pot. The Sumerians got idea about the time by looking at the marks given in the pot. This was a unique invention of the Sumerians.
The Sumerians had invented a new counting procedure. They used 60 as numberal unit and through that managed counting. In weight, 60 ‘shekels’ made a ‘mina’ or a ‘pound’. A circle was divided into 360″ (60×6 = 360° or 6 times of 60).
This was included in the arithmetic of the ancient Surnerians. As stated earlier, one hour was divided into 60 minutes and one minute was fractioned into 60 seconds.
Wheel and Cart:
A great contribution of the Sumerians to the history of mankind was ‘wheel’. This wheel accelerated the progress of Sumerian civilisation. The potter made pottey of various shapes and sizes through this wheel. The wheeled carts facilitated trade and commerce on land route. This invention of wheel by the Sumerians made them immortal in the annals of history.
Trade and Commerce:
The Sumerians were very capable in the field of trade and commerce. It is known that they maintained trade and commercial relation with Asian countries including India. They also maintained commercial relation with Egypt.
The city Ur earned fame as a centre of international trade and commerce. The Sumerians imported mainly food grains and exported wool, silk-dress, metallic goods and dates. With the advancement of time, the Sumerians accepted silver instead of food grains.
Thus, the Sumerian civilisation was the first manifestation of the Mesopotamian civilisation. The characteristics of the civilisation reflect its contributions. The Sumerian civilisation came to an end by the invasion of the Akkadians around 2500 B.C. This civilisation contributed variously to the culture of the world.
The cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, was the birthplace of indispensable inventions and discoveries. It was here that agriculture, a major historical invention, began. Irrigation and farming were convenient in this area because of the fertile land and affluent terrain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
The invention of agriculture made it possible for humans to stay in the same place for a longer period of time without depending on hunting. The earliest form of writing was invented in Mesopotamia. The first means of transportation, like the chariot and the sailboat, were invented in Mesopotamia. Most of the innovative ideas that we take it for granted today were invented or discovered in Mesopotamia. Herewith I will present the top 11 Inventions and discoveries of Ancient Mesopotamia.
11. The invention of the wheel
The first wheel wasn’t used for transportation. The wheel was invented to serve as porter’s wheels. The first wheel was believed to exist around 3,500 BC in Mesopotamia.
Even though the wheel is believed to have first existed in Ancient Mesopotamia, the oldest wheel named “Ljubljana Marshes Wheel” was discovered in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia in 2002, and dates 5,150 years back.
The wheel was not only used for the transportation purposes. It was used widely in irrigation, pottery making, and milling. It acted as the luxurious mode of transportation for rich people. The invention of the chariot and other important inventions in history was based on the invention of the wheel.
10. The invention of the Chariot
Humans learned to domesticate horses, bulls, and other animals that were useful for them. The chariot was not a sudden invention, but the gradual improvement of the earliest carriage. The chariot was the first concept of personal transportation. It had been used for years as a key technology for warfare, for most of the ancient sports, and as a means of transportation. The structure of earliest chariot was made of light wood with a bent wood rim.
The first chariot appeared around 3200 BC in Mesopotamia. This form of chariot was used in most every civilization until motorized transportation came into existence. Chariots were also used as a luxurious means of transportation for the Royal families and higher class people.
9. The invention of the Sailboat
Transportation by land was hectic and took an enormous amount of time. Sumerians realized that transportation via sea would be a lot easier and more convenient. The first boat was invented and used as transportation in rivers, and needed to be navigated by humans. The sailboat was invented with a primitive design, which ultimately helped the people with prosperous trade and commerce. It was initially used to cross the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for fishing and to explore other areas.
The primitive sailboat was square in shape and the sail was made of cloth. The direction of the sailboat couldn’t be changed. If the wind didn’t blow in the direction they wanted to go, they had to wait for a change the wind’s direction in their favor.
8. The Plow:
Humans learned to domesticate animals and use them in their daily life to make their tasks easier. In Mesopotamia, man first harnessed the ox and developed the first plow called ARD. The earliest plow was made of wooden material and was heavy. The major problem with the plow was that the dirt would stick on the plow and needed to be removed manually. It also did not work in dense grass. The invention of the plow in Mesopotamia helped the hunter-gatherer groups to stay in the same place and to depend on agriculture for food, rather than hunting.
Mesopotamians developed the concept of time, dividing time units into 60 parts, which eventually lead to 60-second minutes, and 60-minute hours. The Babylonians made an astronomical calculation in the base 60 system inherited by Sumerians. The number 60 was chosen because it was easily divisible by six
6. Astronomy and astrology:
The concept of Astrology was developed during the Sumerian period, where even everyday incidents had a spiritual meaning. It was believed that every good and bad thing happened for a reason. The astrologers observed the momentary location of the planets and advised people with high social or political positions. Astronomical mythology, like the concept of a constellation of Capricorn, Leo and Sagittarius, was handed to Greeks by Sumerians and Babylonians and is still in use today. The constellations were also used in day-to-day activities. They were heavily used to mark the seasons for harvesting or sowing crops. They also mapped the movement of the sky, the sun, stars, and the moon, and to predict celestial events, like an eclipse.
5. The inventions of Map
The oldest map was discovered in Babylonia around 2300 B.C. The Ancient Cartography that was used in Babylonia was a simple sketch on clay tablets. The clay map discovered in Mesopotamia illustrates the Akkadian region of Mesopotamia (present day northern Iraq). It covered a small area and was mostly used as a city map, a military campaign, a hunting ground map, and a trade route. Even though the map was invented in Mesopotamia, Greek and Roman cartography became more advanced. The concept of a spherical Earth developed by Greek Philosophers in 350 BC became a concept for geographers to develop the map.
When civilization started to flourish, people began to trade items, and they needed an accurate system to count the goods that they gave and received. Sumerians were the first people on earth to develop the concept of counting. They also developed the sexagesimal, or base 60. The sexagesimal helped to develop concepts like the 360-degree circle and the 12-month year. They used 12 knuckles to count on one hand, and another five fingers on the other hand. The Babylonians used base 6 (our modern system uses base 10), where digits on the left column represent large values.
The concept of zero was developed by Babylonians. People understood the value of having nothing, but the concept of numerical zero wasn’t invented before then. Many scholars believed that the concept of zero was developed by Babylonian and followed by various civilizations throughout the world in their own way. However, some argue it was originally invented in India.
3. Urban civilization
Often known as the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamian developed the concept of urbanization. For the first time in a history, humans started to settle in a specific place. The invention of agriculture made it possible to feed more people and animals living in the same place. People learned to trade, and the concept of taxes emerged. Mesopotamia emerged as one the first cities of the world built with sun-dried bricks. The urbanization in Mesopotamia was started in Uruk Period (4300-3100 BCE)
The largest settlement ever in the history of mankind started to build using monumental mud-brick building around 3,200 BC. It was surrounded by huge walls, built by King Gilgamesh.
2. The first form of writing: Cuneiform
The Sumerians developed the first form of writing called “Cuneiform” to maintain business records. It was mostly used in trade, where the merchant recorded the information regarding a trade, for example, the number of grains traded. Mesopotamians used writing to record daily events, like trade and astronomy.
Cuneiform evolved as a simple pictograph. For instance, the pictograph for a horse might be a small image of a horse. The writer had to drag the tip of a stylus in the clay to create a shape. It was hard to remember every character. It would take 12 years for a person to learn to write in cuneiform. The symbols were reduced to 600 words by 2900 B.C. Scribes (specialized people that were hired to write) eventually changed the writing from a drawing image to stamp or imprint writing with a use of a reed stylus with a wedge-shaped tip. Cuneiform script was used by Assyrians, Elamites, Hittites, Babylonians, and Akkadians for about 3,000 years.
1. Agriculture and Irrigation
Farmers used to cultivate wheat, barley, cucumbers and other different foods and vegetables. They used stone hoes to plow the ground before the invention of the plow. The Tigris and the Euphrates rivers that surround Mesopotamia made irrigation and farming a lot easier and more convenient. Mesopotamians learned to control the flow of water from the river and used it for irrigating crops. During the main growing season, the flow of water was properly regulated. Each farmer was allowed a certain amount of water, which was diverted from the canal into an irrigation ditch.
Most of the inventions and discoveries by Ancient Mesopotamians became more advanced in later civilization. However, Mesopotamian inventions led to very basic things that were needed for humans to settle in a group. Basic things like writing, agriculture, and urban civilization are the gifts of Ancient Mesopotamia.
Learn the inventions of other civilizations: