Civilization in Sumerian City-States

As we learn about World History, it is fascinating to imagine how it all began. Historians have been asking this question for thousands of years. Through their work we have been introduced to ancient civilizations and have pieced together what life possibly looked like during their glory days.

Historians believe that the first human civilization began with The Sumerians. Through their development, we can see very interesting aspects of their life that have spanned the test of time and are even present in today’s civilizations. These include the establishment of advanced cities, complex institutions, specialized workers, advanced technology and record keeping.

In about 5,000 BCE, nomads living in the Mesopotamia region began to settle in the fertile land near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They formed small villages which grew into larger towns and cities, and eventually developed into the civilization known as Sumer. Some advanced cities of Sumer had over 80,000 people. The Sumerians cities were organized around a ziggurat or temple, and included streets and housing.

Within these cities Sumerians created complex institutions such as government. The Sumerian government was a form of Theocracy meaning that a deity, or god, was the supreme ruler and Kings and Priests were given divine guidance to rule their lands. The Sumerians had over 3,000 gods. Each city had its own government and laws. Kings ruled these city-states in the name of the gods they worshipped until eventually one King created an empire and Sumer became one of the first monarchies in the world.

Sumerians society shows an advanced use of a specialized workforce. Once they used irrigation to help create a food surplus, Sumerians began to create rulers, merchants, artists, and government officials. The Sumerians had advanced achievements in science and art as well. They developed the first writing system known as cuneiform. Scribes recorded the names of rulers, the laws, and history into clay tablets. One of the first epics, The Epic of Gilgamesh, was written in cuneiform.

The Sumerians showed use of advanced technology such as canals for irrigation of crops, sun dried bricks for building, the first wheeled vehicles, and the use of bronze to create stronger weapons and tools. They invented mathematical equations and tables and studied astronomy by mapping out the movement of the moon and stars.

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