Mythology: lore from the past

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Bam111

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As of late I have been researching a lot and needed more space and a chance to take a break from reading and analyzing and try and explore some of the lore the background of some of these civilizations, I will learn about in the upcoming days on my other thread about history. So, I would like to explore these ancient cultures lore further in this thread to try and solve the mystery I have bin questing for, my hopes are that I will be able to find a connection in my research about all the differnt civilizations and where they all tie up to. But I guess first things first what is mythology?



For those why don't wish to watch the video here is some written format:

The term mythology may describe a certain body of myths, for example Greek, African, or Scandinavian, or it may refer to the study of myths. The study of myths may take several forms. Some studies aim at a careful understanding of the beings, personages, and actions in a particular cycle of myths. Others seek to understand the reason or necessity for these kinds of stories and their importance in the life of any culture. Studies of this kind might seek to locate in the origin of these stories expressions of the human psychic structure or consider them as a collective societal response to the mystery of life.

Folklore, literally “folk learning,” is generally limited to knowledge that is transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth or imitation. In societies without writing, all traditional knowledge can be considered folklore; but in literate societies such as our own, folklore refers only to a fraction of the total culture and consists principally of folk dance, folk medicine, folk music, and the various forms of folk literature.

Myths are stories that narrate in an imaginative and symbolic manner the total and basic structure upon which a culture rests. Given this emphasis on what is fundamental to cultural meaning and value, the myth may appear to be fantastic and bizarre, because the mythic story cannot be explained in the terms of the ordinary conventions of culture. In fact, the ordinary conventions of the culture are understood as having their origins in the myth.

Myths emerge into legends, sagas, and tales.

The time of the fairy tale, “once upon a time,” creates an ambiguity on the temporal level. It seeks to create a temporal mode in which the events of the story may have plausibility in an ordinary sense and to inject dimensions of the bizarre, symbolic, and fantastic. The fairy tale states that “it could have been this way,” or that “it may have happened that.”

Sagas and legends are traditional stories that, although containing fictional and imaginative elements, have a historical basis and represent in the popular memory a real happening that was extraordinary enough to be remembered and embellished. Legends and sagas however lie in a mediate position between myths and historical narratives.

Myths may be classified according to the dominant theme expressed in the narrative. Some of the most important themes treated in myths are creation and origins, the birth of gods and divine beings, death and afterlife, and the renewal and rebirth of the world.

If you already are familiar with these terms disregard the previous information, I simply put this for those who do not know the meaning. We shall start are journey at one of the oldest Civilizations known to man in the next post we shall cover the Sumerian Civilization here is where I shall put the disclaimer: for research purposes these topics do not express my beliefs. Thank you I hope you will enjoy the research :)
 

Bam111

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This is strictly research and not to be taken literally (not up for debate) please be respectful, allow me to research my interests as I respect your right to your beliefs and Ideals if at any time this research interests you feel free to comment but please be respectful.



Ancient Mesopotamia: The Cradle of Civilization

There are several places around the world that have been dubbed “Cradles of Civilization.” These areas of the world are where humans first settled. It’s where they said goodbye to their nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles in History, Captivating. Mesopotamia: A Captivating Guide to Ancient Mesopotamian History and Civilizations, Including the Sumerians and Sumerian Mythology, Gilgamesh, Ur, Assyrians, Babylon, Hammurabi and the Persian Empire favor of agriculture and permanent settlements. And many of these first villages and cities are still around today, providing a visceral connection between human past and human present. However, of all the different “Cradles of Civilization” around the world, perhaps no other is as important and influential to the development of human civilization History.
 
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Bam111

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It All Starts with Sumer

To begin with, it’s important to remember that the story of Ancient Mesopotamia, as it pertains to the development of human history, starts with Sumer.

Mesopotamia: A Captivating Guide to Ancient Mesopotamian History and Civilizations, Including the Sumerians and Sumerian Mythology, Gilgamesh, Ur, Assyrians, Babylon, Hammurabi and the Persian Empire non-Semitic speaking group of people who lived in Mesopotamia since possibly the beginning of human existence. The first Sumerian city, Eridu, dates back to the 54th century BCE. It is considered by many to be one of if not the first city in the world. And it was where the Ancient Sumerians chose their center of their civilization to be. Surrounding Eridu, the Sumerians would settle a number of other cities that would grow to be important political and commercial centers in the ancient world. Larsa, Sippar, Uruk, Kish, Ur, and Nippur, among others, would all grow into powerful city-states, and it was their alliance that brought neighboring cities closer together than they had ever been before. In addition to a sedentary lifestyle based on agriculture, other reasons the Sumerians are considered to be one of the first real, and therefore most important, civilizations is that they are believed to be some of the first people in the world to have had writing and language. The Sumerians were the first to use pictures for words, and they wrote them down on clay tablets.

Many of the most important Sumerian city-states were settled by c. 3500 BCE, and over the course of the next 1,000 years, they united, albeit it loosely, and grew to be a powerful civilization, using writing, as well as other advancements, such as the wheel, to grow and develop economically, socially, and politically. Perhaps the pinnacle of early Sumerian history comes with the rise of King Gilgamesh in c. 2700 BCE. He was the king of the city of Uruk, and he was enshrined into Sumerian history thanks to the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest pieces of literature in human history In the story, Gilgamesh goes on a series of adventures in hopes of attaining eternal glory, only to find out that no human can escape death. Interestingly, Gilgamesh, in the epic, visits a man named Utnapishtim, who was famous for having helped the Sumerians survive a massive flood sometime in their past. Many historians believe this reference to a flood is the same one that inspired the story of Noah’s Ark, one of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament of the Bible.

The Arrival of the Akkadians, Elamites, Babylonians, and Assyrians

Another interesting part of the Epic of Gilgamesh is that it was written in Akkadian, not Sumerian. This at first seems strange, but at the time, the Akkadians, defined by their Semitic Akkadian language, were growing in numbers and influence. By 2330 BCE, King Sargon I of the Akkadians conquered the Sumerians as they marched throughout Mesopotamia, creating the world’s first empire. Fifty years of Akkadian rule came to an end in 2100 BCE, returning sovereignty to the Sumerians. And at this time, the ancient city of Ur was rebuilt. But this brief moment of independence would not last, as the Sumerians would shortly fall to the Elamites, the people who lived northeast of Mesopotamia. And the Elamites would give way to the Assyrians, who hailed from Assur and Nineveh, on the banks of the Euphrates River. Over the course of the next 1,500 years, the Assyrians would be the region’s hegemon. Their large, powerful, and often terrifying armies would dominate from Egypt to Persia and beyond. But this dominance that started toward the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was briefly interrupted by one of the most famous rulers of the ancient world, Hammurabi. Hammurabi was the king of Babylon, and he rose to power in 1781 BCE. His military advantage allowed him to take quick control of the kingdoms surrounding Babylon, and because of the growing kingdoms to the northwest of Assyria, with whom he was able to form an alliance, he was also able to take back significant amounts of territory that had only recently been conquered by the Assyrians. During this period, Hammurabi developed his famed Code of Hammurabi, which laid out, more definitively than ever before, a clear justice system. This helped him significantly in his quest to consolidate power, but Babylon’s success was too closely tied to their leader. When he died in 1750 BCE, Babylon fell with him. Assyria once again became the region’s power, and although they were constantly fighting to secure and expand their borders, the Assyrians would manage to remain the most powerful nation in the ancient world for the better part of the next 1,000 years. At its peak, the Assyrian Empire stretched all across Mesopotamia, including parts of Persia to the east as well as Palestine, Syria, and Phoenicia to the west.

The Assyrian armies also made it to Egyptian borders, and they would have enough military success to be able to lay claim to some Egyptian territory, although they never managed to fully conqueror the Egyptian people. To the north and west of Mesopotamia, the Assyrians controlled much of the land in what is now Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as Asia Minor, which includes much of modern Turkey. The lands in between, Arabia and Syria, also remained largely under Assyrian control for the 1,000 years between the fall of the Sumerians and the rise of the Persians. Because they managed to remain in control of Mesopotamia for so long, the Assyrians contributed to many of the region’s different cultural achievements. For one, their Akkadian language eventually spread throughout Mesopotamia and became widely spoken by most citizens of the empire, helping to bring people together and facilitate trade and other forms of cooperation. Furthermore, the construction of roads connecting some of the major cities in Mesopotamia and the rest of western Asia helped set the stage for the next several millennia of development in the region. It’s also important to note that the Assyrians, due to their considerable wealth that had been amassed through conquest, taxes, and tributes, were able to make great contributions to human culture. The palaces of Assyrian kings helped to define the region’s architecture, and the special emphasis on building libraries, particularly the Library of Nineveh, suggests the Assyrians were an advanced civilization looking to keep advancing.
 

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Bam111

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However, for as influential as the Assyrians were in bringing stability and development to the region, their primary source of power was most certainly their military. The Assyrian army was considered to be one of the best in the world, and this meant that weaker kings often surrendered and declared fealty without resistance. But it also meant that those who did decide to stand and fight in the face of near certain conquest would receive harsh punishment if they failed. Not only were kings and other lords often beheaded or flayed, and then put on display, but the Assyrians were known to be experts at siege warfare. This meant they would cut a city off completely, effectively starving the population until it submitted. The Assyrians also made heavy use of deportation. Rebellious cities were often drained of their educated and talented people, and these individuals were sent to other parts of the empire. This had two purposes: to prevent further rebellion, and to help support the growth and development of other parts of the empire. Overall, ruling through terror and deportations worked quite well for the ancient Assyrians. They were able to secure more territory than any other empire before them, and they held onto it for nearly 1,000 years. However, as one might expect, these Draconian forms of government did little to produce real stability. People would have lived in constant fear, and rebelling against a bad king would mean certain death. Yet for many people at the time, rebellion was well worth the risk, and this means that much of the time Assyria spent controlling Mesopotamia was also spent fighting a near constant civil war. And when we consider that neighboring powers would have been more than happy to contribute to a rebellion inside one of their rival’s borders, it’s easy to see how the balance of power in Ancient Mesopotamia was a constantly shifting phenomenon.

The Fall of the Assyrians and the Second Rise of Babylon

In the 7th century BCE, Assyria began to crumble. A series of missteps by Assyrian kings, plus some military defeats and the rising power of their neighbors, all contributed to a much weaker Assyria. The Elamites and the Medes (the inhabitants of what would become Persia, or Iran), plus the Babylonians and Egyptians all descended on Assur, Nineveh, and other parts of the Assyrian kingdom by 625 BCE. The result of this defeat was that Mesopotamia was left with a power vacuum. Assyria was out of the way, so there was space for a new superpower. But none of the kingdoms that had contributed to the takedown of Assyria were in a position to assume the spot left by their opponent. At the time, the only kingdom powerful enough to take over where Assyria had left off was Babylon. Previously influential during the time of Hammurabi, Babylon was always a force in the region. In fact, many of the major internal problems the Assyrians had to deal with were caused by either allowing Babylon too much freedom or attempting to control it too tightly. So, when Assyria fell, Babylon would have likely been the most influential actor in the region, and the rise of King Nabopolassar in 616 BCE gave the Babylonians the push they needed to reassert themselves in the region. This would lead to the formation of what is known as the Neo-Babylonian Empire. But it would not be an empire that would stand the test of time. Instead, it would fall when its leader passed, and this meant that Mesopotamia was once again up for grabs. Wars broke out between the powers in the region, but ultimately it was an unknown group, the Persians, a collection of Iranian-speaking tribes that had settlements all over the Iranian Plateau, that would band together and finally fill the void left by the fall of the Assyrians.
 

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Bam111

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This is strictly research and not to be taken literally (not up for debate) please be respectful, allow me to research my interests as I respect your right to your beliefs and Ideals if at any time this research interests you feel free to comment but please be respectful.

 

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The Rise of Persia

When put into a wider context, the rise of Persia is really a remarkable thing. At the time of the Assyrians, no one had even really heard of the Persians. There were mentions of tribes living on the Iranian Plateau, but these were considered to be the problem of the Medes and the Elamites. However, as the Assyrian Empire began to crumble, the Persians began to gather in strength. And by 550 BCE they had united under their king, Cyrus I, who would later become known as Cyrus the Great, giving birth to a Persian nation. Within just a little more than ten years, Cyrus the Great would succeed in conquering the Medes and also the Babylonians, bringing all of Mesopotamia under Persian control. After securing himself in the regions surrounding his Persian homeland, Cyrus the Great began setting his sights farther afield. Soon, just as the Assyrians had done, the Persians would control Syria, parts of Arabia, Palestine, and Phoenicia, and they would have a significant presence in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Part of the reason Persia was able to remain powerful for so long is that, unlike the Babylonians right before them, Persian power did not crumble with the death of their powerful leader. Instead, when Cyrus the Great died, he was succeeded by Cambyses, Darius I, and Xerxes I, all of whom would manage to solidify the gains made by Cyrus the Great, but also expand upon the territory controlled by the Persians. In the end, the Persians made it much farther west than the Assyrians ever had. They succeeded in conquering Egypt, bringing it entirely, although briefly, under Persian control. Furthermore, the Persians conquered all of Asia Minor, and they even briefly entered Greece, although this attack ultimately failed.

The Greco-Persian Wars

Greek and Persian history are closely aligned. Persian attempts to invade Greece, first by Darius I, and then more famously by Xerxes I, were part of a 50-year conflict known as the Greco-Persian Wars. During these battles, the Greeks and Persians fought for influence throughout western Asia and eastern Europe. And although the Persians were the early winners, it was eventually the Greeks who were victorious, and this triumph helped shape the modern world. Specifically, the Battle of Salamis, which took place in the straits just off Athens, is often considered to be a turning point in human history. Had the Persians been victorious, they would have had an easy march on Athens. Greece would have come under Persian control, and this would have dramatically reshaped Greek culture, which we all know to be one of the most influential in human history. However, this was not to be. The Greeks defeated the Persians several times, starting at the Battle of Marathon, and then continuing on to Salamis. And these wars also helped push along another development in the history of the ancient world. Specifically, it brought the Greek city-states closer together so as to better defend against their common enemy.

For example, the Delian League represents one of the first examples of strong Greek collaboration, and it was active in inciting rebellions and other destabilizing events within the Persian Empire. And while the Persians managed to survive these attacks, they would prove unable to stop the Greek advance into Persian territory led by Alexander of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great started from Greece, or Macedonia to be specific, and began moving south and east as soon as he took control of a unified Greece. He conquered Egypt, and then he made his way through Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia, until he eventually conquered the Persian capital, Persepolis, in 333 BCE, and continuing on toward central Asia. This led to the fall of the Persian Empire, and it ushered in a new era in Mesopotamia.

A New Era

The old powers of Babylon and Assyria were gone, and the new powers had yet to come. The Arabs, who would enter the scene in the 7th century CE, would take control over much of the lands previously occupied by the Assyrians and Persians, and this would bring about a Golden Age for the region. It was during this time that the majority of Middle Eastern contributions to the world history and culture were made, and it also helped to shape the way the region is today. But before the Arabs would come, Mesopotamia would experience a few more thrills. After the Greeks conquered Persia under Alexander the Great, they took over the system of governance set up by the Persians, ruling for nearly 100 years. After Alexander’s death, the empire was divided amongst its governors. But shortly thereafter, the Persians were able to restore control, bringing the region back under the control of one of its traditional powers. This second Persian Empire would war frequently with the Romans, and it was this state of near constant warfare that left them so vulnerable when the Arabian kingdoms began to become much more powerful. Persian lands were conquered, and Islam became the dominant religion and culture in the region. Later on, Persians would regain control of their territory, and this led to the eventual formation of the modern nation of Iran.
 

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Bam111

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The reason this is important is that it helps us mark the fall of the Persians to Alexander the Great as a turning point in Ancient Mesopotamian history. The region would never again be controlled by any of the civilizations that had become powerful throughout the first several thousand years of significant settlement in the region. However, these civilizations helped to shape the world in which we live today. The kingdoms that were able to survive through the tumult that was the ancient period played a significant role in the formation of the nations we have today. Cultural, scientific, and linguistic developments stemming from Ancient Mesopotamia also helped define the world and what it was to become. And the governmental structures put in place in the ancient world have been expanded upon and improved into the governments we have today. All in all, these civilizations existed many thousands of years ago, but the impact of their time on Earth can still very much be felt today.

The Forming of Our World

The three major civilizations of Ancient Mesopotamia—Sumer, Assyria, and Persia—all helped one of the world’s first populated regions to grow into what would become known as the “Cradle of Civilization.” The Sumerians settled down and made farming an essential part of human life. Then, the Assyrians taught the world what could happen if a civilization dedicated itself to building a massive military machine. And the Persians would carry Mesopotamian and world society one step further by bringing about new forms of government and imperial administration. Like the Assyrians before them, the Persians were known for their ability to wage war. The Persian Immortals, which was the name given to the force of 10,000 well-trained, well-armed soldiers the Persians maintained at all times, were one of the most feared fighting forces of the ancient world. Kings from all around would bend the knee upon simply hearing that the Persians were headed their way. However, unlike the Assyrians, the Persians were able to maintain their empire without having to rely solely on force and terror. Instead, the Persians were able to create a highly effective bureaucracy that divided the empire into regions, or satraps. These were directed by regional governors who were meant to carry out the word of the king. The level of autonomy given to these satraps is in part why they were so effective, but it was also the Persian use of writing and roads that made it easy for kings to run the affairs of the state from afar.

In many ways, this type of government represents one of the most significant contributions made by the Mesopotamian people to world culture. Those who managed to conquer Persian territories were able to use Persian institutions as a way of maintaining their power. And this was the model that would be used by many civilizations after Persia, including those that exist today. The Persians would continue to influence world culture even after they had been absorbed into the Arabian empire. The Persian language still exists today, as does its original region, Zoroastrianism, although Islam is the dominant faith in the region. Furthermore, Persian art, whether paintings or carpets, is world famous, and it was a key driver of economic growth in the region for many years.
 

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Bam111

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Studying Mesopotamia

Taken together, the civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, and Persia have helped form the modern makeup of Mesopotamia, western Asia, and the world. However, to really understand why things are the way they are, it’s important to break up this historical timeline and spend some time learning about each society. Only by doing this will you be able to fully appreciate the powerful impact these ancient peoples had on our modern world.

Part 1: Sumerians A Captivating Guide to Ancient Sumerian History, Sumerian Mythology and the Mesopotamian Empire of the Sumer Civilization

Ancient history is always a fascinating subject. For a layman, it stands as a romantic look of our ancestors - how “times were different” and how people lived on without the commodities modern man has today. For a historian worth their salt, the ancient people are an endless source of information, good indicators of how we’re moving along as a collective humanity, though they captivate on the micro level as well from the individual to the state or country itself. In short, learning from this past equips us to function better in the future, and occasionally chuckle when we find a relatable datum that speaks to us personally. And on the note of speaking to us personally, each region has a fascination with its own history, and the history of the people immediately surrounding, it. Europeans continue to learn from Ancient Greeks and Romans, paying close attention to other cultures that surrounded them such as Illyrians, Thracians, Celts, etc. Africans look to Egypt, Ethiopia, Nubia, and other massive kingdoms and empires that dominated the continent. Asians have a massive number of cultural clusters to research, such as Ancient China and the cultures on the Indian Subcontinent. The Americas and Australia, while themselves descendants from Europeans, look to the cultures of their native peoples, thus we learn more about Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, the Aboriginal people of Australia, the Native American tribes of North America, and so on. However, all of this had to have started somewhere.


And what is often known as the ‘cradle of civilization’ happens to be in Asia Minor, or the Middle East as it is now socio-politically better known. This is the area between the large rivers known as Tigris and Euphrates, and because of this location it bears the name Mesopotamia, “land between the rivers.” But Mesopotamia itself had numerous cultures: Persians, Syrians, Assyrians, Amorites, Elamites, Babylonians, Hittites, Hurrians, and, later on, Romans and various Muslim sects and subgroups. Still, one culture had to be the first, and that would be the Ancient Sumerians. The sheer importance of Sumerian culture in regards to world culture as a whole is impossible to overstate. This civilization is single-handedly responsible for some of the most major innovations in nearly every field relevant to maintaining a civilized society - this includes religion, lawmaking, architecture, schooling, art, literature, and even entertainment. Naturally, most of what we see as negative aspects of society were established in Ancient Sumer as well. There wasn’t an aspect of Sumerian life that wasn’t plagued with corruption or devastation of one form or another. In other words, the Sumerians gave us both the sublimeness of faith and the rigidness of religious thought coupled with a desire for political supremacy. They gave us both the benevolent, caring monarchs and cruel, punishing tyrants; the educated child and the spoiled brat; the hard-working agrarian and the drunken reveler; and the epic empires as well as the pathetic remnants of them. The Sumerians did it all, and they did it first. Sadly, their culture is long gone.


And as is often the case with ancient cultures, as interesting as they may be to a reader or a curious pair of eyes, they tend not to be relatable because of the massive time gap between them and us, which in this case spans no less than 7,000 years, at least. But this book will give you the gist of what Sumerians were like. You will learn about the people themselves, how they organized their society, what they believed and how they believed in it, what their now famous city-states were like and who ruled over them, how they went about their everyday lives, what they invented or reinvented that we still utilize today, how their culture developed throughout the millennia, and how they interacted with other peoples surrounding them. And the reason the Sumerians in particular should matter to you, as both a reader and a proponent of your current culture, is a simple one - being the first, the Sumerians are not just Asia-specific; they are part of our common heritage, and as such are likely our direct cultural and civilizational ancestors. And the old adage of treating elders with respect matters here as well, especially if said elders can return that respect tenfold with invaluable information and fascinating facts.
 

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Bam111

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Chapter 1 The Ancient Sumerians In a Nutshell: Who Were They? Where Did They Live? Where Did They Come From? The Timeline of the Sumerian Civilization; Potential Genetic Make-up of the Sumerians

The absolute majority of scholars around the world agree that the Ancient Sumerians were the earliest developed civilization in our recorded history. This doesn’t mean that they are the oldest recorded humanoid beings on our planet recent discoveries in Greece and Bulgaria give us some idea of the earliest human, earlier even than Lucy, who was located in Africa. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that their culture was the first to fashion simple tools from stone, iron, or bronze. However, they are the culture that gave us a lot of firsts: the first kingdom, and then empire, the first city-states, the first democracy, the first autocracy; they pioneered writing, schooling, organized religion, lawmaking, art, and literature. Yes, the Sumerians were the first in many areas of expertise. However, we should first discuss the people themselves. We will cover where they lived, their potential place of origin before Ancient Mesopotamia, how their civilization came to be, and how it developed throughout the ages. We will also try and see what their potential genetic make-up was when compared to other people living in the area.

Who Were the Sumerians?

The Sumerians were a civilization that would go on to influence the entirety of the Ancient Middle East, and their accomplishments and innovations echo in diverse ancient cultures such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ethiopia, and more. From a practical, mundane standpoint, they were a highly religious, agricultural society that put great emphasis on art, culture, and the written word. As is the case with all cultures, they developed from simpler hunter-gatherer societies, based on the Bronze age sites scattered about the area that comprised Ancient Sumer. They were an innovative, inventive, imaginative people and, interestingly enough, had parallels with even modern-day societies in both positive and negative aspects of their daily lives. All of this will be covered in more detail in further chapters.

Where Did the Sumerians Live?

The area where the earliest civilization lived took up the territory of Southern Mesopotamia, in parts of modern Iraq and Kuwait. It is nestled between two important rivers for the region, the Tigris and the Euphrates, as well as the Persian Gulf to the southeast. Their earliest “countries” were numerous city-states that, depending on the time period, either dominated the region, were enslaved by other cities or even other peoples, or acted independently. We will go into more detail on these cities when we cover the dynasties and rulers of Ancient Sumer.

Where Did Sumerians Come From?

This is an interesting topic that gets touched upon from time to time but not to any major extent. Normally the supposition is that the Sumerians came from either modern-day India or from the west of the two rivers. However, an interesting new archeological development may place them at a different place altogether. Studying several independent factors, such as the religious and cultural importance of lapis lazuli for the Sumerians, the archeological sites where there were frequent excavations of this stone at a time before the Sumerians settled Southern Mesopotamia, and studies of biogeographical DNA of ancient peoples in the Middle East, plausibly places the Sumerians’ ancestors in Neolithic and Bronze Age sites such as Gonur Tepe and Anau in modern-day Turkmenistan. If this hypothesis turns out to be true, it would mean that the earliest settlers of Sumer came there after a major drought struck their place of residence close to the lapis lazuli mines. However, despite leaving, they kept their culture and myths which relied heavily on lapis lazuli usage and excavation.

The Timeline of the Sumerian Civilization

Sumerian scholars have, in the past century and a half at least, managed to piece together a plausible timeline of Ancient Mesopotamia in terms of human settlements and early cultures. The earliest period with permanent towns in the region is called the Ubaid period, named after a small, uncovered settlement Tell al-`Ubaid near ancient Ur. This period roughly starts circa 6500 BC and ends around 4100 BC. It encompasses the earliest human culture in the region that predates “modern” Sumerians and is marked by several major events. The city of Eridu, the oldest Sumerian settlement based on available data, was founded in 5400 BC, and four centuries later, the Ubaid people settled Godin Tepe. At the same time, we get early signs of burials, and the Sumerian culture officially starts blooming into existence. What follows is the Uruk Period. Five centuries after the Ubaid people settled the Sumerian lands, the city of Uruk was founded, and they built their first temple. The Uruk Period lasts 1200 years, circa 4100-2900 BC. During this period, writing was in full swing in Uruk. It is estimated that it was invented around 3,600 BC with the first religious texts a century later, and it was in frequent use by 3,200 BC.

Right after that follows the Early Dynastic period. It spans from 2900 BC to 2334 BC. It is within this period that we find royal graves in the city of Ur. King Eannatum ruled over the city of Lagash in about 2500 BC, thus forming the First Dynasty of this city. This begins the first recorded empire in Sumer. At this time, non-religious literature such as myths and poetry was becoming a prominent feature in the city-states, especially in Lagash. About a century later, around 2350 BC, their king Urukagina wrote the first code of law; this would become a basis for all future law codes in the immediate region. In 2334 BC, Sargon of Akkad took over most of Sumerian lands, making him one of the first emperors of the Middle East with a multiethnic, expansive empire. The reign of his dynasty lasted until about 2218 BC, when the Gutian Period begins in Sumer. The nomadic Gutians took control of the Sumerian lands, replacing the Akkadian rulers that succeeded Sargon. A little over half a century after the Gutian conquest, the first tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh were being written. Utu-Hegal took control of Sumer—and certain Akkadian cities—back from the Gutians at around 2055 BC, and he is succeeded by Ur-Nammu in 2048 BC. This is the period when the Third Dynasty of Ur reigned over Sumer, yet it includes more than just this dynasty. This period started with the reign of Ur-Nammu and ended a little after 1750 BC, with the invasion of Elamites and the Amorites migrating to the area. There were significant changes during this era, known as the Sumerian Renaissance. Ur-Nammu’s successor, King Shulgi, built the so-called Great Wall of Uruk at around 2038 BC, which stood fast throughout the period. In the period mid-1900 BC the last vestige of the Third Dynasty of Ur ends with Ibi-Sin, at around 1940 BC. The final Sumerian, or rather Akkadian, dynasty to reign over what was left of their vast empire was the Dynasty of Isin. The empire itself fell under post-Hammurabi Babylon at around 1750 BC, which is marked as the end of the Sumerian civilization altogether. The Babylonian ruler Hammurabi had codified his famous Code some twenty-two years earlier, based on earlier Sumerian codes. Naturally, most of these dates are estimates at best. The Sumerian chronology is somewhat difficult to read (there will be more info on this in the Sumerian rulers’ section) because of how the cuneiform sources are written. Nevertheless, most of the prominent events can be dated with some accuracy based on peripheral evidence, so we can speak about the Sumerian rise to prominence and decline with a good degree of certainty.
 

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Potential Genetic Make-up of the Sumerians

This particular topic obviously didn’t come up a whole lot in the early days of Mesopotamian studies. But with the advent of DNA research, the question of genetic origins of Ancient Sumerians was raised once more. An extensive survey of Y-chromosome and mtDNA variation among the Marsh Arabs of Iraq heavily implies that they are direct descendants of Sumerians. This also brought about a separate topic, that of whether or not the Sumerians were autochthonous or of Indian or South Asian ancestry. Based on the findings, the Marsh Arabs, who’ve been in the area of Southern Mesopotamia for generations, share more common ancestry with the Assyrians and the Iraqis than with any other people group (the test groups involved Indians, Mediterranean Europeans, Israeli Druze, Palestinians, the Khuzestani Arabs, Africans, Pacific Asians and more). This implied that the ancestors of the Marsh Arabs did not move from different areas but were autochthonous for at least as long as the Sumerians were present. Naturally, this doesn’t go against the hypothesis that the Sumerians originated from the modern-day Turkmenistan region, but rather explains away the potential genetic and even physical make-up of the earliest civilization.

Conclusion

If you merely look at the timeline presented above, you’ll see that Sumerian life and culture spans no less than four and a half millennia. That’s an enormous time span that presents a real treasure trove of archeological and historical gems. If we take into account their possible origins, coupled with how they moved and settled in a lower, more arable region, we can accurately draw a picture of even this ancient culture’s more ancient past. We can see first-hand how migrations and climate change affected the earliest civilization, how they were responsible for their way of life, their religious beliefs, as well as their possible aspirations and ambitions. In the upcoming chapters, we will take a closer, more detailed, look at the Sumerians’ way of life, on every level of society. Naturally, we will cover their technological and cultural advances and how they influenced the cultures around them, bleeding into numerous diverse lands across the known globe in ancient times.
 

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Chapter 2 The Social Structure of Ancient Sumerians: Rulers, Priests, Privileged Classes, Ordinary People, Slaves; Gender Differences; Children

For the longest time, many scholars agreed that the ancient Sumerians were a predominantly autocratic, authoritarian society. In other words, they were supposedly more in line with other ancient cultures such as Egypt, China, and even their direct “descendants” the Babylonians. However, this is not the case, or at least not for the entirety of the existence of Sumerians. From their earliest days, the Sumerian city-states actually enjoyed a level of democracy not unlike the one we have today in the Western world. Most major government positions were elected rather than hereditary, and a council made important decisions regarding critical state matters. It was only during increasing warfare between the city states, as well as clashes with the barbaric tribes from both the East and the West of Sumer, that the need for a single ruler arose, and this was when the king or Lugal— “big man” in Sumerian—would take control.

The Ensi

In the beginning, every city state had a ruler, called an Ensi. In the earlier periods of Sumer, an Ensi would merely act as an elected “governor” of the city, a title he would maintain only until the next one got elected. He was seen as an elected peer among peers and wasn’t the sole person deciding upon important city matters. In fact, there’s scarce evidence that there was even need of Ensis during important court proceedings. During the Early Dynastic Period, an Ensi would represent the patron god of the city. However, in later periods, an Ensi would be subordinate to a Lugal, but this distinction is still up for debate even today. Many powerful rulers would later take up Ensi as their title rather than Lugal. During the last Sumerian dynasty to rule over these lands, the Third Dynasty of Ur, the title of Ensi was almost entirely relegated to local city governors second only to a Lugal. Their positions remained hereditary but only if they were to the Lugal’s liking.

The Assembly

As stated earlier, the Ensi was initially not the supreme ruler of the city-state in Ancient Sumer. Most major decisions were deliberated on by a bicameral assembly. This assembly consisted of two houses, the Upper and the Lower houses. The Upper house consisted of “elders,” mainly members of nobility and priestly classes. The Lower house, consequently, most likely consisted of commoners, mainly men of less noble or even commoner background. The assembly would deliberate mainly on everyday state matters, such as food production, trade, disaster relief, foreign affairs, legal disputes, and so on. During times of war, they would elect a single military commander for the duration of the conflict, which inevitably led to the birth of the Lugal. What’s interesting to note is that during the course of Sumerian civilization, based on thousands of archived correspondence and official documents of the time, this top structure of the Sumerian city state would show the same interchanging periods of prosperity and corruption, not unlike many of our modern countries. In this regard, Sumer is the birthplace of both hereditary monarchy, liberal(ish) democracy, and, as we will see in the section on Sumerian rulers such as Urukagina, government corruption.

Priests

An Ensi would also act as a head priest of the temple belonging to the city state’s patron god, while his wife would be the head priestess for the city’s patron goddess. In later years, it was not uncommon for an Ensi to declare himself a god, thus making the temple personnel take care of him directly. Each temple would have two chief administrators, the En and the Sanga. While there might be an overlap between an En and an Ensi (and Lugal, for that matter), from what we know, an En oversaw the duties of all present priests and priestesses in the temple. Each priest or priestess had a different duty, largely related to hymn writing and music composing, food preparation and feeding of “gods,” clothing them, etc. Other priests would perform religious duties directly to the people of the city. Not uncommon was the priests’ performing of exorcisms, purifications, medical treatments, prayer, and education.

The Sanga, on the other hand, handled the business end of the temple. This meant dealing with trade, providing jobs to the city’s inhabitants, overseeing at times thousands of jobs around the temple, and much more. While the En oversaw the priests directly, the Sanga oversaw the weavers, chefs, housekeepers, scribes, butchers, guards, accountants, artisans, messengers, and seamstresses. In short, the everyday workers not belonging to a priestly class. Contrary to what earlier scholars believed, the temple did not “own” all of the land in a city state. In fact, only the temple grounds were under direct temple ownership. This land, unlike the land owned by private citizens outside of the temple, could not be sold, bought, or its ownership passed around in any manner. In short, it belonged to the main god of the city, i.e., to the priests currently occupying it. There will be more word on the temple grounds themselves in a later chapter. The priests were part of the nobility in Ancient Sumer.

Considering how important their role was in maintaining spirituality in Sumerian cities, this is hardly a surprise. As nobles, they participated in matters concerning the city state at the assembly (as part of the Upper house), were involved with Ensi election, and could own private land. Normally this would be land directly adjacent to, or even belonging to, the main temple. Due to their wealth, reputation, and position, most priests were literate and well-educated, often serving as scribes. They served as the original doctors and dentists of Ancient Sumerians, providing medical aid parallel to spiritual care. Other skills they would excel at included music and art, largely used for liturgical or ceremonial purposes. In order to become a priest or a priestess, a young man or woman had to come from a noble family, and be of healthy body and mind. Celibacy was required with priestesses, though they could act as stepmothers to their husbands’ children. Priestly training was grueling and difficult, but it yielded great privilege and knowledge.
 

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Sumerian Social Classes and Their Privileges

Based on extensive research of both early and late Sumerian sources, we can divide up the Sumerian socioeconomic socioeconomic structure into four major groups. The first group were the nobles. This would include the Ensi and his spouse, the priests, local princes, and men of renown. As mentioned earlier, they most likely made up the Upper house of the city assembly. This class owned large areas of land, be it through private or family property. This included temple land as well. The second group were the commoners. They were not as well-off as the nobility and could only own land as members of a family, not as individuals. Nevertheless, if there ever arose any dispute regarding land or even trade, they could participate either with the higher member of nobility or as a stand-in should he be absent. In terms of free citizenry, this would be the lowest class.

The third group were the so-called “clients,” and they consisted of three other subgroups: well-to-do temple dependents, the temple personnel, and the dependents of nobles. The first and the second subgroup were known to possess small patches of temple land, though not permanently. Some members of these subgroups also got compensation in the form of food and wool rations. The last subgroup were most likely paid by their respective nobles in accordance to their work input. The fourth major group were the slaves. As is the case with most ancient cultures, the Sumerians were no strangers to slavery. However, it was not nearly as rigorous as its later iterations in more powerful societies, like Syria, Persia, and even early European lands. In fact, a Sumerian slave retained some legal rights. For instance, a Sumerian slave was well-treated, largely because a Sumerian master would require a slave in fit condition to work. This doesn’t mean that slaves didn’t get severely punished or treated differently to other chattel during trade, however. A healthy slave would cost less than a donkey on the Sumerian market. And in terms of treatment, if a slave were to try escaping, they would be flogged and branded brutally by their owner. A male slave in Sumer could engage in trade, and even borrow money to buy himself freedom. If, on the other hand, a slave were to marry a free citizen of any class, their children would qualify as free citizens as well. Becoming a slave, on the other hand, was unsurprisingly much easier.

The most common way was enslaving members of non-Sumerian tribes or even Sumerians from neighboring city states during a war. A free citizen that failed to pay his debts or broke any severe law would also become a slave. Furthermore, parents had the legal right to sell their children into slavery if they faced hard financial times. Astoundingly, a man might turn over his entire family to creditors if he needed to repay his debt, but their term of slavery would not last longer than three years. The majority of slaves were men, considering their physical advantages to women, children and the elderly, and they were usually used mainly to do hard physical labor, primarily field work or construction.

Men and Women of Sumer

During all of the Sumerian dynasties, men were normally treated better than women, although women enjoyed a plentitude of legal rights, like any commoner. They could hold property independently of men, for instance. In addition, they could engage in independent enterprise, doing business like any man would. And legally speaking, a woman could act as a viable witness just like a man would, unlike, for instance, the Islamic culture which would come to dominate this area many millennia later, where multiple women must serve as witness in a single man’s stead. And while a woman could not be an Ensi, she could still hold a high position within the temple. In this respect, the Sumerians were somewhat progressive. However, a man could still divorce his wife on light grounds with zero repercussions and even marry a second wife if his first bore him no children.

Children of Sumer

When it comes to children, most laws that applied to any adult commoner applied to them: they could be sold off, bought, and freed as slaves, and as mentioned in the slavery section, a child born to a free man and a slave woman (or vice versa) would instantly become a free citizen. In terms of family, the children were under the absolute authority of their parents. This means that a parent could disinherit a child at any point in life. However, any land that a parent owned (outside of temple land, of course) was hereditary, meaning that children would get it upon the parents’ death. But this was all just true legally speaking. In terms of their familial relationships, children were treated with utmost love and care by their parents. In fact, this is something that was in practice with both biological and adopted children. Adoption was a somewhat common practice in Ancient Sumer, and a non-biological child would have all the rights a direct blood descendant would have, as well as all of the limitations.

Conclusion

From what we know, the early Sumerians were pioneers in many socioeconomic fields. Their earliest social structures were democratic in nature, and only turned autocratic later on during the time of great conquests and natural disasters. The social classes in Sumer more or less reflect modern society, if we exclude slavery. But even slavery was lighter in nature to the cultures that came after Sumer, including their direct successors. We’ve also learned that the treatment of women and children was somewhat more progressive than in later cultures, with some important caveats, of course. An important bit to note is the ownership of private property, property, which will be touched upon in more detail in later chapters. This meant that the power structures were not originally as authoritarian as, for instance, during the time of Lugals, but rather that the most important institution in the city, the temple, operated within its own circle and that all land beyond it was owned by most of the other classes. In addition, we can see the earliest forms of a parliamentary system in the form of the city assembly, and from its division into the Upper and Lower houses, we can conclude that matters of state were not just in the hands of nobility. It is endlessly interesting that both the democratic voting system and the autocratic reign of a single monarch stem from the same basic source and that both of these systems, in various forms, continued on existing in countless other cultures hence, all over the world and across many millennia.
 

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Bam111

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This is strictly research and not to be taken literally (not up for debate) please be respectful, allow me to research my interests as I respect your right to your beliefs and Ideals if at any time this research interests you feel free to comment but please be respectful.



The next post below is the start of the Mythology of Mesopotamian Civilization (Warning disclaimer: After this point the book goes into detail about practices and beliefs of the Mesopotamian Civilization these are not my believes and Ideals in order to understand the history it is important to cover these topics but is strictly for research purposes read on at your own discretion. Thank you)
 
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Chapter 3 The Religion and Mythology of Ancient Sumerians: Cosmology, Major and Minor Gods, Rituals, Myths; Misconceptions and Pseudoscientific Explanations

Understanding this particular aspect of the Ancient Sumerians is of vital importance to world culture in general. And no, this is not a statement made lightly. Most of what we see in the ancient myths of Sumer either directly or partially corresponds to numerous world myths, the hierarchy and behavior of gods, the creation of man, the great flood, the giants, the creation myths, all of these were present in Sumerian mythology first. Now it’s important to note that many modern scholars claim that other Near Eastern cultures didn’t necessarily “borrow” these myths, or elements thereof, and reinterpret them as their own. Rather, the consensus is that all of them, Sumerians included, wrote their myths based on a common source. Considering the lack of substantial data on this subject, due in part to the state of the available data (missing tablets, damaged tablets, entire sections that cannot as yet be translated or interpreted, etc.), most of what we know about Sumerian beliefs comes as a result of patching together pieces of information. It doesn’t help that oftentimes a scribe from a Sumerian temple would be inconsistent with their work, as tablets were found describing the same event in the same temple, in the same period no less, vastly different. Nevertheless, enough has been found to at least provide a basic idea of what Ancient Sumerians believed and how they acted according to their religious duties.

The Cosmology of Sumerians

If you were to have asked an Ancient Sumerian what their world looked like, they would have described it as a closed dome surrounded by a primordial, saltwater sea. Beneath what was the terrestrial earth, or Ma, lay a freshwater ocean, and it was called Apsu, or Abzu. The operating belief was that all fresh water—rivers, lakes, streams, rivulets—all came from this subterranean ocean. Directly below Abzu was the Sumerian underworld known as Kur. This was where the deceased ended up, be they humans or gods. The dome presented a heavenly firmament, where most of the gods dwelled and whose chief deity was An. In the beginning, the heaven and the earth, or rather the heavenly firmament and the terrestrial ocean, were essentially one being, called Anki, and they came out of the primordial waters known as the goddess Nammu. Between heaven and earth there was a substance called Lil, which could roughly be translated as “atmosphere” or “air.” Nammu is important because she/it surrounded the entire known universe of Sumerians as an endless ocean. The universe itself would remain unmovable within Nammu.

The Sumerian Pantheon

A god, or dingir, was in the eyes of Sumerian people of faith an anthropomorphic being that boasted immense immortal powers and was responsible for overseeing a particular aspect of the known universe. A minor contradiction exists in terms of the actions of these gods in the many written works of Ancient Sumerians—despite being powerful and immortal, they still required food and water, and they could be harmed, killed, sent to the underworld, severely punished, and so on. In fact, not even the chief deities were immune to this. This humanizing of Sumerian gods is an element that would pass over into other Near Eastern and Mediterranean religions and most likely stems from priests’ attempts to explain away the universe through familiar means. Analogous to the organization of the city-state, the Sumerian pantheon was also hierarchical in nature. Initially, the pantheon recognized seven major deities who “decreed the fates of man,” with one serving as the king, and at least fifty minor deities known as “the great gods.” By the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur, the number of deities went as high as 3600. The major seven gods were An, Enlil, Enki, Ninhursag (or Ki), Nanna-Sin, Utu, and Innana. An was the progenitor of all gods. In fact, the term Annunaki, “children of An and Ki” or “princely seed,” the name for the gods who decreed the fates of man, derives from him. Having come from the primordial waters Nammu, he copulated with the earth goddess Ki, producing children. They formed a single entity known as Anki, which would later be separated by their son Enlil. An was the chief deity of early Sumerians; however, his role shifted into obscurity as he gave way to Enlil in importance. His role was that of the god who contains the entire universe, and who is the supreme authority of all other gods and men.


Enlil, originally the god of wind, storms, air, and earth, has been recognized as the chief deity of the Ancient Sumerians, claiming the role from An. It’s not known to historians why this was so, but this trend seems to have continued with, for example, the Greeks, where Zeus became the dominant god as opposed to more chthonic deities that came before him (and lest we forget, Zeus also commanded the storms). Aside from separating An and Ki upon his birth and making the earth habitable for humans, Enlil also regularly helps out the humans in many ways—he was, for example, the patron god of agriculture, inventing the tools, such as the pickax, for working the fields. During the great deluge, he rewarded the surviving human, Ziusudra, with immortality and a place for him and his wife to dwell among the gods. However, despite Enlil’s major role in the pantheon, he was not exempt from punishment if he were to commit an atrocious act, as we shall soon see. Enki was the son of An and the ruler of the Abzu. He was also worshiped as the god of mischief, wisdom, knowledge, crafts, and creation. His role as the god of water seems to have come at the expense of Nammu, the primordial waters’ goddess. There were numerous myths and stories recorded about or including Enki. His position as the god of wisdom placed him as the deity that would put Enlil’s commands into practical use. Normally, Enlil would issue a decree that would be laconic or vague in nature, and Enki would take care of the finer details.

Ninhursag, the mother goddess of the earth and the mountains, was probably one of the most important deities in Ancient Sumer, almost rivaling the other three and often even placed higher than Enki in official and unofficial documents of the time. She is oftentimes conflated with the earth goddess Ki and has accrued many names throughout Sumerian history: Ninmah, Nintu, Mamma, Mami, and Aruru. She served as both a fertility goddess and a tutelary deity of the seven major gods, and rulers of Sumer would often state that they were “nourished by her milk.” Ninhursag was the mother of all beings, the exalted lady, and the birth-giver. These four deities were somewhat higher up among the original seven. The remaining three are Nanna (or Sin, in Semitic), the son of Enlil and Ninlil, and his son and daughter, Utu and Inanna (Ishtar in Semitic). Nanna was the moon god, born from non-consensual coitus between Enlil and Ninlil. He was known as the protector of shepherds, though in later periods would himself be exalted as the head deity. Utu was the sun god in charge of enforcing justice and helping those in need. His twin sister, Inanna, was probably the most prominent deity in all of Ancient Sumerian writing.

She was the goddess of sex, fertility, love, beauty, desire, combat, war, justice, and political power. Most of the myths describe her as very cunning and, despite enforcing justice much like her brother Utu, she was known for doing numerous acts that were to the chagrin of other gods and decidedly not anywhere near “justice.” Her myth was so powerful that each Sumerian ruler, despite the city he dwelled in, would go through the rite of “marrying” Inanna, much like the original myth of her marrying another god-king, Dumuzi. There are various other gods that do not fall under the main seven whose importance varies depending on what they preside over. Dumuzi, the husband of Inanna, was the god of shepherds, and his sister Geshtinanna the goddess of agriculture and, interestingly, dream interpretation. Ereshkigal was the older sister of Innana and the ruler of Kur, or the underworld. We will touch more on her a bit later. Some other gods and goddesses include Nidaba (goddess of writing and education), Ninlil (consort of Enlil and goddess of wind), Nergal (possibly another ruler of Kur, alongside Ereshkigal), Ningal (goddess of reeds), and Ninurta (god of farming, hunting, law, and scribes). There are, of course, numerous other minor deities that presided over different aspects of the known world. The majority of them either remain unnamed or named but with no clear description of their dominion.
 

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Heaven and the Underworld

The Sumerians envisioned the heavens as domes made of different precious stones. The lowest dome was the home of the stars, and it was, according to legend, made of jasper. The dome directly above it was made of the so-called sagglimut stone. This was the home of what the Semites would call the Igigi, or lesser gods that fall under the Annunaki. Not much is written about them directly by the Sumerians, though, so any detail on them is pure speculation. The final dome was An personified, and this was where the gods dwelled. No human was allowed to enter the dominion of the gods (with some minor exceptions). Whenever a Sumerian would die, according to mythology, they would go directly to Kur. An interesting concept that is almost unique to the Sumerians is that their underworld isn’t necessarily the place of eternal darkness. As the sun sets and gives way to the moon on the surface, it would actually illuminate Kur, essentially bringing “daylight” to it. Within the realm of Ereshkigal, the dead would be judged by the sun god Utu and at times even his father, the moon god Nanna. Those judged righteous would go on to live in bliss for eternity. Those judged unfavorably would suffer for an eternity. Much like the city-states and the heavens, the underworld was also hierarchical in nature. Its upper echelon was made up of higher deities, like Ereshkigal and her husband Nergal. They would themselves have underlings in the form of certain Annunaki and fallen sky gods. In addition, servile demons known as galla or gallu would see to the lords of Kur’s every need, though their primary purpose was to drag unfortunate souls to the underworld. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the humans that wound up there after dying, irrespective of how they got judged upon entry.

Religious Rituals and Practices

Most of the religious rituals were performed in the temple, which was the most important institution in an Ancient Sumerian city-state. Each city had a chief deity that presided over the city and to whom the temple was dedicated. As such, the priests had an active duty to satisfy this god directly, through rituals and celebrations, whereas the laity did so through ritual sacrifice and backing the temple with money or goods. There would be daily tributes in form of fruit, vegetables, meat, water, beer, and wine, with the unavoidable incense burning. Based on the names of some months, we can ascertain certain holidays and celebrations in Sumer, such as “the Month of Barley Eating of Ningirsu,” “the Month of Gazelles’ Eating,” “the Month of the Feast of Shulgi,” etc. Naturally, there was a New Year’s festival, which probably landed sometime during late spring. Each of these festivals lasted approximately six days or so, laden with feasts, drinking, and exaltation of gods. An important ritual was the so-called “holy marriage.” The ruling Ensi would “marry” the goddess Inanna, who would be represented by a priestess-hierodule selected specifically for that occasion. This ritual was to mirror Inanna’s marriage to Dumuzi the shepherd god from the popular myth at the time that included the two deities. This festival most likely took place during the first day of the new year. An important detail to note is the burial of the nobility. There is good reason to believe that an upper class Ancient Sumerian was not just buried with material riches, like the rulers throughout the ancient world at the time, but was buried with family members. In other words, the ruler was not to go to Kur alone but rather in the company of his relatives. There are some details scattered all over the literary and physical findings that corroborate this, but as of today, it’s still not conclusive.

Sumerian Myths

Any Biblical scholar will note the similarities between certain Sumerian myths and events that occur in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. This, however, cannot be said for the creation myth, as even today we do not have a conclusive version of how Sumerians saw the birth of their universe. The best clue we have is in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the myth is more or less described in the cosmology section of this chapter. In short, the heavenly god An and earthly goddess Ki (later Ninhursag) came out of the primordial waters Nammu, mated, and gave birth to Enlil, the god of storms. Enlin then separated them, thus separating the heaven and earth. Enki followed, becoming the god of the watery abyss Abzu. Plants and animals, as well as the major geographic locations such as the two important rivers of Mesopotamia, Euphrates and Tigris, were then created. Other gods followed suit, fathered first by An, then by his sons and daughters. Ereshkigal was banished to Kur, becoming its ruler. And these are just the ‘Cliff Notes’—numerous other gods and items were created in numerous ways, some still unknown to us even today. The myth of the creation of man was more or less a basis for all other Middle Eastern cultures at the time. The gods mixed their essence with clay and created the early man. This early man was weak and feeble and would not be able to survive on his own. At some point, the gods decide to flood the world, which would wipe out all mortal men and bring about the time of new, better men.

Naturally, the flood myth has direct parallels to the one from the Bible, but surprisingly also to tens, if not hundreds, of similar myths world-wide. Ziusudra, the only survivor of the flood (along with his wife, of course) is almost word-for-word a doppelganger of Noah. Or rather, Noah is his doppelganger, chronologically speaking. Naturally, Ziusudra is given instructions to build an ark to survive the deluge; it starts raining for a week or so, and his boat lands in what is effectively the Sumerian Garden of Eden, an area known as Dilmun. Fun fact: Dilmun was also suspected to be the place where the entire creation of the universe originated, its epicenter, if you will. Another rather fascinating myth that has its parallels in the Hebrew Bible is the one with allusions to the creation of the woman. In fact, when we look at the myth related to this, an injured Enki gets his organs healed by separate goddesses. The one who heals his rib is called Nin-ti, literally “the lady of the rib,” but also “the lady who makes live.” The allusions to Eve being made from Adam’s rib are all but cast-iron proof of how influential Sumerian myths were to the descendants of Jews.

But these are just some of the myths. Most of the myths we have saved (in various stages of preservation) deal with gods and their machinations. Some of the most notable revolve around Inanna. There’s the famous one where she descends into the underworld and, in order to save herself from her sister Ereshkigal’s wrath, she frames her unfortunate husband Dumuzi. Another famous Inanna myth is the one where she manages to steal the divine laws, or the Me, from Enki and bring them to earth. When it comes to Enlil, a famous myth involves him raping his consort, Ninlil, and being banished to Kur for a while until he manages to escape, engendering a few other gods in the process. Very few myths contain mortal men in significant roles, and none deal with mortal women in any capacity. But these myths have set a precedent for the myths of nearly every culture that followed—as pure and honorable as these gods could be, they were still human in their behavior, and as such could fail and be punished. This way, the justice they espoused became an absolute truth to the Ancient Sumerians, and they followed it to the letter in order to achieve bliss in the afterlife.

Misconceptions and Modern Pseudoscience

Rather than a regular chapter conclusion, we have to address a dangerous trend in history today. The emergence of pseudohistory and pseudoarcheology in the last two decades or so has done irreparable damage to the scientific community and the Sumerians who, due to their air of intrigue and evidence largely preserved in fragments, are regularly the favorite “target” of pseudohistorians. The most often cited claim is that the term “Annunaki” doesn’t mean “princely blood” but rather “those who from the heaven came.” Following this, they claim that An was the god of mining and that his tribe had to mine gold for the atmosphere of his home planet, a certain “Nibiru.” Naturally, researchers and scholars of ancient cultures challenged these claims successfully, but this particular current of pseudohistory is gaining more prominence with the advent of mass media.
 

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This is strictly research and not to be taken literally (not up for debate) please be respectful, allow me to research my interests as I respect your right to your beliefs and Ideals if at any time this research interests you feel free to comment but please be respectful.

 

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Chapter 4 The Sumerian Kingdoms Chronology: The List of City-States, Dynasties, and Prominent Rulers

In Chapter 1 we covered the basic timeline of the Sumerian civilization, touching upon a few select details and individuals. Following that, we’ve discussed the Sumerian people in general, as well as their mythology and belief system. During both of these, we partly touched upon how their city-states function, how they interacted, how they either grew or fell. In this chapter, we will examine the city-states in a more detailed way. We will cover the major and minor states that marked Sumerian history. Following that, we will discuss all of the major reigning dynasties and their most prominent rulers, whatever title they may carry. Throughout the text you will get acquainted with how the Sumerian state rose to prominence, what its ups and downs were, what notable events marked its history, and how it ultimately fell and disappeared from the stage of world history.

Sumerian City-States

To anyone acquainted with the Ancient Greeks, the concept of a city-state is not that foreign. Earlier societies would comprise of a city (made up of an urban, usually fortified, center), adjacent semi-urban areas, and the immediate arable land surrounding it. There are modern parallels to this all over the world—in Europe alone, we have Vatican City, Lichtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and Malta. In Asia, there’s Singapore, and in Oceania there’s Nauru. So the concept of a city-state is not a new one to our civilization. But it all started with the Sumerians. Before we discuss the major cities in Ancient Sumer, we should discuss what made up a city-state back then. A common misconception is that the city-state encompassed only the temple and its grounds, with maybe a few adjacent neighborhoods. However, the territory of a Sumerian city-state could expand well beyond this area, to the point where it made up the percentual majority of the whole state. As stated, each city had a temple dedicated to its guardian deity and would either be governed by an Ensi or a Lugal. Other than temples, the cities contained houses, a palace for the king (which would come later), farms, public squares, avenues, promenades, large gates, and possibly even separate buildings for the schools (the Edubba); irrigation canals permeated the cities, which were separated from each other with demarcation stones. However, the city center was later walled off from its adjacent villages, where farmers could have easier access to arable land.

The temple, also known as the ziggurat, was the most impressive and most essential structure of a city in Ancient Sumer. We will discuss both the ziggurat and other buildings of Sumer in Chapter 6. The make-up of the city was not aesthetically pleasing, nor did it show any particular structural planning done upfront. Most of the streets were winding, narrow ones that would tangle about, not making a clear grid. The houses were clustered without much order, with both the small and the large ones often nestled together in an unseemly fashion. While most of the nobility and the upper classes, or rather most of the Sumerian citizens of one particular state (an estimated four out of five), lived within the city walls, it was by no means a pleasant experience, not unlike the modern cities of today, or even major cities of the ancient world like Rome or Athens. It is interesting to note, then, that the Sumerians effectively gave us our first major urban centers.

Again, speaking in estimates, a city-state of Sumer could have anywhere between 5000 and 200,000 citizens, so it’s not that far off to say that, for instance, Uruk was the largest city in the world at its peak, giving us our first “world record” in largest number of inhabitants living in one clearly marked populated area. Roughly thirty city-states are known to us today based on archeological and written evidence, all ranked differently in importance, prominence, and overall presence. The most notable ones to modern archeology—and probably the most active centers of civilization at the time—were Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Nippur, Larsa, Isin, Bad-tibira, Kish, Shuruppak, Umma, and Girsu. Other cities or villages that were either less relevant or of equal importance but lacking archeological data, include Godin Tepe, Adab or Udab, Akshak, Borsippa, Der, Dilbat, Eshnunna, Gudua, Harbidum, (possibly) Kesh, Kisurra, Kuara, Larak, Marad, Nagar, Sippar, Zabala, and a still unnamed settlement near modern Abu Salabikh. We will only briefly touch upon these.
 

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Eridu


Most historians still argue that Eridu is the world’s oldest city, though there are some disputes regarding this that involve the city of Nagar. As far as Eridu is concerned, according to Sumerian myth the city was founded before the great deluge, somewhere around 5400 BC. Its location is close to the mouth of the Euphrates River, near the Persian Gulf. According to some studies, three separate ecosystems of human activity formed the city: the irrigation-based agriculture system of Samarra culture, the fisher- hunter culture of the Marsh Arab ancestors, and the nomadic herders of Semitic descent. It rose to prominence in the early Ubaid period, with an estimated 4000 people inhabiting it. However, by the end of the 2nd millennium BC, it was all but abandoned, finally falling into ruin at around 6th century BC. Eridu’s first primary deity was probably female, later identified with the goddess of Earth Ninhursag. Following this, Eridu would be host to a different god, Enki, through the ritual of holy marriage of the gods. The major temple, and the city’s most noteworthy landmark, is Enki’s temple, known as E-Abzu, or the House of the Aquifer. It would be later known as E-Engur, or House of the Waters. Traces of fishbones and other marine life suggest that Enki’s cult was strong even in the city’s later history. Aside from this temple, the remains of an unfinished ziggurat dedicated to Amar-Sin of the Third Dynasty of Ur were uncovered, as well as potential traces of a massive temple.


Uruk

The city famous for Gilgamesh, its numerous ruling dynasties, and a canal system that earned it the nickname “Venice of the desert,” Uruk was definitely one of the most important centers of Ancient Sumer and was probably the biggest city in the world at its peak. Uruk was located East of the Euphrates River, and its history would suggest that it came into existence after a merging of two districts, the Eanna district and the Kullaba, or Anu, district. Of the two, the Kullaba district is older and roughly coincides with the date the Eridu was founded, making the district antediluvian and thus one of the oldest cities of Ancient Sumer. Not much has been saved in this district save for a ziggurat dedicated to An and a few more temples and buildings, notably the White temple, the predecessor to the ziggurats. The Eanna district is far better preserved, with an entire list of buildings, including houses, temples, halls, a public bath, a few courts, etc. It is in this district that we see the first forms of cuneiform emerge, making this the birthplace of writing. Upon the district merger, the city started to flourish. Its agricultural surplus and a rich irrigation system made it a proper metropolis, and it proceeded to expand and gain prominence in the Ancient Sumer as early as the Ubaid period.

However, throughout most of its later history, the city will be under direct control of Ur, another city-state. Sometime during this era, the massive wall, over five miles long, was erected around the city; this act was attributed to Gilgamesh. One of the Sumerian rulers, Ur-Nammu, planned on building a massive ziggurat in Uruk during the Sumerian revival period, as part of a major city overhaul. After the fall of Ur, Uruk remained largely irrelevant until it was claimed by Neo-Assyrians and Neo-Babylonians around the middle of the 8th century BC. During this time, it regained a lot of its former splendor, but its Sumerian populace was largely integrated into other societies by this point. Uruk is known for being a home to two major deities: An and Inanna. Both had major temples and powerful cults that had been in practice since before the flood. Inanna in particular seems to have been the city’s favorite, boasting several temples and sanctuaries, one of which is still not located. A number of artifacts were located in the city, including figurines, mosaics, vases, statues, assorted pottery, and more. The most famous of these is the Mask of Warka, a representation of a female face (probably Inanna’s) that earned the title of the “Sumerian Mona Lisa.”

Ur

Much of Sumerian history is linked to this grand city. Due to its position on the Persian Gulf, near modern-day Tell el-Muqayyar, it was a large and busy port with many travel-only canals. Thanks to the myriad of documents saved, as well as the royal tombs uncovered, we can assess that Ur was a wealthy city, inhabited by priests, doctors, scribes, teachers, artisans, farmers, and slaves. It boasted a number of prominent rulers such as Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, members of the famous Third Dynasty of Ur, the last (largely) Sumerian dynasty to dominate the area. The period itself was known as the Sumerian revival, or Sumerian Renaissance, as evidenced by the numerous restoration and construction projects and expansion of art and literature, as well as the codification of law in the form of The Code of Ur-Nammu. It was during this time that the famous Ziggurat of Ur was built, the most distinguishing feature of the city.

The city itself was agricultural in nature at first, with major hunting and fishing cultures present. In terms of patron deity, Ur worshipped the moon god Nanna. In fact, the name of the city comes from the name of this deity. His temple is located within the Ziggurat of Ur and bears the name E-Kishnugal. The city itself had a population of approximately 65,000 people, and it fell under non-Sumerian rule in the mid-1900s BC with the Amorite conquest. However, it retained its prominence until it was abandoned at about 500 BC.
 

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Lagash

Lagash was a big center of art and trade within Sumer. As an independent state, it saw successes under two primary dynasties, the first bearing rulers such as Eannatum, the ruler of the first empire of the ancient world, and Urukagina, known for his many social reforms. The second dynasty, which came into prominence after the Sargonic period of Akkadian rule, gave prominence to kings such as Ur-Baba and Gudea, during whose time trade with many far-away lands took place and art flourished. Even after its fall to the Third Dynasty of Ur, Lagash remained a crucial strategic and cultural site. However, it wasn’t necessarily the center of political power at all times during its history; another city, Girsu, served as the capital of the Lagash kingdom for a while, and most religious services took place there rather than in Lagash proper. Both cities remained largely inhabited until about 200 BC, well after the last Sumerians were integrated into neighboring cultures. The patron deity of Lagash was Ningirsu, a different name for Ninurta, the god of barley. Ningirsu literally translates to “lord of Girsu,” showing how important the city was to Lagash. The main temple of Lagash, dedicated to Ningirsu, was called E-Ninnu.

Nippur

Out of all the major city-states of Sumer, Nippur was the only one that never enjoyed political dominance, or even political prominence. It was viewed as a sacred city to the entirety of the Ancient Sumerian civilization, and controlling it was crucial. The city’s patron deity was the leader of the Sumerian pantheon, Enlil. Its temple was known as Ekur, a name that literally translates to “mountain house” and represents the most sacred building in all of Sumer as the assembly site of the gods. This temple was restored by Akkadian conquerors in the Sargonic era, thus making it a far-reaching multicultural religious site. Further restorations were done during the Third Dynasty of Ur, which included rebuilding temples, walls, and shrines. The oldest known map in the world is that of a section of Nippur, walled off from the rest of the city proper. Nippur was an important site of religious rites and rituals. Sumerian rulers from both sides of the Sargonic era continued engaging in intermittent ceremonies at the famous Enlil shrine, all the way to the last Sumerian-born ruler Ibbi-Sin.

Larsa

Larsa, despite being an already existing site as early as the time of Eannatum’s reign, never really rose to prominence under Sumerian rulers and was largely a dependent city-state until the Amorite Dynasty of Larsa was formed sometime during the last years of the Third Dynasty of Ur. Its most famous ruler was the very last, Rim-Sin I, and under his reign some ten to fifteen cities were under Larsa’s direct control. While this isn’t a large stretch of territory, Rim-Sin I’s Larsa underwent a large number of agricultural and architectural changes. Rim-Sin I fell in battle against Hammurabi in 1699 BC, from which point Babylonians took full control of the city. As stated, Larsa at its peak was an Amorite-led city, but its Sumerian roots are well recognized. Its patron deity was the sun god Utu, and his cult was practiced there. His temple was named E-Babbar, and it shared this name with the temple dedicated to the same god in Sippar. Interestingly, both cities are antediluvian, i.e., founded before the mythical flood.

Kish

Kish is widely known to be the first city to have post-flood kings. Thus, we have the earliest Sumerian ruling dynasty with rulers confirmed to have existed beyond myth and legend, the First Dynasty of Kish. The first twelve kings that are listed in the famous Sumerian Kings’ List are not known to archeology, and even after and including the thirteenth ruler, Etana (regarded as the actual founder and first king of Kish), the following eight rulers cannot be verified by anything other than written myths. Enmebaragesi, the twenty-second king on the list, is the first ruler known from archeological sources and is also one of the most well-known of kings of Kish next to his son, Aga. Two more influential rulers are worth mentioning. The first is the progenitor of the Third Dynasty of Kish, as well as the only woman in the king’s list, Kug-Bau, later worshipped as a goddess. The second is Ur-Zababa of the Fourth Dynasty of Kish, whose cupbearer will later become Sargon the Great, conqueror of Sumer and ruler of Akkad. Kish was extremely important in terms of political significance. Ancient Sumerian kings would often take up the title “king of Kish” to add to their legitimacy as monarchs of all lands, a tradition which even Sargon of Akkad continued after conquering the city. During the state’s peak, Kish’s ruler would serve as the mediator in the conflict between Lagash and Umma, merely adding to the importance of the city. The patron deity of Kish was Ninhursag, the Earth goddess. In Akkadian times, one of the two titular deities to take over patronage in Kish was none other than Inanna.

Umma

Not much is known of early Umma, however the city was definitely significant to Ancient Sumerians, to the point that it was mentioned in myths. None of its rulers gained any prominence in terms of conquest, and the most famous historical records tell of a famous frontier dispute with Lagash, which Mesilim of Kish mediated. Umma was always under vassalage of more powerful city-states, like Ur. During the Third Dynasty of Ur, Umma saw a cultural expansion and became a major provincial center. The earliest known calendar issued by king Shulgi was crafted in this city, and served as the basis of calendars to other Mesopotamian and Middle Eastern lands. The patron deity of Umma was a minor war god Shara, and his temple was named Emah, lending more credence to how lower the city-state is placed compared to others. However, judging by the tens of thousands of recorded cuneiform documents of administrative nature, we can safely assume that life in Umma was anything but mundane, and that the city-state played a more principal role than originally assumed.

Shuruppak

Another in the list of antediluvian city-states, Shuruppak was predominantly known for its massive storages of grain, with more silos than any other Sumerian city at the time. Not many rulers of this city are known to history (a few are mentioned in myths and poetry, but no substantial archeological evidence of their reign was found), and it quickly fell out of prominence sometime in the late 2000s BC, later briefly mentioned as an area dominated by the Isin Dynasty. The city was, in fact, destroyed by a fire which helped preserve most of its clay tablets and mud brick buildings. Aside from grain storage and distribution, Shuruppak is known for some metallurgy, with arsenical copper objects found dating as far as 4000 BC. With its linkage to grain storage, it’s no wonder Shuruppak’s principle deity was Ninlil, the goddess of air and grain. Her temple was called E-Dimgalanna.
 

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