The Sumerians were the world of southern Mesopotamia whose human being flourished in between c. 4100-1750 BCE. Their name comes from the an ar which is commonly – and also incorrectly – referred to as a “country”. Sumer was never a cohesive politics entity, however, however a an ar of city-states each v its very own king.

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Sumer was the southern equivalent to the northern region of Akkad whose people gave Sumer that is name, definition “land the the polite kings”. The Sumerians themselves referred to their an ar simply as “the land” or “the land of the black-headed people”.

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The Sumerians were responsible for plenty of of the most essential innovations, inventions, and also concepts taken for granted in the current day. They basically “invented” time by splitting day and also night into 12-hour periods, hours into 60 minutes, and also minutes into 60 seconds. Their other innovations and also inventions include the an initial schools, the earliest version of the tale of the an excellent Flood and other biblical narratives, the earliest heroic epic, government bureaucracy, monumental architecture, and also irrigation techniques.

After the rise of the Amorites in Mesopotamia, and also the invasion of the Elamites, Sumer ceased to exist and also was only recognized through recommendations in the works of old writers, including the scribes that wrote the biblical publication of Genesis. Sumer remained unknown till the mid-19th century CE when excavations in Mesopotamia unearthed their civilization and also brought their countless contributions come light.

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Sumerian Votive Plaque
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)

Development & 39 Firsts

Throughout the 19th century CE, European excavators descended top top the Near east in find of ancient cities, tombs, and also artifacts. No one of these went to Mesopotamia to look for Sumerian cities since no one knew the world had ever before existed – they to be looking to excavate sites discussed in the scriptures such as Babylon and also Nineveh and a secret place referred to as Shinar – however they uncovered much more than they to be expecting.

No one knows where the Sumerians came from but, by c. 2900 BCE, they were firmly developed in southern Mesopotamia. The background of this an ar is divided by contemporary scholars right into six eras:

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The Ubaid duration – c. 5000-4100 BCEThe Akkadian duration – 2334-2218 BCEThe Gutian period – c. 2218-2047 BCE

The beginnings of the civilization of the Ubaid period are likewise unknown – as is their society - yet they left behind some intriguing artifacts and probably started the an initial communities which grew into the later cities and developed into city-states during the Uruk Period. The early Dynastic period saw the increase of the kings, facility of government and also bureaucracy, and also conflict in between Sumerian city-states because that land and water rights. The Sumerian urban were periodically united under a solitary king, together in the instance of Enembaragesi of Kish that led Sumer versus Elam in the first recorded battle in background c. 2700 BCE. The Sumerians to be victorious and also sacked the urban of Elam.

Sumer to be finally dominated by Sargon that Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE) who made that the core of his multinational empire.

The later on king Eannatum would reconquer parts of Elam c. 2500 BCE and Lugalzagesi would execute the exact same c. 2330 BCE yet these kings could never completely control the Sumerian city-states. Sumer to be finally dominated by Sargon of Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE) that made the the main point of his multinational empire. The maintained manage of the region by placing reliable officials in powerful positions in each city – including his daughter, Enheduanna (l. 2285-2250 BCE), the High Priestess that the goddess Inanna at Ur (famous in her own right together the world"s very first author known by name). The Akkadian empire held the an ar until the intrusion of the Gutians that ruled until they were driven out by Ur-Nammu (r. 2047-2030 BCE) and his boy Shulgi that Ur (r. 2029-1982 BCE) who were responsible because that the so-called Sumerian Renaissance which experienced a rebirth of Sumerian society following the Akkadian and also Gutian conquests.

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Map that Mesopotamia, 2000-1600 BCE

Sumerian cities, before and after the conquests, grew rich from trade. The loved one stability the the urban encouraged social growth, innovation, and also invention. Scholar Samuel boy name Kramer, in his iconic job-related History starts at Sumer, explores 39 “firsts” in the civilization which originated v the Sumerians:

The first SchoolsThe very first Case of "Apple Polishing"The first Case of juvenile DelinquencyThe first "War of Nerves"The very first Bicameral CongressThe an initial HistorianThe an initial Case of taxes ReductionThe first Legal PrecedentThe an initial PharmacopoeiaThe first "Farmer"s Almanac"The an initial Experiment in Shade-Tree GardeningMan"s an initial Cosmogony and CosmologyThe very first Moral IdealsThe very first "Job"The very first Proverbs and SayingsThe an initial Animal FablesThe first Literary DebatesThe very first Biblical ParallelsThe an initial "Noah"The first Tale of ResurrectionThe an initial "St. George"The very first Case of literary BorrowingMan"s first Heroic AgeThe very first Love SongThe an initial Library CatalogueMan"s very first Golden AgeThe very first "Sick" SocietyThe an initial Liturgic LamentsThe very first MessiahsThe very first Long-Distance ChampionThe an initial Literary ImageryThe an initial Sex SymbolismThe very first Mater DolorosaThe an initial LullabyThe an initial Literary PortraitThe an initial ElegiesLabor"s first VictoryThe very first Aquarium

The Sumerians also invented the ide of the city and also one the the claimants come the title of “oldest city in the world” is the Sumerian Uruk. The more quickly cities established in Sumer were:


The heart of the city to be the temple complex, significant by the great ziggurats which would certainly inspire the later tale the the Tower of Babel. Each city had actually its own protective deity who resided in the temple, protecting and also guiding the citizens but, for the Sumerians, the city that Eridu – and also its god Enki – hosted a one-of-a-kind place.

The first City

Although contemporary archaeology has developed that Uruk is the earliest city in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians themselves thought the an initial city in the world was Eridu, presided over by your god that wisdom and water, Enki, who increased it indigenous the watery marshes and established the concept of kingship and also order in the land. The facility of Eridu through Enki was seen as a type of golden age comparable come the biblical Garden that Eden as the home of the gods and birthplace the the rules governing people (known together the meh). Scholar Gwendolyn Leick notes:

The Mesopotamian Eden is not a garden however a city, formed from a piece of dried land surrounded by the waters. The very first building is a temple…This is just how Mesopotamian legacy presented the development and function of cities, and also Eridu provides the mythical paradigm. Contradictory to the biblical Eden, from which male was banished forever after the Fall, Eridu remained a actual place, imbued v sacredness but always accessible. (2)

The "fall" the Eridu had actually nothing to do with humanity"s sins however with the cleverness of among the most popular Mesopotamian goddesses, Inanna. In the poem Inanna and the God that Wisdom, the goddess travels from her city of Uruk to Eridu, home of her father Enki, and invites him to sit and also have a couple of drinks v her and, as he drinks and becomes an ext and an ext jovial, he gladly hands end the meh to his daughter. When she has actually gathered them all, she operation to her ship and also brings them to Uruk, for this reason making her city preeminent and diminishing Eridu. Modern scholars believe this myth developed in solution to the shift from one agrarian society (symbolized by Eridu) come the urban development epitomized by Uruk, amongst the most powerful cities in the region.



Religion was completely integrated into people"s lives and informed the government and also the social structure. The Sumerians thought that the gods had formed order the end of chaos and also the individual"s function in life was to labor together a co-worker through the god to make certain chaos would not come again. The god themselves, however, would certainly reverse their very own work later – returning the world to chaos - as soon as humanity"s noise and trouble came to be too good to bear.

The Sumerian work recognized as the Eridu Genesis (composed c. 2300 BCE) is the earliest variation of the good Flood tale.

The Sumerian work recognized as the Eridu Genesis (composed c. 2300 BCE and also found in the damages of Eridu) is the earliest version of the good Flood tale later retold in the Atrahasis, The epos of Gilgamesh, and also the book of Genesis. That relates exactly how the gods damaged humanity with a flood other than for one man, Ziusudra, who is saved once Enki tells him to build an ark and rescue two of every type of animal. Afterwards, the gods relent and determine to control the person population, and limit your annoying tendencies, by introducing death and condition into the world; thereby reestablishing stimulate and setup a border to human being life and ambition.

The god expected humans to usage their stays to help maintain order and this included finding a method to job-related together. The Sumerians took good pride in your individuality, as shown by the key of the patron divine beings of every city and also intermittent rivalry and also conflicts, yet were compelled by the gods to set this beside in the understand of the typical good. Kramer writes:

While the Sumerians collection a high value on the individual and his achievement, there to be one overriding element which fostered a solid spirit the cooperation among individuals and also communities alike: the finish dependence that Sumer on watering for its health – indeed, because that its an extremely existence. Watering is a complicated process request communal effort and also organization. Canals had actually to it is in dug and also kept in continuous repair. The water had actually to be separated equitably amongst all concerned. Come ensure this, a power more powerful than the separation, personal, instance landowner or also the single community was mandatory: hence, the growth of government institutions and also the climb of the Sumerian state. (Sumerians, 5)

The Sumerian King List, a document composed c. 2100 BCE in Lagash, lists all of the monarchs going ago to the start of the human being when the gods very first established kingship in Eridu. The an initial king who is archaeologically attested was Etana, explained as “he that stabilized all the lands” (Sumerians, 43) and the perform then go chronologically – regularly with impossibly long dates for the monarchs – under to the reign of the kings in c. 2100 BCE.


The Sumerian city-state was governed by a king, the Lugal (literally “big man”) who oversaw the cultivation of the land, among many other responsibilities, and also was bound come the god to certain their will was excellent on earth. The Lugal was initially head that a “household” – a closely-knit community, i beg your pardon pooled their resources – and also the household principle would continue as the underlying power structure of the cities. Through the climb of the cities and the breakthrough of agricultural innovations, the Sumerians readjusted the means human beings had actually lived, and also would live, forever. The scholar Paul Kriwaczek comments:

This was a revolutionary minute in human being history. The to be consciously aiming in ~ nothing less than an altering the world. They were the very an initial to adopt the principle that has actually driven progression and development throughout history, and still motivates most of united state in the contemporary times: the conviction that it is humanity"s right, that is mission and also its destiny, come transform and also improve on nature and also become her master. (20)

Contributions & Collapse

The cities of the Sumerians expanded, and when lock needed an ext room and greater resources, they took them from others. Throughout the Uruk Period, the society developed rapidly, with probably the best invention finishing in the advent of writing c. 3600-3500 BCE. Early writing developed in an answer to the require for long-distance communication in trade and relayed simple information such together “two lamb – five goats – Kish” which was clear enough to the sender at the time however lacked the capability to notify a recipient whether the two sheep and five goats were coming or going native the city of Kish, whether they were lively or dead, and also what their function was. This device would develop by the moment of the beforehand Dynastic duration into the writing device which would develop such functions as The epos of Gilgamesh, Enheduanna"s Hymns to Inanna, and many other an excellent works the literature.


Sumerian ended up being the language the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and established the creating system well-known as picture writing which would later on be provided to record various other languages. Gwendolyn Leick comments:

The more homogeneous cultural horizon that the alluvial levels find expression in the breakthrough of creating in a details idiom. Why Sumerian happened the language stood for by creating is still uncertain. Mesopotamia was never linguistically or country homogeneous and also the personal names in the early on texts clearly show the languages various other than Sumerian were talked at the time. (65)

Sumerian was well developed as the composed language by the late fourth century BCE and Sumerian culture, religion, architecture, and other far-reaching aspects of world were as well. The literary works of the Sumerians would affect later writers, especially the scribes who wrote the Bible, as their tales of The legend of Adapa, The Eridu Genesis, and also The Atrahasis would inform the later biblical account of the Garden of Eden, autumn of Man, and the good Flood. Enheduanna"s functions would become the models for later liturgy, Mesopotamian pet fables would certainly be popularized through Aesop, and The epos of Gilgamesh would inspire functions such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

The principle of the gods living in the city"s temple, as well as the shape and size of the Sumerian ziggurat, is believed to have influenced the Egyptian advance of the pyramid and also their beliefs around their very own gods. The Sumerian principle of time, and also their writing system, was also adopted by other civilizations. The Sumerian cylinder seal – one individual"s sign of personal identification – continued to be in use in Mesopotamia till c. 612 BCE and the autumn of the Assyrian Empire. There to be literally no area of civilization the Sumerians did not make part contribution come but, for all their strengths, their society began to decline long prior to it fell.


The Sumerian human being collapsed c. 1750 BCE v the intrusion of the region by the Elamites. Shulgi the Ur had put up a great wall in 2083 BCE to protect his human being from simply such an intrusion but, as it was no anchored at one of two people end, it can easily be walked about – i beg your pardon is specifically what the invaders did. Even so, the society had been struggling to maintain its autonomy ever due to the fact that the Amorites had acquired power in Babylon. A shift in social influence, confirmed in many respects but, notably, in the male-female proportion of the Mesopotamian pantheon, came through the rise to power of the Semitic Amorites in Babylon and, especially, throughout the regime of Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE) who totally reversed the Sumerian theological model in elevating a supreme male god, Marduk, over all others. Temples specialized to goddesses were replaced by those for gods and, even though the goddesses" temples were no destroyed, they to be marginalized.

At this very same time, women"s civil liberties – which were traditionally on par v men"s – decreased as walk the good Sumerian cities. Overuse of the land and urban expansion, coupled with ongoing conflicts, space cited together the main reasons because that the autumn of the cities. The correlation in between the decline in the status of mrs deities and women"s rights has actually never been adequately explained – it is unknown i m sorry came an initial – however it is a telling information in the decline of a society which had constantly held females in high regard. By the time the Elamites attacked c. 1750 BCE, the Sumerian culture was already deteriorating and the Elamites merely finished the process.


The Sumerians are recognized today for many contributions to world culture, yet this is a reasonably recent development. Their history lay buried under sands for centuries and so any type of references to them in old works to be misunderstood by scholars due to the fact that there to be no known referent for the allusions. The soil of Shinar, in the biblical publication of Genesis, for example, was interpreted to allude to some an ar of Mesopotamia but the definition of that reference can not be construed as lengthy as scholars had no idea any kind of place like the land of Sumer – the biblical Shinar - had ever before existed.

This situation changed dramatically in the mid-19th century CE as soon as Western institutions and also societies started sending explorations to the near East and the Middle eastern in search of physical evidence to corroborate biblical narratives. If a soil such together Shinar had ever before existed, it was reasoned, its ruins – along with those of any kind of other structures and also cities stated in the scriptures – can be uncovered.

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At this time, the holy bible (specifically the narratives the the Old Testament) was thought about the oldest publication in the people and totally original. The story the the Garden the Eden, the loss of Man, the an excellent Flood were believed to be initial works written directly, or motivated by, the one true God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The archaeologists and also scholars who were sent out on these explorations were an alleged to discover hard evidence to assistance this claim but, instead, uncovered exactly the opposite: they uncovered Sumer.