Ancient and Forgotten Sumerian Civilization

umer (Sumeru in Akkadian) was a civilization that flourished in the 3rd millennium BC. The main reason that facilitated the development of Sumer was the very fertile soil between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, this civilization which today occupies the south of Iraq. At that time, the two rivers formed at the level of the Persian Gulf branched flow deltas with a significant flow. With an abundance of the main human resource, food, the Sumerians were able to develop a civilization that was prosperous from all points of view. Even so, maintaining civilization required sustained effort on the part of the inhabitants, as there were many obstacles, which made daily life difficult for the Sumerians.

Religion was the main factor of influence in Sumerian society, and this thought imposed standards in all aspects of life, “the Sumerians believed that they were surrounded by innumerable gods, spirits, demons, good or evil spirits who mingled with their daily life and depended on their fate.” (Constantin Daniel in Sumerian civilization, Sport-Tourism publishing house, 1988). Moreover, the relationship with the gods was totally submissive, and their perception was that humans were created to serve the gods, thus diminishing, according to the Sumerian view, man’s role in the universe.

Although the Sumerians had urban settlements, they had an agricultural base, since, having to maintain the canals, a large labor force was needed. Another reason the Sumerians preferred this system was because of the frequent flooding they received. However, the most important reason lies in the nomadic invasions from the desert or the mountains that were to plunder and destroy these settlements, so the Sumerians were forced to erect fortifications, sheltered where their homes were. Thus, a city consisted mainly of the houses of the inhabitants, the temple, a market and the granary.

Representation of the city of Urak built around 2000 BC. AD (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

They were surrounded by a thick wall with rooms for the soldiers. For example, the fortifications of the city of Uruk, built around 2000 BC, consist of a double wall, the main wall is 4-5 meters thick, with a total length of 9.5 km, protected by about 800 towers, with gates only to the north and south. It is easy to imagine that the erection and maintenance of the fortifications involved the hard work of the inhabitants, and with the imposition of these limits the city could not expand if the population increased, therefore the inhabitants, to as the city grew, became more and more crowded.

The house in ancient Mesopotamia was built of bare bricks, reeds, mats and a few wooden planks, which since the fourth millennium had acquired a typical form, which had remained for several millennia and had not changed at all in historical times, is much like the Arab dwellings in the villages of Iraq today. It should be added that these constructions had narrow chambers and entrances, the Sumerians having the motto that if the doors of a house are tight, well-being will be master there, and this will make a rich profit.

The city of Lagash around 3000 BC. AD (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Wood being difficult to obtain and very expensive, tenants came with their gates when they rented a house. Also, because wood was scarce, the furniture was poor, being mostly reed. In the kitchen there were brass pots, clay pots, jugs, cups, etc., and on the floor carpets of sheep’s wool, for this material was abundant in Sumer, and these confections showed the knowledge -make Sumerian weavers. There was also the statue of the god protector of the house next to a clay sacrifice, and next to that the exterior walls of the houses were painted with asphalt, but also with red stripes, it is the color that warded off demons.

For the Sumerians, the family was very important, being considered, as today, as the foundation of society. Just as the king ruled the city-state, the father/husband was king over his house. Marriage was monogamous and the woman, unlike other societies of the time, had more freedom, because among the Sumerians the role of the mother was crucial. Infant mortality being very high due to the lack of hygiene, the woman had to give birth to as many children as possible. As for the parties, everyone took part in them, and on these occasions, all social difference was erased, and there were also processions that ended in orgies.

Ancient hieroglyphs of Sumer (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sumerian cities had to import many raw materials, because a marshy plain did not allow them a wide variety of products, but they had a surplus of food, especially cereals. Thus, trade became important, which is a reason for the development of cuneiform writing, and here we can see the first forms of bureaucracy to have control over the roads, there needed to be clear records, contracts and laws concerning the transport of goods. Consequently, the school became essential also for the children who were to become merchants.

Sumerians around a temple (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The staple food was bread made from barley flour eaten with dairy products and green vegetables. There was only one hot meal a day, consisting mainly of flour, fish, and assorted vegetables. The meal was taken twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. The reason for not eating at lunch is that people were busy at that time of the day with daily chores. Meat, with the exception of fish, was eaten only on special occasions (holidays), as goat, mutton, camel or beef were rarely found, but pork was eaten more often. In addition, the Sumerians kept birds, mainly chickens.

Of course, the hardships of living in Sumer were great, but they could come to a head in times of war, drought, or tyrannical regimes. Through the Sumerians and through these periods, history shows us a dark part of man where the only law that remains is that of survival and where, in a starving and besieged city, the mother cooked a child to feed the rest of the family. family. Then, once the population of the city was low enough, the enemy army entered the city and massacred all the inhabitants. One thing to note is that Sumerian cities often fought against each other, as was the case with King Eannatum, who extended his rule in Lagash over all Sumerian cities.