Ancient Mesopotamians settled in the Fertile Crescent, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Constant flooding kept the soil rich, and enabled farmers to grow
large quantities of wheat and barley. However, the flooding was unpredictable, and villages were sometimes flooded. The Mesopotamians' solution was to build city walls made of mud and to dig ditches.

These villages developed into larger cities with irrigation systems and large farms. A good example of one of these civilizations is Sumer. Like in the rest of Mesopotamia, the food surplus allowed some people to become specialized workers, such as officials, traders, artisans, and priests. The establishment of a government became necessary to maintain order among the growing population, and religion gave them a reason to act morally. In around 3000 BCE, Sumerian scribes invented cuneiform, a system of writing that had different symbols for different syllables, in order to keep records of trade and past events. Meanwhile, the artisans invented the potter's wheel to create ceramics and metalworkers discovered that melting copper and tin together made bronze, a strong material that allowed for future inventions. And thus the Bronze Age began.

Sumer


The Sumerians were a group of people who lived in many city-states, cities ruled by different rulers. Prominent city-states included Uruk (home of Gilgamesh, legendary king of Uruk and the hero of The Epic of Gilgamesh), Kish, Lagash, Umma, and Ur. The Sumerians were very religious and farmers believed that their crops depended on the blessings of the gods, so priests were very powerful. Priests led the city and demanded taxes from farmers. However, in war, a fighter commanded the city rather than the priests, and eventually, the commanders gained permanent control of the army, and some became the cities' leaders.

The Sumerian city-states warred constantly from 3000 to 2000 BCE. They also suffered attacks from outsiders, until Sargon, an Akkadian, conquered Sumer and united northern and southern Mesopotamia. However, the Amorites, nomadic warriors, eventually conquered the Akkadians and established the city Babylon.

Sumerian Culture

The Sumerians were polytheistic, with Enlil the god of storms a major god. The gods, though immortal, were human-like and prone to temper tantrums. To keep the gods happy, Sumerians built ziggurats (large pyramid-shaped temples) and made sacrifices of food and animals. However, the Sumerian afterlife was dismal and bleak.

The Sumerians invented bronze, the wheel, the sail, and the plow, and made achievements in math, architecture, and writing. The Sumerians used a base-60 number system, from which we get 60 seconds in a minute and 360 degrees in a circle. Arithmetic and geometry was used to build structures, dig irrigation systems, and survey fields. Math also played a part in architecture- the Sumerians built arches, columns, ramps, and pyramids. To record achievements, scribes created cuneiform. One of the first maps was made on a clay tablet in about 2300 BCE, and other tablets contain reports of astronomy, chemistry, and medicine.

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A Sumerian ziggurat

Babylon and Hammurabi


Babylon, during its peak in the 1700s BCE, was ruled by Hammurabi, a strong and powerful ruler. Hammurabi famously implemented a code of laws called Hammurabi's code.
The laws were similar to "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," but many were biased against women and the lower-class. " For example, rule number 196 states that "if a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out." However, "if he put out the eye of a freed man... he shall pay one gold mina."

After Hammurabi's reign, the Babylonian empire declined until it fell to the Kassites two centuries later. However, its legacy lived on in the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Israelites who lived later in the Fertile Crescent.

Documents


The Epic of Gilgamesh

Hammurabi's Code

Video and Audio






Maps


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Ancient Mesopotamia