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Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Ground Up: Sumerian Cities

The Sumerian cities were surrounded by walls, much like the Forbidden City, as a way to keep their culture secret and sacred. Sumerian city dwellings were constructed out of sun-dried bricks, including peasant quarters and the larger dwellings of priestly and civic officials.

One of the Sumerian cities, Uruk, occupied an area of 1000 acres enclosed by a wall 6 miles long with defense towers every 35 feet or so। Uruk was founded by Enmerkar who constructed the Eanna temple for the goddess Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh builds the city wall around Uruk and is king of the city.

Marduk, Babylonian God of ancient Mesopotamia

Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia, although short on stone supplies, constructed their walls and dwellings out of mud. Mudbricks were left to bake in the hot sun until they were hard enough to use for building. Mesopotamian people were incredibly innovative, inventing an arch and some of the largest brick buildings in the world. Mud bricks are still used to build in the Middle East today.

Great Ziggurat of Ur

The reconstructed facade of the 4100 year old Great Ziggurat of Ur, near Nasiriyah, Iraq

The most prominent building found in Sumerian cities is the temple, dedicated to the chief god or goddess of the city and built on top of a massive stepped tower, or ziggurat. The Sumerians believed the gods owned the temples therefore wealth and riches were used to construct luxurious homes for the priestly officials who served the gods.

The priests of Sumerian cities had great power, and as history shows, the priests and priestesses played a vital role in ruling those Sumerian cities in the early stages. Thus, if the gods played a role in government, this made the state a theocracy-a form of government in which god or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities. The ruling power was primarily, however, in the hands of the kings of Sumerian cities.

Kingship in Sumerian Cities

Kings in the Sumerian cities were believed to derive their power from the gods, or so the Sumerians believed this to be true. Kings had the power, as they led the armies, supervised public works, and organized workers for irrigation projects. Sumerian kings typically lived in large palaces with their children and wives, and were aided by the army, priests, and bureaucracy.

Society in Sumerian Cities

There were four distinctive social groups in the Sumerian cities: elites, dependent commoners, free commoners, and slaves. The elites, of course, included the royals and the priestly officials. Dependent commoners included those that worked on the palace grounds or the temples. Free commoners were farmers, merchants, artisans, scribes, and craftsmen. Since close to 90% of the population was farmers, they exchanged their goods with the artisans and craftsmen at town markets. Sumerian male slaves were used for building purposes, usually in the construction of temples for officials. Sumerian women were used to grind grain and weave cloth and landowners used them for domestic jobs and farming.

Economy in Sumerian Cities

The economy in Sumerian cities was largely based on agricultural means, however industry was starting to become more important as well. Textiles such as pottery, metalwork, and woolen products were produced for trade purposes. Luxury items were imported by the royal officials such as dried fish, barley, wheat, and wool. Foreign trade was highly expensive and primarily a monopoly. Trade was typically by land in the west and by sea in the east. In 3000 BC, however, the invention of the wheel made transport of goods much easier.

Also check out:

Uruk Period Kings

Ziggurat in Sumerian City Dating from around 4500-400Bc, Ur, Iraq, Middle East Photographic Poster Print by Richard Ashworth, 24x24The landscape during the Uruk Period was dominated by agricultural growth, as cities competed for resources and warfare and hostilities sparked from disputes over water rights and property. Mudbrick walls were constructed around the developing and urbanizing cities in order to cut tensions. Ziggurats were created by the kings to protect the people and house the gods. The question remains, however, were there actual kings during the Uruk Period?

Read more: Uruk Period Kings

The Ancient Law Code of Hammurabi

“When Marduk sent me to rule over men, to give the protection of right to the land, I did right and righteousness in . . . , and brought about the well-being of the oppressed.” Hammurabi was the first king of the Babylonian Empire, extending Babylon’s control over Mesopotamia by winning a series of wars against neighboring kingdoms. Hammurabi is most remembered for his law code, including 282 laws regulating people’s relationships in Mesopotamia. Read more about The Ancient Law Code of Hammurabi

Serapeum: The Tomb of the Apis Bulls

During the middle of the 19th century, a young Frenchman by the name of Auguste Mariette was exploring Egypt in search for Coptic manuscripts for the Louvre Museum. He became enamored with the surrounding history of Saqqara(or Sakkara) and Memphis, so much so that he forgot his main purpose. It was at this time that he made one of most startling discoveries at Serapeum, the tombs of the Apis Bulls.

Read More about Serapeum: The Tomb of the Apis Bulls

The Art and History of Ancient Egyptian Jewelry

Ancient Egyptian jewelry is among some of the most rare and exquisite pieces of ancient history every found. Both men and women wore the Ancient Egyptian jewelry, and these personal adornments were not just limited to beaded necklaces and finger rings. Jewelry such as anklets, collars, bracelets, fillets and earrings embodied everyday Egyptian dress, so much so, that even in death the poorest of individuals would still be found wearing a string of beads or a simple bracelet.

Read more about The Art and History of Ancient Egyptian Jewelry


jo oliver said...

Mud bricks~ amazing. I wonder if the rain effects the structure? I guess not since it is still standing! The society does not sound much different than today.

Richard Wing said...

Sumerian cities seems as though they had an organized infrastructure and organized society. The fact that mudbricks were utilized to construct these architectural monuments, and there still standing, is quite amazing considering the age and exposure to the elements. More intriguing ancient history and discoveries.

The Ancient Digger said...


The architecture is mind boggling to be quite honest. I believe Hegra and Petra were built in the same manner with the same building materials.

The Ancient Digger said...


The Sumerians were quite innovative and intelligent in their government organization and architecture. I wanted to explore their culture a bit more, especially considering ancient history is not exactly my area.

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