The Sumerians were the civilization of southerly Mesopotamia whose people flourished in between c. 4100-1750 BCE. Your name comes from the region which is typically – and incorrectly – referred to as a “country”. Sumer was never a cohesive political entity, however, however a an ar of city-states each with its own king.

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Sumer was the southern counterpart to the northern region of Akkad whose civilization gave Sumer that name, an interpretation “land the the civilized kings”. The Sumerians themselves described their region simply as “the land” or “the land of the black-headed people”.

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The Sumerians to be responsible for plenty of of the most crucial innovations, inventions, and concepts taken for granted in the existing day. They essentially “invented” time by dividing day and night into 12-hour periods, hrs into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds. Their other innovations and inventions incorporate the an initial schools, the earliest variation of the story of the great Flood and also other biblical narratives, the oldest heroic epic, government bureaucracy, monumental architecture, and also irrigation techniques.

After the climb of the Amorites in Mesopotamia, and the invasion of the Elamites, Sumer ceased to exist and also was only known through references in the works of ancient writers, including the scribes who wrote the biblical publication of Genesis. Sumer continued to be unknown until the mid-19th century CE as soon as excavations in Mesopotamia discovered their civilization and also brought their numerous contributions to 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 ~ above the Near eastern in search of ancient cities, tombs, and also artifacts. None of these saw Mesopotamia come look for Sumerian cities since no one knew the human being had ever before existed – they to be looking to excavate sites stated in the holy bible such as Babylon and also Nineveh and also a mysterious place called Shinar – yet they uncovered much more than they were expecting.

No one knows wherein the Sumerians come from but, through c. 2900 BCE, they to be firmly created in southerly Mesopotamia. The background of this an ar is split by contemporary scholars right into six eras:

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

The origins of the civilization of the Ubaid duration are likewise unknown – as is their culture - but they left behind some intriguing artifacts and probably established the very first communities which flourished into the later on cities and also developed into city-states during the Uruk Period. The early on Dynastic period saw the climb of the kings, facility of government and also bureaucracy, and conflict between Sumerian city-states for land and water rights. The Sumerian cities were periodically united under a single king, as in the situation of Enembaragesi that Kish that led Sumer versus Elam in the an initial recorded battle in history c. 2700 BCE. The Sumerians to be victorious and also sacked the urban of Elam.

Sumer was finally overcame by Sargon the Akkad (r. 2334-2279 BCE) that made the the core of his multinational empire.

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

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Map of Mesopotamia, 2000-1600 BCE

Sumerian cities, before and after the conquests, prospered rich indigenous trade. The relative stability the the cities encouraged social growth, innovation, and also invention. Scholar Samuel noah Kramer, in his iconic work History starts at Sumer, explores 39 “firsts” in the human being which originated through the Sumerians:

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

The Sumerians also invented the principle of the city and also one of the claimants come the title of “oldest city in the world” is the Sumerian Uruk. The earliest cities created in Sumer were:


The heart of the city was the temple complex, marked by the great ziggurats which would certainly inspire the later tale of the Tower of Babel. Each city had actually its very own protective divine being who resided in the temple, protecting and guiding the citizens but, for the Sumerians, the city the Eridu – and also its god Enki – organized a one-of-a-kind place.

The very first City

Although modern-day archaeology has created that Uruk is the earliest city in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians themselves thought the first city in the people was Eridu, presided end by your god the wisdom and also water, Enki, who elevated it indigenous the watery marshes and established the principle of kingship and also order in the land. The facility of Eridu by Enki was viewed as a type of golden e comparable to the biblical Garden the Eden together the residence of the gods and birthplace that the rule governing civilization (known as the meh). Scholar Gwendolyn Leick notes:

The Mesopotamian Eden is not a garden however a city, created from a item of dried land surrounded by the waters. The very first building is a temple…This is exactly how Mesopotamian legacy presented the evolution and function of cities, and Eridu gives the mythical paradigm. Contradictory to the biblical Eden, from which guy was banished forever ~ the Fall, Eridu continued to be a real place, imbued through sacredness but constantly accessible. (2)

The "fall" the Eridu had nothing to execute with humanity"s sins however with the cleverness of among the most famous Mesopotamian goddesses, Inanna. In the poem Inanna and the God that Wisdom, the goddess travels from her city of Uruk come Eridu, residence of she father Enki, and also invites him to sit and also have a couple of drinks with her and, as he drinks and becomes more and more jovial, the gladly hands end the meh come his daughter. As soon as she has actually gathered castle all, she runs to her ship and brings them to Uruk, thus making she city preeminent and diminishing Eridu. Contemporary scholars think this myth arose in an answer to the transition from an agrarian culture (symbolized through Eridu) to the urban advance epitomized through Uruk, among the most an effective cities in the region.



Religion was fully integrated right into people"s lives and informed the government and also the social structure. The Sumerians believed 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 v the god to make sure chaos would not come again. The god themselves, however, would reverse their very own work later on – returning the world to chaos - once humanity"s noise and also trouble came to be too an excellent to bear.

The Sumerian work well-known as the Eridu Genesis (composed c. 2300 BCE) is the earliest version of the an excellent Flood tale.

The Sumerian work recognized as the Eridu Genesis (composed c. 2300 BCE and also found in the ruins of Eridu) is the earliest variation of the an excellent Flood tale later retold in the Atrahasis, The epos of Gilgamesh, and also the publication of Genesis. The relates exactly how the gods ruined humanity v a flood except for one man, Ziusudra, that is saved when Enki speak him to build an ark and also rescue 2 of every kind of animal. Afterwards, the god relent and also determine to control the human being population, and also limit their annoying tendencies, by introducing death and disease into the world; thereby reestablishing bespeak and setting a limit to human life and ambition.

The gods expected people to usage their resides to aid maintain order and this contained finding a method to work together. The Sumerians took an excellent pride in your individuality, as evidenced by the key of the patron deities of each city and intermittent rivalry and also conflicts, but were required by the god to set this aside in the understand of the usual good. Kramer writes:

While the Sumerians set a high value on the individual and his achievement, there to be one overriding aspect which promoted a strong spirit that cooperation amongst individuals and also communities alike: the finish dependence the Sumer on watering for its well-being – indeed, because that its an extremely existence. Irrigation is a facility process requiring communal effort and organization. Canals had to it is in dug and also kept in constant repair. The water had actually to be separated equitably among all concerned. To ensure this, a power more powerful than the individual landowner or even 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 every one of the queens going back to the start of the people when the gods very first established kingship in Eridu. The first king who is archaeologically attested was Etana, explained as “he that stabilized all the lands” (Sumerians, 43) and the perform then goes chronologically – often with impossibly long days for the kings – under to the regime of the majesties in c. 2100 BCE.


The Sumerian city-state to be governed by a king, the Lugal (literally “big man”) who looked after the cultivation of the land, amongst many other responsibilities, and also was bound come the god to certain their will was done on earth. The Lugal was originally head the a “household” – a closely-knit community, which pooled their resources – and also the household ide would proceed as the underlying power framework of the cities. With the climb of the cities and also the breakthrough of agricultural innovations, the Sumerians adjusted the method human beings had lived, and would live, forever. The scholar Paul Kriwaczek comments:

This to be a revolutionary minute in human history. The were consciously aiming in ~ nothing less than changing the world. They to be the very an initial to adopt the rule that has driven development and advancement throughout history, and still encourages most of us in the modern times: the conviction that it is humanity"s right, that is mission and also its destiny, come transform and also improve top top nature and become her master. (20)

Contributions & Collapse

The cities of the Sumerians expanded, and also when lock needed more room and also greater resources, they took them indigenous others. During the Uruk Period, the culture developed rapidly, with perhaps the greatest invention culminating in the arrival of creating c. 3600-3500 BCE. Beforehand writing emerged in response to the require for long-distance communication in trade and also relayed straightforward information such as “two sheep – 5 goats – Kish” which was clear sufficient to the sender at the time yet lacked the capacity to inform a recipient whether the 2 sheep and also five goats to be coming or going from the city the Kish, whether they were alive or dead, and what their objective was. This device would construct by the moment of the early on Dynastic period into the writing system which would produce such functions as The epos of Gilgamesh, Enheduanna"s Hymns to Inanna, and many other good works that literature.


Sumerian came to be the language the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and also established the composing system recognized as cuneiform which would later on be supplied to record various other languages. Gwendolyn Leick comments:

The much more homogeneous cultural horizon the the alluvial levels find expression in the breakthrough of composing in a specific idiom. Why Sumerian came to be the language represented by writing is quiet uncertain. Mesopotamia was never linguistically or country homogeneous and also the personal names in the beforehand texts clearly show the languages various other than Sumerian were talked at the time. (65)

Sumerian was well established as the created language by the late 4th century BCE and also Sumerian culture, religion, architecture, and also other far-reaching aspects of human being were as well. The literature of the Sumerians would influence later writers, notably the scribes who wrote the Bible, as their story of The myth of Adapa, The Eridu Genesis, and The Atrahasis would educate the later biblical accounts of the Garden of Eden, fall of Man, and the good Flood. Enheduanna"s works would come to be the models for later on liturgy, Mesopotamian animal fables would certainly be popularized by Aesop, and The epic of Gilgamesh would certainly inspire works such together the Iliad and Odyssey.

The ide of the gods living in the city"s temple, as well as the shape and also size that the Sumerian ziggurat, is thought to have influenced the Egyptian breakthrough of the pyramid and also their beliefs about their very own gods. The Sumerian ide of time, and their creating system, was also embraced by various other civilizations. The Sumerian cylinder seal – an individual"s authorize of personal identification – remained in use in Mesopotamia until c. 612 BCE and the fall of the Assyrian Empire. There was literally no area of civilization the Sumerians did no make some contribution to but, for all their strengths, their culture began to decrease long prior to it fell.


The Sumerian world collapsed c. 1750 BCE v the invasion of the an ar by the Elamites. Shulgi the Ur had put up a good wall in 2083 BCE to protect his civilization from simply such an intrusion but, as it was no anchored at one of two people end, it can easily be walked around – i m sorry is specifically what the intruders did. Even so, the culture had to be struggling to retain its autonomy ever due to the fact that the Amorites had got power in Babylon. A change in cultural influence, confirmed in many respects but, notably, in the male-female proportion of the Mesopotamian pantheon, came v the increase to power of the Semitic Amorites in Babylon and, especially, throughout the power of Hammurabi (r. 1792-1750 BCE) who totally reversed the Sumerian theological design in elevating a supreme male god, Marduk, over every others. Temples specialized to goddesses were changed by those for gods and, even though the goddesses" holy places were not destroyed, they were marginalized.

At this very same time, women"s legal rights – which were traditionally top top par with men"s – declined as walk the great Sumerian cities. Overuse the the land and also urban expansion, combination with recurring conflicts, room cited together the primary reasons because that the fall of the cities. The correlation between the decrease in the standing of mrs deities and also women"s rights has actually never to be adequately defined – that is unknown i beg your pardon came very first – but it is a telling detail in the decline of a culture which had always held ladies in high regard. By the time the Elamites got into c. 1750 BCE, the Sumerian society was already deteriorating and also the Elamites simply finished the process.


The Sumerians are well-known today for many contributions to civilization culture, yet this is a reasonably recent development. Their background lay hidden under sands because that centuries and so any type of references come them in old works were misunderstood through scholars since there was 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 however the definition of that reference might not be construed as long as scholars had no idea any place prefer the land of Sumer – the biblical Shinar - had ever before existed.

This situation readjusted dramatically in the mid-19th century CE once Western institutions and societies started sending expeditions to the near East and the Middle east in find of physical evidence to corroborate biblical narratives. If a land such together Shinar had ever before existed, it was reasoned, its ruins – together with those of any other structures and also cities discussed in the holy bible – can be uncovered.

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At this time, the holy bible (specifically the narratives of the Old Testament) was taken into consideration the oldest book in the world and totally original. The story of the Garden the Eden, the autumn of Man, the great Flood were assumed to be initial works composed directly, or inspired by, the one true God the the Judeo-Christian tradition. The archaeologists and scholars that were sent on these explorations were claimed to uncover hard proof to support this claim but, instead, found exactly the opposite: they discovered Sumer.