Sumer: Wikis


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Euphrates · Tigris
Eridu · Kish · Uruk · Ur
Lagash · Nippur · Ngirsu
Susa · Anshan
Akkadian Empire
Akkad · Mari
Isin · Larsa
Babylon · Chaldea
Assur · Nimrud
Dur-Sharrukin · Nineveh
Sumer (king list)
Kings of Elam
Kings of Assyria
Kings of Babylon
Enûma Elish · Gilgamesh
Assyro-Babylonian religion
Sumerian · Elamite
Akkadian · Aramaic
Hurrian · Hittite

Sumer (Sumerian: 𒆠𒂗𒂠 ki-en-ĝir15 "Land of the Lords of Brightness",[1][2] Akkadian: Šumeru; possibly Biblical Shinar) was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. It is the earliest known civilization in the world and is known as the Cradle of Civilization. The Sumerian civilization spanned over 3000 years[3] and began with the first settlement of Eridu in the Ubaid period (mid 6th millennium BC) through the Uruk period (4th millennium BC) and the Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BC) until the rise of Babylonia in the early 2nd millennium BC.

The cities of Sumer were the first to practice intensive, year-round agriculture, (from ca. 5300 BC). By perhaps 5000 BC, the Sumerians had developed core agricultural techniques including large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation, and the use of a specialized labour force, particularly along the waterway now known as the Shatt al-Arab, from its Persian Gulf delta to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating after crops and grazing land. It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labor force and division of labor. This organization led to the development of writing (ca. 3500 BC).


Origin of name

The term "Sumerian" is the common name given to the ancient inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia, Sumer, by their successors, the Semitic Akkadians. The Sumerians referred to themselves as ùĝ saĝ gígpe, phonetically uŋ saŋ giga, literally meaning "the black-headed people".[4] The Akkadian word Shumer may represent the geographical name in dialect, but the phonological development leading to the Akkadian term šumerû is uncertain.[2][5] Biblical Shinar, Egyptian Sngr and Hittite Šanhar(a) could be western variants of Shumer.[5]


Map of Sumer

By the late 4th millennium BC, Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states, whose limits were defined by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.

The five "first" cities said to have exercised pre-dynastic kingship:   

  1. Eridu (Tell Abu Shahrain)
  2. Bad-tibira (probably Tell al-Madain)
  3. Larsa (Tell as-Senkereh)
  4. Sippar (Tell Abu Habbah)
  5. Shuruppak (Tell Fara)

Other principal cities:

  1. Kish (Tell Uheimir & Ingharra)
  2. Uruk (Warka)
  3. Ur (Tell al-Muqayyar)
  4. Nippur (Afak)
  5. Lagash (Tell al-Hiba)
  6. Ngirsu (Tello or Telloh)
  7. Umma (Tell Jokha)
  8. Hamazi 1
  9. Adab (Tell Bismaya)
  10. Mari (Tell Hariri) 2
  11. Akshak 1
  12. Akkad 1
  13. Isin (Ishan al-Bahriyat)

(1location uncertain)
(2an outlying city in northern Mesopotamia)

Minor cities (from south to north):

  1. Kuara (Tell al-Lahm)
  2. Zabala (Tell Ibzeikh)
  3. Kisurra (Tell Abu Hatab)
  4. Marad (Tell Wannat es-Sadum)
  5. Dilbat (Tell ed-Duleim)
  6. Borsippa (Birs Nimrud)
  7. Kutha (Tell Ibrahim)
  8. Der (al-Badra)
  9. Eshnuna (Tell Asmar)
  10. Nagar (Tell Brak) 2

(2an outlying city in northern Mesopotamia)

Apart from Mari, which lies full 330 km northwest of Agade, but which is credited in the king list as having “exercised kingship” in the Early Dynastic II period, and Nagar, an outpost, these cities are all in the Euphrates-Tigris alluvial plain, south of Baghdad in what are now the Bābil, Diyala, Wāsit, Dhi Qar, Basra, Al-Muthannā and Al-Qādisiyyah governorates of Iraq.


The Sumerian city states rose to power during the prehistorical Ubaid and Uruk periods. Sumerian history reaches back to the 26th century BC and before, but the historical record remains obscure until the Early Dynastic III period, ca. the 23rd century BC, when a now deciphered syllabary writing system was developed, which has allowed archaeologists to read contemporary records and inscriptions. Classical Sumer ends with the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 23rd century BC. Following the Gutian period, there is a brief "Sumerian renaissance" in the 21st century, cut short in the 20th century BC by Amorite invasions. The Amorite "dynasty of Isin" persisted until ca. 1700 BC, when Mesopotamia was united under Babylonian rule.


Ubaid period

The Ubaid period is marked by a distinctive style of fine quality painted pottery which spread throughout Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. During this time, the first settlement in southern Mesopotamia was established at Eridu, ca. 5300 BC, by farmers who brought with them the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia. It is not known whether or not these were the actual Sumerians who are identified with the later Uruk culture. Eridu remained an important religious center when it was gradually surpassed in size by the nearby city of Uruk.

Uruk period

The archaeological transition from the Ubaid period to the Uruk period is marked by a gradual shift from painted pottery domestically produced on a slow wheel, to a great variety of unpainted pottery mass-produced by specialists on fast wheels.

By the time of the Uruk period (ca. 4100–2900 BC calibrated), the volume of trade goods transported along the canals and rivers of southern Mesopotamia facilitated the rise of many large, stratified, temple-centered cities (with populations of over 10,000 people) where centralized administrations employed specialized workers. It is fairly certain that it was during the Uruk period that Sumerian cities began to make use of slave labor captured from the hill country, and there is ample evidence for captured slaves as workers in the earliest texts. Artifacts, and even colonies of this Uruk civilization have been found over a wide area—from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and as far east as Central Iran.[6]

The Uruk period civilization, exported by Sumerian traders and colonists (like that found at Tell Brak), had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies and cultures. The cities of Sumer could not maintain remote, long-distance colonies by military force.[6]

Sumerian cities during the Uruk period were probably theocratic and were most likely headed by a priest-king (ensi), assisted by a council of elders, including both men and women.[7] It is quite possible that the later Sumerian pantheon was modelled upon this political structure.

The ancient Sumerian king list includes the early dynasties of several prominent cities from this period. The first set of names on the list is of kings said to have reigned before a major flood occurred. These early names may be fictional, and include some legendary and mythological figures, such as Alulim and Dumizid.[8]

The end of the Uruk period coincided with the Piora oscillation, a dry period from c. 3200–2900 BC that marked the end of a long wetter, warmer climate period from about 9,000 to 5,000 years ago, called the Holocene climatic optimum.[9]

Early Dynastic Period

The Dynastic period begins ca. 2900 BC and includes such legendary figures as Enmerkar and Gilgamesh—who are supposed to have reigned shortly before the historic record opens ca. 2700 BC, when the now deciphered syllabic writing started to develop from the early pictograms. The center of Sumerian culture remained in southern Mesopotamia, even though rulers soon began expanding into neighboring areas, and neighboring Semitic groups adopted much of Sumerian culture for their own.

The earliest Dynastic king on the Sumerian king list whose name is known from any other legendary source is Etana, 13th king of the first Dynasty of Kish. The earliest king authenticated through archaeological evidence is Enmebaragesi of Kish (ca. 26th century BC), whose name is also mentioned in the Gilgamesh epic—leading to the suggestion that Gilgamesh himself might have been a historical king of Uruk.

1st Dynasty of Lagash

Fragment of Eannatum's Stele of the Vultures

ca. 2500–2270 BC

The dynasty of Lagash, though omitted from the king list, is well attested through several important monuments and many archaeological finds.

Although short-lived, one of the first empires known to history was that of Eannatum of Lagash, who annexed practically all of Sumer, including Kish, Uruk, Ur, and Larsa, and reduced to tribute the city-state of Umma, arch-rival of Lagash. In addition, his realm extended to parts of Elam and along the Persian Gulf. He seems to have used terror as a matter of policy—his stele of the vultures has been found, showing violent treatment of enemies. His empire collapsed shortly after his death.

Later, Lugal-Zage-Si, the priest-king of Umma, overthrew the primacy of the Lagash dynasty in the area, then conquered Uruk, making it his capital, and claimed an empire extending from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. He was the last ethnically Sumerian king before the arrival of the Semitic king, Sargon of Akkad.

Akkadian Empire

ca. 2270–2083 BC (short chronology)

The Semitic Akkadian language is first attested in proper names of the kings of Kish ca. 2800 BC,[10] preserved in later king lists. There are texts written entirely in Old Akkadian dating from ca. 2500 BC. Use of Old Akkadian was at its peak during the rule of Sargon the Great (ca. 2270–2215 BC), but even then most administrative tablets continued to be written in Sumerian, the language used by the scribes. Gelb and Westenholz differentiate three stages of Old Akkadian: that of the pre-Sargonic era, that of the Akkadian empire, and that of the "Neo-Sumerian Renaissance" that followed it. Speakers of Akkadian and Sumerian coexisted for about one thousand years, until ca. 1800 BC, when Sumerian ceased to be spoken. Thorkild Jacobsen has argued that there is little break in historical continuity between the pre- and post-Sargon periods, and that too much emphasis has been placed on the perception of a "Semitic vs. Sumerian" conflict.[11] However, it is certain that Akkadian was also briefly imposed on neighboring parts of Elam that were conquered by Sargon.

Gutian period

ca. 2083–2050 BC (short chronology)

2nd Dynasty of Lagash

ca. 2093–2046 BC (short chronology)

Following the downfall of the Akkadian Empire at the hands of Gutians, another native Sumerian ruler, Gudea of Lagash, rose to local prominence and continued the practices of the Sargonid kings' claims to divinity. Like the previous Lagash dynasty, Gudea and his descendents also promoted artistic development and left a large number of archaeological artifacts.

Sumerian Renaissance

ca. 2047–1940 BC (short chronology)

Later, the 3rd dynasty of Ur under Ur-Nammu and Shulgi, whose power extended as far as northern Mesopotamia, was the last great "Sumerian renaissance", but already the region was becoming more Semitic than Sumerian, with the influx of waves of Martu (Amorites) who were later to found the Babylonian Empire. The Sumerian language, however, remained a sacerdotal language taught in schools, in the same way that Latin was used in the Medieval period, for as long as cuneiform was utilised.


This period is generally taken to coincide with a major shift in population from southern Iraq toward the north. Ecologically, the agricultural productivity of the Sumerian lands was being compromised as a result of rising salinity. Soil salinity in this region had been long recognized as a major problem. Poorly drained irrigated soils, in an arid climate with high levels of evaporation, led to the buildup of dissolved salts in the soil, eventually reducing agricultural yields severely. During the Akkadian and Ur III phases, there was a shift from the cultivation of wheat to the more salt-tolerant barley, but this was insufficient, and during the period from 2100 BC to 1700 BC, it is estimated that the population in this area declined by nearly three fifths.[12] This greatly weakened the balance of power within the region, weakening the areas where Sumerian was spoken, and comparatively strengthening those where Akkadian was the major language. Henceforth Sumerian would remain only a literary and liturgical language, similar to the position occupied by Latin in medieval Europe.

Following an Elamite invasion and sack of Ur during the rule of Ibbi-Sin (ca. 1940 BC), Sumer came under Amorite rule (taken to introduce the Middle Bronze Age). The independent Amorite states of the 20th to 18th centuries are summarized as the "Dynasty of Isin" in the Sumerian king list, ending with the rise of Babylonia under Hammurabi ca. 1700 BC.


First farmers from Samarra arrive in Sumer, and build shrine and settlement at Eridu

In spite of the importance of this region, genetic studies on the Sumerians are limited and generally restricted to analysis of classical markers due to Iraq's modern political instability. It has been found that Y-DNA Haplogroup J2 originated in Northern Iraq.[13][14] The Sumerians were a non-Semitic people, a number of linguists believed they could detect a substrate language beneath Sumerian. However, the archaeological record shows clear uninterrupted cultural continuity from the time of the Early Ubaid period (5300 – 4700 BC C-14) settlements in southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerian people who settled here farmed the lands in this region that were made fertile by silt deposited by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

It is generally agreed that Sumerian speakers were farmers who moved down from the north, after perfecting irrigation agriculture there. The Ubaid pottery of southern Mesopotamia has been connected via Choga Mami Transitional ware to the pottery of the Samarra period culture (c. 5700 – 4900 BC C-14) in the north, who were the first to practice a primitive form of irrigation agriculture along the middle Tigris River and its tributaries. The connection is most clearly seen at Tell Awayli (Oueilli, Oueili) near Larsa, excavated by the French in the 1980s, where 8 levels yielded pre-Ubaid pottery resembling Samarran ware. Farming peoples spread down into southern Mesopotamia because they had developed a temple-centered social organization for mobilizing labor and technology for water control, enabling them to survive and prosper in a difficult environment.


Social and family life

In the early Sumerian period (i.e. Uruk), the primitive pictograms suggest[15] that:

  • "Pottery was very plentiful, and the forms of the vases, bowls and dishes were manifold ; there were special jars for honey, butter, oil and wine, which was probably made from dates, and one form of vase had a spout protruding from its side. Some of the vases had pointed feet, and stood on stands with crossed legs ; others were flat-bottomed, and were set on square or rectangular frames of wood. The oil-jars - and probably others also - were sealed with clay, precisely as in early Egypt. Vases and dishes of stone were made in imitation of those of clay, and baskets were woven of reeds or formed of leather."
  • "A feathered head-dress was worn on the head. Beds, stools and chairs were used, with carved legs resembling those of an ox. There were fire-places and fire-altars, and apparently chimneys also."
  • "Knives, drills, wedges and an instrument which looks like a saw were all known, while bows, arrows and daggers (but not swords nor, probably, spears) were employed in war."
  • "Tablets were used for writing purposes, and copper, gold and silver were worked by the smith. Daggers with metal blades and wooden handles were worn, and copper was hammered into plates, while necklaces or collars were made of gold."
  • "Time was reckoned in lunar months."

There is much evidence that the Sumerians loved music. It seemed to be an important part of religious and civic life in Sumer. Lyres were popular in Sumer; see Sumerian music.

According to inscriptions describing the reforms of king Urukagina of Lagash (ca. 2300 BC), he is said to have abolished the former custom of polyandry in his country, on pain of the woman taking multiple husbands being stoned with rocks upon which her crime is written.[16]

Though women were protected by late Sumerian law and were able to achieve a higher status in Sumer than in other contemporary civilizations, the culture was male-dominated. The Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest such codification yet discovered, dating to the Ur-III "Sumerian Renaissance", reveals a glimpse at societal structure in late Sumerian law. Beneath the lu-gal ("great man" or king), all members of society belonged to one of two basic strata: The "lu" or free person, and the slave (male, arad; female geme). The son of a lu was called a dumu-nita until he married. A woman (munus) went from being a daughter (dumu-mi), to a wife (dam), then if she outlived her husband, a widow (numasu) who could remarry.

Historian Alan I. Marcus has observed, "Sumerians held a rather dour perspective on life." One Sumerian wrote: "Tears, lament, anguish, and depression are within me. Suffering overwhelms me. Evil fate holds me and carries off my life. Malignant sickness bathes me." Another wrote, "Why am I counted among the ignorant? Food is all about, yet my food is hunger. On the day shares were allotted, my allotted share was suffering."[17]

Language and writing

The most important archaeological discoveries in Sumer are a large number of tablets written in Sumerian. Sumerian writing is the oldest example of writing on earth. Although pictures - that is, hieroglyphs were first used, symbols were later made to represent syllables. Triangular or wedge-shaped reeds were used to write on moist clay. This is called cuneiform. A large body of hundreds of thousands of texts in the Sumerian language has survived, such as personal or business letters, receipts, lexical lists, laws, hymns, prayers, stories, daily records, and even libraries full of clay tablets. Monumental inscriptions and texts on different objects like statues or bricks are also very common. Many texts survive in multiple copies because they were repeatedly transcribed by scribes-in-training. Sumerian continued to be the language of religion and law in Mesopotamia long after Semitic speakers had become the ruling race. The Sumerian language is generally regarded as a language isolate in linguistics because it belongs to no known language family; Akkadian, by contrast belongs to the Afro-Asiatic languages. There have been many failed attempts to connect Sumerian to other language groups. It is an agglutinative language; in other words, morphemes ("units of meaning") are added together to create words, unlike analytic languages where morphemes are purely added together to create sentences.

Understanding Sumerian texts today can be problematic even for experts. Most difficult are the earliest texts, which in many cases don't give the full grammatical structure of the language.


Tell Asmar votive sculpture 2750-2600 B.C

There was no organized set of gods; each city-state had its own patrons, temples, and priest-kings. The Sumerians were probably the first to write down their beliefs, which were the inspiration for much of later Mesopotamian mythology, religion, and astrology.

The Sumerians worshipped:

  • An as the full time god, equivalent to "heaven" - indeed, the word "an" in Sumerian means "sky" and his consort Ki, means "Earth".
  • Enki in the south at the temple in Eridu. Enki was the god of beneficence, ruler of the freshwater depths beneath the earth, a healer and friend to humanity who was thought to have given us the arts and sciences, the industries and manners of civilization; the first law-book was considered his creation,
  • Enlil, lord of the ghost-land, in the north at the temple of Nippur. His gifts to mankind were said to be the spells and incantations that the spirits of good or evil were compelled to obey,
  • Inanna, the deification of Venus, the morning (eastern) and evening (western) star, at the temple (shared with An) at Uruk.
  • The sun-god Utu at Sippar,
  • the moon god Nanna at Ur.

These deities were probably the original matrix; there were hundreds of minor deities. The Sumerian gods thus had associations with different cities, and their religious importance often waxed and waned with those cities' political power. The gods were said to have created human beings from clay for the purpose of serving them. If the temples/gods ruled each city it was for their mutual survival and benefit—the temples organized the mass labor projects needed for irrigation agriculture. Citizens had a labor duty to the temple which they were allowed to avoid by a payment of silver only towards the end of the third millennium. The temple-centered farming communities of Sumer had a social stability that enabled them to survive for four millennia.

Sumerians believed that the universe consisted of a flat disk enclosed by a tin dome. The Sumerian afterlife involved a descent into a gloomy netherworld to spend eternity in a wretched existence as a Gidim (ghost).[citation needed]

Ziggurats (Sumerian temples) consisted of a forecourt, with a central pond for purification.[citation needed] The temple itself had a central nave with aisles along either side. Flanking the aisles would be rooms for the priests. At one end would stand the podium and a mudbrick table for animal and vegetable sacrifices. Granaries and storehouses were usually located near the temples. After a time the Sumerians began to place the temples on top of multi-layered square constructions built as a series of rising terraces, giving rise to the later Ziggurat style.[citation needed]

There were many different types of priests. Some of the more common ones:

  • āšipu an exorcist and physician
  • bārû a diviner and astrologer
  • qadištu a priestess and prostitute[citation needed]

Agriculture and hunting

By 5000 BCE the Sumerians had developed core agricultural techniques including large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation, and the use of a specialized labour force, particularly along the waterway now known as the Shatt al-Arab, from its Persian Gulf delta to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating after crops and grazing land. It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labor force and division of labor. This organization led to the development of writing (ca. 3500 BC).

The Sumerians adopted an agricultural mode of life. In the early Sumerian period (i.e. Uruk), the primitive pictograms suggest that "The sheep, goat, ox and probably ass had been domesticated, the ox being used for draught, and woollen clothing as well as rugs were made from the wool or hair of the two first. ... By the side of the house was an enclosed garden planted with trees and other plants ; wheat and probably other cereals were sown in the fields, and the shaduf was already employed for the purpose of irrigation. Plants were also grown in pots or vases."[15]

The Sumerians practiced the same irrigation techniques as those used in Egypt.[18] American anthropologist Robert McCormick Adams says that irrigation development was associated with urbanization,[19] and that 89% of the population lived in the cities.[20]

They grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, wheat, dates, onions, garlic, lettuce, leeks and mustard. They also raised cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. They used oxen as their primary beasts of burden and donkeys or equids as their primary transport animal. Sumerians caught many fish and hunted fowl and gazelle.[citation needed]

Sumerian agriculture depended heavily on irrigation. The irrigation was accomplished by the use of shadufs, canals, channels, dykes, weirs, and reservoirs. The frequent violent floods of the Tigris, and less so, of the Euphrates, meant that canals required frequent repair and continual removal of silt, and survey markers and boundary stones continually replaced. The government required individuals to work on the canals in a corvee, although the rich were able to exempt themselves.

After the flood season and after the Spring Equinox and the Akitu or New Year Festival, using the canals, farmers would flood their fields and then drain the water. Next they let oxen stomp the ground and kill weeds. They then dragged the fields with pickaxes. After drying, they plowed, harrowed, and raked the ground three times, and pulverized it with a mattock, before planting seed. Unfortunately the high evaporation rate resulted in a gradual increase in the salinity of the fields. By the Ur III period, farmers had switched from wheat to the more salt-tolerant barley as their principal crop.

Sumerians harvested during the spring in three-person teams consisting of a reaper, a binder, and a sheaf arranger[citation needed]. The farmers would use threshing wagons to separate the cereal heads from the stalks and then use threshing sleds to disengage the grain. They then winnowed the grain/chaff mixture.


The Tigris-Euphrates plain lacked minerals and trees. Sumerian structures were made of plano-convex mudbrick, not fixed with mortar or cement. Mud-brick buildings eventually deteriorate, so they were periodically destroyed, leveled, and rebuilt on the same spot. This constant rebuilding gradually raised the level of cities, which thus came to be elevated above the surrounding plain. The resultant hills, known as tells, are found throughout the ancient Near East.

According to Archibald Sayce, the primitive pictograms of the early Sumerian (i.e. Uruk) era suggest that "Stone was scarce, but was already cut into blocks and seals. Brick was the ordinary building material, and with it cities, forts, temples and houses were constructed. The city was provided with towers and stood on an artificial platform ; the house also had a tower-like appearance. It was provided with a door which turned on a hinge, and could be opened with a sort of key ; the city gate was on a larger scale, and seems to have been double. ... Demons were feared who had wings like a bird, and the foundation stones - or rather bricks - of a house were consecrated by certain objects that were deposited under them."[15]

The most impressive and famous of Sumerian buildings are the ziggurats, large layered platforms which supported temples. Some scholars have theorized that these structures might have been the basis of the Tower of Babel described in Genesis. Sumerian cylinder seals also depict houses built from reeds not unlike those built by the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq until as recently as 400 AD. The Sumerians also developed the arch, which enabled them to develop a strong type of roof called a dome. They built this by constructing several arches.

Sumerian temples and palaces made use of more advanced materials and techniques, such as buttresses, recesses, half columns, and clay nails.


The Sumerians developed a complex system of metrology c 4000 BCE. This metrology advanced resulting in the creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. From 2600 BCE onwards, the Sumerians wrote multiplication tables on clay tablets and dealt with geometrical exercises and division problems. The earliest traces of the Babylonian numerals also date back to this period.[21] The period 2700–2300 BCE saw the first appearance of the abacus, and a table of successive columns which delimited the successive orders of magnitude of their sexagesimal number system.[22] The Sumerians were the first to use a place value numeral system. There is also anecdotal evidence the Sumerians may have used a type of slide rule in astronomical calculations. They were the first to find the area of a triangle and the volume of a cube.[3]

Economy and trade

Discoveries of obsidian from far-away locations in Anatolia and lapis lazuli from Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan, beads from Dilmun (modern Bahrain), and several seals inscribed with the Indus Valley script suggest a remarkably wide-ranging network of ancient trade centered around the Persian Gulf.

The Epic of Gilgamesh refers to trade with far lands for goods such as wood that were scarce in Mesopotamia. In particular, cedar from Lebanon was prized.

The finding of resin in the tomb of Queen Puabi at Ur, was traded from as far away as Mozambique.

The Sumerians used slaves, although they were not a major part of the economy. Slave women worked as weavers, pressers, millers, and porters.

Sumerian potters decorated pots with cedar oil paints. The potters used a bow drill to produce the fire needed for baking the pottery. Sumerian masons and jewelers knew and made use of alabaster (calcite), ivory, gold, silver, carnelian and lapis lazuli.[citation needed]


Early chariots on the Standard of Ur, ca. 2600 BC.
Battle formations on a fragment of the Stele of Vultures.

The almost constant wars among the Sumerian city-states for 2000 years helped to develop the military technology and techniques of Sumer to a high level. The first war recorded was between Lagash and Umma in ca. 2525 BC on a stele called the Stele of Vultures. It shows the king of Lagash leading a Sumerian army consisting mostly of infantry. The infantrymen carried spears, wore copper helmets and carried leather or wicker shields. The spearmen are shown arranged in what resembles the phalanx formation, which requires training and discipline; this implies that the Sumerians may have made use of professional soldiers.

The Sumerian military used carts harnessed to onagers. These early chariots functioned less effectively in combat than did later designs, and some have suggested that these chariots served primarily as transports, though the crew carried battle-axes and lances. The Sumerian chariot comprised a four or two-wheeled device manned by a crew of two and harnessed to four onagers. The cart was composed of a woven basket and the wheels had a solid three-piece design.

Sumerian cities were surrounded by defensive walls. The Sumerians engaged in siege warfare between their cities, but the mudbrick walls failed to deter some foes.


Examples of Sumerian technology include: the wheel, cuneiform, arithmetic and geometry, irrigation systems, Sumerian boats, lunisolar calendar, bronze, leather, saws, chisels, hammers, braces, bits, nails, pins, rings, hoes, axes, knives, lancepoints, arrowheads, swords, glue, daggers, waterskins, bags, harnesses, armor, quivers, war chariots, scabbards, boots, sandals, harpoons and beer.[citation needed]

The Sumerians had three main types of boats:

  • clinker-built sailboats stitched together with hair, featuring bitumen waterproofing
  • skin boats constructed from animal skins and reeds
  • wooden-oared ships, sometimes pulled upstream by people and animals walking along the nearby banks


Most authorities credit the Sumerians with the invention of the wheel, initially in the form of the potter's wheel. The new concept quickly led to wheeled vehicles and mill wheels. The Sumerians' cuneiform writing system is the oldest for which there is evidence (excluding proto-writing such as the Vinča signs and the even older Jiahu signs). The Sumerians were among the first astronomers, mapping the stars into sets of constellations, many of which survived in the zodiac and were also recognized by the ancient Greeks.[23] They were also aware of the five planets that are visible to the naked eye.[24]

They invented and developed arithmetic by doing several different number systems including a mixed radix system with an alternating base 10 and base 6. This sexagesimal system became the standard number system in Sumer and Babylonia. They may have invented military formations and introduced the basic divisions between infantry, cavalry and archers. They developed the first known codified legal and administrative systems, complete with courts, jails, and government records. The first true city states arose in Sumer, roughly contemporaneously with similar entities in what is now Syria, Israel and Palestine. Several centuries after the invention of cuneiform, the use of writing expanded beyond debt/payment certificates and inventory lists to be applied for the first time, about 2600 BC, to messages and mail delivery, history, legend, mathematics, astronomical records and other pursuits. Conjointly with the spread of writing, the first formal schools were established, usually under the auspices of a city-state's primary temple.

Finally, the Sumerians ushered in the age of intensive agriculture and irrigation. Emmer wheat, barley, sheep (starting as mouflon) and cattle (starting as aurochs) were foremost among the species cultivated and raised for the first time on a grand scale.

See also


  1. ^ ĝir15 means "native, local", in some contexts also is "noble"[1]. Literally, "land of the native (local, noble) lords". Stiebing (1994) has "Land of the Lords of Brightness" (William Stiebing, Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture). Postgate (1994) takes en as substituting eme "language", translating "land of the Sumerian tongue" (John Nicholas Postgate (1994). Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Routledge (UK). . Postgate believes it likely that eme, 'tongue', became en, 'lord', through consonantal assimilation).
  2. ^ a b Sumerian Questions and Answers
  3. ^ Suha Rassam, Christianity in Iraq: its origins and development to the present day, Gracewing Publishing, 2005.
  4. ^ W. Hallo, W. Simpson (1971). The Ancient Near East. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. p. 28. 
  5. ^ a b K. van der Toorn, P. W. van der Horst (Jan 1990). "Nimrod before and after the Bible". The Harvard Theological Review 83 (1): 1–29. 
  6. ^ a b Algaze, Guillermo (2005) "The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization", (Second Edition, University of Chicago Press)
  7. ^ Jacobsen, Thorkild (Ed) (1939),"The Sumerian King List" (Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; Assyriological Studies, No. 11.)
  8. ^ Jacobsen, Thorkild (1939) "Sumerian King List" (Univ of Chicago)
  9. ^ Lamb, Hubert H. (1995). Climate, History, and the Modern World. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415127351
  10. ^ Roux, Georges "Ancient Iraq" (Penguin Harmondsworth)
  11. ^ See Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture by T. Jacobsen
  12. ^ Thompson, William R. (2004). "Complexity, Diminishing Marginal Returns and Serial Mesopotamian Fragmentation" (pdf). Journal of World Systems Research 28: 1187. doi:10.1007/s00268-004-7605-z. 
  13. ^ Sumerians and haplogroup J - DNA Forums
  14. ^ N. Al-Zahery et al, "Y-chromosome and mtDNA polymorphisms in Iraq, a crossroad of the early human dispersal and of post-Neolithic migrations," Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution (2003)
  15. ^ a b c Sayce, Rev. A. H., Professor of Assyriology, Oxford, "The Archaeology of the Cuneiform Inscriptions", Second Edition-revised, 1908, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, Brighton, New York; at pages 98-100 Not in copyright
  16. ^ Gender and the Journal: Diaries and Academic Discourse p. 62 by Cinthia Gannett, 1992
  17. ^ The Wisdom Fest by Kathleen L. Bruce, D. Miss.
  18. ^ Mackenzie, Donald Alexander (1927). Footprints of Early Man. Blackie & Son Limited. 
  19. ^ Adams, R. McC. (1981). Heartland of Cities. University of Chicago Press. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ Duncan J. Melville (2003). Third Millennium Chronology, Third Millennium Mathematics. St. Lawrence University.
  22. ^ Ifrah 2001:11
  23. ^ History of Constellation and Star Names
  24. ^ Sumerian Questions and Answers

Further reading

  • Ascalone, Enrico. 2007. Mesopotamia: Assyrians, Sumerians, Babylonians (Dictionaries of Civilizations; 1). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520252667 (paperback).
  • Bottéro, Jean, André Finet, Bertrand Lafont, and George Roux. 2001. Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Edingurgh: Edinburgh University Press, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Crawford, Harriet E. W. 2004. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leick, Gwendolyn. 2002. Mesopotamia: Invention of the City. London and New York: Penguin.
  • Lloyd, Seton. 1978. The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: From the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Nemet-Nejat, Karen Rhea. 1998. Daily Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. London and Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah (1963). The Sumerians: Their History, Culture and Character. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-45238-7. 
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary Achievement in the Third Millennium BC.
  • Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians : Their History, Culture, and Character.
  • Roux, Georges. 1992. Ancient Iraq, 560 pages. London: Penguin (earlier printings may have different pagination: 1966, 480 pages, Pelican; 1964, 431 pages, London: Allen and Urwin).
  • Schomp, Virginia. Ancient Mesopotamia: The Sumerians, Babylonians, And Assyrians.
  • Sumer: Cities of Eden (Timelife Lost Civilizations). Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1993 (hardcover, ISBN 0809498871).
  • Woolley, C. Leonard. 1929. The Sumerians. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SUMER and Sumerian. The Babylonian name Shumer was used in the cuneiform inscriptions together with Akkad, viz. mat Shumeri u Akkadi, " land of S. and A.," to denote Babylonia in general (see Akkad). In the 'non-Semitic ideographic documents the equivalent for Shumer is Kengi, which seems to be a combination of ken, " land " -}- gi, " reed," i.e. " land of reeds," and appropriate designation for Babylonia, which is essentially a district of reedy marshes formed by the Tigris and Euphrates. It was formerly thought that Shumer was employed especially to denote the south of Babylonia, while Akkad was used only of the north, but this view is no longer regarded as tenable. It is more probable that the expression Shumer designated the whole of Babylonia in much the same manner as did Akkad, and that the two words "Shumer and Akkad " were used together as a comprehensive term. That Shumer actually did mean all Babylonia appears evident from the biblical use of Shinar=Shumer to describe the district which contained the four chief Babylonian cities, viz. Babel, Erech, Accad and Calneh (Gen. x. Io), which, according to the Old Testament account, constituted the beginnings of Nimrod's kingdom. The identity of Shinar and Shumer is also demon= strated by the Septuagint renderindof Shinar in Isaiah xi. 11 by " Babylonia." In short, there can be no doubt that the biblical name Shinar was practically equivalent to the mat Shumeri u Akkadi= non-Semitic Kengi-Uri of the Babylonian inscriptions. Furthermore, the fact that the Syriac Sen'ar = Shinar was later used to denote the region about Bagdad (northern Babylonia) does not necessarily prove that Shinar-Shumer meant only northern Babylonia, because, when the term Sen'ar was applied to the Bagdad district the great southern Babylonian civilization had long been forgotten and " Babylonia " really meant only what we now know as northern Babylonia.

The actual meaning of the word Shumer is uncertain. Dr T. G. Pinches has pointed out' that Shumer may be a dialectic form of an as yet unestablished non-Semitic form, Shenger, just as the non-Semitic word dimmer, " god," is equivalent to another form, dingir. Others have seen in the ancient Babylonian place-name Gir-su an inversion of Su-gir = Su-ngir, which has also been identified with Shumer. In this connexion Hommel's theory 2 should be mentioned, that the word Shumer was a later palatalization of Ki-imgir, " land of Imgir "=Shiimgir, subsequently Shingi with palatalized k = sh and elision of the final r. The form imgir (imgur), however, as a place-name for Babylonia is uncertain. All that can be said at present about this difficult etymology is that in the non-Semitic Babylonian the medial m represented quite evidently an indeterminate nasal which could also be indicated by the combination rig. Hence we find Shumer, probably pronounced Shuwer, with a sound similar to that heard to-day in the Scottish Gaelic word lamh, " hand "; viz. a sort of nasalized w. This gave rise to the later inaccurate forms: Greek, Senaar; Syriac, Sen'ar; and biblical Hebrew, Shinar = Skingar. The so-called " Sumerian problem," which has perplexed Assyriologists for many years, may be briefly stated as follows. In a great number of Babylonian inscriptions an idiom has long been recognized which is clearly not ordinary Semitic in character. This non-Semitic system, which is found, in many instances, on alternate lines with a regular Semitic translation, in other cases in opposite columns to a Semitic rendering, and again without any Semitic equivalent at all, has been held by one school, founded and still vigorously defended by the distinguished French Assyriologist, Joseph Halevy, to be nothing more than a priestly system of cryptography based, of course, on the then current Semitic speech. This cryptography, according to some of the Halevyans, was read aloud in Semitic, but, according to other expositors, the system was read as an " ideophonic," secret, and purely artificial language.

The opposing school (the Sumerists) insists that these Hastings's Diet. Bible, iv. 503.2 Ibid. i. 224b.

non-Semitic documents were evidently in an agglutinative language, naturally not uninfluenced by Semitic elements, but none the less essentially non-Semitic in origin and fundamental character. Scholars of this opinion believe that this language, which has been arbitrarily called " Akkadian " in England and " Sumerian " on the European continent and in America, was primitively the speech of the pre-Semitic inhabitants of the Euphratean region who were conquered by the invading Semites. These invaders, according to this latter view, adopted the religion and culture of the conquered Sumerians; and, consequently, the Sumerian idiom at a comparatively early date began to be used exclusively in the Semitic temples as the written vehicles of religious thought in much the same way as was the medieval Latin of the Roman Church. The solution of this problem is of vital importance in connexion with the early history of man's development in the Babylonian region.

The study of the Sumerian vocabulary falls logically into three divisions. These are (1) the origin of the cuneiform signs, (2) the etymology of the phonetic values, and (3) the elucidation of the many and varied primitive sign-meanings.

Previous to Professor Friedrich Delitzsch's masterly work on the origin of the most ancient Babylonian system of writing,' no one had correctly understood the facts regarding the beginnings of the cuneiform system, which is now generally recognized as having been originally a pure picture writing which later developed into a conventionalized ideographic and syllabic sign-list. In order to comprehend the mysteries of the Sumerian problem a thorough examination of the beginning of every one of these signs is, of course, imperative, but it is equally necessary that every phonetic Sumerian value and word-combination be also studied, both in connexion with the equivalent signs and with other allied phonetic values. This etymological study of Sumerian is attended with incalculable difficulties, because nearly all the Sumerian texts which we possess are written in an idiom which is quite evidently under the influence of Semitic. With the exception of some very ancient texts, the Sumerian literature, consisting largely of religious material such as hymns and incantations, shows a number of Semitic loanwords and grammatical Semitisms, and in many cases, although not always, is quite patently a translation of Semitic ideas by Semitic priests into the formal religious Sumerian language. Professor Paul Haupt may be termed the father of Sumerian etymology, as he was really the first to place this study on a scientific basis in his Sumerian Family Laws and Akkadian and Sumerian Cuneiform Texts. 2 It is significant that all phonetic and grammatical work in Sumerian tends to confirm nearly every one of Haupt's views. Professors Peter Jensen and Zimmern have also done excellent work in the same field and, together with Haupt, have established the correct method of investigating the Sumerian vocables, which should be studied only in relation to the Sumerian literature. Sumerian words should by no means be compared with words in the idioms of more recent peoples, such as Turkish, in spite of many tempting resemblances.' Until further light has been thrown on the nature of Sumerian, this language should be regarded as standing quite alone, a prehistoric philological remnant, and its etymology should be studied only with reference to the Sumerian inscriptions themselves. On the other hand, grammatical and constructional examples may be cited from other more modern agglutinative idioms, in order to establish the truly linguistic character of the Sumerian peculiarities and to disprove the Halevyan contentions that Sumerian is really not a language at a11.4 It is not surprising that Halevy's view as to the cryptographic nature of Sumerian should have arisen. In fact, the first impression given by the bewildering labyrinth of the Sumerian 1 Die Entstehung des ältesten Schriftsystems oder der Ursprung der Keilschriftzeichen (Leipzig, 1897).

z Die sumerischen Familiengesetze (1879). Die akkadische Sprache (Berlin, 1883). Akkadische and sumerische Keilschrifttexte (Leipzig, 1881). See especially his Sumerian grammar in this latter work, pp. 133-147.

Cf. A. H. Sayce's interesting article in Philological Society (1877-1878), pp. I-20.

4 Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, pp. 18, 21.

word-list is the conclusion that such a vocabulary could never have arisen in a regularly developed language. For example, anyone studying Briinnow's List s will find the same sign denoting pages of meanings, many of which have apparently no connexion with any other meaning belonging to the sign in question. A great multiplicity of meanings is also attributed, apparently quite arbitrarily, to the same sign, sound-value or word. In these instances, however, we can explain the difficulty away by applying that great fundamental principle followed by the Semitic priests and scribes who played with and on the Sumerian idiom, and in the course of many centuries turned what was originally an agglutinative language into what has almost justified Halevy and his followers in calling Sumerian a cryptography. This principle is that of popular etymology, i.e. of sound-association and idea-association which has brought together in the word-lists many apparently quite distinct meanings, probably primarily for purposes of mnemonic aid. The present writer in his Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon has mentioned this ruling phenomenon again and again. A very few examples, however, will suffice here. Thus the word ag = the sign RAM = rdmu, " love " (proper meaning) is associated with ramdmu, " to roar," for phonetic reasons only. The word a= the sign A = " water " (original meaning) can indicate anything whatever connected with the idea moisture. Thus, water, moisture, weep, tears, inundate, irrigate," &c. The word a can also mean " shining, glistening," an idea evidently developed from the shining rippling of water. Note that in Turkish su means both " water " and " the lustre of a jewel," while in English we speak of " gems of the first water." The combination a-and-tu, literally " water enter ship," means abetbu, " deluge," ordinarily, but in one passage a-md-tu is made the equivalent of shabilbu, " flame," a pure pun on abilbu, " deluge." Examples of this, the leading principle which was followed by the framers of the Sumerian system, might be cited almost ad infinitum. Facts of this character taken by themselves would perhaps be sufficient to convince most philologists that in Sumerian we have an arbitrarily compounded cryptography just as Halevy believes, but these facts cannot be taken by themselves, as the evidences of the purely linguistic basis of Sumerian are stronger than these apparent proofs of its artificial character.

Briefly considered there are six most striking proofs that the Sumerian was based on a primitive agglutinative language. These may be tabulated concisely as follows: I. Sumerian presents a significant list of internal phonetic variations which would not have been possible in an arbitrarily invented language. Thus, taking the vowels alone; e = a by the principle .of umlaut. Hence, we find the words ga and ge, a and e for the same idea respectively. The vowel i could become e as de = di, &c. Consonantal variation is most common. Thus, b = m, as barun = marun. Compare the modern Arabic pronunciation Maalbek for Baalbek. Perhaps the most interesting of these consonantal interchanges is that occurring between n and the sibilants sh and z; ner = slier; na=za, which by some scholars has been declared to be phonetically impossible, but its existence is well established between the modern Chinese colloquial idioms. For example, Pekingese then, Hakka nyin, Fuchow niing, Ningpo zhing and nying, WOnchow zang and Hang all =" man." This demonstrates beyond a doubt the possibility of a strongly palatalized n becoming a palatal sibilant or vice versa, between which utterances there is but a very slight tongue movement.

The discussion of these phenomena brings us to another point which precludes the possibility of Sumerian having been merely an artificial system, and that is the undoubted existence in this language of at least two dialects, which have been named, following the inscriptions, the Eme-ku, " the noble or male speech," and the Eme-sal, " the woman's language." The existence and general phonetic character of the " woman's language " were first pointed out by Professor Paul Haupt, 5 R. E. Briinnow, A Classified List of all Simple and Compound Ideographs (1889).

who cited, for example, the following very common interdialectic variations: Eme-ku gir=Eme-sal meri, " foot "; Eme-ku ner =Eme-sal sher, " ruler "; Eme-ku duga=Eme-sal zeba, " knee," &c. Such phonetic and dialectic changes, so different from any of the Semitic linguistic phenomena, are all the more valuable because they are set before us only by means of Semitic equivalents. Certainly no cryptography based exclusively on Semitic could exhibit this sort of interchange.

It should be added here in passing that the geographical or tribal significance of these two Sumerian dialects has never been established. There can be no doubt that Eme-sal means " woman's language," and it was perhaps thus designated because it was a softer idiom phonetically than the other dialect. In it were written most of the penitential hymns, which were possibly thought to require a more euphonious idiom than, for example, hymns of praise. It is doubtful whether the Eme-sal was ever really a woman's language similar in character to that of the Carib women of the Antilles, or that of the Eskimo women of Greenland. It is much more likely that the two dialects were thus designated because of their respectively harsh and soft phonetics.' 2. Sumerian has a system of vowel harmony strikingly like that seen in all modern agglutinative languages, and it has also vocalic dissimilation similar to that found in modern Finnish and Esthonian. Vocalic harmony is the internal bringing together of vowels of the same class for the sake of greater euphony, while vocalic dissimilation is the deliberate insertion of another class of vowels, in order to prevent the disagreeable monotony arising from too prolonged a vowel harmony. Thus, in Sumerian we find such forms as numunnib-bi, " he speaks not to him," where the negative prefix nu and the verbal prefix mun are in harmony, but in dissimilation to the infix nib, " to him," and to the root bi, " speak," which are also in harmony. Compare also an-sud-dam, " like the heavens," where the ending dam stands for a usual dim, being changed to a hard dam under the influence of the hard vowels in an-sud. 3. Sumerian has only postpositions instead of prepositions, which occur exclusively in Semitic. In this point also Sumerian is in accord with all other agglutinative idioms. Note Sumerian e-da, " in the house " (e, " house," +da, " in," by dissimilation), and compare Turkish ev, " house," de, " in," and evde, " in the house." 4. The method of word formation in Sumerian is entirely nonSemitic in character. For example, an indeterminative vowel, a, e, i or u, may be prefixed to any root to form an abstract; thus, from me, " speak," we get e-me, " speech"; from ra, " to go," we get a-ra, " the act of going," &c. In connexion with the very complicated Sumerian verbal system 2 it will be sufficient to note here the practice of infixing the verbal object which is, of course, absolutely alien to Semitic. This phenomenon appears also in Basque and in many North American languages.

5. Sumerian is quite devoid of grammatical gender. Semitic, on the other hand, has grammatical gender as one of its basic principles.

6. Furthermore, in a real cryptography or secret language, of which English has several, we find only phenomena based on the language from which the artificial idiom is derived. Thus, in the English " Backslang," which is nothing more than ordinary English deliberately inverted, in the similar Arabic jargon used among school children in Syria and in the Spanish thieves' dialect, the principles of inversion and substitution play the chief part. Also in the curious tinker's " Thary " spoken still on the English roads and lanes, we find merely an often inaccurately inverted Irish Gaelic. But in none of these nor in any other artificial jargons can any grammatical development be found other than that of the language on which they are based.

7. All this is to the point with regard to Sumerian, because these very principles of inversion and substitution have been ' Prince, Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, p. 14.

2 Ibid. pp. 20-34.

cited as being the basis of many of the Sumerian combinations. Deliberate inversion certainly occurs in the Sumerian documents, and it is highly probable that this was a priestly mode of writing, but never of speaking; at any rate, not when the language was in common use. It is not necessary to imagine, however, that these devices originated with the Semitic priesthood. It is quite conceivable that the still earlier Sumerian priesthood invented the method of orthographic inversion, which after all is the very first device which suggests itself to the primitive mind when endeavouring to express itself in a manner out of the ordinary. For example, evident Sumerian inversions are Gibil, " the fire god," for Bil-gi; ushar for Sem. sharru, " king," &c.

It is, moreover, highly probable that Sumerian had primitively a system of voice-tones similar to that now extant in Chinese. Thus, we find Sumerian ab, " dwelling," " sea "; ab, " road," and -ab, a grammatical suffix, which words, with many others of a similar character, were perhaps originally uttered with different voice-tones. In Sumerian, the number of conjectural voicetones never exceeds the possible number eight.

It is also clear that Sumerian was actually read aloud, probably as a ritual language, until a very late period, because we have a number of pure Sumerian words reproduced in Greek transliteration; for example, Delephat = Dilbat, " the Venus-star"; Illinos = the god Illil = Bel; aido = itu, " month," &c.

In view of the many evidences of the linguistic character of Sumerian as opposed to the one fact that the language had engrafted upon it a great number of evident Semitisms, the opinion of the present writer is that the Sumerian, as we have it, is fundamentally an agglutinative, almost polysynthetic, language, upon which a more or less deliberately constructed pot-pourri of Semitic inventions was superimposed in the course of many centuries of accretion under Semitic influences. This view stands as a connecting link between the extreme idea of the Halevyan school and the extreme idea of the opposing Sumerist school.


Radau, Early Babylonian History; Lenormant, Etudes accadiennes, ii. 3, p. 70; Eberhardt Schrader, Keilinschriften u. das Alte Testament, ii. 118 sqq., Keilinschriften u. Geschichtsforschung, pp. 290, 533; Weissbach, Zur Losung der sumerischen Frage; T. G. Pinches, " Language of the Early Inhabitants of Mesopotamia," in Journ. Roy. Asiatic Soc. (1884), pp. 301 sqq.; " Sumerian or Cryptography," ibid. (1900), pp. 75 sqq., 343, 344, 55 1, 55 2; article " Shinar " in Hastin g s's Diet. Bible, iv. 503-505; Halevy, Journal asiatique (1874), 3rd series, vol. iv. pp. 461 sqq.; Comptes rend us, 3rd series, vol. iv. p. 477; 3 r d series, vol. iv. pp. 128, 130; Journal asiatique, 7th series, vol. viii. pp. 201 sqq.; Recherches critiques sur l'origine de la civilisation babylonienne (Paris, 1876); J. D. Prince, Journal of the American Oriental Society, xxv. 49 - 67; American Journal of Semitic Languages, xix. 203 sqq.; Materials for a Sumerian Lexicon, with grammatic introduction (Leipzig, 1905-1907). Compare also the material cited in the footnotes above, and note the correspondence between Briinnow and Halevy in the Revue semitique (1906). (J. D. PR.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



From the Akkadian Šumer, in Assyriology since the 1870s (French sumérien since 1872). Compare Shumer, Sumir.

Proper noun




  1. Earliest known civilization of the ancient Near East (4th to 3rd millennia BC), located in lower Mesopotamia.


See also

  • Shinar



Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer



Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Proper noun


  1. Sumer


Romanian Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia ro


  • IPA: [sumeɾ]

Proper noun

Sumer n.

  1. Sumer



Proper noun


  1. Sumer

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|240px|Sumerian cities]] Sumer was an ancient civilization in the southern part of Mesopotamia (modern day southeastern Iraq) that came into being around 3500 BC. It was one of the first civilizations in the world. The Sumerian civilization grew on the fertile banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that flow into the Persian Gulf. Their culture is famous for its written cuneiform script - where letters were formed by pressing a triangle shaped reed into wet-clay tiles. They are also credited with creating the wheel, and dividing a day into 24 hours, and each hour into 60 minutes.

Sumerian communities were organized into city states, each ruled by a priest or king. One of the most famous Sumerian cities was Ur.

The Sumerians lost their identity with their language around 2000 BC, because a large group of different people, the Amorites, moved into their region.

The Sumerians made their clothing by using the natural resources that were available to them. Clothing was made from wool or flax which Sumerians could raise and harvest. (Flax is a plant with blue flowers. The stems of these plants are used to make the clothing.) How thick or how coarse the clothing was meant the season in which the clothes would be worn. Like us, heavier clothing would be worn in the winter and lighter clothing would be worn in the summer.

Men were barechested and wore skirt-like garments that tied at the waist. Women usually wore gowns that covered them from their shoulders to their ankles. The right arm and shoulder were left uncovered. Men were either clean shaven or had long hair and beards. Women wore their hair long, but they usually braided it and wrapped it around their heads. When entertaining guests, women would place headdresses in their hair.

Although both rich and poor Sumerians wore the same style of clothing, the wealthier Sumerians wore clothing that was made out of expensive and luxurious materials. Wealthy women and princesses also wore clothing that was colorful and bright.

Both men and women wore earrings and necklaces. During celebrations, even more jewelry was worn. The wealthier Sumerians often wore beautiful gold and silver bracelets and earrings. Necklaces were also worn and were set with bright, precious stones. Some of these stones were the lapis lazuli and the carnelian.

Ancient Sumer was also in an area known as the Fertile Crescent. This region spanned from modern Israel to Southern Iraq. The area earned this name due to its fertile riverbanks. The Fertile Crescent earned its nickname because of the humid conditions in the Middle East after the last ice age.



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