Chapter 1 - Section 4

Ancient Sumer

     The Sumerians were contemporaries of the ancient Egyptians. They lived in the southern region of the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley. The Sumerians developed their civilization around 4000 BCE. They created the earliest civilization known in the Fertile Crescent. It was based upon a number of independent city-states surrounded by rural farmland. As a result, there was almost constant warfare among the city-states over questions of territory, power and of course, wealth. This situation prevented the political unification of the area in comparison to the situation in Egypt. Nevertheless, the Sumerians were responsible for a number of inventions and discoveries that became important innovations for the growth of civilization, and therefore, the cultural heritage of Western Civilization.


     Written Expression and the Cuneiform Writing System: The Sumerians created the cuneiform writing system to meet the needs of a complex culture. It is about as old as the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. The Sumerians used a cut reed writing instrument called a stylus. Reflecting the availability of resources in Sumer, the Sumerians pressed the cuneiform characters into soft clay tablets. When dried and hardened, the clay tablets became a permanent record of the writings of the ancient Sumerians.The cuneiform system was used for thousands of years by other civilizations that followed Sumer in the Fertile Crescent. It was readily adaptable to other languages and was still in use in the fourth century before the Common Era. Like the Egyptian hieroglyphics, there were hundreds of characters and pictographic symbols to learn in order to master cuneiform writing. Therefore an educated class of priests, scribes, merchants and government officials emerged to record and carry on the business of the daily economic, social and political life of ancient Sumer.

     Number System: The Sumerians created a numbering system for accounting, measurement, mathematic applications and many other uses. The system was based on the number 60. Today we use this system of 60 to measure time by the hour, minutes and seconds. The Sumerians were very precise in their uses of the number system. They even gave future cultures the 360 degree circular and angle system of measurement.

     Architecture: The Sumerians built temples to their gods. Besides court yards, storerooms, residences for the priest and visitors, a temple complex often included a ziggurat. This was a stepped tower shaped somewhat like a pyramid. At the top there was a shrine to a god and also an area to observe the heavens. The Sumerians were among the first astronomers and astrologists in the world. The Sumerians need to be credited with the invention of the arch. The arch was made for stronger and larger structures. The arch can hold much more weight than the straight lintel beam crossing overhead in a doorway as for example, used by the ancient Egyptians. The Sumerians mostly built using sun dried mud bricks often overlaid with glazed tiles. Unfortunately, there are little remains of these structures. Many centuries later, the Romans took the concept of the arch to higher and more advanced levels of building of architecture with the construction of domes and vaults applied to their buildings.

Ancient Sumerians and Planet X Nibiru

     Applied Science: The Sumerians were practical people and were concerned with meeting the needs of their society. To this end they built irrigation works, trading network and widespread commercial routes. They also created a military organization to fight the wars with rival city-states. But the most important invention that they are credited with and remains one of their greatest contributions to civilization is the development of the wheel. It is hard to visualize the evolution of Western Civilization without the use of the wheel and its thousands of applications.

The Babylonians

     The Babylonians invaded the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley from the Arabian Desert region to the west of Mesopotamia around 1900 BCE. They set up their capital and center of empire in Babylon. The Babylonians appreciated the qualities of Sumerian civilization and quickly built their own civilization upon it.  The Babylonian Empire lasted a few centuries before it was conquered by new invaders. However under its most famous king, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE), the Babylonian civilization is credited with several noteworthy achievements.

     The First Code of Law: Under the great king, Hammurabi, the Babylonians wrote the famous Code of Hammurabi. It is often stated to be the first legal law code in history. The code was engraved on a black basalt stone using cuneiform writing. The law code had a number of interesting features. Some examples are given here.

  • Common use of the death sentence and eye for an eye punishment
  • Strict class distinctions among the rich, poor and slaves
  • Government regulation of all economic activity such as trade, farming, building and medical practice
  • Laws governing liability, negligence and protection of property
  • Generally reasonable treatment of women, their property and business rights

     Hammurabi ruled his kingdom with a sense of fairness and efficiency. Many of the principals of law written on his code were passed on to other cultures. For example, one can read much the same concepts in later centuries in Roman law as they became part of the Western tradition.

     Astronomy and Astrology: Building upon the precedents and accomplishments of the Sumerians, the Babylonians became great astronomers. Their religion and much of their medical practices made use of astrology and the movements of the heavenly bodies. They believed that the movements of the stars, planets and other celestial events impacted the lives of individuals and therefore, that of the nation. In trying to predict the future, the Babylonians became accomplished astronomers. They identified planets, constellations and even recorded eclipses and comet sightings. They developed an accurate lunar calendar later used by the Hebrews.

Ancient Sumerian Astronomy

     Literature: The Babylonians were eager writers. Thousands of cuneiform clay tablets have been found throughout the Fertile Crescent. In translating many of these, scholars discovered a great epic poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh. This ancient legend explains the creation of the world, the story of the first humans and the earliest heroes. It also includes a story about a great flood that covered the earth. There is little doubt that many of these early Babylonian epics influenced the culture of the ancient Hebrews and the writings of the Old Testament.

The Epic of Gilgamesh #1
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