The Sumerian civilization is the earliest known civilization on Earth. For the first time, people controlled their physical environments. They began to build cities as population grew and they began writing down the events of their lives.
The people that settled in Mesopotamia (Iraq) about 3500 B. C. were a short, stocky, black-haired people called the Sumerians.
Standard of Ur
There were four classes of people in Sumer.
-The highest was to be the ruler, high priest or official.
-The next was to be a lesser priest, a scribe, merchant or artist.
-Peasant farmers were third class.
-Slaves were the lowest rank.
Land in Sumer was divided into three parts: all of which were owned by the gods.
-Land farmed for the gods, used as storage for famine times, and to trade for foreign goods.
-Land farmed to produce food for priests and temple staff.
-Land rented by the citizens to grow food for themselves.
Some great cities of Sumer were Ur and Uruk. The Sumerians were the first to build cities in this part of the world. Each of the Sumerian city-states was made up of the city and the farmland around it. Walls of sun-dried brick surrounded all cities. The walls had bronze gates that were opened in daylight and closed at night to keep out animals and bandits.
At the center of each Sumerian city was a temple, called a ziggurat. The word "ziggurat" meant "mountain of god" or hill of heaven. Each ziggurat was made up of a series of square levels. Each level was smaller than the one below it.
Stairways would lead to the top of the colossal ziggurats, which were believed to be the home of the city's chief god. Only priests could enter this sacred area.
Around the ziggurat were courts, and the center of Sumerian life. Artisans worked there; children went to school there; farmers, artisans, and traders stored their goods there; and poor were fed there.
Narrow and winding streets went from the gates to the city center. The houses of the upper class were in the center of town.
The upper class was priests and merchants. Their houses were two stories high with wooden balconies that looked out over courtyards. The courtyards provided light and air for rooms. Outside walls were windowless to keep out the heat and smells of the street.
Behind the upper class's houses were the houses of the middle class. The middle class was government officials, shopkeepers, and artisans. These houses were built around open courtyards, but were only one story high.
Farther out was where the lower class lived-farmers, unskilled workers, and fisherman.
The Sumerians believed that all forces of nature were alive. They viewed them as gods because they could not control them. There were more than 3,000 Sumerian gods and goddesses.
Only priests could know the gods' will. Because of this, Sumerian priests were very powerful For example, the city's god owned all land. But the priests administered the land in the god's name. Also, the priests ran schools.
Schools were for the sons of the rich only. Poorer boys worked in the fields or they learned a trade. Schools were rooms off the ziggurat courtyards. They were called tablet houses because they were built to teach children how to write. The children wrote with sharp-ended reeds on clay tablets the size of a postcard. Sumerian writing was called cuneiform. It was made up of hundreds of wedge-shaped markings.
Writing in Sumerian culture developed so that people could keep track of business deals. When the Sumerians lived in villages, they could keep track of everything easily. When they began living in cities, it became harder to keep track of everything in their heads. To solve this problem, they developed cuneiform.
When a pupil graduated from school, he became a scribe. The ziggurat, the palace, the government, or the army employed him.
Although Sumerian women did not go to school, they did have many rights. They could buy and sell property, run businesses, and own and sell slaves. Although a woman handled the house's affairs when the man was away, the men were the head of the Sumerian household. He could divorce his wife by saying," You're not my wife." If he needed money, he could sell or rent his family into slavery for up to three years. The man also arranged the marriages of his children.
Children were expected to support their parents when the parents got old. They were also expected to obey older family members.
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