What’s incredible is that there were two thousand years of history that were completely forgotten. Completely. An entire civilization that nobody even knew about. No residual folk awareness. No garbled semi-historical legends. Everyone between the Atlantic and the Himalayas owed Sumer a direct debt for writing, the wheel, and social hierarchy, and yet the only scrap of Sumer that remained anywhere in the archive of civilizational awareness after the last cuneiform tablet had been incised around 75 CE was some Near Eastern demon named Jiljamish whose name got passed around between different sects until its last attestation c. 1500 CE.

Both Christian and Islamic civilization got their account of history from the Greeks, and the Greeks only knew about stuff as far back as the Neo-Assyrian Empire. That’s only 900 BCE. Everything before that they had only the faintest awareness of. I mean, with Egypt, they were aware of the Pyramids and stuff. They knew Egypt was old as fuck, but they had absolutely no conception of the actual time depth, or that there had been entire other civilizations contemporaneous with Egypt during its earliest history.

It was basically the biggest file format transfer failure in the history of the world. How is it that no Greek ever bothered to learn cuneiform? Or at least ask one of those Babylonian priests what that gibberish they were chanting in was? It’s like I found a floppy disk and was like “Hey this floppy disk has records from an entire lost civilization on it” and you’re like “Oh too bad…the last floppy disk reader broke 70 years ago and nobody knows how to manufacture them anymore.” Actually not even, it’s more like I found a floppy disk, said “Who cares about floppy disks, Herodotus already told me about everything that’s on these things” and threw it out without even knowing there was a whole civilization on there.

And Sumer was only rediscovered in the mid-1800s by Western archaeologists. So now two million cuneiform tablets are sitting in storage in museums around the world today, but only a hundred thousand or so have ever been read or published, since there’s only a few hundred people in the entire world who can decipher cuneiform. Sure, most of them are probably tax records, but there’s absolutely no chance there’s not some really important history, poetry, and spicy interdynastic drama in there, as well as probably a dozen or so undiscovered languages. And it will all have to wait for now.

anonymous asked:

I'm sorry if this question sounds dumb, but: Where did ancient summerian people live ? And how do you think the environment there looked at the time ?

Hi! This isn’t a dumb question at all!

The Sumerians lived in a land known as Mesopotamia, which means “between the rivers” — the river valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates. Today we know this region as Iraq, Kuwait, and some nearby parts of Iran, Syria and Turkey.

As for the environment and ecology of Mesopotamia, it’s part of what’s known as the “fertile crescent” — an area of fertile land stretching from Lebanon to Kuwait. Sumerian cities were generally located in the flood-plain valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but the language was spoken in surrounding desert, mountain, swamp, and other areas too.

I talked a little more about this in my Q&A video at around the 10:30 mark, so make sure to check that out too!


Extremely Rare Neo-Sumerian Palace Messenger Tablet from Iri-Sagrig, Dated 2027 BC

A clay pillow-shaped messenger tablet from an important palace archive of the Sumerian city Iri-Saĝrig, dated to 2027 BC, with cuneiform text on both sides: “1 roasted mutton, 5 sila soup Ur-šu-suen, chancellor’s assistant when he came for the ’secretary’ of Nana’s field; 3 sila soup, 2 fish Laqipum, cup bearer, royal messenger when he went for royal offerings; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Kuganum, royal messenger; /REVERSE/ 1 sila soup, 1 fish Ilianum, royal messenger when they went to Der; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Namhani, royal messenger; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Lu-šulgira, royal messenger when they came to the governor’s place; 2 sila soup, 2 fishŠugatum, royal messenger when he came to capture fugitive soldier-workers, servants of Ninhursag; 1 sila soup, 1 fish Pululu, eguary when he went for the sikum-mules; A disbursement for the month Nigenlila, 19th day.”

This text dates to the second year of King Ibbi-Sin, the last king of the Ur III. The text is particularly rare because almost all of the named messengers are followed by a description their mission: “Suškin, royal messenger when he came from Der to the king’s place.” The tablet records rations of food and drink distributed by the government to royal messengers. According to Prof. David Owen the Iri-Saĝrig archive is probably the archive of the governor whose office was in the local palace. The king and other members of the royal family occasionally traveled to Iri-Saĝrig, perhaps on their way to or from Nippur or other towns. No town in Sumer was visited more often by the king than Iri-Saĝrig. This may explain the presence of so many royal functionaries associated with the town.

Rare Assyrian Amuletic Bead with Name of King Shalmaneser, 2nd ML BC

A tabular oval agate bead with seven incised cuneiform characters denoting the royal name ‘Shalmaneser’ (šul-má-nu - MAŠ aš-ár-ed).

There were five kings of Assyria with this name, ranging from Shalmaneser I (1274–1245 BC) to Shalmaneser V (727–722 BC), the biblical conqueror.


The Dragon of the God Marduk.

Nebuchadnezzar II (who reigned c.604-562 BC), the king of Babylon, started a series of ambitious building projects including the richly decorated Ishtar Gate (575 BC). A long processional avenue linked the sacred gate to the temple of the city god Marduk and his famous temple tower, known from the Bible as the Tower of Babel. The façades of the Ishtar Gate were decorated with reliefs on glazed bricks, representing dragons (Akkadian: mušḫuššu ; from Sumerian: MUŠ.ḪUS, lit. “reddish snake” sometimes also translated as “fierce snake” ), Marduk’s emblem, and bulls (aurochs) symbolizing the weather god Adad. The processional route away from the city was decorated with lions, the animals of Ishtar, goddess of love and war. They were to guard against advancing enemies, as is indicated by the name of the gateway: “Ishtar conquers its enemy”.

This dragon is preserved at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (DK). Cm 115 x 164

The World’s First Female Author, Enhedu’anna

This ancient clay tablet from Babylonia is inscribed in Sumerian cuneiform and dates to the 20th-17th centuries BC. It mentions King Sargon’s daughter Enhedu'anna as the author of a hymn to the goddess Inanna. The tablet has lines written first by the teacher in the first column, with 2 students repeating the hymn in columns 2 and 3.

Enhedu’anna was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 BC), founder of the first documented empire in Asia. Enhedu’anna emerges as a genuine creative talent, a poetess as well as a princess, a priestess and a prophetess. She is, in fact, the first named, non-legendary author in history. As such she has found her way into contemporary anthologies, especially of women’s literature.



The Uruk Period is named after the ancient city of Uruk, a large settlement that could sustain a population as high as 40,000-50,000. Where in the earlier periods the sizes of war-bands were only in the hundreds, they could now support armies of as much as 5,000 men. Although they were also supported by about 146 smaller settlements that lay within their domains, these villages and cities began to decrease as the inhabitants flocked to the larger capital cities for the safety of their walls and promise of a better life.

^ Uruk.

Artifacts manufactured in Uruk can be found throughout Mesopotamia, one of the primary items found is also believed to be the world‘s first mass produced object, a “bevel rimmed bowl”. Most believe that these cheaply made ordinary looking bowls were actually part of the early Sumerian currency system. With the increase of urbanization less city folk farmed, instead finding work within the cities where they would be paid in grain. How much grain one had in a bowl would determine how much one was paid (for you to eat from, save or trade with). 

An urban revolution had occurred; populations and the focus of agriculture now shifted over to the more fertile river valleys and irrigation increased the productivity and amount of crops which led to a population boom. With more cities lying beside channels and rivers there was an increase in trade and income as now they could more easily travel and connect with those along these waters. With the overall increase of food and income also came an increase in specialist professions; merchants, craftsmen, artisans, warlords, high priests, nobles and kings. 

^ A clay tablet maker and cuneiform scribe recording a cattle sale in a Sumerian market place about 3000 B.C. by Neville Dear.

Temples were now being built on a larger scale and were more numerous, priestly roles became more important as well. The en (“priest, lord”) was the high-priest, a title denoting sovereignty and the power to make things prosper. The en-priestess (Akkadian ‘entum’, Sumerian ‘Nin’) would live in a temple complex called a giparu (“storehouse”) which were in earlier times used as storage areas for the harvest and even cattle. En-priestesses were buried in a cemetery by the giparu, offerings were given to deceased priestesses and reverence to them extended to the point of there being a cult devoted to them. A common custom in Mesopotamia was to bury the diseased in the floors of the household, the same can be found in the giparu as the priestesses were also buried here. Sadly the city of Ur, the giparu and its cemetery were all looted by the Elamites late in Sumerian history.

The first and most famous of these en-priestesses was the daughter of Sargon the Great, Enheduanna (“En, ornament [ie. the moon] of the heavens”), who was the high-priestess of Nanna/Sin (moon god) and was renowned for being the first author in history, at least 42 hymns are attributed to her. The en-priestesses were also seen as the wife of their patron god therefore representing the godly wife; an example being that the Enheduanna, en-priestess of Ur, represented Ningal (goddess of reeds) the wife of Nanna/Sin (moon god). During the warring city-states period that followed, the title en would also grow to into a more militarized and authoritative position. This priest-king (Ensi, “lord [of the] plowland”) was seen as an intermediary between the gods and man. 

The lugal (“big man”) signified the owner of something and inevitably became the term for kings. The title lugal would not become prominent until c.2700 BCE, the ensi were more important than them but in time they would become seen as their subordinates. Unlike the high-priests and high-priestesses, who would be elected, the lugal’s succession would pass onto their heirs. According to some the lugals may have initially been elected as ad hoc leaders much like the consuls of Rome and the judges (shoftim) of the bible, but generally needed for military purposes.

Like the classical Greeks, the Sumerians and Akkadians may have believed that whomever won these wars, the gods favored more so. Countless tablets show both pictorial representations and written texts which depicted gods warring when it was known that kings fought these conflicts. An example of this is when Umma and Lagash were warring the texts say that Ningirsu (patron war god of Lagash) battled against Umma and “By the command of Enlil, he cast (his) big battle-net upon it, and its many tumuli (burial mounds) he laid upon the ground in the plain.” 

There was even a king of Akkad named Naram-Sin who is depicted in artwork wearing a horned helmet only worn by the gods and was deified as the god of Agade (Akkad)”. Despite the apparent supremacy the ensis and lugals held, early Mesopotamian history shows that the council (ukkin, “council, assembly”) still held sway over most important decisions; one made up of elders (abba urru, “father/elders of the city”) and one of youths. In the poem Gilgamesh and Agga even Gilgamesh, the great legendary king of Uruk, needed their permission to go to war against Aga of Kish. The elders disapproved “Let us submit to the house of Kish, let us not smite it with weapons” but the people of the city sided with Gilgamesh.

Other city states arose, like the great cities of Kish and Ur, which surpassed Uruk in importance. This transition from the Uruk period to the First Dynasty of Ur is said by some to coincide with a wet and dry period known as the Piora Oscillation which led to massive flooding (possibly inspiring the great flood myth) and drought (leading to a scramble for resources).

If there are any errors please privately inbox me so I can update it. As always, if you’d like to read or learn about any specific historical subjects just let me know what they are and I will take note of them.

See Also:

Head of a man, fragment of a relief sculpture from Room N in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II (r. 721-700 BCE) at ancient Dur-Sharrukin = present-day Khorsabad, Iraq.  Now in the Cabinet des Médailles, Paris.