Sumerian Civilization and It’s Contributions!
The Sumerian civilization grew up in the river valley of Tigris and Euphrates. The Sumerian civilisation formed a part of it.
The lower valley of Tigris and Euphrates was famous as Sumer. This civilisation grew up 5000 years before the birth of Christ.
The people of Sumer established cities like Nipur, Ur, Umma, Eridu, Kish and Lagash and enriched this civilisation. Idea regarding the administration, art of writing, art, architecture, literature, trade and commerce of the Sumerians are known from the analysis of archaeological remains of that land.
The Sumerians were the true builders of the Mesopotamian civilisation. This civilisation became matured around 3500 B.C. The Sumerians built many cities. Nipur, Lagash, Ur and Kish were the four major cities of the Sumerians. In every city state king was the highest authority.
The Chief place of political activities of a city state was Ziggurat (Sumerian temple). The Sumerian priests were known as Patteshi. They were the chief architects of the Sumerian administration. The king ruled the state by their advice.
Art of writing:
The Sumerians made their noblest contribution in the field of writing. They adopted a system of writing which was popularly known as ‘Cuneiform’. An English man named Henry Rowlison who stayed in Iran first deciphered this writing. The Sumerians used more than 350 signs.
Each sign was treated as a letter. As the upper part of each letter was sharp and wedge-shaped it was thus knows as ‘Cuneiform writing’. The term ‘Cuneiform’ has been derived from the Latin word ‘Cunus’ which means wedge? They pressed wedge shaped marks on soft clay tablets with the help of sharp reed pen.
They hardened these tablets by drying them up in the sun. Most of those tablets were of small size because large ones often cracked in the process of baking. These Cuneiform writings of the “Sumerians were read from right to left. Thousands of such tablets containing Cuneiform writing are found from Sumerian library.
All these tablets give a lot of information regarding Sumerian civilisation. After the reading of the ‘Rock of Behistan’ many facts regarding the Sumerian civilisation came to lime light. Thus the development of Cuneiform script was the outstanding contribution of Sumerians to the civilisation of mankind.
The Sumerians had big libraries. These libraries were store house of knowledge. From the ruins of Tello, 30,000 clay tablets have been discovered. Those tablets were kept one after another in series. In many other places, many tablets have been discovered. All these evidence prove that those were the ancient libraries of the Sumerians.
The religious belief of the Sumerians was superb. They built temples at the centre of the city state for the worship of gods and goddesses. The Sumerian temple was known as Ziggurat. The meaning of ‘Ziggurat’ is “Hill of the Heaven”. These temples were a sort of multi-storeyed tower temples.
The top of the temple was a squared room partitioned into two. One room was meant for the presiding deity or the temple and the other room was used by the priest as his residence. The priest was known as ‘Patteshi’.
The Sumerians were Polytheists. Among the Ziggurats of the Sumerians, the Ziggurat built at Nipur for their chief god ‘Enlil’ was the biggest. He was the deity of the sacred city Nipur. He was also worshipped as the earth god and air god. Another Ziggurat was built at Ur for ‘Nannar’, the man god.
The most popular deity of the Sumerians was goddess ‘Ishtar’: She was the daughter of ‘Anu’, the deity of the sky. The mode of worship of the Sumerians was unique. Largely, the Sumerians were agriculturists.
The farmers brought water in a pot, a got or sheep and green plam leaf and kept all those things before the god or goddess. They prayed gods for rain and grain. The priest sacrificed the animal and predicted the future by studying its liver and entrail.
The priests played prominent role in the religious life of the Sumerians. They believed in dreams and omens and claimed to predict the future events. The Sumerians also believed life after death. They believed that after death the soul enters into a dark place.
The Sumerian priests also composed many mythological stories. They wrote the ‘Story of Creation’, ‘Story of Flood’, “Story of the Fall of Man’, and ‘Story of the Tower of Babel’ etc. Later on, the Hebrews made these Sumerian stories popular.
The Sumerians left indelible foot prints on the sands of time by erecting many cities, palaces Ziggurats. They used burnt bricks for the construction of different structures. The Ziggurats were seven or eight storeyed buildings and were narrower around the top. They gave proper attention to give a finishing touch to, every architecture. They knew to column, vault, arch and dome with proportion.
The Sumerians contributed a lot in the field of art. The craftsmen like potters, goldsmiths and stone-cultures produced work of high excellence several decorated clay pots discovered from Ur bear ample testimony of their artistic skill. The seals with carving and pictures show their talent as skilled artists. They also made ornaments with beautiful designs. The ruins of big metallic animals have been discovered from many Sumerian cities. They also built several stone images which reflect their artistic skill.
The Sumerians showed exceptional ability in the field of science. They had deep knowledge in the field of Mathematics and Astrology. The priests stayed inside the chamber of Ziggurat and kept eye on the movement of planets and stars. By that, they were able to predict good or bad time. Thus, they were quite thorough in astrology.
The Sumerians prepared calendar to determine the months and year. They divided one year into 12 lunar months. They determined a month on the basis of the movement of moon. Each month was divided into 30 days. After some years the Sumerian kings added one month more in a year and made it 13 months.
Their calendar was defective because it could not adjust 5 days in a year, thus making it 365 days (360+5 extra). That is why; they had to change the calendar time and again. Later on the Hebrews and Arabians accepted the Sumerian calendar after modification.
The Sumerians used water clock to measure the time. They divided one hour into 60 minutes and each minute into 60 seconds. The water fell down drop by drop from the hole of a pot. The Sumerians got idea about the time by looking at the marks given in the pot. This was a unique invention of the Sumerians.
The Sumerians had invented a new counting procedure. They used 60 as numberal unit and through that managed counting. In weight, 60 ‘shekels’ made a ‘mina’ or a ‘pound’. A circle was divided into 360″ (60×6 = 360° or 6 times of 60).
This was included in the arithmetic of the ancient Surnerians. As stated earlier, one hour was divided into 60 minutes and one minute was fractioned into 60 seconds.
Wheel and Cart:
A great contribution of the Sumerians to the history of mankind was ‘wheel’. This wheel accelerated the progress of Sumerian civilisation. The potter made pottey of various shapes and sizes through this wheel. The wheeled carts facilitated trade and commerce on land route. This invention of wheel by the Sumerians made them immortal in the annals of history.
Trade and Commerce:
The Sumerians were very capable in the field of trade and commerce. It is known that they maintained trade and commercial relation with Asian countries including India. They also maintained commercial relation with Egypt.
The city Ur earned fame as a centre of international trade and commerce. The Sumerians imported mainly food grains and exported wool, silk-dress, metallic goods and dates. With the advancement of time, the Sumerians accepted silver instead of food grains.
Thus, the Sumerian civilisation was the first manifestation of the Mesopotamian civilisation. The characteristics of the civilisation reflect its contributions. The Sumerian civilisation came to an end by the invasion of the Akkadians around 2500 B.C. This civilisation contributed variously to the culture of the world.