Social Studies – Early Mesopotamia: The Sumerians
Mesopotamia is the region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, located in what is known today as the Middle East.
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And in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians were a prominent civilization. So, in early Mesopotamia, as this area was first being populated, the Sumerians were one of the prominent civilizations that populated this area.
The next lesson: Egyptians, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.The following transcript is provided for your convenience.
And they were there from around 4000 BC to around 1500 BC. Now, they developed cuneiform. This is probably one of their most important achievements because a cuneiform is a system of writing that first used pictures or hieroglyphs, and later used symbols. And it is the oldest example of writing on Earth, which means that as far as we found, they were the first civilization to write things down. And Sumerians wrote lots of things out.
They wrote their laws, religious beliefs, hymns, prayers, daily records, business letters, receipts, and lexical lists – which were basically lists of the nouns and the different words that they used, and different semantic forms of it. So, not only did they leave lots of their own writing, they left a record of their language. So, you could go through the list of the words they used, or the symbols that they used, so that you could see what all the options were that could end up in any of the things that they wrote. And they wrote on clay tablets. They would get it a little wet and use a reed that had been dampened in water, and they could write on the clay while it was still wet, and then the clay would harden, and these clay tablets would be preserved. And lots and lots of these clay tablets from the Sumerians have been found and kept.
Now, the Sumerians also wrote up their complex mathematical systems in cuneiform. They were very mathematically advanced. They had theories about algebra, geometry. They wrote out multiplication charts. So, they had a lot of mathematical knowledge going on there, and they kept records of it on these clay tablets. So, it is preserved for us to still see today where the Sumerians were at, both in writing and mathematically.
Now, the Sumerians lived in mud brick buildings and farming communities. And they would live in these mud brick buildings for a while, and then, slowly, the mud brick would start to crumble, and they would have to tear them down and rebuild. And they did this over and over again as it became necessary. And so, the areas that they lived on actually became raised up a little more than the land that was surrounding their buildings or their communities. And then the area around where they actually lived, they farmed.
They used irrigation techniques, and also kept some plants in pots or vases. They also would grow some trees that bore fruit, and some other crops right next to their house, sort of like a yard. So, they would grow things there that would be handy. Now, they also primarily used oxen to plow and donkeys to transport goods. So, they did practice large scale farming, where they actually went out and plowed the field and planted more than they actually needed, and that was what they used for food and for trading as well. But they had those plots right near their home, kind of like a yard, or the plants that grew in pots or vases, so that they would have something handy if they needed it.
The Sumerians had use of the wheel. It first developed as the potter’s wheel. They had a lot of pottery, and so, the potter would spin the wheel and be able to better form pottery. Well, quickly, they realized that they could use this wheel for vehicles, which would be pulled by the oxen and donkeys. And then, a millwheel, so they could grind all these grain that they’re growing.
Sumerians traded widely using the barter system. So, they were very well known as traders, and they traded quite a ways away from where they actually lived. And they used the barter system. They didn’t have currency. They didn’t have any kind of coin that they used. They would trade goods with other cultures, or services, perhaps. If they wanted someone to come and help them harvest a field, they may offer them some of the harvest. But they used the barter system. They didn’t have any kind of money or currency to use to buy things they needed or wanted.
They had pottery, carved wooden items including furniture, and musical instruments such as the lyre. There were carved wooden stools and chairs and bedposts that looked like the hooves of oxen, and they had a lot of other carvings like that, so they were kind of artistic. And they could use these things to trade with other cultures. They also had tools, such as knives, drills, wedges, and a saw-like tool that were used daily in their farming community. But spears, bows, arrows, and daggers were used in times of war. They didn’t have swords yet, but the rest of those weapons were also used during times of war, and they were things that the Sumerians had developed.
Now, the Sumerians had an advanced military to do constant warring among city-states. So, the Sumerians were a bigger civilization and there were lots of little city-states within the Sumerian civilization, and they would go to war against each other from time to time, and it was actually pretty frequent that they would go to war with each other, and so, their military strategy and their planning and their weapons were all a little more advanced than other cultures because they fought amongst each other so often.
So, these are a lot of different pieces of information to give you an idea of who the Sumerians were. They had a system of writing, the oldest system of writing known as cuneiform. They recorded lots of their daily business, as well as their laws, and their mathematical systems. They were a farming community that did have use of the wheel, and they traded very widely using the barter system, as well as advancing their military strategy because they warred with each other. They fought with each other fairly constantly. So, these were the Sumerians. One of the earliest civilizations in the early Mesopotamian area.
The next lesson: Egyptians, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.