What The Water Gave US
Ancient Mesopotamia and The
Invention of Writing
Professor Will Adams
Valencia College
Mesopotamia: land between
the rivers
The Impact of Geography
 The first true civilization,
Sumer, was discovered in
Mesopotamia, which means
“land between the...
Why Was Sumeria the First
Civilization?
 The Sumerians defined what constitutes a “civilization” today:
1. They built com...
Disadvantages of the
Environment
 The northern Fertile Crescent is
hilly and rainy in the winter,
while the south is flat...
Early Solutions to Problems
 Food: By 5000 B.C.E.,
Mesopotamian resources were
running out, so people
moved to the plains...
The Invention of Irrigation
 To make sure there was enough
silt, farmers had to control the
water supply, thus inventing
...
The City-States of Sumer
 Recognizable cities first
arose around 3,000 B.C.
 The first cities were Eridu,
Ur, & Uruk.
 ...
The Sumerian Cityscapes
 Sumerian city-states were
surrounded by sun-dried
brick walls with gates.
 Within the walls wer...
Ancient Sumerian Religion
 Ancient Sumerians were
polytheistic (believing in
multiple gods).
 The Sumerian pantheon
cons...
The Sumerian Pantheon
 Sumerians believed that gods lived
on distant mountaintops & each god
had control of certain thing...
Kingship and Religion Linked
 Each city-state king’s power
was enhanced & supported
by Sumerian religion.
 Sovereignty (...
The Mountains of God
 Ziggurats were built of many
layers of mud bricks in the
shape of a tiered pyramid.
 The mountain ...
The Innovations of Sumeria
 Sumerians invented the wheel,
the sail, and the plow.
 They also ushered in the
Bronze Age b...
The Sumerian Writing System
Over five thousand
years ago, people living
in Mesopotamia
developed a form of
writing to rec...
Cuneiform Is Invented
 Over time, the need for
writing changed & the signs
developed into a script we
call cuneiform.
 O...
Cuneiform and Agriculture
Around 3100 BCE,
people began to
record amounts of
different crops.
Barley was one of the
most...
Inventory in Cuneiform
 Farmers brought their
barley to the temple stores.
 A record was kept of how
much barley was rec...
Inventory in Cuneiform
The barley sign
changed shape when
the scribes used a
writing tool with a
squared-off end
instead ...
A reed stylus was the main writing tool used
by Mesopotamian scribes.
Cuneiform in Maturity
It is at this point that
the signs became what
we call cuneiform.
The barley sign had to
be writte...
Some Shifty Characters
 The Sumerian writing
system during the early
periods was constantly in
flux.
 The original direc...
The Standardized Cuneiform
Alphabet
Cuneiform Upper-Case
Characters
Cuneiform Re-Discovered
 Knowledge of cuneiform was
lost until 1835 AD, when Henry
Rawlinson, an English army
officer, fo...
The Sumerian Scribes
 Scribes were very important
people. They were trained to
write cuneiform and record many
of the lan...
Edubba: A Sumerian School
 Literacy was a highly valued
skill.
 Sumerians set up the first
institutions of formal
educat...
Notebooks Sumerian Style
This is known today as
a curriculum tablet.
It was used in
Mesopotamian schools
to teach pupils...
Life as a Sumerian Student
 Students worked very hard at
Sumerian schools, and the
school day lasted from early
morning u...
Sumerian Security: Cylinder Seals
 Cylinder seals were small carved
cylinders made of stone or
metal.
 Scenes of gods, a...
Scenes from a Cylinder Seal
This ancient cylinder seal has been rolled out onto modern
modelling clay to show the impressi...
Sumerian Contract and
Envelope
Some clay tablets were
wrapped in an extra
layer of clay which acted
like an envelope.
A ...
What Became of the
Sumerians?
 They were conquered by the
Akkadians, a Semitic (Arabic)
people.
 In 2350 B.C.E., the Akk...
But Then What Happened?
 In 1792 B.C.E., the
Akkadian empire was
absorbed into a new
empire centralized in the
city of Ba...
The Code of Hammurabi
 As king, Hammurabi authored a collection of 282 laws,
based on a system of strict justice.
 Penal...
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What The Water Gave Us: Ancient Mesopotamia & The Invention Of Writing

  1. 1. What The Water Gave US Ancient Mesopotamia and The Invention of Writing Professor Will Adams Valencia College
  2. 2. Mesopotamia: land between the rivers
  3. 3. The Impact of Geography  The first true civilization, Sumer, was discovered in Mesopotamia, which means “land between the rivers.”  The Fertile Crescent is an arc of land stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, spanned by the Tigris & Euphrates Rivers, which yielded rich soil and abundant crops.  The first Sumerian cities emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 3,200 B.C.
  4. 4. Why Was Sumeria the First Civilization?  The Sumerians defined what constitutes a “civilization” today: 1. They built complex, advanced cities. 2. They employed specialized workers. 3. They designed complex social institutions, like centralized government & religion. 4. They began the first system of record-keeping or writing (cuneiform), which allowed history and literature to develop. 5. They developed advanced technologies like the wheel, sail, & plow. 6. They mastered agriculture, allowing them to create a surplus of food, which led to trade. 7. Trade led to contact with outside cities and societies. 8. That ultimately led to cultural diffusion: the process of a new idea or product spreading from one culture to another.
  5. 5. Disadvantages of the Environment  The northern Fertile Crescent is hilly and rainy in the winter, while the south is flat, arid, & dry year-round.  The South receives little rain, but receives a lot of silt (material deposited by rivers, good for crops) from annual flooding, but flooding is unpredictable.  Irrigation could manage the flooding, but it was difficult to build.  Villages clustered in open plains, which provide no natural barriers for protection.
  6. 6. Early Solutions to Problems  Food: By 5000 B.C.E., Mesopotamian resources were running out, so people moved to the plains & established Sumerian city- states.  Protection: Sumerians built city walls using mud bricks to keep out enemies.  To get natural resources, Sumerians traded their grain, cloth, and crafted tools for the stone, wood, & metal they needed.
  7. 7. The Invention of Irrigation  To make sure there was enough silt, farmers had to control the water supply, thus inventing irrigation.  Irrigation ditches carried water to the fields,  This allowed for a surplus of crops.  The ditches took cooperation to complete (leaders to plan & labors and supervisors to build).  The project created a need for laws to settle disputes over how land and water should be distributed.
  8. 8. The City-States of Sumer  Recognizable cities first arose around 3,000 B.C.  The first cities were Eridu, Ur, & Uruk.  Each city was surrounded by barley and wheat fields.  As cities grew, so did their control of the surrounding land.  These large, city-governed areas are called city-states.
  9. 9. The Sumerian Cityscapes  Sumerian city-states were surrounded by sun-dried brick walls with gates.  Within the walls were inhabitants’ houses & large government buildings (also mud brick).  Each city-state shared a similar culture & history with the others, but each had a different government.  There was no Sumerian “nation”.
  10. 10. Ancient Sumerian Religion  Ancient Sumerians were polytheistic (believing in multiple gods).  The Sumerian pantheon consisted of a hierarchy of roughly 3,000 gods.  These gods were immortal, all-powerful, and used humans as servants.  Sumerians built temples called ziggurats (mountains of god) & gave sacrifices to please the gods.  Sumerians did believe in the concept of a “soul” or personal life-force.  The ancient Sumerians believed that the souls of their dead went to a “land of no return”.  Their view of the afterlife was not at all optimistic.  They saw the land of the dead as a gloomy, dark place, existing somewhere between the earth’s crust and sea.
  11. 11. The Sumerian Pantheon  Sumerians believed that gods lived on distant mountaintops & each god had control of certain things.  Each city was ruled by a different god.  The most revered Sumerian deities were:  Enlil (supreme god & god of air)  Ishtar (goddess of fertility & life)  An (god of heaven)  Enki (god of water & underworld)  Shamash (god of sun and giver of law)
  12. 12. Kingship and Religion Linked  Each city-state king’s power was enhanced & supported by Sumerian religion.  Sovereignty (right to rule) was believed to be divinely ordained.  Sumerian kings & priests acted as the gods’ interpreters.  They told the people what the gods wanted them to do through augury (examining the organs of a slain sheep).  The gods were worshipped at huge temples called ziggurats.
  13. 13. The Mountains of God  Ziggurats were built of many layers of mud bricks in the shape of a tiered pyramid.  The mountain shape was powerful because of the rivers’ constant flooding & the belief that the gods resided on mountaintops.  The cella (chapel) at the top served as the god’s home & was beautifully decorated.  Inside was a room for offerings of food & goods.  One of the largest ziggurats ever built was the Ziggurat at Ur, built c. 2,100 B.C.E.
  14. 14. The Innovations of Sumeria  Sumerians invented the wheel, the sail, and the plow.  They also ushered in the Bronze Age by pioneering its use in tools.  One of the first known maps was created in Sumeria.  They also devised a counting system based on the number 60.  MOST IMPORTANT: They created the first writing system, allowing history to begin.
  15. 15. The Sumerian Writing System Over five thousand years ago, people living in Mesopotamia developed a form of writing to record and communicate different types of information. The earliest writing was based on pictograms. Pictograms were used to communicate basic information about crops and taxes.
  16. 16. Cuneiform Is Invented  Over time, the need for writing changed & the signs developed into a script we call cuneiform.  Over thousands of years, Mesopotamian scribes recorded daily events, trade, astronomy, & literature on clay tablets.  Cuneiform was used by people throughout the ancient Near East to write several different languages.
  17. 17. Cuneiform and Agriculture Around 3100 BCE, people began to record amounts of different crops. Barley was one of the most important crops in southern Mesopotamia and when it was first drawn it looked like this.
  18. 18. Inventory in Cuneiform  Farmers brought their barley to the temple stores.  A record was kept of how much barley was received.  When some of the barley was given to temple workers, this was also recorded on a tablet.  The barley sign usually had a number next to it to show how much barley was being given in to the temple or taken away.
  19. 19. Inventory in Cuneiform The barley sign changed shape when the scribes used a writing tool with a squared-off end instead of a point. The end of this tool was used to press wedge shapes like these into clay tablets.
  20. 20. A reed stylus was the main writing tool used by Mesopotamian scribes.
  21. 21. Cuneiform in Maturity It is at this point that the signs became what we call cuneiform. The barley sign had to be written using several wedges.
  22. 22. Some Shifty Characters  The Sumerian writing system during the early periods was constantly in flux.  The original direction of writing was from top to bottom, but for reasons unknown, it changed to left-to-right very early on (perhaps around 3000 BCE).  This also affected the orientation of the signs by rotating all of them 90° counterclockwise.
  23. 23. The Standardized Cuneiform Alphabet
  24. 24. Cuneiform Upper-Case Characters
  25. 25. Cuneiform Re-Discovered  Knowledge of cuneiform was lost until 1835 AD, when Henry Rawlinson, an English army officer, found some inscriptions on a cliff at Behistun in Persia.  Carved in the reign of King Darius of Persia (522-486 BCE), they consisted of identical texts in three languages: Old Persian, Babylonian & Elamite.  After translating the Persian, Rawlinson began to decipher the others.  By 1851 he could read 200 cuneiform signs.
  26. 26. The Sumerian Scribes  Scribes were very important people. They were trained to write cuneiform and record many of the languages spoken in Mesopotamia.  Without scribes, letters would not have been written or read, royal monuments would not have been carved with cuneiform, and stories would have been told and then forgotten.  Scribes wrote on different shaped objects depending on the type of information they wanted to record.
  27. 27. Edubba: A Sumerian School  Literacy was a highly valued skill.  Sumerians set up the first institutions of formal education that they called edubbas.  Education included writing and mathematics  Tuition was paid for education.  The educated were privileged elite: government officials, scribes, etc.
  28. 28. Notebooks Sumerian Style This is known today as a curriculum tablet. It was used in Mesopotamian schools to teach pupils about the different types of texts written by scribes.
  29. 29. Life as a Sumerian Student  Students worked very hard at Sumerian schools, and the school day lasted from early morning until early evening.  The teachers strictly regimented the students.  Once a student effectively finished twelve years of school, he was an official scribe, or writer.  This was a important position in Sumerian culture. Scribes were very expensive in order to continue and recover the evidence keeping that the Sumerians considered so very necessary. Sculptor unknown, Votive Statue of the Scribe Indu, c. 2500 BCE
  30. 30. Sumerian Security: Cylinder Seals  Cylinder seals were small carved cylinders made of stone or metal.  Scenes of gods, animals and men were carved into the seal so when it was rolled on the clay, it would leave an impression. This would act like a signature.  Some cylinder seals also had cuneiform signs carved on them which recorded the name and title of the seal owner.  Seals were rolled over clay tablets which were nearly dry.
  31. 31. Scenes from a Cylinder Seal This ancient cylinder seal has been rolled out onto modern modelling clay to show the impression.
  32. 32. Sumerian Contract and Envelope Some clay tablets were wrapped in an extra layer of clay which acted like an envelope. A shortened version of the information on the tablet was sometimes written on the envelope. Part of this envelope has broken off, showing the top of the tablet inside.
  33. 33. What Became of the Sumerians?  They were conquered by the Akkadians, a Semitic (Arabic) people.  In 2350 B.C.E., the Akkadians swept into the Fertile Crescent, led by Sargon the Great (King Sargon I).  They conquered & assimilated the Sumerians, thus creating the world’s first empire.  An empire is a large political unit or state under a single leadership, that controls large areas of conquered and native territory.
  34. 34. But Then What Happened?  In 1792 B.C.E., the Akkadian empire was absorbed into a new empire centralized in the city of Babylon.  The Babylonians were led by their King Hammurabi.  As leader of the newly- minted Babylonian Empire, Hammurabi introduced a standardized law code and promoted the use of a single language empire-wide.
  35. 35. The Code of Hammurabi  As king, Hammurabi authored a collection of 282 laws, based on a system of strict justice.  Penalties for various crimes were routinely severe, and the punishments varied by social class.  The concept of retaliation (“an eye for an eye”) was an important part of the legal system.  Officials were held accountable to the injured (If they didn’t catch a murderer, they had to pay the victim’s family).  The Code of Hammurabi also addressed issues in marriage and family laws.  The Code was meant to reinforce the principle that government had a responsibility for what occurred in society.

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