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Sumerians

The term Sumerians is a conventional designation for the people who lived in southern Mesopotamia (Sumer) during the third and early second millennia BCE. The English word is derived from the Akkadian term for southern Mesopotamia, Shumer, which is of unknown origin. The native Sumerian for their land was written with three cuneiform signs, ki-en-gi, which had the phonetic value ki-ngir, “land-native” or simply “homeland” in Sumerian. Although scholars often write and speak of a Sumerian “people” or “culture,” it appears that this reference is an anachronism because the native terminology recognized only a Sumerian area and a Sumerian language. Here the discussion of the history and inhabitants of the land of Sumer will refrain from imposing modern notions of race and ethnicity upon these peoples. The areas of concern will be the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, which falls within the borders of modern southern Iraq.

Rediscovery.

European awareness of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations began in the north, in Assyria. The most important early find for the recovery of the written record occurred when the nineteenth-century British expedition of Sir Austen Henry Layard unearthed the remains of the massive libraries in Nineveh belonging to the last great king of Assyria, Ashurbanipal (668–627). [See the biography of Layard.] Among the tens of thousands of clay tablets written in the Semitic Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) language, there were some texts that were clearly bilingual, in which the Akkadian lines were translations of some other unknown language. This language turned out to be Sumerian, and although one scholar spent a lifetime denying its existence, claiming that it was but a secret code of the Babylonian priests, others began work on the decipherment of the more ancient tongue. Work on the language continues to this day, and the first real dictionary of Sumerian began publication only in 1984 (Sjøberg et al., 1984–).

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, British, French, and German as well as American archaeologists and adventurers conducted massive excavations at the Assyrian and Babylonian cities that until then were just names—such as Nineveh, Babylon, and Aššur—in the Hebrew Bible and in Greek historical writings. [See Nineveh; Aššur; Babylon.] The discovery of the Sumerian language brought new interest in the earlier cities that were buried in the mounds of southern Mesopotamia. Although excavations had been conducted at Ur in the middle of the nineteenth century, the first real digs in the south of Mesopotamia were conducted by the French consul in Basra, Ernest de Sarzec, at the mound of Telloh, which hid the ancient city of Girsu, capital of the city-state of Lagash. The local inhabitants were not idle and tens of thousands of tablets from Girsu appeared on the antiquities market and made their way into European museums. In 1889 the first American expedition to Mesopotamia began its work at the site of ancient Nippur, staging four campaigns until the end of the century. A few years later the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago excavated early Sumerian materials at Bismaya (ancient Adab) and the Germans worked at Shuruppak, which, according to later Mesopotamian tradition, was the place in which buried tablets preserved knowledge from before the “great flood.” After the turn of the century, the Germans began a long series of yearly campaigns at Uruk. [See Girsu and Lagash; Nippur; Adab; and Uruk-Warka.]

Until the middle of the century, archaeologists were interested primarily in the central parts of large urban areas, although there had been excavations of prehistoric sites in the north. After World War II, American scholars, who had broader interdisciplinary perspectives, brought with them techniques developed in other archaeological traditions. They were interested more in cultural patterns than in collecting objects. As a result, they initiated the study of smaller settlements and introduced regional surveys into the archaeology of Mesopotamia. The mapping of ancient settlements allowed archaeologists and historians to reconstruct shifting patterns of settlements and to follow population shifts that accompanied the growth of large cities in the south of Mesopotamia. This activity, together with the results of actual excavations of cities as well as smaller habitations, has provided much historical information that could stand side by side with the limited written sources from early times, and could be used to analyze the history of areas and periods that have not yielded written records.

Origins.

The origins of the “Sumerians” have been widely debated, and there is little consensus on the issue. Much depends on how one phrases the question. Although evidence for human presence exists in western Asia far back into paleolithic times, the first such evidence in southern Iraq is relatively late for there are no archaeological remains preceding the sixth millennium. There are several reasons. Permanent settlement was dependent on the domestication of agriculture that occurred in the north and transferred to the south. Small alluviated or deflated sites are difficult to recover, although some scholars claim that the Tigris-Eu-phrates Valley was uninhabitable prior to this time.

The earliest-known settlement in Sumer has been excavated at the small site Tell el-'Oueili. The lowest levels of this hamlet are earlier than the hitherto attested phases of the Ubaid culture, which is attested in northern Mesopotamia, in Sumer, and on the shores of the Persian Gulf. The earliest excavated level was termed Ubaid o because it antedated the earliest previously known period of this culture, conventionally called Ubaid 1. The excavator of 'Oueili has called attention to similarities between the architecture of this level and at points farther north, but those resemblances do not mean that these people migrated from other areas. Although the earliest level at 'Oueili is unique, the later archaeological levels can be linked to developments at other southern sites such as Eridu and Ur and from this time on there is an unbroken series of related archaeological cultures in southern Mesopotamia. Archaeological cultures are modern constructs and cannot be easily linked with ethnic, linguistic, or political units; nonetheless, for almost a century scholars have attempted to find a break in this development attributable to a possible invasion of a new people—the Sumerians. This search has largely been abandoned in recent times. [See 'Oueili, Tell el-.]

Although in the past many have sought to identify the Sumerians as an ethnic group with specific racial features and to search for their putative homeland, they were most probably of disparate origins, and their ancestors had very likely lived in the Near East for a long time. It is therefore unlikely that a great historical migration brought them en masse from some other land. Attempts to identify physical characteristics of the occupants of Sumer have not been successful because few skeletal remains of the early inhabitants have been found and subjected to modern morphological analysis. Even if such remains were found, we would learn little about the identity of these people as the very notion of race in the physical sense is an imaginary category.

Language.

The earliest real writing system in the world appeared in Sumer around 3200. The inventor or inventors of the system used two common elements from their environment, clay for the writing surface and reeds for the stylus, as the medium to register administrative transactions. The language of the first written documents—the protocuneiform clay tablets from Uruk—is a controversial matter. Some experts claim that it is impossible to identify, while many think there is enough evidence to suggest that it was indeed Sumerian. This script was to have a long and complicated life. More than half a century later the cuneiform writing system was adapted to Semitic languages, including Akkadian, and eventually it was used for a wide variety of tongues including Elamite, Hurrian, and Urartian, as well as Hittite. The last-known dated cuneiform tablet is from 76 CE, and there are reasons to believe that cuneiform was read at least into the second or even third century. The early history of cuneiform is still poorly documented, but by the time of the Early Dynastic cuneiform texts from Ur, the written language and the personal names of most people was surely Sumerian. This does not mean that Sumer was a linguistically homogeneous area, only that the evidence we have is for the dominance of Sumerian in official discourse. Because many old place names in Sumer cannot be linked to any known language, some scholars have posited that they are the linguistic remnants of previous, otherwise unidentified populations. These phantom “substrate” peoples have sometimes been designated as “Proto-Tigridians” or “Proto-Euphrateans.” Certain loan words, toponyms, and personal names indicate contact with speakers of Semitic languages prior to or at the time of the Early Dynastic period. In fact, among the earliest literary texts there is one written in a Semitic language; all the others are written in Sumerian.

The Sumerian language has not been successfully connected with any other known tongue. Typologically, it was an agglutinative language. Roots and morphological elements, primarily monosyllabic, were strung together into chains in an established order. Because there are no known cognate languages, it is difficult to establish how much of Sumerian has been modified under the influence of other languages in the area. It is also difficult to determine the percentage of the population that spoke Sumerian, what dialect distinctions existed in Mesopotamian society, and the date of the demise of the Sumerian language. The written language did not directly reflect the language of the streets but was a literary tongue, probably based on upper-class dialects. Although Sumerian was used as a scribal language down to the first century CE, if not later, there are reasons to believe that by the beginning of the second millennium BCE, if not much earlier, it was no longer an everyday language. [See Sumerian.]

Environment and Economy.

The economy of Sumer was based on agriculture. The land had few natural resources apart from earth, water, reeds, brush, limestone, bitumen, and a few types of trees, among them willow, date palm, apple, Euphrates poplar, ash, and tamarisk. Everything else had to be obtained through trade, gift exchange, or military conquest. Through the middle of the fourth millennium the water table was high, and there were many natural lakes. As the climate changed, water had to be brought to fields by irrigation canals that were connected to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and to natural and engineered channels from those main water courses. Some have seen this need for water as the impetus for centralization of political power, claiming that water management requires high-level organization, but this view is no longer widely held.

Agriculture and animal husbandry formed the basis of the economy. The primary domestic animals were sheep and goat; the products of these animals were fully exploited. Up to the fifth millennium these animals were raised primarily for their meat and skins. From that time on the use of meat declined; sheep and goat were raised for their hides, wool, cheese, and dung (used as fuel). Fishing was an important part of the economy, particularly in the south. Smoking and drying preserved the catch, which could then be eaten year round or traded for other goods.

The main agricultural products were barley, wheat, fruit (apples, dates, figs, capers), onions, garlic, sesame, reeds, and scrub brushes. The exploitation of natural resources was a complex affair and the organization of agricultural production in early Mesopotamia is still a matter of much debate. There is little doubt that major portions of exploitable land were in the hands of the larger organizations, traditionally defined as “temple” and “palace.” Families and individuals worked for these organizations in exchange for rations, protection, and community status. The status of private land is more difficult to define. Some have claimed that the earliest evidence points to the communal ownership of private land and that individual ownership developed gradually. Others would argue that there is little distinction to be made between the two categories and that the earliest documented transactions of real estate indicate that some proportion of exploitable land was in the hands of individuals or nuclear families.

Political History.

The main organizational form of early Sumer was the city-state, that is, a polity centered on a single major urban center. The early cities, such as Uruk, were relatively large for antiquity and were surrounded by massive walls for protection and to symbolize their autonomy. Archaeologists have recovered large building complexes within cities that controlled large resources; these have often been termed “palaces,” and it is assumed that they were the seat of secular power. Thus, from early times there were various large economic entities that had extensive land holdings, controlled various manufacturing centers, and held economic and spiritual authority. What little we know of early Mesopotamian political history comes from royal votive and building inscriptions, from economic documents, and from later historical fictions. Archaeological surveys of settlement patterns indicate that during the Early Dynastic I period people moved into the cities from the countryside; many smaller settlements are abandoned and the population is clearly centered in the urban areas. The spheres of control of the cities overlapped in the limited area of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, and warfare often erupted over territorial disputes. We have vivid accounts of one such long conflict or at least one side's view of the issues involved. For at least three generations the city-states of Lagash and Umma clashed over the definition of their common border. The Lagash rulers commissioned public inscriptions detailing their version of events. If we are to believe them, Lagash was victorious in numerous border clashes, and at one point the dispute was mediated by an outsider, the king of the central Mesopotamian city-state of Kish. This has led some scholars to speculate that the city of Kish had a form of hegemony over the southern cities. [See Kish.] Umma eventually got the upper hand and its armies sacked the Lagashite capital. Ironically, our reconstructions of these events are based solely on the information provided by the loser because Umma has never been officially excavated and thus has not provided information on its side of the story.

The use of a common set of symbolic devices, Sumerian writing, area-wide artistic conventions, and similarities in architecture and material culture push the modern observer to view Sumer as a cultural entity. There can be no doubt, however, that there was as much diversity between the various city-states as there was surface similarity. They were the breeding ground for similar new regional elites and local hierarchies of power, differing symbolic representations of these relationships, and new categories of people—primarily scribes and priests—who owed their own status to the control over such symbols. Such groups and individuals had a strong interest in the status quo and the resulting separatist forces of Sumerian cities resisted attempts at unification into a territorial state. From laconic royal titles we know that certain kings claimed rule over more than one city; but, as far as we know, the first ruler to succeed in bringing all of Sumer under one banner was Lugalzagesi of Uruk. He began as king of Umma and within a short period of time he managed to gain control over the northern borders of Sumer, finally conquering the powerful state of Lagash, and then overtaking the southern cities of Uruk, Ur, and Eridu. [See Eridu.] His victory was short-lived; he was defeated and stripped of his lands by a newcomer from the north named Sargon or “True King” in Akkadian. We know nothing about his rise to power, and the standard descriptions of his ascent are based on suspect sources. According to later Mesopotamian legends, Sargon served the king of Kish and eventually took his throne. He then moved the capital of his state to a new city named Agade (Akkad/Akkade) and from there succeeded in conquering all of northern and southern Babylonia. Sargon and his successor ruled the first Mesopotamian territorial state for almost two centuries (conventionally 2334–2154). Their rule was characterized by almost constant warfare; the Sumerian cities revolted at every opportunity and the Akkad rulers apparently campaigned in all of the surrounding lands, searching for booty and for control of foreign resources and trade routes. Their armies ventured to the mountains of Iran, to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and into Syria, as far as the Mediterranean, and even into Anatolia. They established military and commercial outposts in the border regions, although it is difficult to determine just how far their true control reached. They celebrated their deeds in public inscriptions and in pictorial depictions of their might, carved on stone monuments and on open rock faces in foreign lands. With the new notion of empire came a new form of charismatic kingship. The propaganda efforts of the new bureaucracy reached new highs when Sargon's grandson, Naram-Sin, was proclaimed a god. The language of the inscriptions leaves no doubt that in their attempts to counter the old city-centered notions of polity, the Akkad kings used a variety of propaganda techniques. The writing system was reformed and central schooling was instituted to influence the opinions of future officials. Akkadian was introduced as a written language in the south, where it was now used in addition to Sumerian. Local officials were left in charge next to supervisors from Akkad, and their fates were linked with the destiny of the central state. [See Akkad.]

These developments lasted for three or four generations and then simply collapsed. The last years of the dynasty are devoid of documentation, and one can only speculate about the internal weaknesses that led to the end of the first Mesopotamian territorial state. Native tradition blamed it on excessive hubris of the rulers and on outsiders, primarily a people from the eastern mountains named the Gutians. Modern scholars see the collapse as a function of the inefficiency of over-extended centralized power, and on excessive reliance on warfare as a political tool. The Sumerian cities resumed their local rule, although some of them clearly acknowledged some form of Gutian hegemony. The text known as the Sumerian King List provides us with a litany of almost a hundred names of Gutian rulers in as many years, but it is now acknowledged that this period lasted for no more than two generations. The Gutians, whoever they may have been, were quickly mythologized and came to represent conventional barbarian outsiders.

Akkad never rose again. Indeed, it was abandoned and has not been found, although later inhabitants of Mesopotamia knew its location. A ruler of the city of Uruk named Utuhegal left behind a description of his battles with the Gutians and claimed to have restored kingship to Sumer, but he did not enjoy it for long and disappeared from the stage after a short reign. Ur-Namma (also cited as Ur-Nammu), who was his military governor at Ur, possibly his brother, took over the kingship and in a few years united most of Sumer. This consolidation began the hundred-year reign of the third dynasty of Ur, often mistakenly termed the “(Neo-)Sumerian Renaissance” or the “Neo-Sumerian period” (2112–2004). It was neither particularly “Sumerian,” nor was it a renaissance; indeed, the new dynasty took many of its cues from its Sargonic predecessors. The Akkad kings had used both Sumerian and Akkadian as official languages, but the new dynasty imposed Sumerian as the primary language of bureaucracy and literature, at least in the southern part of the country, from which most of our documentation originates. This action was not a patriotic move, but part of an efficient reorganization of all forms of public life. The new kingdom was even more centralized than the Akkad state, and the Ur rulers reorganized everything: the official language and the writing system, weights and measures, taxation, as well as the military and religious sectors of society. The second king of the dynasty, Shulgi (2094–2047), borrowed a concept from his Akkad predecessors and proclaimed himself a god, thus allowing the crown to exploit the religious aspects of charisma and to subordinate the temple estates to the central government. The kings of Ur married many women, both daughters of foreign princes and of local dignitaries; they sired many children, and these in turn were married off in similar fashion or were appointed to important offices. As a result, the extended royal family and their allies controlled the kingdom.

The core of the state, which was located in the Tigris–Euphrates basin, was buffered to the east and northeast by a zone of military settlements. The lands bordering on these defensive areas were the targets of a vigorous diplomacy and many of these states were allied to the Ur III royal family through dynastic unions. The rulers of Ur learned something from their Akkad predecessors and limited their power to a more manageable area comprising Sumer, Akkad, and the bordering regions to the east and northeast. They did not venture into Syria and, as far as we know, never attempted to reach the Levant or Anatolia, although we have evidence of diplomatic or possibly trade contacts with these areas. Nevertheless, the Ur III period was a time of constant warfare as the central government defended the trade routes to Iran and rebellions in neighboring vassal states. History repeated itself, and the Ur kingdom fell after barely a century of hegemony. The immediate and long-term causes of this collapse are barely documented and are primarily a matter of speculation: It does appear, however, that an overextended bureaucracy and a weakening of central control caused the whole state edifice to collapse in a relatively short time. This collapse, which was finished by an invasion from Iran, demonstrates the weak hold that such highly centralized states had on local populations. As soon as the center weakened, the economic dependencies, symbolic ties, and reflected status of families and individuals no longer held. Local traditions were powerful enough to take their place and life continued without the kings at Akkad or Ur. [See Ur.]

This survey ends with the fall of Ur. The termination is somewhat arbitrary, but just as it is difficult to define what we mean by Sumerians, it is equally difficult to establish the temporal borders of Sumerian culture. The immediate history of Sumer after the end of the dynasty founded by Ur-Namma is somewhat different. Power was once again centered around regional city-states and the new masters seem to come from Semitic Amorite tribes. Some of the new rulers made conscious efforts to present themselves as rightful successors of the Ur III kings. Indeed, one such Amorite, a certain Ishbi-Erra, who began his career as an officer of the last king of Ur and who managed to contribute to his defeat by establishing a new kingdom at nearby Isin, used all the royal symbolic attributes of his old employer. He even commissioned royal hymns, written in Sumerian, which presented his version of the fall of Ur. Not surprisingly, his scribes blamed barbarians from the east.

Literature.

Sumerian literature can be defined only as literature in the Sumerian language. It would be more proper to refer to “early Mesopotamian literature” because the earliest texts from the Near East include at least one composition in a Semitic language. Soon thereafter evidence exists for Akkadian, “Eblaite,” and other Semitic-language texts. The first written documents are economic records and lists of words that were used in the teaching of writing. Literature was first written around 2300 during the Early Dynastic period. The earliest such texts are extremely difficult to understand because they were written in abbreviated fashion without many grammatical elements, and the written symbols were randomly inscribed, often not in the order in which they were read. Scribes knew the texts by heart and the tablets functioned only as mnemonic devices. Later texts, which were written out in full in the proper order, are better understood. The largest group of Sumerian literary compositions dates from the latter half of the second millennium, when the language was no longer a living tongue but was used as for didactic and cultic purposes. The Old Babylonian school curriculum was based on older compositions; a small portion of it originated far back in Early Dynastic times, but much of it came from the court, temples, and propaganda of the Ur III kings and their immediate successors. Although by this time most contemporary texts were written in Akkadian, schooling required that a student study the word lists, royal and divine hymns, myths, proverbs, literary letters, royal inscriptions, cultic texts, lamentations, and various other poetic compositions of earlier days. There is only sporadic evidence of instruction in Akkadian for it seems that practical scribal knowledge was learned on the job. [See Akkadian.]

Religion.

The central location and architectural dominance of the ceremonial complexes in early cities testify to the social importance of the temple as an ideological and economic institution in Sumerian society. Although writing was undoubtedly invented for administrative purposes, the first literary texts, from the cities of Fara (ancient Shuruppak), Abu Salabikh, Adab, and Nippur, are almost exclusively religious. [See Fara; Abu Salabikh; Nippur.] Despite our incomplete understanding of these texts, we can state with confidence that the early cities of Sumer shared elements of a common religious tradition. Each city had a major deity and these deities were organized in family groupings that were, in turn, hierarchically ordered along kinship lines. By means of a spatial metaphor the top deity in this hierarchy was An, the sky god; in practical terms it was Enlil (Illil), god of the city of Nippur. Enlil, whose name is probably Semitic in origin, is but one example of the strong syncretistic tendencies that are in evidence already in the earliest textual evidence. For example, Semitic deities such as Su'en and Shamash, the moon and sun respectively, became identified with Sumerian Nanna and Utu. The Sumerian gods were both male, but in Semitic religions the sun and moon were sister and brother. In some Akkadian personal names the original feminine sun goddess can still be traced.

Religious spectacles were conducted in large open spaces connected with the temple complexes and in various public spaces within and outside the city walls. It does not seem that individuals had much access to the interiors of the temples, which were reserved for priests and state dignitaries. Because religion was part of state ideology, public ritual was also political celebration and served to build and reinforce communal bonds. Private worship was practiced at home. The more elaborate households included chapels; in certain periods people were buried under the floors of houses. Therefore, dwellings were also the locations for ancestor worship. Some ceremonies that required the participation of specialists, such as healing and other rite of passage rituals, were performed either in private houses or in liminal sites such as riverbanks or in the steppe.

Kingship and Political Power.

The public expression of political power was centered around the person of the king. Although notions of kingship, as well as the scope of royal power, differed by place and time, the institution was surely central to Mesopotamian government throughout the historical periods. We know very little about the early kingship, and most of what is written on the subject is pure speculation. Much confusion has been caused by a lack of understanding of native terminology. The main Sumerian word for “king” was lugal, a term of unknown origin that was sometimes falsely etymologized in antiquity as well as in modern times as “grand man” (gal + lu). Another word, which was used in certain places, primarily at Uruk, was en. Some scholars have seen a difference between the institutions designated by these words, which are probably only local terms for the same general concept. During the Uruk period, one finds representations of an important person, often wearing a characteristic skullcap, in scenes of sacrifice and worship. This person is usually described as a “priest-king” with the implication that we have a phase in the transition from sacred to secular rule. There are two primary reasons for this assertion. Large religious ceremonial clusters dominated the center of the cities, and artistic representations of a priest or king in the act of making offerings are characteristic of the art of the early urban period. The priest-king, however, is a figment of our imagination. All we have is a series of images of a “ruler” performing a sacred act, and it is impossible to specify how such an individual would be different from earlier or later rulers.

Archaeological remains of large building complexes, which seem to be different from the ceremonial sacred buildings that dominated the centers of most cities, indicate that there were a variety of economic and political forces at work in early Mesopotamia. The nature of these forces can only be defined from later written sources. The first royal inscriptions, from the latter part of the Early Dynastic period, indicate the centrality of the notion of kingship in Sumer. The person of the king embodied political power in each city-state, and while there were earlier attempts at larger hegemony, it was only with the rise of territorial states such as Akkad and then Ur that concepts of supreme kingship were fully developed.

Kings were the focal point of public representations of power, and therefore much evidence on the representation of this institution has survived. We know little, however, about the actual distribution of power and decision making in early Mesopotamian states. Scholars have used later literary texts to reconstruct notions of primitive democracy and the functioning of assemblies, but there is little support for these reconstructions. Later evidence from letters and other more modest documents, as well as ethnographic analogy, suggest that local elites as well as organized extended families were important in local affairs and that the central authorities had to work with, and manipulate, these centers of authority.

Historiography.

Sumerian views of history are known to us primarily from texts written in various periods that have survived in copies made during the middle of the second millennium. It is often impossible to recover their original context and therefore difficult to discern differences in time. For many scholars, the primary historiographical document is the Sumerian King List, although opinions differ as to its date of composition. The list begins “when kingship descended from heaven” or, in some copies, “after the (great) flood swept over the land,” and proceeds to present a list of rulers, who are ordered as if Sumer had always been under the rule of one city. Hence, it served as a legitimation document for whatever group of rulers claimed such hegemony, be it the kings of Ur or their Isin successors. Fate seems to have ruled here, and kingship moves from city to city without explanation. In other texts that share this ideology, particularly in poetic laments that describe the fall of the Akkad and Ur III states, the mechanism of history is equally random and is credited to the caprice of the gods. It was not the mechanism of dynastic change, but the reality of contemporary power that was of concern to the writers. It is not surprising, then, that the main thrust of what we may consider historical writing was a consideration of the present and the legitimation of the status quo.

It is impossible to make a strict delimitation of Sumerian culture; the living language may have died as early as the latter part of the third millennium, but the written legacy lived on, and eventually spread throughout the Near East. Every scribe who learned to write cuneiform had to start with this classical language. Sumerian literature continued to be taught alongside Babylonian until the first centuries of the common era.

[

See also Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia; Euphrates; and Tigris

.]

Bibliography

  • Cooper, Jerrold S. Reconstructing History from Ancient Inscriptions: The Lagash-Umma Border Conflict. Malibu, 1983.
    Informative reconstruction of the Umma-Lagash border dispute, with translations of the original sources
    .
  • Crawford, Harriet. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge, 1991.
    Survey of Sumerian culture based primarily on archaeological sources
    .
  • Gibson, McGuire, and Robert D. Biggs, eds. The Organization of Power: Aspects of Bureaucracy in the Ancient Near East. Chicago, 1987.
    Collection of essays including a number of important discussions of Sumerian administration and bureaucracy
    .
  • Jacobsen, Thorkild, ed. and trans. The Harps That Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven, 1987.
    The only modern collection of reliable translations of selected pieces of Sumerian literature
    .
  • Lieberman, Steven J., ed. Sumerological Studies in Honor of Thorkild Jacobsen on His Seventieth Birthday, June 7, 1974. Chicago, 1976.
    Collection of survey articles on various aspects of Sumerian culture
    .
  • Michalowski, Piotr. “Sumerian” In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, edited by William Bright, vol. 4, pp. 94–97. New York and Oxford, 1992.
  • Michalowski, Piotr. “Sumerian Literature: An Overview.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack M. Sasson et al., pp. 2277–2289. New York, 1995.
  • Nissen, Hans J. The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000–2000 B.C. Chicago, 1988. Synthetic, organized summary of current views on ancient Near Eastern history, with particular emphasis on the early periods in Sumer. The original German version is available in a revised edition: Grundzüge einer Geschichte der Frühzeit des Vorderen Orients (Darmstadt, 1990).
  • Postgate, J. N. Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Rev. ed. London, 1994.
    Broad survey of early Mesopotamian cultural, economic, social, and political history
    .
  • Sjøberg, Åke, et al. The Sumerian Dictionary of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1984– .
    Only two volumes have appeared to date
    .

Piotr Michalowski

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