Gilgamesh, the fifth king of the city Uruk, is by far the best known individual of the ancient Mesopotamian society
- He rule about 2750 BCE -- for a period of 126b years, according to one source.
- He led his community in conflicts with Kish, a nearby rivalling city.
- Very little historically is known of his life and actions.
Gilgamesh is a subject of Mesopotamian mythology and folklore, as well as history.
- He is the protagonish of a series of stories called Epic of Gilgamesh.
- According to the gods, he was endowed with a perfect body and superhuman courage and strength. He was also known for being extremely wise.
- The legends dictate that he constructed the massive city walls of Uruk, and several of the city's temples.
- The stories recount the adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a close friend. They commited heroic deeds, but in spite of this, Enkidu fell out of favor with the gods, and was killed. Gilgamesh sought eternal life, by means of a magical plant. Upon finding it, a serpent stole it, forcing him to die a human death. These stories convey the values of friendship, loyalty, ambition, fear of death, and longing for immortality.
- The earliest urban societies emerged during the early foruth millennium BCE, in southwest Asia, particularly in Mesopotamia.
As people came together into larger cities, they sought a way to resolve conflicts, and began to regognize political authorities.
- They built states thoughout Mesopotamia, which encouraged the production of empires, as some wished to extend their power and enhance security by imposing their rule on neighboring lands.
- Urban society in Mesopotamia promoted the emergence of social classes, which caused social and economic complexes to rise.
- Mesopotamians developed a system of writing, and supported the emergence of organized religion.
- Mesopotamians supported tourism, and they regularly accepted migrants, like the ancient Hebrews.
- Phoenicians were merchants who also embraced the Mesopotamian society, and built extensive meritime trade networks, which connected southwest Asia with the Mediterranean basin.
Some Indo-European people had direct dealings with Mesopotamians, which crutially effected Mesopotamian and Indo-European societies alike.
- Other Indo-European societies had never heard of Mesopotamia, despite using Mesopotamian inventions, such as the wheel or metallurgy, when undertaking the extensive migrations that influened the early historical development of much of Eurasia, from western Europe to India and beyond.
- 4000 BCE -- as human population increased, inhabitants needed to find ways to hold the organization of such a large-scale society. By experimentation, they developed states and governmental machinery, and brought political and social order to their society.
The word "Mesopotamia" comes from two Greek words meaning "the land between rivers."
Population grew especially fast in Sumer, located in the southern half of Mesopotamia.
- It is possible that Sumerians already lived in this area in 6000 BCE, but more likely that they were migrants attracted by the agricultural potential of the area.
- By 5000 BCE, Sumerians were already constructing elaborate irragation networks that helped them procure abundant agricultural harvests.
- 3000 BCE -- Sumerian population = near 100,000.
- Sumerians were the dominant people of Mesopotamia.
The wealth of Sumeria attracted migrants from other regions, most often Semitic people (called that because they spoke languages of the Semetic family).
- At around 4000 BCE, huamn population increased in southern Mesopotamia, and the Sumerians built the worlds first cities, markedly different from the preceding neolithic villages, most promiently bycause they were centers of political amd military authority, which power that extended into the outlying areas. They became cultural and economic centers.
From 3200 BCE to 2350 BCE, Sumerian cities like Eridu, Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Nippur, Kish and others dominated public affairs. They all experienced internal and externam pressure, causing them to form states.
Internally, cities needed to maintain social order and prevent conflicts between its citizens.
- Additionally, since agriculture was so important to sustaining the urban population, , all cities became city-states, with power over the surrounding agricultural area.
Governmental authorities also organized work on projects of value, to the community, such as palaces, temples, and defensive walls.
- Ziggurrats were distictive stepped pyraminds that housed temples and alters to the general local diety.
- In Uruk, a massive ziggurat and temple was constructed at about 3200 BCE to honer Inanna, a fertility goddes. It has been calculated that it would take 1500 workers working 10 hours a day, five years to complete the structure.
Irrigation systems had to be expanded to support the harsh agricultural demand of the ever increasing population. The construction, up-keep and repair of a network would have taken thousands of workers.
- Only recognized governmental authority had the standing to draft workers for these projects.
Sumerians also faced external pressure outside of their cities, as the wealth stored in Sumeria often attracted raiders. The land was simple and flat, so they build defensive walls and organized military forces.
- Sumerian government was most likely an assembly of prominent men who made decisions on behalf of the rest of the community. When a crisis arose, power was yeilded to one man for the duration of the emergency.
- By 3000 BCE all Sumerian cities had kings who claimed absolute authority. However, they generally ruled in cooperation with local nobles, who were often men who displayed special valor in battle.
- By 2500 BCE, city-states dominated Sumerian life.
- By 2800 BCE, they had organized effective states, and already begun warring.
After 2350 BCE, most of Mesopotamia fell under rule of powerful regional empires, rather than specific monarchs.
- The Akkadians and Babylonians of northern Mesopotamia overshadowed the Sumerians, causing the emergence of regional empires.
Former minister to the king of Kish, Sorgon of Akkad (2370-2315BCE) overthrew the king and became an offensive force against all Sumerian city-states. He conquored them one by one, and seized the trade routes and natural rescources.
- He transformed his capital of Akkad into the most wealthy and powerful city in the world. At his high point, his empire stretched as far as all of Mesopotamia.
- For several generations, Sorgons successors maintained his empire, but it gradually weakend through rebellion and raids.
- By 2150, Sorgon's empire entirely collapsed.
Hammurabi, a very prominent Babylonian conqueror (reigned 1792-1750 BCE) improved greatly upon Sargon's administrative techiques, by relying on centralized bureaucratic rule and regular taxation.
The Assyrians brought imperial rule back to Mesopotamia.
- The built a compact state in the Tigris River valley in 1900 BCE.
- They built flourishing cities at Assur and Nineveh.
- They also built a powerful army commanded by professional officers chosen for skill and braver, rather than noble birth or family connections.
After the collapse of the Babylonian empire, the Assyrians were among the several lobbying for power.
- At about 1300 BCE, they extended their authority to southwest Asia.
- At their high point, they embraced not only Mesopotamia by also Syria, Palestine, much of Anatolia, and most of Egypt.
- They relied heavily on administrative techniques, similar to those of their Babylonian predecessors, and laws much like those in the code of Hammurabi.
- Their rule was extremely unpopular.
- The Assyrian empire was brought down in 612 BCE.
- From 600 to 550 BCE, Babylon once again dominated Mesopotamia, during the New Babylonian empire, often refered to as the Chaldean empire.
- King Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 605 - 562 BCE) lavished wealth and resources on his capital city.
Babylon occupied 850 hectares and the city walls were reported so thing that a four-hour chariot could turn around on top of them.
- The city held a stunning 1,179 temples, some faced with gold and decorated with thousands of statues.
- By this time, however, people outside of Mesopotamia had advanced weaponry, and by the mid sixth-century BCE, Mesopotamias largely lost control of their own affairs.
When large numbers of people began to work outside of the agricultural field, the stock of human skills vastly expanded.
- Pottery, textile manufacture, woodworking, leather production, brick making, stonecutting, and masonry all became distinct occupations in the world's earliest cities.
- Metallurgy was one of the most important developments in specialized labor.
Craftsman quickly realized that copper in it's pure form was much too soft to use as a weapon, but eventually realized that by combining copper and tin, they could create a much stronger metal, and thus bronze was born.
- Bronze was expensive, and most people were unable to afford to use bronze tools, however, the military quickly turned out swords, spears, axes, shields, and armor made of this new metal.
- Long-term, eventually agriculture turned to use some bronze tools, as well.
- After about 1000 BCE, Mesopotamians were able to manufacture tools and weapons made of iron, as well as pronce.
- The first use of wheels took place at about 3500 BCE, and by 3000 BCE, Sumarians were building wheeled carts. Eventually, the wheel became the standard means for transportation.
At around 3500 BCE, Sumerians had build watercrafts to take them into the Persian Gulf and beyond.
- By 2300 BCE, they were regularly trading with merchants who could be reached only by sailing.
Assyrian merchants regularly travelled by donkey caravan in 2000 BCE, from Assur to Kanesh.
- This trip took 45 days, and they transported at least eighty tons of tin and no less than ten tons of silver.
- Early kings of Sumerian cities were so well reveared that they were often considered offsprings of the gods.
Priests and priestesess lived in temple communities, and their primary role was to ensure good fortune for their communities.
- People often gave them offerings of food, drinks, and clothing.
- They often raised their own income, as well.
Apart from the ruling and priestly elites, there were several other social classes: free commoners, dependent clients, and slaves.
Mesopotamia was a patriarachal society.
- Hammurabis's laws show that men were considerably valued higher than women, and they were even able to sell their wives and children off into slavery.
Sumerians invented a system of writing dating back to the middle of the fourth millenium BCE to keep track of commercial transactions and tax collections.
- They first experimented with pictographs, but by 2900 BCE, Sumerians developed a system of writing that used graphic symbols to represent sounds, syllables and ideas as well as physical objects.
- Sumerian scribes used a stylus fashioned from a reed on wet clay to write. This writing is known as cuneiform writing, because of the lines and wedge shaped marks.
- Cuneiform writing was used for more than three thousand years.
- Most education in ancient times was vocational instruction, yet Mesopotamians established formal schools. Formal education was by no means common.
- Literacy led to the rapid expansion of knowledge -- Mesopotamian scholars devoted themselves to the study of astronomy and mathematics, which they applied to agriculture. They also formed a time system still used in present day -- a year divided into twelve months, the hours of the day divided into sixty minutes, each composed of sixty seconds.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh is the best known piece of reflective Mesopotamian literature.
The Hebrews, Jews, and Israelites are the best-known cases of early Mesopotamian influence, and preserve memories of their historical influence in a text of sacred writing.
- Hebrews were speakers of the ancient Hebew language.
- Israeliltes formed a branch of Hebrews who settled in Palestine.
- And after 1300 BCE, Jews descended from the southern Israelites who inhabited the kingdom of Judah.
The earliest Hebrwes wre pastoral nomads, who inhabited thel ands between Mesopotamia and Egypt during 2000 BCE. As Mesopotamia grew, some of the Hebrews settled down in the city.
According to Hebrew scripture, (the Old Testament of the Bible, the Hebrew patriarch Abraham cam from the Sumerian city Ur, but moved to Palestine in 1850 BCE, because of Sumerian disorder.
- Hebrew law borrows the principle of lex talionis from Hammurabi's code.
- The Hebrews told the story of a devestating flood that destoryed all early human society.
According to scripture, some Hebrews migrated from Palestine to Egypt, in eighteen century BCE, but around 1300 BCE, they branced off under the leadership of Moses and went to Palestine.
- They organized under a loose federation ot 12 tribes, but eventually abandonded thisand became a monarchy, which brought all twelve tribes under their rule.
- During the rule of King David and King Solomon, they dominated the area between Syra and the Sinai penninsula.
- After the time of Moses, religious beliefs became more distinctive. Israelites worshipped many of the same gods at Mesopotamians, however, Moses taught that there was only one god.
- Between 1000 and 400 BCE, the Israelites religious leaders compiled their teachings in a set of holy scriptures, called the Torah. It taught that Yahweh would reward individuals that obeyed him, and punish those who did not. It also taught that he would punish the community as a whole.
Following King Solomons reign, tribal tensions lead to the division of Israel into the north and a smaller kingdom in the south called Judah.
- During 900 BCE, the kingdom of Isreal was forced to pay tribute to the Assyrian reulers, and by 722 BCE, they had conquored the kingdom, and exiled them to other lands where they were assimilated into their culture.
- When Judah was conquored, they were forced into other lands, however, they all returned to Judea, where they became known as Jews.
- Those exiled to Judea after the Babylonian conquest organized several small jewish states of their own.
The Phoenicians occupied a narrow coastal plain located between the Mediterranean Sean and the Lebanon Mountains.
- They spoke a Semitic language.
- They referred to themselves as Canaanites and their land as Canaan.
The ancestors of the Phoenicians migrated to the Mediterranean coast and set up their first settlements after the year 3000 BCE.
- In place of a unified monarchy, they had a series of states ruled by local kings.
They were influential throughout the Mediterranean basin, because of their maritime trade and communications network.
- They didn't have a large agricultural society, as they had too little land to grow much.
- Between 1200 and 800 BCE, they dominated Mediterranean trade, and established several commercial colonies.
Like the Hebrews, Phoenicians largely adapted Mesopotamian cultural traditions to their own, and most of their gods were Mesopotamian.
- Their most prominent female deity was Astarte, a female fertility goddess.
Originally, they used the cuneiform systeem of writing, but after 2000 BCE, they became experimenting with simpler alternatives.
- By 1500 BCE, Phoenician scribes had devised an early alphabetic system consisting of 22 symbols representing consonants. Vowels were not represented.
- Because it took much less time to learn these simple 22 symbols than the hundreds of sybols employed by the cuneiform system, literacy rates became higher than ever.
By 900 BCE, Greeks modified the Phoenician alphabet and added the symbols representing vowels.
- Romans later adapted the Greek system and passed it along to cultural heirs.
- Major subgroups of the Indo-European languages are: Indo-Iranian, Greek, Baltic-Slavic, Germanic, Italic, and Celtic. English belongs to the Germanic subgroup.
- During the 18'th and 19'th centuries, scholars noticed extreme similarities between the Indo-European languages.
- The original homeland of the Indo-European speakers was the steepe region of modern-day Ukraine and southern Russia. Their society was built there in 4500 BCE to 2500 BCE.
- Indo-European speakers domesticated horses by about 4000 BCE.
The earliest Indo-European societies began to break up at about 300 BCE, when migrants got on their horses and migrated.
- Massive amounts of migration took place up until about 1000 BCE.
- The Hittites were the most influential Indo-European migrants, who migrated to the central plans of Anatolia in about 1900 BCE, where they assimilated the current inhabitants of the land into their culture.
- By 1595 the Hittities toppled the Babylonian empire of Mesopotamia, and for several centuries they were the dominant power in southwest Asia.
- Between 1450 and 1200 BCE, they authroity extented to easter Anatolia, northern Mesopotamia, and Syrai, down to Phoenicia.
- After 1200 BCE, the unified Hittitie state dissolved.
- The Hittities were responsible for two technological innovations -- the construction of light, horse-drawn chariots and the refinement of iron metallurgy.
- After about 1300 BCE, the Hittities refined the technology of iron metallurgy, which allowed them to produce cheap, effective weapons in a large quantity.