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Ancient Sumer

Following the movement of people into more fixed settlements during the Ubaid Period, the first Cities emerged in Sumer with some of the most notable of these being Nippur, Larsa, Lagash, Ur, Uruk, Eridu, and Kish.

From amongst these Cities, the City of Uruk provides us with one of the best pictures of life in these early Sumerian Cities.

The Uruk Period

The Uruk Civilization produced the kind of social organisational structure we are familiar with today with the emergence of fixed occupations, politics, literature, religion, writing, monumental architecture and social hierarchy, .

Referred to as Erech in the Hebrew Torah, the City of Uruk arose about 5,500 years ago in the area now occupied by modern Iraq which Greek Historians called Mesopotamia or the land between two rivers i.e. the Tigris and the Euphrates.

The fertile soil deposits from the river Banks encouraged human settlement because it could sustain domesticated animals as well as agriculture comprised mainly of Wheat.

Surplus grain was then produced which freed people from the task of farming and other specialised occupations began to flourish.

Clay tablets unearthed at Uruk contain a long list of established occupations including but not limited to cooks, potters, weavers, stonemasons, jewelers, and gardeners.

The surplus produced by Farming also necessitated the maintainance of accurate Harvest and domestic animal records in the City Storehouses which led to the development of the first writing on clay tablets known as Cuneiform.

Cuneiform script was made in wet clay first by using pictures, then followed by symbols and a numbers system based on 10 and 60.

The base 60 “sexagesimal,” system is still in use today and explains why a circle consists of 360 degress. 

Agricultural surplus thus exerted management demands on Sumerian society and written records were used by a rising King-Priest class to manage the distribution of grain and other forms of surplus within the City States. 

At Its height Uruk had about 40,000-50,000 inhabitants with constant wars being fought with other City States in competition for natural resources like water and land.

In order to effectively protect the Cities, warrior leaders, known as Lugals arose, and these would eventually become the individual Kings of each City State under the concept of Divine Kingship.  

Uruk’s religion consisted of a supreme sky God called An and his daughter Inanna, goddess of war and love (also known as Ishtar) who was the resident goddess of Uruk.

Her City Temple was attended to by a permanent complement of priests and servants.

Whilst this aspect of Uruk’s Religion is treated as mythology, it has been suggested that the development of Cities such as Uruk was part of an agenda by the Anunnaki Gods that the people of Uruk actually experienced as the harbingers of Civilization.

The people of Uruk viewed their Civilization as a gift from the Anunnaki Gods, and their religion would grow in complexity to include hymns and Hero Epics like the Epic Of Gilgamesh, the first superhero tale known to man.

Ultimately, a succession of Wars and weak Rulers would eventually lead to Uruk’s decline when it was conquered by Sargon of Akkad circa 2300 BC ushering in the world’s first empire in the wake of Uruk’s destruction.