Sumer means "Land of the Lords of the Sun" ... "Land of the Lords of Brightness"
The Sumerians' cuneiform writing system is the oldest that has been deciphered. The status of older inscriptions such as the Vinca signs and the even older Jiahu symbols is controversial.
- The Vinca symbols, script, or Old European script, are a set of symbols found on Neolithic era (6th to 5th millennia BCE) artifacts from the Vinca culture of southeastern Europe. The symbols are mostly considered as constituting an instance of "proto-writing"; that is, they probably conveyed a message but did not encode language, predating the development of writing proper by more than a millennium.Jiahu symbols refer to the 16 distinct markings on prehistoric artifacts found in Jiahu, a neolithic Peiligang culture site found in Henan, China, and excavated in 1999. The Jiahu site dates to 6600 BC; some archaeologists believe the markings to be similar (although without necessarily having the same meaning) to some characters used in a much later writing system related to the oracle bone script, but there is currently no consensus. A 2003 report in Archaeology interpreted them "not as writing itself, but as features of a lengthy period of sign-use which led eventually to a fully-fledged system of writing." The earliest evidence for a corpus of writing in the oracle bone script dates much later to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BC).
They invented and developed arithmetic by using several different number systems including a mixed radix system with an alternating base 10 and base 6. This sexagesimal system became the standard number system in Sumer and Babylonia.
They may have invented military formations and introduced the basic divisions between infantry, cavalry, and archers.
They developed the first known codified legal and administrative systems, complete with courts, jails, and government records.
The first true city states arose in Sumer, roughly contemporaneously with similar entities in what is now Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Several centuries after the invention of cuneiform, the use of writing expanded beyond debt/payment certificates and inventory lists to be applied for the first time, about 2600 BC, to messages and mail delivery, history, legend, mathematics, astronomical records, and other pursuits.
Conjointly with the spread of writing, the first formal schools were established, usually under the auspices of a city-state's primary temple.
Finally, the Sumerians ushered in the age of intensive agriculture and irrigation. Emmer wheat, barley, sheep (starting as mouflon), and cattle (starting as aurochs) were foremost among the species cultivated and raised for the first time on a grand scale.
The first people at Eridu brought with them the Samarran culture from northern Mesopotamia and are identified with the Ubaid period, but it is not known whether or not these were Sumerians (associated later with the Uruk period).
The Sumerian king list is an ancient text in the Sumerian language listing kings of Sumer from Sumerian and foreign dynasties. Some of the earlier dynasties may be mythical; and only a few of the early names have been authenticated through archaeology. The best-known dynasty, that of Lagash, is not listed there at all.
- Eridu, E-Abzu, EnkiUr, E-kishnugal, Nanna (moon)
Larsa, E-babbar, Utu (sun)
Uruk, E-anna, Inana and An
Bad-tibira, E-mush, Dumuzi and Inana
Girsu, E-ninnu, Ningirsu
Umma, E-mah, Shara (son of Inana)
Nippur, E-kur, Enlil
Shuruppak, E-dimgalanna, Sud (variant of Ninlil, wife of Enlil)
Marad, E-igikalamma, Lugal-Marada (variant of Ninurta)
Sippar, E-babbar, Utu (sun)
Kutha, E-meslam, Nergal
Early Dynastic Period
The Early Dynastic II period is when Gilgamesh, the famous king of Uruk, is believed to have reigned. Texts from the ED II period are not yet understood. Later inscriptions have been found bearing some Early Dynastic II names from the King List. The Early Dynastic IIIa period, also known as the Fara period, is when syllabic writing began. Accounting records and an undeciphered logographic script existed before the Fara Period, but the full flow of human speech was first recorded about 2600 BC at the beginning of the Fara Period. The Early Dynastic IIIb period is also known as the Pre-Sargonic period.
First Dynasty of Kish
The earliest monarch on the list whose historical existence has been independently attested through archaeological inscription is En-me-barage-si of Kish (ca. 2700-2600 BC), said to have conquered Elam and built the temple of Enlil in Nippur. Enmebaragesi's successor, Aga, is said to have fought with Gilgamesh of Uruk, the fifth king of that city. From this time, for a period Uruk seems to have had some kind of hegemony in Sumer. This illustrates a weakness of the Sumerian kinglist, as contemporaries are often placed in successive dynasties, making reconstruction difficult.
First Dynasty of Uruk
First Dynasty of Ur
This title would be used by many kings of the preeminent dynasties for some time afterward. King Mesilim of Kish is known from inscriptions from Lagash and Adab stating that he built temples in those cities, where he seems to have held some influence. He is also mentioned in some of the earliest monuments from Lagash as arbitrating a border dispute between Lugal-sha-engur, ensi (high priest or governor) of Lagash, and the ensi of their main rival, the neighboring town of Umma. Mesilim's placement before, during, or after the reign of Mesannepada in Ur is uncertain, owing to the lack of other synchronous names in the inscriptions, and his absence from the king list.
Awan was a city or possibly a region of Elam whose precise location is not certain, but it has been variously conjectured to be north of Susa, in south Luristan, close to Dezful, or Godin Tepe. According to the Sumerian king list, a dynasty from Awan exerted hegemony in Sumer at one time. It mentions three Awan kings, who supposedly reigned for a total of 356 years.
Second Dynasty of Uruk
Empire of Lugal-Ane-mundu of Adab
Kug-Bau and the Third Dynasty of Kish
Dynasty of Akshak
Akshak was a city of ancient Sumer, situated on the northern boundary of Akkad, sometimes identified with Babylonian Upi (Greek Opis). Its exact location is uncertain. Classical writers located it where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are closest together and it was mentioned along with Kish in early records. Archaeologists in the 1900s placed Akshak at the site of Tel Omar (or Tel Umar) where a pair of sites straddles the Tigris, but that turned out to be Seleucia (possibly earlier Upi/Opis) when it was excavated by LeRoy Waterman of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Michael C. Astour placed it on the Tigris, on what is now the southern outskirts of Baghdad.
First Dynasty of Lagash
Eannatum's campaigns extended beyond the confines of Sumer, and he overran a part of Elam, took the city of Az on the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute as far as Mari; however many of the realms he conquered were often in revolt. During his reign, temples and palaces were repaired or erected at Lagash and elsewhere; the town of Nina - that probably gave its name to the later Niniveh - was rebuilt, and canals and reservoirs were excavated. Eannatum was succeeded by his brother, En-anna-tum I. During his rule, Umma once more asserted independence under Ur-Lumma, who attacked Lagash unsuccessfully. Ur-Lumma was replaced by a priest-king, Illi, who also attacked Lagash.
His son and successor Entemena restored the prestige of Lagash. Illi of Umma was subdued, with the help of his ally Lugal-kinishe-dudu or Lugal-ure of Uruk, successor to Enshakushana and also on the king-list. Lugal-kinishe-dudu seems to have been the prominent figure at the time, since he also claimed to rule Kish and Ur. A silver vase dedicated by Entemena to his god is now in the Louvre.
A frieze of lions devouring ibexes and deer, incised with great artistic skill, runs round the neck, while the eagle crest of Lagash adorns the globular part. The vase is a proof of the high degree of excellence to which the goldsmith's art had already attained. A vase of calcite, also dedicated by Entemena, has been found at Nippur. After Entemena, a series of weak, corrupt priest-kings is attested for Lagash. The last of these, Urukagina, was known for his judicial, social, and economic reforms, and his may well be the first legal code known to have existed.
Empire of Lugal-zage-si of Uruk
Gutian Dynasty of Sumer
The Gutians practiced hit-and-run tactics, and would be long gone by the time regular troops could arrive to deal with the situation. Their raids crippled the economy of Sumer. Travel became unsafe, as did work in the fields, resulting in famine.
The Sumerian king list indicates that king Ur-Utu of Uruk was defeated by the barbarian Guti, perhaps around 2150 BC. The Guti swept down, defeated the demoralized Akkadian army, took Akkad, and destroyed it around 2115 BC. However, they did not supplant all of Akkad, as several independent city states remained alongside them, including Lagash, where a local dynasty still thrived and left numerous textual and archaeological remains.
Ultimately Akkad was so thoroughly destroyed that its site is still not known. The Guti proved to be poor rulers. Under their crude rule, prosperity declined. They were too unaccustomed to the complexities of civilization to organize matters properly, particularly in connection with the canal network. This was allowed to sink into disrepair, with famine and death resulting. Thus, a short "dark age" swept over Mesopotamia.
Akkad bore the brunt of this as the center of the Empire, so that it was in Akkad that the Guti established their own center in place of the destroyed Akkad. Some of the Sumerian cities in the south took advantage of the distance and purchased a certain amount of self-government by paying tribute to the new rulers.
Uruk was thus able to develop a 5th dynasty. Even in the city of Akkad itself, a local dynasty was said to have ruled. The best known Sumerian ruler of the Gutian period was the ensi of Lagash, Gudea. Under him, ca. 2075 BC (short), Lagash had a golden age.
After a few kings, the Gutian rulers became more cultured. Guti rule lasted only about a century - around 2050 BC, they were expelled from Mesopotamia by the rulers of Uruk and Ur, when Utu-hengal of Uruk defeated Gutian king Tirigan. Utu-hengal's victory revived the political and economic life of southern Sumer.
Second Dynasty of Lagash
From inscriptions found at Girsu such as the Gudea cylinders, it appears that Lagash was an important Sumerian city in the late 3rd millennium BC. It was at that time ruled by independent kings, Ur-Nanshe (24th century BC) and his successors, who were engaged in contests with the Elamites on the east and the kings of "Kiengir and Kish on the north. Some of the earlier works from before the Akkadian conquest are also extremely interesting, in particular Eannatum's Stele of the Vultures and Entemena's great silver vase ornamented with Ningirsu's sacred animal Anzu: a lion-headed eagle with wings outspread, grasping a lion in each talon. With the Akkadian conquest Lagash lost its independence, its ruler or ensi becoming a vassal of Sargon of Akkad and his successors; but Lagash continued to be a city of much importance and above all, a centre of artistic development.
Gudea of Lagash (Louvre)
After the collapse of Sargon's state, Lagash again thrived under its independent kings (ensis), Ur-Bau and Gudea, and had extensive commercial communications with distant realms. According to his own records, Gudea brought cedars from the Amanus and Lebanon mountains in Syria, diorite from eastern Arabia, copper and gold from central and southern Arabia, while his armies were engaged in battles with Elam on the east.
His was especially the era of artistic development. We even have a fairly good idea of what Gudea looked like, since he placed in temples throughout his city numerous statues or idols depicting himself with lifelike realism, (Statues of Gudea). At the time of Gudea, the capital of Lagash was actually in Girsu. The kingdom covered an area of approximately 1,600 square kilometres (620 sq mi). It contained 17 larger cities, eight district capitals, and numerous villages (about 40 known by name). According to one estimate, Lagash was the largest city in the world from ca. 2075 to 2030 BC.
Soon after the time of Gudea, Lagash was absorbed into the Ur III state as one of its prime provinces. There is some information about the area during the Old Babylonian period. After that it seems to have lost its importance; at least we know nothing more about it until the construction of the Seleucid fortress mentioned, when it seems to have become part of the Greek kingdom of Characene.
These dynasties are not found on the Sumerian King List, although one extremely fragmentary supplement has been found in Sumerian, known as the rulers of Lagash. It recounts how after the flood mankind was having difficulty growing food for itself, being dependent solely on rainwater; it further relates that techniques of irrigation and cultivation of barley were then imparted by the gods. At the end of the list is the statement "Written in the school", suggesting this was a scribal school production. A few of the names from the Lagash rulers listed below may be made out, including Ur-Nanshe, "Ane-tum", En-entar-zid, Ur-Ningirsu, Ur-Bau, and Gudea.
Lagash is one of the largest archaeological mounds in the region, measuring roughly 2 by 1 miles (3.2 by 1.6 km). Estimates of its area range from 400 to 600 hectares (990 to 1,500 acres). The site is divided by the bed of a canal/river, which runs diagonally through the mound. The site was first excavated, for six weeks, by Robert Koldewey in 1887. It was inspected during a survey of the area by Thorkild Jacobsen and Fuad Safar in 1953, finding the first evidence of its identification as Lagash. The major polity in the region of al-Hiba and Tello had formerly been identified as SIR.BUR.LA (Shirpurla).
Tell Al-Hiba was again explored in five seasons of excavation between 1968 and 1976 by a team from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University. The team was led by Vaughn E. Crawford, and included Donald P. Hansen and Robert D. Biggs. The primary focus was the excavation of the temple Ibgal of Inanna and the temple Bagara of Ningirsu, as well as an associated administrative area.
The team returned 12 years later in 1990 for a final season of excavation led by D. P. Hansen. The work primarily involved areas adjacent to an as yet unexcavated temple. The results of this season have apparently not yet been published.