Outline of Ancient Mesopotamian Civilizations

This post is part of a series of outlines of civilizations that influenced the Western world. The post goes from 2900 to 1750 BCE.

Let’s get started with this short post.

I.  Early Dynastic Period (ca. 2900-2334)

A.  Introduction

1.  Sumer (“Shumer”), southern

a.  City states of 30k square kilometers

b.  About the size of Belgium

c.  Population of larger city was 30-35k

2.  Akkad

a.  Upstream and larger

b.  Akkadian language is slowly absorbed

B.  Politics

1.  Resources

a.  1/3 land controlled by Temple

b.  ca. 1/3 by Palace

c.  Persons of rank owned unknown percentage

d.  Peasants owned little

2.  Wars in Sumer

a.  Between city-states

1)  Ur, Uruk, Lagash, and Eridu

b.  Fighting over resources and water rights

c.  Larger cities win and form kingdoms

d.  Uruk is one of them

3.  Akkad conquers Sumer (2334)

C.  Influence

1.  Culture

a.  Exerts considerable cultural influence outside its borders

b.  Culturally the same with later Assyria and Babylon

2.  Government

a.  Dynastic rulers

D.  Epic of Gilgamesh (2700?)

1.  Gilgamesh

a.  He was probably historical king of whom legends grew

b.  Reigns over city of Uruk of Sumer

c.  Part of territorial disputes

d.  Wins some freedom and prosperity for city of Uruk

2.  Narrative

a.  Tells stories about gods or people

b.  Considerable length, due to repetition and parallelism

c.  Variations for centuries

3.  Purpose

a.  To deepen knowledge

b.  Why and how the human race and society came into being

c.  Whence human authority

d.  Why humans differ from gods

e.  Adventure may lead to knowledge

II.  Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian Periods (ca. 2000-1600)

A.  Politics

1.  Babylon (the city)

a.  It emerges and takes over country of Akkad in sixty years

b.  While Larsa & Isin fight

2.  Assyria

a.  Northern Mespotamia has numerous dynasties

b.  Until Shamshi-Addad (Samsi-Addu) unifies it ca. 1813-1781)

c.  Region was in obscurity when Hammurabi, the Babylonian, takes it in 1761 B.C.

B.  Influence

1.  Hammurabi (r. ca. 1792-1750)

a.  As a foreigner, he ascends throne in Babylon

b.  Unifies Mesopotamia by statesmanship or force by 1761

c.  Code of Law

d.  Lit and arts flourish

e.  Akkadian language reaches perfection

f.  Personal religion flourishes

1)  God cares about you deeply

C.  Class structure

1.  King

a.  Occasionally, he has checks placed on him

b.  More often he is absolute

c.  He is considered divine in some eras and areas

2.  Nobles

a.  Just below the king, sometimes related to him

b.  They were also large landowners

3.  Intelligentsia

a.  Priests and scribes

b.  Economy was very centralized, managed by center of priests and scribes

c.  Thus, they have to keep accurate records

4.  Commoners

a.  Merchants and Artisans (urban)

b.  Small landowners (rural)

c.  Peasants without land

5.  Slaves

a.  Causes

1)  They are taken as prisoners of war

2)  In economic hard times, children or whole families serve as surety or collateral for loans

3)  When hard times hit, loan defaults, and persons owned by creditor

b.  Daily life

1)  Women

a)  Some can be used as concubines

b)  Some work in temples, spinning and weaving

2)  Some slaves can engage in business and even hold property, with certain restrictions

D.  Succession Disputes

1.  Case Study:  Hammurabi

a.  At his death, revolts of vassal states

b.  Successors try to stop them but fail

c.  To stop them, they turn to immediate lands for revenue

d.  This oppresses people

III.  Religion

A.  Class Structure:  Lowest to Highest

1.  Benevolent spirits, or evil demons

a.  Belonged to magic rather than religion

2.  “Personal” god

a.  A kind of guardian angel attached to every person

b.  Intermediary

3.  Minor deities

a.  Responsible for

b.  Tools (plows, brick-mould, or pick-axe)

c.  Professions (potters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths)

d.  Nature (gods of rivers, mountains, minerals, plants)

e.  Originally most numerous

4.  Nergal (male) and Ereshkigal (female)

a.  Gods of underworld

5.  Nanna (Sin),

a.  Moon-goddess

b.  Controls time (lunar months)

6.  Utu (Shamash)

a.  Sun-god

b.  God of justice

c.  Judge

B.  Male Gods:  Highest to Lowest

1.  An (Anu or Anum)

a.  Overpowering personality of the sky

b.  Main temple in Uruk

c.  Begetter and sovereign of all gods

d.  Arbitrated their disputes and brooked no appeal

e.  Aloof in heaven for humans

2.  Enlil

a.  Patron-god of Nippur

b.  Raised to supreme rank at unknown period and for unknown reason

c.  He is master of humanity

3.  Marduk

a.  Babylonian god who wrests supreme rank

4.  Enki (Ea)

a.  God of fresh waters and lakes and springs

b.  Main attribute is intelligence (“broad ears”)

c.  Main patron of inventors, sciences and arts

d. After world created, applied divine intelligence to laws devised by Enlil

1)  Puts world in order

2)  Entrusting minor deities with specific tasks

3)  Finally hands over entire universe to Utu, sun-god

C.  Female Gods:  Highest to Lowest

1.  Ninhursag (Ninmah or Nintu)

a.  Mother-goddess

b.  Possibly original consort of An (Anu)

c.  Otherwise, the bountiful mother

2.  Inanna (Ishtar)

a.  Goddess of carnal love

b.  Father is Enlil

c.  No husband or children

d.  Entertains many lovers whom she regularly discarded

1)  See Gilgamesh

e.  Violent outbursts makes her goddess of war

f.  Dumuzi, (Semitic Tammuz) a deity whom she regarded tenderly

g.  Ceremony

1)  For reproduction of stock and growth of crops

2)  King, acting as Dumuzi, mates with priestess as Inanna, in royal chamber

3)  Afterwards, people, carrying presents, are invited in with musicians

4)  Then special meal served

5)  Inanna’s Descent to Netherworld

h.  Dumuzi falls to rank of minor deity, a god of vegetation

1)  He becomes adon, i.e., Adonis

2)  See Persephone and Aphrodite in Greece

D.  Afterlife

1.  Pessimism

a.  It is vague and unclear where humans go after death

b. Contrast the Egyptian view of the Afterlife, which is optimistic


1. Genesis 1-11 in Its Ancient Religious Environment

2. Reading Genesis 1 as Originally Intended

3. Adam and Evolution: Five Options

4. Save Our Ship! Rescuing Noah’s Ark from Flood of Science

5. The Real Significance of Genealogies in Genesis 5-11


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