Writing and city life
Different Names used for the same civilization
1. Mesopotamian civilisation - The name Mesopotamia is derived from the Greek words mesos, meaning middle, and potamos, meaning river. Mesopotamia means the land between the(Euphrates and the Tigris) rivers.
2. Sumerian Civilisation- The first known language of Mesopotamia was Sumerian. That is why this civilization is otherwise called as Sumerian Civilisation
3. Babylonian Civilisation- After 2000 BCE, when Babylon became animportant city ofthis civilization it is called as Babylonian Civilisation.
4. AkkadianCivilisation -Around 2400 BCEwhen Akkadian speakers arrived and established their rule in southern part of Mesopotamia it was called as Akkadiancivilisation.
5. Assyrians Civilisation - when Assyrians speakers arrived and established their rule in southern part of Mesopotamia it was called as Assyrianscivilisation
Features of Mesopotamian civilisation
1. Mesopotamian civilisationis known for itsprosperity, city life, voluminous and rich literature, itsmathematics and astronomy.
2. Mesopotamia’s writing systemand literature spread to the eastern Mediterranean, northernSyria, and Turkey.
Sources to understand mesopotomian civilization
1. We studyhundreds of Mesopotamian buildings, statues, ornaments,graves, tools and seals as sources.
2. There are thousands ofwritten documents as well to study Mesopotamian Civilisation.
Mesopotamia and its Geography
1. Mesopotamia is a land of diverse environments. In the north-east lie green,undulating plains, gradually rising to tree-covered mountain rangeswith clear streams and wild flowers, with enough rainfall to grow crops.
2. In the north,there is a stretch of upland called a steppe, where animal herdingoffers people a better livelihood than agriculture – after the winterrains, sheep and goats feed on the grasses and low shrubs that growhere.
3. Inthe east, tributaries of the Tigris provide routes ofcommunication into the mountains of Iran.
4. The south is a desert – andthis is where the first cities and writing emerged. Thisdesert could support cities because the rivers Euphrates and Tigris,which rise in the northern mountains, carry loads of silt. When they flood or when their water is let out on to the fields, fertilesilt is deposited.
5. Not only agriculture, Mesopotamian sheep and goats that grazedon the steppe, the north-eastern plains and the mountain slopesproducedmeat, milk and wool in abundance. Further, fish was available inrivers and date-palms gave fruit in summer.
The Significance of Urbanism in Mesopotamia
1. Urbancentres involve in various economic activities such asfood production, trade, manufacturesand services. City people, thus, cease to be self-sufficient and dependon the products or services of other people. There iscontinuous interaction among them.
2. For instance, the carver of astone seal requires bronze tools that he himself cannot make, andcoloured stones for the seals that he does not know where to get. He depends on others for his needs. The division of labouris a mark of urban life.
3. There must be a social organisation in Cities. Fuel, metal,various stones, wood, etc., come from many different places forcity manufacturers. Thus, organised trade, storage, deliveries of grain and other food items from the villageto the city were controlled and supervised by the rulers.
Movement of Goods into Cities and communication
1. Mesopotamia wasrich infood resourcesbut its mineral resourceswere few. Most parts of the south lacked stones for tools, seals andjewels; the wood for carts, cart wheels or boats; and there was no metal fortools, vessels or ornaments.
2. So Mesopotamians could have traded their abundant textiles andagricultural produce for wood, copper, tin, silver, gold, shell andvarious stones from Turkey and Iran, or across the Gulf.
3. Regular exchange was possible only when there was a social organisation to equip foreign expeditions and exchanges of goods.
4. Besides crafts, trade and services, efficient transport is alsoimportant for urban development. To carry grain into cities packanimals were used.
5. Thecheapest mode of transportation isover water. Riverboats or barges loaded with sacks of grain are propelled by the currentof the river.The canals and natural channels ofancient Mesopotamia were in fact routes of goods transportbetween large and small settlements.
The Development of Writing in Mesopotamia
1. All societies have languages in which spoken soundsconvey certain meanings. This is verbal communication.Writing too is verbal communication – but in a differentway.
2. The first Mesopotamian tablets were written around 3200 BCE, which containedpicture-like signs and numbers. Thesewere about 5,000 lists of oxen, fish, breadloaves, etc. – lists of goods that werebrought into or distributed from the temples of Uruk.
3. Mesopotamians wrote on tablets of clay. A scribe would wet clayand pat it into a size he could hold comfortably in one hand. He would carefully smoothen its surface. With the sharp end of a reed, he would press wedge-shaped (‘cuneiform*’) signs on to thesmoothened surface while it was still moist.
4. Once dried in the sun, theclay tablet would harden and tablets would be almost as indestructible aspottery. Once the surfacedried, signs could not be pressed on to a tablet: so each transaction,however minor, required a separate written tablet.
5. By 2600 BCE,the letters became cuneiform, and the languagewas Sumerian. Writing was now used not only for keeping records,but also for making dictionaries, giving legal validity to land transfers,narrating the deeds of kings, and announcing the changes a kinghad made in the customary laws of the land.
6. Sumerian, the earliestknown language of Mesopotamia, was gradually replaced after2400 BCE by the Akkadian language. Cuneiform writing in theAkkadian language continued in use until the first century CE.
The System of Writing in cuneiform
1. Cuneiform sign did not represent a single consonantor vowel (such as m or a in the English alphabet), but syllable (say-put-come-in-).
2. Thus, the signs that a Mesopotamian scribe hadto learn ran into hundreds, and he had to be able to handle a wettablet and get it written before it dried. So, writing was a skilled craftbut, more important, it was an enormous intellectual achievement,conveying in visual form the system of sounds of a particular language.
Literacy in Mesopotamia
1. Very few Mesopotamians could read and write. Not only there were hundreds of signs to learn but many of these were complex.
2. For the most part, however, writing reflected themode of speaking. For example
A speaks---------- B reply------------ A speak-------------- B reply------------.
Construction and maintenance of temples in Mesopotamia
1. The earliest cities emerged around temples, some cities developed as centres of trade and some were imperial cities.Early settlers began to build and rebuildtemples at selected spots in their villages.
2. The earliest known templewas a small shrine made of unbaked bricks. Temples were the residencesof various gods: Moon God and sun God or the Goddess of Love and War.
3. Temples became larger over time, withseveral rooms around open courtyards. Some of theearly ones were possibly not unlike the ordinary house but templesalways had their outer walls going in and out at regularintervals, which no ordinary building ever had.
4. The god was the focus of worship: to him or herpeople brought grain, curd and fish. The godwas also the theoretical owner of the agricultural fields,the fisheries, and the herds of the local community.
5. Production processes such as Oilpressing, grain grinding, spinning, and the weaving of woolen cloth done in the temple. The temple gradually developedits activities and became the main urban institution by organizing production, employing merchants and keeping of written records ofdistributions and allotments of grain, plough animals,bread, beer, fish, etc.
Role of kings in Construction and maintenance of temples in Mesopotamia
1. As the archaeological record shows,villages were periodically relocated in Mesopotamian history because of flood in the river and change in the course of the river. Therewere man-made problems as well. Those who lived on the upstreamstretches of a channel could divert so much water into their fieldsthat villages of downstream were left without water.
2. When there was continuous warfare in a region, those chiefs whohad been successful in war could oblige their followers by distributingthe loot, and could take prisoners from the defeated groups to employ in the temple for various works.
3. In time, victorious chiefs began to offer precious booty tothe gods and thus beautify the community’s temples. They would sendmen out to fetch fine stones and metal for the benefit of the god andcommunity and organise the distribution of temple wealth in an efficientway by accounting for things that came in and went out.
4. War captives and local people were put to work for thetemple, or directly for the ruler. This, rather thanagricultural tax, was compulsory. Those who were put towork were paid rations. It hasbeen estimated that one of the temples took 1,500 menworking 10 hours a day, five years to build.
5. With rulers commanding people to fetch stones or metalores, to come and make bricks or lay the bricks for atemple, or else to go to a distant country to fetch suitable materials.Hundreds of people were put to work at making and baking claycones that could be pushed into temple walls, painted in differentcolours, creating a colourful mosaic.
Life in the City of Ur
1. In Mesopotamian society the nuclear familywas the norm,although a married son and his family often resided with his parents.The father was the head of the family.
2. We know a little about theprocedures for marriage. A declaration was made about the willingness to marry by the bride’s parents. When the wedding took place, gifts were exchanged by bothparties, who ate together and made offerings in a temple.
3. Ur was one of the earliest cities to have been excavated in Mesopotamia. Narrow winding streets indicate that wheeled cartscould not have reached many of the houses. Sacks of grain andfirewood would have arrived on donkey-back. Narrow windingstreets and the irregular shapes of house plots also indicate anabsence of town planning.
4. There were no street drains of the kindwe find in contemporary Mohenjo-daro. Drains and clay pipes wereinstead found in the inner courtyards of the Ur houses and it isthought that house roofs sloped inwards and rainwater waschanneled via the drainpipes into sumpsin the inner courtyards.
5. Yet people seem to have sweptall their household refuses into thestreets, to be trodden underfoot!This made street levels rise, andover time the thresholds of houseshad also to be raised so that nomud would flow inside after therains.
6. Light came into the roomsnot from windows but fromdoorways opening into thecourtyards: this would also havegiven families their privacy.
7. Therewere superstitions about houses,recorded in omen tablets at Ur:Araised threshold brought wealth;
8. A front door that did not opentowards another house was lucky.
9. If the main wooden door of ahouse opened outwards (instead ofinwards), the wife would be atorment to her husband.
10. There was a town cemetery atUr in which the graves of royaltyand commoners have been found,but a few individuals were foundburied under the floors of ordinaryhouses. Dead bodies of royal family were buried withjewellery, gold vessels, wooden musicalinstruments inlaid with white shell and lapis lazuli, ceremonial daggersof gold, etc.
A Trading Town in a Pastoral Zone( Life in the city of Mari)
1. After 2000 BCE the royal capital of Mariflourished. Mari stands not on the southern plainwith its highly productive agriculture butmuch further upstream on the Euphrates.Hereagriculture and animal rearing were carriedout close to each other in this region.
2. Herders need to exchange young animals,cheese, leather and meat in return for grain,metal tools, etc., and the manure of a pennedflock is also of great use to a farmer. Yet, atthe same time, there may be conflict between the regions.
3. In Mesopotamian nomadiccommunities of the western desert filtered into theprosperous agricultural heartland. Shepherds wouldbring their flocks into the sown area in the summer.
4. Such groups would come in as herders, harvest labourersor hired soldiers, occasionally become prosperous, andsettle down. A few gained the power to establish theirown rule. These included the Akkadians, Amorites,Assyrians and Aramaeans.
5. The kings of Mari, however, had to be vigilant; herders of varioustribes were allowed to move in the kingdom, but they were watched.The camps of herders are mentioned frequently in letters betweenkings and officials. In one letter, an officer writes to the king thathe has been seeing frequent fire signals at night – sent by one camp to another – and he suspects that a raid or an attack isbeing planned.
6. Located on the Euphrates in a prime position for trade – in wood,copper, tin, oil, wine, and various other goods that were carried inboats along the Euphrates – between the south and the mineralrichuplands of Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.
7. Boats carrying grindingstones, wood, and wine and oil jars, would stop at Mari on their wayto the southern cities. Officers of this town would go aboard, inspectthe cargo and levy acharge of about one-tenth the value of the goods before allowing theboat to continue downstream.
8. Thus, although the kingdom ofMari was not militarily strong, but it was exceptionally prosperous.
The Legacy of Writing (Science and Technology) in Mesopotamia
1. Perhaps the greatest legacy of Mesopotamia to the world is its scholarlytradition of time reckoning and mathematics.
2. Dating around 1800 BCE are tablets with multiplication and divisiontables, square- and square-root tables, and tables of compound interest. For Example- the square root of 2 was given as:1 + 24/60 + 51/602 + 10/603.
3. Students hadto solve problems such as the following: a field of area such and suchis covered one finger deep in water; find out the volume of water.
4. The division of the year into 12 months according to the revolutionof the moon around the earth, the division of the month into fourweeks, the day into 24 hours, and the hour into 60 minutes – all thatwe take for granted in our daily lives – has come to us from theMesopotamians.
5. Whenever solar and lunar eclipses were observed, their occurrencewas noted according to year, month and day. So too there wererecords about the observed positions of stars and constellations inthe night sky.
6. None of these momentous Mesopotamian achievements wouldhave been possible without writing and the urban institution ofschools, where students read and copied earlier written tablets, andwhere some boys were trained to become not record keepers for theadministration, but intellectuals who could build on the work oftheir predecessors.
1. What are the different Names used for the Mesopotamian civilization?
2. What are the features of Mesopotamian civilization?
3. What are the sources available to understand Mesopotamian civilization?
4. Explain Mesopotamiangeography.
5. What is the significance of Urbanism in Mesopotamia?
6. How did Mesopotamians carry goods into the cities?
7. Explain the Development of Writing in Mesopotamia
8. Explain the System of Writing in Mesopotamia
9. ExplainLiteracy in Mesopotamia
10. How did people construct and maintain temples in Mesopotamia?
11. What was the role of kings in Construction and maintenance of temples in Mesopotamia?
12. Explain life of common people in the City of Ur?
13. How did a pastoral zone become a Trading Town in the northern part of Mesopotamia? ( Life in the city of Mari)
14. Explain the Legacy of Writing (Science and Technology) in Mesopotamia.