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Civilization of the Month by Charlemagne !PXhMv3keyc - Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:21:24 EST ID:7moSACzs No.57339 Ignore Report Quick Reply
File: 1515532884456.jpg -(3228964B / 3.08MB, 3480x2656) Thumbnail displayed, click image for full size. 3228964
In preparation for going back to school (and to hopefully bolster some discussion on this nice but very slow board) I'm gonna try this thread format. Each month, assuming I don't get lazy and drop this, I'm gonna post a big thing about a civilization, culture, or political entity. I'm gonna try to avoid obvious topics like Egypt or Rome, and focus on stuff people may not have heard of as much. In an ideal world you guys will join in and discuss the peoples and cultures herein, suggest new topics, or correct me if and when I mess up.

That said, it seems fair to me to start with the beginning. This month's Civilization of the Month is Sumer.

"Sumer" as a name comes to us from their Akkadian neighbors/occasional rulers, who called them Shumer. The Sumerians called themselves "ùĝ saĝ gíg ga", meaning "The black-headed people", a name we learned from the cuneiform tablets they wrote on. Unfortunately, we do not actually know what "Shumer" means; when looking (or, more appropriately, glancing) into it, I pretty much just found academic flamewars.

The Sumerian people seem to have been in the area of modern day Iraq since at least 6500 BC, and continued to do their thing until the second millennium BC. Then they were conquered by the Amorites, who in turn were conquered by the Assyrians. However, their cultural impression was lasting, and Assyrian kings would continue to refer to themselves as "King of Sumer and Akkad" for centuries.

The earliest archaeological site we have for the area is called Tell el-'Oueli. A tell, from Arabic tal, meaning hill or mound, is a giant pile of trash from generations of people living on the same spot. This site consists of two thousand years of the Ubaid period (6500-4000 BC), and is characterized by the style of clay painted pottery, unwalled villages of mud brick houses, and tools (mainly sickles) made of clay usually, though occasionally stone or metal. During this time irrigated agriculture, use of the plow, and sailing were developed, and an egalitarian society became more stratified as a noble chieftain class developed as communities became much bigger than your standard village.

Eventually, pottery became produced more efficiently and trade flourished along the rivers of the Fertile Crescent, which led to the rise of the first cities. This period, named Uruk for the biggest one of the time, lasted from 4100 BC to 2900 BC. Uruk was created when two Ubaid villages grew into each other, and during this period became the most populated city in the world, surpassing 50k inhabitants. Cities during this period were centered around a large temple (two in Uruk's case, at the centers of the towns it grew from) and were ruled theocratically by priest-kings (called ensi). Slavery begins to see heavy use.

In 2900 BC we enter the early dynastic period (2900-2270 BC). Around the beginning of this time the wall around Uruk was built, spanning 9km. We see a split from the priest-king system to a relatively secular ruler (still claiming divine right to rule, as kings will), and a council of elder priests. In 2700 writing began to form out of pictographs, and things like clay tokens were used in accounting. At first, cities were separate entities that can't really project force terribly far. However, any towns around a big city were obviously going to have a hard time, and we actually see towns outright disappear as the cities absorb their populations. Around 2500 BC a king from the city of Lagash named Eannatum conquered the area we now think of as Sumer, creating one of the first empires. However, it fell apart after his death. Two centuries later a king named Lugal-zage-si did something similar, and reigned for fifteen years or so until the Akkadians conquered Sumer.

In 2270, the son of a cup-bearer for a Sumerian king (a social position of high standing and trust, I'll note) named Sargon rose to power, conquered Lugal-zage-di's realm, and led him to his hometown of Akkad in stocks. He went on to carve out an empire stretching nearly from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. His empire would last until 2147, when a nomadic tribe called the Guti overran the place to a degree that the infrastructure couldn't handle. The empire collapsed, and minor city-states made their return.

From Lagash again rose a Sumerian king, Gudea, who enjoyed a small renaissance of sorts after he reconquered Sumer in his sixth year and established healthy trade routes throughout Mesopotamia. Statues of Gudea abound, and we can note a change over the course of his reign from cheap limestone to expensive and foreign diorite, featuring inscriptions about trade, rule and religion. The arts flourished (sculptures of Gudea are numerous, and those are just the ones that survived), and contact with ancient India for trade and minor colonization is mentioned. The site of Goa followed field measurements of the Sumerian culture rather than those of the native Indian cultures surrounding them. He ruled for twenty years (2144-2124 BC).

Following this, the third dynasty of Ur rose to regional power and lasted about a century. The six kings in this time extended influence (not outright power, mind you) all the way to the Mediterranean, centralized agriculture and the textile industry, and produced the oldest known code of law: the Code of Ur-Nammu. Around the turn of the second millennium BC an invasion from neighboring Elam cast down the dynasty, paving the way for the rise of the Assyrian Empire.

It's worth noting that in the final era of Sumer's history, the salinity of the soil was affecting the region's economic capacity. In the time surrounding the Ur III dynasty, the population was estimated to have more than halved itself, despite a switch from wheat to barley, a more salt-resistant grain. I suspect this may also be what caused or allowed the Ur III dynasty to centralize as much as they apparently did (but that's my thought and not something you should go repeating as fact). This also lead to the spread of Akkadian as a common language, while Sumerian became one used for administrative and literary use, showing the weakening of cultural influence. Paul Kriwaczek posits in his book Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization that when faced with growing populations, the leaders of Sumerian cities may have attempted to circumvent the system of fallowing fields in an attempt to increase productivity, which would have only made the soil worse in the already hungry times following.
Charlemagne !PXhMv3keyc - Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:24:05 EST ID:7moSACzs No.57340 Ignore Report Quick Reply
The Sumerians were also fantastic innovators, not just in the creation of the city as we know it but in many other respects as well. The obvious accomplishments are the wheel and writing, but this also includes sexigesimal mathematics, i.e. math based around multiples of six. This we still use today for our basic units of time, as well as the 360 degree circle.
The invention of writing cannot be understated. This began initially as a way to record pragmatic things like the amount of grain or livestock one had, but it quickly became much more. The first known written narrative fictional story, the epic of Gilgamesh, comes to us from the Sumerians, a tale of adventure, loss and eventual acceptance of death. Beyond that, we have a vast array of written information from the Sumerians, from deeds to land, to recipes for food and beer to philosophical debates and even jokes ("Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.").

The Sumerian mindset for much of their history seems to have been one of boundless experimentation with little regard for "the old ways". Unlike Egypt, which spent monumental resources attempting to make structures that would last forever, Sumer was constantly building up, tearing down and rebuilding everything in their environment as they found better ways to go about their lives. The image we have of their culture is an exceedingly open and frank one, compared to ours. In a time when the concept of hygiene was basic at best, living in a city had a high attrition rate. Cramming 50,000 people and their livestock into a small space was not conducive to good health. Thus, a heavy focus in Sumerian culture is put on booze and sex. One because it was literally the only safe thing to drink, and made you feel pretty good as well, and the other because keeping the birth rate up was a serious concern, and made you feel pretty good as well. In the epic of Gilgamesh, the feral demigod Enkidu is civilized by having sex with a sacred temple prostitute named Shamhat for a week straight. These were not a prudish people.

The typical structure of a Sumerian city seems to be thus: At the top, the priest-king, called an ensi or lugal (there's debate over whether this is a regional difference or if lugal denotes kingship over multiple cities), along with a council of religious elder priests. The religious authority of the kings seem to dwindle somewhat over time, but that's a relative dwindling; kings were very much considered to have a divine quality, and the basis of Sumerian religion held that the gods delivered kingship to the people to raise them out of chaos. So there's your typical state-mandated raison d'etre for the monarchy. Below this there was a noble class consisting of government officials, wealthy merchants and large-scale landowners, then farmers and producers of goods like pots and tools, and finally slaves and criminals.
Sumerian cities were often not unified, and indeed seem to have functioned similarly to the Hellenic city-states of Ancient Greece. They often squabbled with their neighbors, but would form empires or coalitions when threatened from outside, and were overall proud of their shared culture. Due to centuries of near-unending warring with each other, they made leaps and bounds in military technology along with their other pursuits. From the Sumerians we have use of chariots, spear block formations, and basic siege tactics. It's thought that they had professional soldiers in use, who were equipped with copper helmets.
Women's role in Sumerian society was as always something of a short stick, but not as bad as in later Mesopotamian societies. While the typical structures of familial marriage and procreation applied, Sumerian women could own property, take part in the justice system, become priestesses, run businesses, become scribes and even divorce their husbands (with good reason).

Have some music from a few thousand years ago:

This guy, Peter Pringle, seems to specialize in recreating ancient instruments. He's singing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh (which would indeed have been sung and performed), but the music he's playing seems to be out of his own head. Still worth a listen.

I kinda feel Sumer falls into the area of "obvious topics" as I put it in the beginning, but I think their place is warranted. Contenders for early civs are few. Besides Egypt, you have ancient China, which is quite the beast to tackle (and if I do China it will be by individual era, make no mistake), and the Indus Valley civilization, about which basically everything is murky and up for debate. The Sumerian influence on the world is far reaching. Cuneiform lasted up until the first century AD; we still use their system of time; Capricorn's basic imagery, the half goat, half fish chimera, comes to us from the Sumerian river god Enki. These guys set up the basic system for how our lives would work for the next five thousand years up until today. I figure the least I can do is start my dumb thread with 'em.
Molly Buvingspear - Fri, 12 Jan 2018 01:30:07 EST ID:Io2ZBGXP No.57341 Ignore Report Quick Reply
1515738607833.webm [mp4] -(4061029B / 3.87MB, 480x360) Thumbnail displayed, click image for full size.
I've always struggled with the early history of Mesopotamia. It's always been a melange of Babylon and the stuff that came before. The Assyrians are separate but only because everyone goes out of their way to note that they were the bad guys. In trying to add some framing to 6000 years of Mesopotamian history, I traced the religious evolution and the name Marduk jumped out at me. Suddenly I was back in high school watching this episode of Sealab 2021. Maybe you'll get a kick out of this.
Charlemagne !PXhMv3keyc - Fri, 12 Jan 2018 22:12:27 EST ID:7moSACzs No.57342 Ignore Report Quick Reply
What I've generally found is that the cultures are heavily intertwined. Urban life seems to have spread memetically from Uruk to the rest of Mesopotamia and with it, the general way of doing things followed. Akkad and Sumer are almost always spoken in the same breath by both academics and contemporary documents; it's just that Akkadian won out in the end due to being a Semitic language related to its neighbors, the decline of Sumerian populations and the simplification of cuneiform's structure. Sumerian cuneiform is this ridiculous mixture of phonetic signs, signs for specific words a la Chinese, determinatives put at the end of words to apply context and puns and homophones of all these mixed together. It's a bitch to learn, then and now. Other cultures took cuneiform as a concept and liked it, but said "fuck that" to the hodge-podge of Sumerian and massively simplified it for ease of use.

As for the Assyrians, it's pretty easy to make them out as the bad guys when that was their entire public image, and later cultures such as the Persians, who immediately followed them in the Mesopotamian sphere, took great efforts to show that they weren't as brutal as their predecessors. So between them, the Assyrians' own efforts and writings by contemporary people going "wow fuck those guys they slaughtered three cities last week", the stigma is pretty strong.

Finally, fuck yeah Sealab. This has been a bit of a rant, I blame the Citradelic.
Oliver Bardwell - Wed, 17 Jan 2018 08:36:52 EST ID:dUHNnmI0 No.57345 Ignore Report Quick Reply
good stuff OP i read it all. keep it coming
Charlemagne !PXhMv3keyc - Thu, 18 Jan 2018 18:56:47 EST ID:7moSACzs No.57346 Ignore Report Quick Reply
Thanks! Nice to hear I'm not shouting into the void. Have any suggestions for topics?
Alice Mundletug - Fri, 19 Jan 2018 22:00:38 EST ID:OONS0as+ No.57347 Ignore Report Quick Reply
I think Anatolia and East Africa are chronically overlooked.
Beatrice Wozzleridge - Sat, 20 Jan 2018 12:33:34 EST ID:dUHNnmI0 No.57348 Ignore Report Quick Reply
id like to know more about eastern europe before the medieval times

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