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  • History's first empire rose out of a hot, dry landscape,

  • without rainfall to nourish crops, without trees or stones for building.

  • In spite of all this, its inhabitants built the world's first cities,

  • with monumental architecture and large populations

  • and they built them entirely out of mud.

  • Sumer occupied the southern part of modern Iraq

  • in the region called Mesopotamia.

  • Mesopotamia meansbetween two rivers”—

  • the Tigris and the Euphrates.

  • Around 5000 BCE, early Sumerians used irrigation channels, dams, and reservoirs

  • to redirect river water and farm large areas of previously bone-dry land.

  • Agricultural communities like this were slowly springing up around the world.

  • But Sumerians were the first to take the next step.

  • Using clay bricks made from river mud,

  • they began to build multi-storied homes and temples.

  • They invented the wheel

  • a potter's wheel, for turning mud into household goods and tools.

  • Those clay bricks gave rise to the world's first cities,

  • probably around 4500 BCE.

  • At the top of the city's social ladder were priests and priestesses,

  • who were considered nobility,

  • then merchants, craftspeople, farmers, and enslaved people.

  • The Sumerian empire consisted of distinct city-states

  • that operated like small nations.

  • They were loosely linked by language and spiritual belief

  • but lacked centralized control.

  • The earliest cities were Uruk, Ur, and Eridu,

  • and eventually there were a dozen cities.

  • Each had a king who served a role somewhere between a priest and a ruler.

  • Sometimes they fought against each other to conquer new territories.

  • Each city was dedicated to a patron deity, considered the city's founder.

  • The largest and most important building in the city was this patron god's home:

  • the ziggurat, a temple designed as a stepped pyramid.

  • Around 3200 BCE, Sumerians began to expand their reach.

  • The potter's wheel found a new home on chariots and wagons.

  • They built boats out of reeds and date palm leaves,

  • with linen sails that carried them vast distances by river and sea.

  • To supplement scarce resources, they built a trade network

  • with the rising kingdoms in Egypt, Anatolia, and Ethiopia,

  • importing gold, silver, lapis lazuli, and cedar wood.

  • Trade was the unlikely impetus

  • for the invention of the world's first writing system.

  • It started as a system of accounting for Sumerian merchants

  • conducting business with traders abroad.

  • After a few hundred years, the early pictogram system

  • called cuneiform turned into a script.

  • The Sumerians drafted up the first written laws

  • and created the first school system, designed to teach the craft of writing

  • and pioneered some less exciting innovations, like bureaucracy and taxes.

  • In the schools, scribes studying from dawn to dusk,

  • from childhood well into adulthood.

  • They learned accounting, mathematics, and copied works of literature

  • hymns, myths, proverbs, animal fables, magic spells,

  • and the first epics on clay tablets.

  • Some of those tablets told the story of Gilgamesh,

  • a king of the city of Uruk who was also the subject of mythical tales.

  • But by the third millennium BCE, Sumer was no longer the only empire around,

  • or even in Mesopotamia.

  • Waves of nomadic tribes poured into the region from the north and east.

  • Some newcomers looked up to the Sumerians, adopting their way of life

  • and using the cuneiform script to express their own languages.

  • In 2300 BCE, the Akkadian king Sargon conquered the Sumerian city-states.

  • But Sargon respected Sumerian culture,

  • and Akkadians and Sumerians existed side-by-side for centuries.

  • Other invading groups focused only on looting and destruction.

  • Even as Sumerian culture spread,

  • a steady onslaught of invasions killed off the Sumerian people by 1750 BCE.

  • Afterward, Sumer disappeared back into the desert dirt,

  • not to be rediscovered until the 19th century.

  • But Sumerian culture lived on for thousands of years

  • first through the Akkadians, then the Assyrians, then the Babylonians.

  • The Babylonians passed Sumerian inventions and traditions through

  • along Hebrew, Greek, and Roman cultures.

  • Some persist today.

History's first empire rose out of a hot, dry landscape,

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B2 sumerian bce mesopotamia empire clay mud

The rise and fall of history’s first empire - Soraya Field Fiorio

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/23
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