Mesopotamian Civilization

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Mesopotamian villages and towns eventually evolved into independent and nearly self-sufficient city-states. Although largely economically dependent on one another, these city-states were independent political entities and retained very strong isolationist tendencies. This isolationism hindered the unification of the Mesopotamian city-states, which eventually grew to twelve in number. By 3000 B.C., Mesopotamian civilization had made contact with other cultures of the Fertile Crescent (a term first coined by James Breasted in 1916), an extensive trade network connecting Mesopotamia with the rest of Ancient Western Asia. Again, it was the two rivers which served as both trade and transportation routes. The achievements of Mesopotamian civilization were numerous. Agriculture, thanks to the construction of irrigation ditches, became the primary method of subsistence. Farming was further simplified by the introduction of the plow. We also find the use of wheel-made pottery. Between 3000 and 2900 B.C. craft specialization and industries began to emerge (ceramic pottery, metallurgy and textiles). Evidence for this exists in the careful planning and construction of the monumental buildings such as the temples and ziggurats. During this period (roughly 3000 B.C.), cylinder seals became common. These cylindrical stone seals were five inches in height and engraved with images. These images were reproduced by rolling the cylinder over wet clay. The language of these seals remained unknown until to 20th century. But, scholars now agree that the language of these tablets was Sumerian. Ancient Sumer

The Sumerians inhabited southern Mesopotamia from 3000-2000 B.C. The origins of the Sumerians is unclear -- what is clear is that Sumerian civilization dominated Mesopotamian law, religion, art, literature and science for nearly seven centuries. The greatest achievement of Sumerian civilization was their CUNEIFORM ("wedge-shaped") system of writing. Using a reed stylus, they made wedge-shaped impressions on wet clay tablets which were then baked in the sun. Once dried, these tablets were virtually indestructible and the several hundred thousand tablets which have been found tell us a great deal about the Sumerians. Originally, Sumerian writing was pictographic, that is, scribes drew pictures of representations of objects. Each sign represented a word identical in meaning to the object pictured, although pictures could often represent more than the actual object. The pictographic system proved cumbersome and the characters were gradually simplified and their pictographic nature gave way to conventional signs that represented ideas. For instance, the sign for a star could also be used to mean heaven, sky or god. The next major step in simplification was the development of phonetization in which characters or signs were used to represent sounds. So, the character for water was also used to mean "in," since the Sumerian words for "water" and "in" sounded similar. With a phonetic system, scribes could now represent words for which there were no images (signs), thus making possible the written expression of abstract ideas. The Sumerians used writing primarily as a form of record keeping. The most common cuneiform tablets record transactions of daily life: tallies of cattle kept by herdsmen for their owners, production figures, lists of taxes, accounts, contracts and other facets of organizational life in the community. Another large category of cuneiform writing included a large number of basic texts which were used for the purpose of teaching future generations of scribes. By 2500 B.C. there were schools built just for his purpose. The city-state was Sumer's most important political entity. The city-states were a loose collection of territorially small cities which lacked unity with one another. Each city-state consisted of an urban center and its surrounding farmland. The city-states were isolated from one another geographically and so the...
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