Sumer was the first civilization in Mesopotamia which arose on the territory of modern Iraq in the land between Tigris and Euphrates. The word ‘Mesopotamia’ is derived from Greek language and actually means ‘land between the rivers’. Sag-gi-ga – ‘the back-headed ones’ – this is how the Sumerians called themselves, and their country was called Ken-gi-r, which can be translated as ‘the civilized land’.
The land of the Sumerians was definitely civilized, because only highly civilized society could have such a progress in sciences, agriculture, road-building, watering and architecture. A magnificent example of their architecture knowledge is Ziggurats – temples that were shaped as a terraced stepped pyramid. They were not places for public worship or ceremonies – only kings and priests could stand inside of them to ask Gods for blessing. Ziggurats were extremely significant to the Sumerians because of their huge religious importance.
Being a high intellectual society, the Sumerians created the first-known writing system of wedge-shaped strokes that was called a ‘cuneiform’. The examples of writings left on the clay tablets are simple pictures which represent different objects or ideas. The invention of cuneiform is difficult to overestimate – it was a real revolution in the information system, because it gave an opportunity to record, save and carry any kind of data to any distant place without relying on the messenger’s memory.
In addition to cuneiform the Sumerians developed a counting system and divided a solar year into two seasons, ‘summer’ and ‘winter’. A huge role in the society life played Astronomy – it was not a pure science at that time, but a mixture of religion and science. Only by following the movement of the stars the Sumerian’s astronomers discovered six planets of the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Any society cannot live without medicine and Sumerians possessed deep knowledge in this sphere as well. They left the tablets with texts of prescriptions and descriptions of treatises. Some of the methods and herbs described thousand years ago are used in a modern treatment nowadays. It should be mentioned that Sumerians did practice surgery and some archeologists even consider them performing a kind of brain surgery called trepanation.
Despite all high developed technologies and deep science knowledge, central part of a society’s life was given to religion. For people all the forces of nature, such as rain, thunder wind, foods, were alive. They could not control them, so they worshipped them as gods – immortal and invisible creatures. The Sumerians believed that the gods were in control over human fate and they were living on the earth only to please and serve them. Each city had its own patron god and citizens paid him the homage. The Sumerians believed that in order to keep the gods happy, they must give a sacrifice that ranged from all kinds of fruits and vegetables to alive animals.
The level of the society’s development can be measured not only by practice knowledge but also by the cultural level. The oldest written story on Earth belongs to the Mesopotamian culture – ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’. It was originally written on the clay tablets in cuneiform script. This masterpiece tells of the heroic exploits of the semi-legendary king of the Uruk city – Gilgamesh, who was presented as half-god, half-man. Gilgamesh was taught about love and life. He learned that there were more important things than his personal desires. This unique piece of literature is precious because it gives a reader the opportunity to see in what way religion, life and death were viewed from position of main character who is a human (even for a half), which was not character for gods-centered Mesopotamian literature.
Sumerian culture is rich, deep and many sided. They managed to create something new and became the first civilization ever created in the history of humanity.