Complex Pasts: Diverse Future | Mesopotamian Civilization


Know in detail about one of the Wealthiest Civilization, The Mesopotamian Civilization.   

Map of Mesopotamian Civilization or the Sumerian Civilization

      People started living here from the Paleolithic period and by 14000 BCE, they started with very small settlements and circular houses. It was after five thousands years, people over there formed a farming community and started domestication of animals. They also focused on the development of agriculture. That’s when the city started popping up. These early Mesopotamian cities engaged in a form of socialism, where farmers pitched in their crops to public storehouses from which various workforce like metal workers, builders or male models would be paid uniform ‘wages’ in the form of grain. So basically, one of the legacies of Mesopotamia is the enduring conflict between the country and the city.

The cities of the Mesopotamia

Speaking about cities there is Uruk, the home town of Gilgamesh. He is a major hero in ancient mythology of Mesopotamia. Uruk was a wall city with an extensive system of canal and several monumental temples called Ziggurats. The priest of these temples initially had all the powers, because they were able to communicate directly with the gods. Now that was a useful talent because Mesopotamians gods were moody, frankly and pretty mean. Like according to Gilgamesh they once got mad at us because we were making too much of noise while they were trying to sleep. So, they decided to destroy all of humanity with a flood.

The Tigris and Euphrates are decent as rivers go, but unlike Indus Valley with its on-schedule, flooding and easy irrigation. A lot of slaves were needed to make the Tigris and Euphrates useful for irrigation. They were difficult to navigate and flood unpredictably and violently. So basically in narrow idea, the region always tends to jerk between devastating floods and horrible droughts, it follows that one would believe that the gods are kind of random and capricious and that any priests who might be able to lead rituals that placate those gods would be very useful individuals. But after 1000 years after the first temples, we find in cities like Uruk, a rival structure begins to show up in the palace. The responsibility for the well-being and success of the social order was shifting from gods, to people of power that will seesaw throughout human history until and forever. But in another development we will again see kings in Mesopotamia who probably started as a military leader or rich landowners, took on a Quasi religious role. How? Often by engaging in ‘sacred marriage’- specifically skoodily pooping with the high priest of the city’s temple. So the priests, overtaken by kings, soon declared themselves priests.

The mesopotamian civilization and the architectural style

Mesopotamia gave us writing. A specific form of writing called Cuneiform. Which was initially created not to like woo lovers or whatever but to record transactions like how many bushels of wheat were exchanged for how many goats. I don’t think we should overestimate the importance of writing so here I made two points-

  1. Writing and reading are things that not everyone can do. So they create class distinction, one that in fact survives to this day. Foraging social orders were relatively egalitarian. But the Mesopotamians had slaves and they played this metaphorically resonant sport that was like polo except instead of riding on horses you rode on other people. And written language played an important role in widening the gap between classes. 

  2. Once writing enters the picture, you have actual history instead of just a lot of guesswork and archeology.

Cuneiform tablet containing Mesopotamian language

Now coming back to the main part, First and early proto-socialism was replaced by something that looked a lot like private enterprise, where people could produce as much as they would like as long as they gave a cut, also known as taxes to the government. We talk a lot about taxes but it turns out they’re pretty important to creating stable social orders. Things were also different politically because the dudes who’d been the tribal chiefs became like full-blown kings, who tried to extend their power outside of cities and also tried to pass on their powers to their sons.

The most famous of these early monarchs is Hammurabi or as I remember him from my high school history class, ‘The Hammer of Abi.’ Hammurabi ruled the new kingdom of Babylon from 1792 to 1750 BCE. Hammurabi’s main claim to fame is his famous law code which establishes everything from the wages of ox drivers to the fact that the punishment for taking an eye should be having an eye taken. Hammurabi’s law code could be pretty insanely harsh. Like if a builder builds a shoddy building and the owner’s son dies in a collapse, the punishment for that is the execution of the builder’s son. All of which is to say that Hammurabi’s law code gives a new meaning to the phrase tough on crime, but it did introduce the presumption of innocence. And in the law code Hammurabi tried to portray 

The way communication was developed and the life of the mesopotamian people

Himself in two roles that should be familiar; shepherd and father. So again we see the authority of protection of the social order shifting to men, not gods which is important but don’t worry, it will shift back. Even though the territorial kingdoms like Babylon were more powerful than any cities that had come before. And even though Babylon was probably the world’s most populous city during Hammurabi’s rule, it wasn’t actually that powerful, and kept with the pattern. It was soon taken over by the formerly-nomadic Kassites.

The thing about Territorial kingdoms is that they relied on the poorest people to pay taxes, and provide labor and serve in the army.

The Assyarians rule

Well that was the case until the Assyarians came along, anyway. The Assyrians have deserved a reputation for being the brutal bullies of Mesopotamia. But the Assyrians did give us an early example of probably the most important and durable form of political organization in world history, and also Star Wars history, the Empire. The biggest problems with empires is that by definition they’re diverse and multi-ethnic, which makes them hard to unify.

So beginning around 911 BCE, the neo- Assyrian Empire grew from its hometowns of Ashur and Nineveh to include the whole of Mesopotamia, the eastern Coast of the Mediterranean and even by 680 BCE- Egypt! They did this thanks to the most brutal, terrifying and efficient army the world had ever seen. For one thing the army was a meritocracy. Generals weren’t chosen based on who their forebears were, they were chosen based on if they were good at their work, They used to deport hundreds and thousands of people to separate them from their history and their families and also moved skilled workers around where they were most needed. Also the neo- Assyrians loved to find would-be rebels and lop off their appendages. Particularly their noses for some reason. And there was your standard raping and pillaging and torture, all of which was done in the name of Ashur, the great god of the neo- Assyrians whose divine regent was the King.

Ashur, through the King, kept the world going, and as long as conquest continued the world would not end. But if conquest ever stopped, the word would end and there would be rivers of blood and weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Assyrians spread this world view with propaganda like monumental architecture and readings about how awesome the king was at public festivals, all of which were designed to inspire awe in the Empire’s subjects.

So what happened to Assyrians? First they extended their empire beyond their roads making administration impossible. But maybe even more importantly, when your worldview is based on the idea that the apocalypse will come if you ever lose a battle, and then you lose one battle, the whole world view just blows up. That eventually happened and in 612 BCE, the city of Nineveh was finally conquered, and the neo-Assyrians Empire had to come to its end and the idea of the Empire was just getting started.

ancient history learned from the art work of mesopotamian civilization

Mesopotamia and today's world

Mesopotamia has witnessed invention of  writing, mathematics, medicine, libraries, network of roads, domestication of animals, spoked wheels, looms, the zodiac, astronomy, plows, the legal system and many more. It is known as the cradle of civilization.

Now the worlds of Sumer, Babylonia and Assyria—and their influence on modern life—were explored in an engaging, and masterful exhibit: “Mesopotamia: Inventing Our World” this was shown at the Royal Ontario Museum on 22nd of June 2014 and went on up till Jan. 5, 2014. This museum is the sole Canadian venue on an international tour of treasures from the museum of British Museum, augmented and transformed by the Royal Ontario's own extensive collection. The objects, which are around 5,500 years old, are a testament to the importance of the cultures of Mesopotamia, what is now Iraq.

As I mentioned earlier, Meso means 'Between the rivers.' Two rivers Tigris and Euphrates, are used on the exhibition hall floor as a path on which visitors can meander through the hall. It starts with the pictographs and cuneiform beginnings of writing from Sumer. What survives is a bookkeeping ledger needed for government bureaucrats, because even back then, civil servants needed hard copy proof of everything.

One of the prettiest objects of gold drinking cups found in the grave of Queen Paubi. This was for beer drinking purposes and comes complete with a long spout used as a straw since the brew back then contained lots of sediment.

There are pieces of royal palaces, including the Babylonian home to the famous Nebuchadnezzar, that survived war, invasions, neglect and the elements. The striding lion relief, now owned by the ROM, was from his throne room and dates back to 605-562 BCE.

And for the archaeology geek in all of us, there’s a gratifyingly large amount of information about how these often fragile treasures were excavated and preserved.

What could be a dull depiction of long-ago civilizations is an absorbing, even enthralling depiction of their artistry and skills and a recognition that we use many of their inventions to this day.

By dividing up the cavernous hall into a coherent series  of halls and annexes into a coherent, yet never crowded, exhibition, the ROM has transformed what can be an awkward space into something that beckons visitors to slow down and peer into cul-de-sacs and around corners. Even the information panels have enough information to satisfy the curious, but not so much that visitors would be overwhelmed. It’s one of the best exhibits that the ROM has put on in years, and bodes well for the future.

Talisman of Mesopotamian Civilization

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