The Sumerians produced the world’s “first high civilization” and were the world’s first urban non-Semitic people with the earliest traces of them found as far back as 5300BC. This ancient culture spanned the fifth to the second millennium BC in and around ancient Mesopotamia (mainly modern day Iraq but also stretching to Turkey, Syria and Iran) and its scientific and literary achievements had lasting influence throughout the ancient world and down through today.
The Sumerians were the first people to have a complex system of metrology which resulted in the creation of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. They referred to themselves as the sag-giga, which literally meant “the black-headed people. The cities of Sumer were the first to practice rigorous, year-round agriculture.
What I find fascinating is that as late as the 19th century, the Sumerian culture was completely unknown. Sumer had “been erased from the mind and memory of man for more than two thousand years.” That is, up until around a Hundred years ago, we had no idea of where we came from. It is clear that what we dont know is still far greater than we do know about our early histroy, but a lot of the knowledge we have was brought to light with the discovery of the Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh where 30, 000 clay tablets were found.
Another thing I find fascinating, is that the earliest Leaders of Sumeria, who lived amongst, and ruled over the people, were Deified, that is, they were gods. These were Dumuzi, a deity whose worship would have profound influences in Judaism and in Greek mythology, and Gilgamesh, the “supreme hero of Sumerian myth and legend,” his deeds written and rewritten not only in Sumerian but also in other languages.
Sargon the Great was the conqueror (7000 years later we are still fighting over these lands!) that finally brought about the end of the Sumerian people as “an identifiable political and ethnic entity” and began the “Semitization of Sumer.” He went on to later build babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Sumerians believed that rite and ritual were more important than either personal devotion or piety, and that man was “created for no other purpose than to serve the gods.” Bear in mind, these gods were not some abstract entity, but according to the Sumerians, they created the first people, lived amongst and ruled over them.
Image by Raphael Lacoste