Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sumerian Economy

A mosaic from the city of Ur showing the activities 
of Sumerians such as weaving, herding, and farming

Civilization rose alongside fresh water rivers. Throughout history, great cities and civilization would not have risen without a source of clean and drinkable water. In China, the Yangtze and Huang Ho River became the cradle of the Chinese civilization. In India, the Indus River gave birth to the civilization and even to the name of the subcontinent – India. In Africa, the great Egyptian Empire rose with its pyramids thanks to the flow of the Nile River. The first sign of civilization rose through two great rivers in the Middle East – Sumeria.

In the great fertile areas of the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia, two great rivers gave it life and energy. The Tigris and Euphrates River flowed from the Anatolian Plateau, downward to the areas of Syria and Iraq. At the southern region of Iraq, in from 4,000 CE, a group of people who called themselves the black headed people occupied the fertile soil of the deltas of the two great rivers. But for the Akkadian people of the north, they called the people these black headed people as Sumerians.

The Sumerians were the first civilization recorded in history. They managed to develop a system of writing known as cuneiform. It allowed them to record their lives that allowed the present to study this people from the past. Behind the development and progress of the Sumerians, a very progressive economy pushed it forward. 

The economy of the Sumerians relied heavily to agriculture. Agriculture provided the people food made from several crops. Lettuces, beans, and onions provided nutrients to the Sumerians. But the most widely cultivated crop was barley. Barley allowed the Sumerian to produce bread and also alcohol, in particular, ale. Ale became an important part of Sumerian society that it was even given a deity of its own, the goddess Ninkasi.

Most of the lands tilled by the Sumerian farmers were controlled by priests. The temple of Sumeria owned farmland called nig-en-na. Many of these farmlands were rented out to farmers and the piece of land was called apin-lal. 

Land fertility was not a problem. Sumerians lived in an area that was very fertile. The Tigris and Euphrates River allowed strips of land to be used for cultivation in the middle of a vast area of deserts. The Sumerians had the capacity to build basic irrigation, such as canals and dikes. The canals allowed river water of the two rivers to reached further deep in the lands. It allowed farming area to grow for a while. 

The Sumerians also had the facilities required for perishable goods after it was harvested. Granaries and warehouses provided storage for vegetable and barley. Mills processed the barley into grains that were ready to be used. Finally, bakeries were established to cook the barley into breads that would be fed to the people.

Trade existed among the Sumerians. One of the greatest innovation of the Sumerians was the wheel. Wheel today formed the foundation of land transportation. But the Sumerians did not used the wheel into its full potential. It was mainly due that wheels would not work quite easily in the fine grain sands of the Mesopotamian dessert. No paved road still existed and so the Sumer people relied heavily to water transportation. Small ferries that used the Tigris and Euphrates River transported people and goods to different cities.

Besides agriculture, small workshops existed. Tool making shops produced the needed tools for the farmers. Bakeries that produce bread also existed. Brick making workshops also existed. The bricks that were produced were then used for massive construction projects which include huge pyramid temples with ziggurats at the top.

The economic prosperity of the Sumerians made them a target of invasion of many people in the region. Among the most famous invaders that toppled down Sumerian city was the famous builder of the first recorded Empire in the world – King Sargon the Great.

See also:
The Economy of Mauryan Empire
The Famous Phoenician Dye
Symbol of Lebanon in the Ancient World

Bibliography:
Blainey, G. A Very Short History of the World. Australia: Penguin Group, 2004. 

Fattah, H. & F. Caso A Brief History of Iraq. New York: Fact on File, Inc., 2009. 

Hunt, C. The History of Iraq. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005. 

Wang, T. History of the World. Nebraska: iUniverse, Inc., 2003.

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