Sumerian Sages




Sumeria, Civic Structure, Priest/Kings, Cylinder seals, Sharru-kin

Sumerian Priest King
Cylinder Seal

Ancient Sumer’s civic structure was comprised largely of freemen, who met in concert to govern themselves. The citizens initially held power, and decisions were made in an assembly. In times of need, such as war, a lugal (big man) was elected only for the duration of that threat. Left: Standing Nude, Priest/King of Uruk, 3200 B.C.E.


Over time however, this position became permanent and hereditary, a kingship: father to son. Sumerian society and prosperity, was based on agriculture and commerce, fields irrigated by man-made canals produced an assortment of crops. Second image from the left: Close up of the Cylinder Seal impression, nude bearded hero and a water Buffalo 2334 B.C.E.


The king, and the Temple of a cities patron god, - (thus the priests) - owned much of the land, but it was very common for the "average" man to own property. There was a large disparity between the rich and the poor, but even the poor, could own their own land and livestock. Coins were not used; commerce was accomplished through barter, or by payments of silver and gold. Purchases of even the smallest things were almost always confirmed in writing.


Sumerian religion had its roots in the worship of nature, such as the wind and water and animals. The ancient sages of Sumer found it necessary to bring order, to that which they did not understand. And to this end, they came to the natural conclusion that a greater force was at work. The forces of nature were originally worshipped, as entities onto themselves. However over time, the human form became associated with these forces. Gods in human form were then seen as having control over nature. As in Egypt, figures with human bodies and animal heads are common.




Sumerian theologians believed that every intricacy of the cosmos was controlled by a divine and immortal being, and that the cosmos adhered to established rules. The world below was known as the nether world. The Sumerians believed that the souls of the dead, descended into the nether world from their graves. But there were also special entrances to the nether world, in the cities. A person could enter the nether world from one of these special entrances, but once there, could not leave, unless a substitute was found to take their place in the world below. A person entering the nether world must adhere to certain rules:



Sumerian God

Failure to adhere to these rules would cause the person to be held fast by the denizens of the nether world, until a god intervened on their behalf. Cylinder seals were another Sumerian invention; they were first used to roll one's signature into the wet clay of a tablet, thus recording a commercial transaction or a short inscription.


Over time, Cylinder seals evolved so that they could reproduce pictorial scenes such as banquets.


Thousands of these tablets and seals have been found in excavated temple compounds. As said before, there is always an argument, as to whether it was the Sumerians, Egyptians or Indus valley people, who invented writing, mathematics, calendars etc. Bottom left: Sumerian God, man with bull head, 2500 B.C.E. Suffice to say, that Sumer had developed a complex commercial system, including contracts, grants of credit, loans with interest, and business partnerships.


Sumerian King

Moreover, the planning of the vast public works under their control, led priests to develop useful mathematics, including both a decimal notation and a number system based upon 60, which has given us our sixty-second minute, our sixty-minute hour and our division of the circle into 360 degrees.


They invented mathematical tables and used quadratic equations. They studied the heavens, both for religious and agricultural purposes, and they created a lunar calendar, with a day of 24 hours and a week of seven days. Sumerians are also credited with inventing the Wheel and the wagon, as well as the boat sail.


Thus, Sargon became king over all of southern Mesopotamia, the first great ruler for whom, rather than Sumerian, the Semitic tongue known as Akkadian was natural from birth. It may have been before these exploits, when he was gathering followers and an army, that Sargon named himself Sharru-kin ("Rightful King") in support of an accession not achieved in this old established city through normal hereditary succession.


Historical records are still so meagre however, that there is a complete gap in information relating to this period. After he is king, we get this bit of propaganda.


Sargon, the mighty king, king of Akkade am I,
2. My mother was lowly; my father I did not know;
3. The brother of my father dwelt in the mountain.
4. My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the bank of the Purattu [Euphrates],
5. My lowly mother conceived me, in secret she brought me forth.

The Legend of Sargon


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Top: Sumerian King wearing God’s Headdress, 3100 B.C.E.

6. She placed me in a basket of reeds, she closed my entrance with bitumen,
7. She cast me upon the rivers which did not overflow me.
8. The river carried me, it brought me to Akki, the irrigator.
9. Akki, the irrigator, in the goodness of his heart lifted me out,
10. Akki, the irrigator, as his own son brought me up;
11. Akki, the irrigator, as his gardener appointed me.
12. When I was a gardener the goddess Ishtar loved me,
13. And for four years I ruled the kingdom.
14. The black-headed peoples I ruled, I governed;
15. Mighty mountains with axes of bronze I destroyed (?). etc. etc. etc.




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