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The Ancient Sumerian History and Legacy


The term civilization has various definitions depending on the context of the subject being discussed. Many scholars have defined civilization in different contexts but most of them agree that civilization is a social transformation of a society from low standards of living to advance standards of living. The transformation normally occurs in all the sectors of the society that is, in political, economical, and cultural sectors. Historically, ancient civilization began in Mesopotamia where the society began to experience radical changes in the way they lived for example; the society began adopting new writing techniques, improved on agricultural activities, and form a more organized political system. These were the advancement in society that led to world civilization. Therefore, what are the legacies left behind by this civilization? This research paper will discuss some of the legacies of Civilization among the Sumerian people highlighting how civilization has enriched modern society.

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Brief History of the Sumerians

The Sumerian civilization began approximately 4000 BC in the areas of Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Compared to other communities during that time, their organization system was a little bit different especially their social structure. They were mainly ruled by Priest and their cities were organized around Temples. Therefore, all the Sumerians were considered to be slaves of the gods that were in the temple unlike in other communities where there were no such queer practices. The Sumerians have a very rich history characterized by lots of farming and pottery making as part of their famous cultural practices. They possessed a very rich cultural history; their original origin has always been a subject of debate by many writers and historians. However, many contend that the Sumerians must have originated from Dilmum an Island found within the Persian Gulf called Bahrain (Schwebius, 2008).

During their original days, the Sumerians practiced a lot of trade and pastoral activities such as livestock keeping. In addition to providing food, the livestock was kept to offer scarifies to the gods. This was a traditional culture meant to appease the gods so that they could bless the land through the provision of rains or any other important thing that the community wanted. The Sumerians spoke a very different language from the rest of their neighboring communities. However, all the people who speak the Sumerian languages are regarded as the Sumerians. The Sumerians are credited with the introduction of most of the inventions in world such as the calendar, clock, and new agricultural methods. Though the Sumerians were influential with their inventions; their empire collapsed during the rise of Babylon in the second millennium BC. This imposed a rule of the Amorites in Mesopotamia which interfered with the cultural practices of the Sumerians (Schwebius, 2008).

The Sumerian Culture

The Sumerian culture is very important in the discussion of the ancient Sumerian legacy since it provides hints to the inventions made by the Sumerian people in the process of practicing their culture. The Sumerians had a variety of cultural practices which are believed to have influenced the early inventions in Mesopotamia. These cultural practices are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs highlighting the inventions related to them (Guisepi & Willis, 1980).

Literature and Writing

As mentioned early, the main language group of the Sumerian people remains a misery since it does don’t fall in any categories of the world languages. Therefore it has been classified as a morphemes language to mean a group of words brought together to form a meaning. Nevertheless, their contribution towards building the concepts of literature is quite remarkable. The Sumerians are attributed with writing the first literature material in the world. Though the materials were written in the Sumerian language, they greatly contributed to the development of literature.

As a part of the Sumerian culture, they wrote a large number of texts which were often used for communication purposes such as business letters, receipts, prayers, medicine, and mathematics among many others. The writing of the texts was done through the inscription of the text in bricks or statues. As the culture continued, the Sumeriansthe world invented the Cuneiform, which had developed from the hieroglyphs inventions and provide a better foundation for the writing of various literal materials. The development of the Cuneiform was well utilized by the Priests who were the official governors of the Sumerian people to write the first literal materials. Consequently, literal materials from the Bible such as Noah’s story were written using the Cuneiform writing technique (Guisepi & Willis, 1980).

The development of the Cuneiform necessitated the development of a writing system among the Sumerian people. Though historians do not agree on the exact origin of the writing system, archaeologists have associated the invention of the writing systems with the Sumerians since evidence indicates that as early as 3000 BC, the Sumerians had already developed a writing system. They wrote mainly in clay tablets which were later baked to make them last for long periods. They developed the system of writing from the pictorial expression known as hieroglyphs to the use of symbols. This resulted in to use of symbols to express ideas rather than the use of pictures thus developing the cuneiform writing system. This made writing easier and less strenuous to the people as they only employed signs rather than real pictures to express an idea. This writing style spread faster to other tribes such as Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, and the Persians as a form of communication. As time passed by, the alphabetic system was adopted though not directly from cuneiform but can be said to have been inspired by the cuneiform system (Black, 2006).

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The Sumerian Calendar

The cultural system of the Sumerians of observing the calendar gave birth to the modern calendar system. This practice contributed to the astronomical advancement of society by adopting the calendar system where one year was composed of 360 days. According to the Sumerian culture, a month began when a New Moon appeared. However, the naming of the months differed across the cities with each city applying its name to the month. The names were mainly associated with the festivities of that season such as sheep shearing which was normally performed at given months in different cities. It should be noted that before this invention, people employed booking methods as a way to count days. This method proved very inefficient towards approximating the exact day, month, and year in which certain events of history occurred. Due to the inefficiency, the Sumerians basing on the cycle of the moon derived a way of counting months. Consequently, they developed the calendar system which was composed of 12 months, and were keen enough to develop the leap year so that the days could go hand in hand with the solar year. The development of the calendar went hand in hand with the invention of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry which helped further in the counting of numbers (Dalley, 1998).

The development of arithmetic and geometry were as a result of the advancement in the metrology system which further led to the development of mathematical tables. The development of the mathematical tables helped to simplify the calculation of various geometrical exercises such as multiplications and divisions. This system was adopted by the neighboring communities such as the Babylonians and has remained part of the geometric solving techniques in the modern world. The incorporation of geometry in the Sumerian community simplified the astrological concept of counting days and recording events basing on the year the events took place. Consequently, the system solved the inefficiencies that were encountered through bookkeeping systems of recording days. To date, the calendar system though modified over the years is still in use thanks to the Sumerian invention (Black, 2006).

The Monarchy

The Sumerian people practiced a monarchial system of governance and were considered the earliest inventors of this kind of system that was later incorporated in various countries across the globe. It should be noted here that the Sumerians were initially governed by the priest-king system that was bestowed with the duty of heading the military especially in events of the war, organizing a conducive environment for trade, and judging disputes occurring in the society. As the complexity of the Sumerian society grew, there was the need for a change in the system to be able to govern the wide cities of the Sumerian people and the diverse community. Consequently, the monarchial system of governance was adopted which was considered by many Sumerians as divine. In the Monarchial system, the Sumerians adopted a kinship system where power only passed to the family members of the ruling family who were considered to be responsible for delivering the essential services required by the community. This system proved to be efficient as it created a system of bureaucracy in managing the Sumerian people. As a result of its success among the Sumerians, many other countries adopted the system hence leaving a legacy among the Sumerians as the first people to practice Monarchy (Bertman, 2005).

Sumerian school

Since learning the new writing system was difficult, the Sumerians introduced the schooling system where individuals would to school to get the basic knowledge of writing using Cuneiform. The schools were located in the temples and the writing material was the clay tablet which provided the best practical tool for learning the writing system since the students would at anytime erase whenever they did not do the right thing. This acted as a very efficient method of passing as well as acquiring knowledge which was further improved to lead to the modern education system. In the schools, the students had also the opportunity to study arithmetic thus improving their knowledge of astrology, and also learned subjects that helped them understand basic things such as measurements units for example length, capacity, and area. This helped especially in the designing of the cities (Guisepi, 1980).

The invention of the Wheel

Another major invention by the Sumerians that helped changed the world was the invention of the wheel. The wheels were mainly used for transportations but were later improvised into chariots that were used during wars. The invention of the wheel increased trading among the Sumerians as the supply of foodstuff became easy. This invention inspired the development of the modern wheel in almost everything that employs the use of the wheel for example the car, the trains, and other small devices. As can be seen, this was one of the major inventions that changed the world in a great way. Imagine a situation where people had to walk for very long distances with bulky commodities for trade every day. It was very tiresome and had been it not the invention of the wheel that made things a little bit easier, even modern society would have been suffering from the negative effects of lack of wheels (Kalnins, 2006).


In conclusion, it can be asserted that most of the modern ways of life are derived from the ancient Sumerian culture which acted as a source of civilization to the rest of the world. The Sumerian inventions led to various improvements in life such as to communicate both orally and in writing, the ability to trade efficiently through the introduction of arithmetic and geometrics for mathematic and finance purposes, clothing techniques, and the introduction of literature. All these innovations contributed a great deal in improving the way people lived in the ancient period and have contributed to the advancements we have in the modern world. Therefore, it can be said almost with certainty that the current generation and the subsequent generations owe a lot to the ancient Sumerian people who spearheaded civilization.


Bertman, S. (2005). Handbook to life in ancient Mesopotamia. London: Oxford University Press.

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Black, J. A. (2006) The literature of ancient Sumer. London: Oxford University Press.

Dalley, S. (1998). The legacy of Mesopotamia. London: Oxford University Press.

Guisepi, R. A. & Willis, R. F. (1980). Ancient Sumerian. University of California. Web.

Kalnins, A. (2006). Sumerians: Invention of the Wheel. Web.

Schwebius, C. (2008). Sumerians – The Beginning of Inventions. Article zines. Web.

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