July 28, 2014

Mesopotamian Civilization

The history of the human race covers the entire period since man first appeared on earth. By about 4000 BC the accumulated knowledge and skills of the preceding thousands of years, combined with new discoveries of metals enabled man to live in urban societies. The emergence of this stage was a revolution in human history known as the metal age revolution. It led to the emergence of the first civilizations which are known as River Valley Civilizations. Such river valley civilizations were noted for the effective use of metal implements for Cultivation, weapons and domestic use.
The Bronze Age civilizations which flourished in different parts of the world between 5000 BC and 500 BC were
1.            The Indus Valley civilization or the Harappan culture (3250 to 2750 BC)
2.            The Tigris - Euphrates civilization of Mesopotamia, the modern Iraq (3500 BC to 1000 BC)
3.            The Nile Valley Civilization in Egypt (4000-500BC)
4.            The Hwang -Ho or the Yellow River civilization in China (3500-3000 BC)

Mesopotamian Civilization
The great Mesopotamian civilization comprises the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian cultures. This civilization flourished in a region between two rivers, i.e, Euphrates and Tigris, hence the name Mesopotamia (meso - in between , potam - rivers; i.e, the land between two rivers). Both the rivers, the Euphrates 2760 kms long and the Tigris 2000 km long, have their source in the mountains of Armenia. The valley between these two rivers is in the shape of crescent and the region is fertile, hence is known as the ‘fertile crescent’. The Garden of Eden mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible was believed to have been situated within this region. The fertility of the soil and availability of water attracted many tribes to this region. The peculiar feature of the Mesopotamian civilization was its complex character.

Political Life

The word Sumerian means black­headed. The historians tell us that they did not belong to the Aryan or the Semitic race. They settled in the southern part of Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf. They adopted a city state type of government. Sumer was their chief city state, so they were called Sumerians. Their city states were governed by patesis (Priest Kings). The most important city-states were Ur, Larsa, Kish, Lagas Eridu and Ammon. They had no physical barriers to prevent immigrations. So their kingdom was conquered by the Semitic king of Akkad, Saragon I.
Bab-llu was made the capital of AmoritebykingSUMMUABU and their city became popular as Babylon. Amorites were called Babylonians and their powerful king was Hammurabi. His reign witnessed all round prosperity and was sometimes described as the golden age of Mesopotamia. Later on Assyrians conquered Mesopotamia. They were cruel and believed in terror activities. The chief centres of Assyrian power were Assur and Nineveh. Later on they were conquered by the Chaldeans. The Chaldean empire reached the zenith of its prosperity
during the reign by Nebuchad nezzar. He built the famous “Hanging Garden”, which is considered as one of the wonders of the ancient world. As a result of the joint contribution of the Sumerians, the Babylonians and the Assyrians, there flourished a great civilization in Mesopotamia for long time.

Social Life
The society was divided into three strata, the farmers, labourers and the slaves. The social regulation was based on religion. The temples were the centres of education. Women had a honoured position. Agriculture was highly developed. They carried trade with Indus and Nile Valley people. The Babylonian merchants carried on commerce by barter at first and the city of Babylon became the centre of the international commerce.

Cuneiform Script
The Sumerians evolved a system of writing with wedge shaped letters called cuneiform. They wrote on wet clay tablets. They were then baked or dried. A large number of these clay tablets have been found. They used nearly 350 signs. Their writings were from right to left. Most of the books of this period described gods and their activities. One of the most famous of these is the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Science and Astronomy
The science, especially astronomy and medicine had made astonishing progress. Sun dials and water clocks were used to measure time. They made use of a Lunar calendar of 365 days divided into 12 months. They divided the circle into 360 degrees (60 x 6). The ziggurat or towered building also served as an observatory. The Sumerians knew planets like Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mars. Ancient Chaldean astronomers Naburi and Kidinnu made many contributions to the science of astronomy.
They adopted units of sixty to count time. The Sumerians mostly used Sexagesimal system of counting. The concept of seven days constituting a week also goes back to the days of Chaldeans.

Religion played an important role. Their chief god was Marduk and his queen Nanshe. Ishta the mother of the gods possessed control over reproduction among plants and beasts. The Gods named Shamash, Nannar and Tammuz were worshiped by them. The tower temples known as Ziggurats were built by them. Their sculptures were inferior to those of the Egyptians.
Hammurabi was the greatest of the Babylonian rulers. He is famous in history as a warrior, conqueror, administrator and builder. The code of Hammurabi is the first written code of laws known to history. This had earned Hammurabi the title “The world's first Law giver”. The code covered almost all aspects of man's life, for example debt, marriage, divorce, property, payment of taxes etc., The Laws were engraved in Semitic Language of the Amorities on a piece of stone at the top of which was a scene representing Hammurabi receiving the laws from sun god. The code contained 4 parts namely a civil code, a code of procedure, a penal code and commercial code. The civil code recognized 3 classes of citizens, freemen, semi-freemen and slaves. The second part dealt with courts, rules and appointment of civil and religious judges. The penal code fixed punishment of crimes. This law based on the idea of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is similar to the Mosaic Law. The laws fixed prices and wages, organized trade and fixed the rate of interests. These Laws, were engraved on a tall column of 2.5m high in cuneiform script and exhibited to the public. 285 Laws were arranged in logical manner.

Art and Architecture
Code of Hammurabi
The Mesopotamians developed a distinct form of architecture. Arches, tombs and pillars were the notable features of their architecture. 
The tower of Babel was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world and another which finds mention in the Bible was a tower built by Noah's descendants in Babylon, a Ziggurat, raised to the Sun God. According to one account it rose to a height of about 200m and measured about 95m wide at the base.

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