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← The rise and fall of history’s first empire - Soraya Field Fiorio

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Showing Revision 3 created 10/14/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. History’s first empire rose
    out of a hot, dry landscape,
  2. without rainfall to nourish crops,
    without trees or stones for building.
  3. In spite of all this, its inhabitants
    built the world’s first cities,
  4. with monumental architecture
    and large populations—
  5. and they built them
    entirely out of mud.
  6. Sumer occupied the southern part
    of modern Iraq

  7. in the region called Mesopotamia.
  8. Mesopotamia means “between two rivers”—
  9. the Tigris and the Euphrates.
  10. Around 5000 BCE, early Sumerians used
    irrigation channels, dams, and reservoirs
  11. to redirect river water and farm
    large areas of previously bone-dry land.
  12. Agricultural communities like this
    were slowly springing up around the world.
  13. But Sumerians were the first
    to take the next step.
  14. Using clay bricks made from river mud,
  15. they began to build multi-storied
    homes and temples.
  16. They invented the wheel—
  17. a potter’s wheel, for turning mud
    into household goods and tools.
  18. Those clay bricks gave rise
    to the world’s first cities,

  19. probably around 4500 BCE.
  20. At the top of the city’s social ladder
    were priests and priestesses,
  21. who were considered nobility,
  22. then merchants, craftspeople,
    farmers, and enslaved people.
  23. The Sumerian empire
    consisted of distinct city-states
  24. that operated like small nations.
  25. They were loosely linked
    by language and spiritual belief
  26. but lacked centralized control.
  27. The earliest cities were Uruk,
    Ur, and Eridu,
  28. and eventually there were a dozen cities.
  29. Each had a king who served a role
    somewhere between a priest and a ruler.
  30. Sometimes they fought against
    each other to conquer new territories.
  31. Each city was dedicated to a patron deity,
    considered the city’s founder.
  32. The largest and most important building
    in the city was this patron god’s home:
  33. the ziggurat, a temple designed
    as a stepped pyramid.
  34. Around 3200 BCE, Sumerians began
    to expand their reach.

  35. The potter’s wheel found a new home
    on chariots and wagons.
  36. They built boats out of reeds
    and date palm leaves,
  37. with linen sails that carried
    them vast distances by river and sea.
  38. To supplement scarce resources,
    they built a trade network
  39. with the rising kingdoms in Egypt,
    Anatolia, and Ethiopia,
  40. importing gold, silver,
    lapis lazuli, and cedar wood.
  41. Trade was the unlikely impetus

  42. for the invention
    of the world’s first writing system.
  43. It started as a system of accounting
    for Sumerian merchants
  44. conducting business with traders abroad.
  45. After a few hundred years,
    the early pictogram system
  46. called cuneiform turned into a script.
  47. The Sumerians drafted up the first
    written laws
  48. and created the first school system,
    designed to teach the craft of writing—
  49. and pioneered some less exciting
    innovations, like bureaucracy and taxes.
  50. In the schools, scribes studying
    from dawn to dusk,

  51. from childhood well into adulthood.
  52. They learned accounting, mathematics,
    and copied works of literature—
  53. hymns, myths, proverbs, animal fables,
    magic spells,
  54. and the first epics on clay tablets.
  55. Some of those tablets told
    the story of Gilgamesh,
  56. a king of the city of Uruk who was
    also the subject of mythical tales.
  57. But by the third millennium BCE, Sumer
    was no longer the only empire around,

  58. or even in Mesopotamia.
  59. Waves of nomadic tribes poured
    into the region from the north and east.
  60. Some newcomers looked up to the Sumerians,
    adopting their way of life
  61. and using the cuneiform script
    to express their own languages.
  62. In 2300 BCE, the Akkadian king Sargon
    conquered the Sumerian city-states.
  63. But Sargon respected Sumerian culture,
  64. and Akkadians and Sumerians
    existed side-by-side for centuries.
  65. Other invading groups focused
    only on looting and destruction.
  66. Even as Sumerian culture spread,
  67. a steady onslaught of invasions killed
    off the Sumerian people by 1750 BCE.
  68. Afterward, Sumer disappeared
    back into the desert dirt,

  69. not to be rediscovered
    until the 19th century.
  70. But Sumerian culture lived
    on for thousands of years—
  71. first through the Akkadians,
    then the Assyrians, then the Babylonians.
  72. The Babylonians passed Sumerian
    inventions and traditions through
  73. along Hebrew, Greek, and Roman cultures.
  74. Some persist today.