Top 10 Glimpses Into Life In Man’s First Civilization

Top 10 Glimpses Into Life In Man’s First Civilization
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Sumeria was one of the earliest civilizations on Planet. More than 7,000 years Prior, they built the roads and walls of their first city. For possibly the first time in human history, families left their farms and their tribal homes and moved into urban Cities Life.This was also the first time that anybody in Mesopotamia had lived in a tight-knit, walled town. They were making their lives as administrators and researchers instead of growing food for themselves. Life here was something totally new—not just for the people who lived there but for all of humanity.Little of life in 5000 BC remains today. All we need to work from is a few old tablets and the ruins of ancient towns. But it’s sufficient for a small glimpse into life in history’s first civilization. So, here is list of top 10 Glimpses Into Life In Man’s First Civilization

10. Women Had Their Own Language

Women Had Their Own Language

Men and women in Sumeria were not equal. When morning broke and a man climbed out of bed, he expected his wife to have breakfast prepared for him. When they had children, they sent the boys to school and kept the daughters at home. The life of a man and a woman was a very different ordeal, so much so that women developed their own particular language.

The main Sumerian dialect was called Emegir, and it wasn’t exclusive to men. Both genders used it, and it was the main dialect of society. Women, though, had their own separate dialect called Emesal (“women’s tongue”)—and we can’t find any record of any man regularly speaking it.

The female language was really a different dialect. They articulated a few sounds differently, used a few different words, and actually had a few vowels that the men didn’t use. Men most likely understood it, but it was likely observed as effeminate to use it.

It was a dialect used in poetry and song, often with a mother cooing her child or a maiden groveling over a lover. Perhaps, in Sumeria, a girl who wanted to sound sweet didn’t just choose her words carefully—she spoke an entire other language.

9. They Paid Taxes Before They Invented Money

They Paid Taxes Before They Invented Money

Taxes have been around for longer than there’s been money to pay them. Indeed, Even before the first coins and silver shekels came to Mesopotamia, the people had to give the lord his share.

Often, Sumerian taxes weren’t too different from ours. Instead of Money, the ruler would just take a percentage of what you produced. Agriculturists would send over crops or livestock, while tradesmen might send up leather or wood. Like our modern governments, the wealthy were taxed harder, sometimes giving to give the king half of what they grew.

That wasn’t the only way you paid taxes, though. Sumerians would be called to work on public projects, too. For months of a year, a man would have to leave his home to work on the administration , dig out a public irrigation venture, or go off to fight a war. Unless you were wealthy, anyway. The rich could always pay someone else to do it for them.

Mandatory labor was just how early societies worked. At its peak, there were 11,000 chairmen and managers in Sumeria, and they had to be fed. They definitely didn’t go hungry, though. According to the records they left behind, government taxes collected more than a million tons of grain each year.

8. Life Revolved Around Beer

Life Revolved Around Beer

There’s a theory that human advancement started because of beer. Men first started farming, the theory goes, so that they could get alcoholic. They were also lured into the city under the promise of more beer.

Whether that’s valid or not, beer was definitely a major part of life in Sumeria. It was served at each supper, from breakfast to dinner, and it wasn’t treated like a drink you had on the side. It was the main course.

Sumerian beer was different from ours, obviously. It was as thick as porridge—with a muddy sediment at the bottom, a layer of foam on the top, and little bits of bread left over from fermentation floating at the top. It could only be consumed with a straw.

But it was worth it. Sumerian beer had enough grains to be viewed as a nutritious part of a balanced breakfast. Plus, it got you drunk.

When laborers were called in to work on public projects, it was a regular practice to pay them with beer. That was how the lord would lure farmers to work on his building projects: He had better beer.

7. They Got High On Opium

They Got High On Opium

Beer wasn’t the only drug available in Sumeria. They had opium—and they definitely utilized it to get high.

The Sumerians were growing opium poppies by no less than 3000 BC. We don’t have a lot of information of data on what they did with it, but the name they gave it kind of spells it out. In Sumeria, poppies were called the “joy plant.”

There are speculations that the Sumerians used these plants for medicine. But there’s nothing to really back that up. We realize that people eventually used opium as a painkiller, and charitably, we like to think the Sumerians might have done that, too.

But there’s no confirmation. The only things we know for sure are that the Sumerians developed opium, that they smoked it, and that they thought it was a hell of a good time.

6. The King Married A New Priestess Each Year

The King Married A New Priestess Each Year

Each year, the ruler would marry a new woman. He had to marry one of the priestesses—a group of virginal women decided for being “perfect in body”—and make love to her. Otherwise, the gods would turn the dirt and the women of Sumeria barren.

The ruler and his chosen bride would have to reenact the lovemaking of the gods. On her wedding day, the bride would be bathed, perfumed, and dressed in the most beautiful outfits they had, while the king and his entourage made their way to her temple. There, a crowd of priests and priestesses would be filling the hall with tunes of love.

When the king arrived, he would give his new bride gifts. Then they would go off together into a room filled with scented flavors and make love on a ceremonial bed that was custom-made just for the occasion.

When it was finished, the king and his bride would sit together on the throne. His beautiful new bride would spout about him to his people, reciting his poetry about his manliness and telling the group of people that he’d brought them prosperity.

This, the king explained to his people, was his sacred duty. He had no choice but to sleep with beautiful women. The divine demanded it.

5. Priestesses Were Doctors And Dentists

Priestesses Were Doctors And Dentists

The priestesses weren’t just the king’s harem—they were some of the most helpful people in Sumerian society. They were poets, scribes, and some of history’s first doctors.

Sumerian urban were built around a temple complex. A great ziggurat would sit in the inside, surrounded by buildings where priests and priestesses lived and skilled  workers dealt with public projects.

This was a massive space that took up a third of the city, and it did something other then hold ceremonies. There were orphanages, astronomers, and major business operations. An administrator there was in charge of government business, and he used his temple as a hub to run trade networks with other Urban cities.

It was on the outside of the complex, though, where the most historically critical work was done. There, the sick would come and ask for a priestess to look them over. These women would come out and check the patients’ wellbeing. They would diagnose the sick, usually treating illnesses as curses and hexes, and would prepare early medicine to nurse them back to health.

4. Literacy Meant Wealth

Literacy Meant Wealth

Reading and writing were fairly new ideas in ancient Sumeria, but they were already incredibly important. Individuals there didn’t get rich by working with their hands. Tradesmen and farmers were usually in the lower class. If you wanted to get rich, you became an minister or a priest. And if you wanted your kids to get rich, you made ensured they were literate.

Sumerian boys could start school as soon as they were seven years of age, but it was costly. Only the rich people in the city could afford to go. At school, they were taught math, history, and literacy, usually copying what a teacher had written until they could imitate it perfectly.

Discipline was strict. A student who misbehaved or spoke out of turn would get whipped in front of the class room. The biggest incentive to succeed, though, was wealth. A especially talented student could go on to be a scribe or a priest—and that meant being in the top echelon of Sumerian society.

3. The Poor Lived Outside The City

The Poor Lived Outside The City

Not every Sumerian was part of that upper class. Most were in the lower class, living on farms outside the city walls or scraping by with low-paying craftsman employments in the city.

While the rich lived in mud-block houses filled with furniture, windows, and lamps, the poor had to settle for reed tents. They slept on straw mats on the ground, and their properties were regularly shared with their whole extended family.

Outside the city walls, life was hard. But individuals could move up. A hardworking family could trade in some of their crops to purchase more land, or they could rent out their land at a profit. It may even have been possible—although definitely rare—to make enough to hire a tutor and move your child to a superior life inside the city walls.

2. The Army Raided Mountain People For Slaves

The Army Raided Mountain People For Slaves

The lives of Sumeria’s poor were still far far better than the lives of slaves. The Sumerian kings kept a steady supply of enslaved workers in their city by running raids on the people who lived in the hill Nation. The bandits would drag these people off and steal their possessions. The Sumerian kings believed that if the gods gave them triumph, it was their divine will to make slaves of the hill people.

Slaves were usually managed by women, who would put them to work on domestic chores and manual labor. A rare few were given more distinguished jobs, sometimes working as accountants or even tutoring the kids.

Female slaves frequently became concubines. They would live their lives as the sexual tools of the men who claimed them, with strict laws keeping them from forgetting their place. If a concubine slave started talking about herself as the wife’s equal, by law, she was to have her mouth scoured with a quart of salt.

It was possible to get out. A female slave could marry a liberated man, although she would have to give her first child to her master as payment. A male slave could make enough to buy his freedom and even get his own land.

But that versatility went both ways. No one was safe from a life of servitude. If a free man got himself in enough debt or was caught committing a crime, he could be compelled to sell himself into slavery.

1. Servants Were Buried With Their Kings

Servants Were Buried With Their Kings

In Sumeria, death was a mystery. The dead would be ferried to what they called the “place of no return,” but little was thought about what lay on the other side.

The one thing Sumerians accepted for sure was that they would need their Earthly possessions in the afterlife. They were terrified of the possibility of spending eternity alone and starving, so the dead were covered with jewelry, gold, food, and even their pet dogs.

Kings and queens wouldn’t stop at possessions. They would take their orderlies with them. The king’s favorite servants would be rewarded for their hard work by being ceremonially killed at his funeral.They would be lined up in their best clothes—and then they’d have their heads bashed in.

One queen was buried with her musicians. They were harmed and thrown into her tomb so that she wouldn’t have to spend eternity without song. A king was buried with 73 workers, their bodies positioned to be eternally kneeling before his remains.Some rulers may even have been buried with their living families. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ruler is buried with his beloved son and his favorite wife. No one was safe. When the king died, death could come for anyone he held dear.


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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.