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Political History

of the World

Contents
Cradle of civilizations: Mesopotamia, Sumer. ...................................................... 3
Invention of writing; alphabet ........................................................................ 4
Birth of city states and modern social and administrative structures .......................... 5

Cradle of civilizations: Mesopotamia, Sumer.


The best case for the first
appearance of civilization has been
made for the southern part of
Mesopotamia, stretch of land formed
by the two river valleys of the Tigris
and Euphrates. The end of the Fertile
Crescent was thickly studded with
farming villages in Neolithic times.
Some of the oldest settlements of all
seem to have been in the extreme
south where deposits from centuries
of drainage from up-country and
annual floodings had built up a soul of great richness. About 2500 BC the yield of grain in
southern Mesopotamia compared favorably with that of the best Canadian wheat-fields
today. Here was the possibility of growing more than was needed for daily consumption, the
surplus indispensable to the appearance of town life. Furthermore, fish could be taken from
the nearby sea.
The Tigris and Euphrates could suddenly
and violently change their courses: the marshy,
low-lying land of the delta had to be raised above
flood level by banking and ditching and canals had
to be built to carry water away. But the drains
and irrigation channels they needed could be
managed properly only if they were managed
collectively. No doubt the social organization of
reclamation was another result. However it
happened,
the
seemingly
unprecedented
achievement of making land from watery marsh
must have been the forcing house of a new
complexity in the way men lived together.
As the population increased, more land was taken to grow food. Sooner or later
people from different villages would have come in conflict with others intent on reclaiming
marsh which had previously separated them from one another. There was a choice: to fight
or to co-operate. Each meant further collective organization and a new agglomeration of
power. Somewhere along this path it made sense for men to band together in bigger units
than
hitherto
for
self-protection
or
management of the environment.
One
physical result is the town, mud-walled at first
to keep out floods and enemies, raised above
the waters on a platform. It was logical for the
local deitys shrine to be the place chosen: he
stood behind the communitys authority.

It would be exercised by his chief priest, who became the ruler of a little theocracy
competing with others.
Sumer is an ancient name for southern Mesopotamia. Sumerians arrived in the area
around 4000 BC. Sumerian civilization had deep roots. The people had long shared a way of
life not very different from that of their neighbors. They lived in villages and had a few
important cult centers which were continuously occupied. Such cult centers began by
serving those who lived near them. They were not true cities, but places of devotion and
pilgrimage. They may have had no considerable resident populations, but they were usually
the centers around which cities later crystallized and this helps to explain the close
relationship religion and government always had in ancient Mesopotamia. Well before 3000
BC some such sites had very big temples indeed; at Uruk there
was an especially splendid one.
Pottery provides one of the first clues that something
culturally important is going forward which is qualitatively
different from the evolutions of the Neolithic. The strong
implication of this is that when they came to be produced,
there already existed a population of specialized craftsmen; it
must have been maintained by an agriculture sufficiently rich to produce a surplus
exchanged for their creations. It is with this change that the story of Sumerian civilization
can conveniently be begun.

Invention of writing; alphabet


Roughly from 3300 to 2000 BC, comes the invention of writing. Most of writing was
done on clay for nearly half the time mankind has
possessed the skill. Writing had in fact been preceded
by the invention of cylinder seals, on which little
pictures were incised to be rolled on to clay; pottery
may have degenerated, but these seals were one of the
great Mesopotamian artistic achievements. The earliest
writings followed in the form of pictograms or
simplified pictures on clay tablets. The earliest are in
Sumerian and it can be seen that they are memoranda,
lists of goods, receipts; their emphasis is economic and
they cannot be read as continuous prose. A fair amount
is therefore known about the Sumerian language. A few
of its words have survived to this day; one of them is
the original form of the word alcohol (and the first
recipe for beer). But the languages greatest interest is its appearance in written forms at
all. Literacy must have been both unsettling and stabilizing. On the one hand it offered
huge new possibilities of communicating; on the other, it stabilized practice because the
consultation of a record as well as oral tradition became possible. It made much easier the
complex operations of irrigating lands, harvesting and storing crops, which were
fundamental to a growing society. Writing made for more efficient exploitation of resources.
It also immensely strengthened government and emphasized its links with the priestly castes
which monopolized literacy at first. Interestingly, one of the earliest uses of seals appears
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to be connected with this, since they were used somehow to certify the size of crops at
their receipt in the temple. Perhaps they record at first the operations of an economy of
centralized redistribution, where men brought their due produce to the temple and received
there the food or materials they themselves needed. The oldest story in the world is the
Epic of Gilgamesh.
One convenient landmark is provided by the appearance of a new empire in
Mesopotamia, one which has left behind a famous name: Babylon. Another famous name is
inseparably linked to it, that of one of its kings, Hammurabi. He would have a secure place
in history if we knew nothing of him except his reputation as a law-giver; his code is the
oldest statement of the legal principle of an eye for an eye. He was also the first ruler to
unify the whole of Mesopotamia, and though the empire was short-lived, the city of Babylon
was to be from his time the symbolic center of the Semitic peoples of the south.

Birth of city states and modern social and


administrative structures
Settle down is product of agriculture. People needed food and they gathered it from
nature (hunting and collection of fruits) and by harvesting. Factor which linked people of
the first civilization was safety. The first societies needed government to preserve security.
Government is only structure which could establish durability of rules, sanctions and
executors (enforcers). By invetion of writing, ruler was able to create the first laws, whose
implementation would help in controlling the behavior of others. Ruler alone cannot force
masses to respect laws, so he needed bureaucracy and force. By establishing bureaucracy
and force, ruler could form a stabile society. Irrigation was beginning of the modern state.
This was complex project which needed a lot of efforts and organization to be completed.
After the creation of a modern state, development of trade and the use of money has come.

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