By the rivers of Babylon

18 July 2011

i have read some publicly available sources on the history of Sumerian and Babylonian civilization; (most articles are behind paywalls) (my notes on the sources are at the end of this text)

some things I have learned (i am not a specialists so my deductions may be all wrong ;-)

common themes

Mesopotamia developed an irrigation based intensive agriculture (10:1 ratio of yield to seed); the King/palace would construct the irrigation system (use of corvee labor) while the temple would be responsible for its maintenance; These centers managed surpluses so as to enable production of merchandise, this merchandise would then be traded for valuable raw materials (the south was lacking metals; timber and stones).

Long distance trade was the motor of the bronze age economy; also this was often a risky business that was left in private hands (commercial credit was at 20% interest. so the risk must have been high; if robbed a merchant’s debt could not be recalled; other risks: weights would be manipulated and it is easy to dilute silver); However merchants were independent of the crown (even in UR III times) and could make their own fortune.

In most cases there were several co-existing centers of power, so the palace power was limited by the power of the temple and the local gentry + merchants (an on some occasions city assemblies). Also In early times city assemblies might have had an important role: see both the ‘Gilgamesh Epos’ and Babylonian ‘Epic of creation’ (here ).

On a few occasions kings proclaimed themselves as gods (Naram-Sin of Akkadia and Shulgi in UrIII); I guess that in these instances that the palace was trying to take some power away from the the temple (at least in those city-states that turned into regional powers). (sacred marriages between kings and goddess don’t count here - these are supposed to be fertility rites)

not quite despotism

For most of the time the region does not seem to have fit into the model of a Hydraulic civilization with an Asiatic mode of production This model was proposed by Marx and Wittvogel: they state that the requirement for a complex system of irrigation can only be met by concerted effort of a great number of people, this created a manager class who would gain monopoly status and grab unrestrained absolute power, leading to permanent despotism.

For most of the time Babylonian society seems to have been a legalistic society (like the middle ages in Europe) so that property rights were likely respected (hard to say: Urukagina reform documents decried abuses such as looting of the common man by the elites).

At any given time they had free households; temple/palace dependents and slaves, i guess it is hard to tell which form was the dominant ‘mode of production’ at any given time.

(see my notes on “Oriental Despotism and the Asiatic Mode or Production: A Modern day critique” Alexandria Alfrano <a href=”#mrx”>here</a>).

Some of the arrangements in such a mixed economy were surprisingly modern (my notes on “Neo Babylonian Entrepreneurs’ by Cornelia Wunsch <a href=”#cwns”>here</a>) (my notes on “‘Entrepreneurs: From the Near Eastern takeoff to the Roman collapse’ by Michael Hudson” <a href=”#hud1”>here</a>)

State collapse

Collapse of a state was brought about by a combination of factors: crop failures and invasion of nomads or defeat in a war; climate change/ecological change such as significant change of course of the Euphrates or increase in soil salination.

In times of hardship independent households would become dependents or slaves of the temple/palace so that these institutions also had a backup function of providing food security.

It might have been that Bronze Age society was very much aware of these immanent dangers; this may have brought about a sense of corporatism and co-dependence, a strong factor for cohesion of society .

During the first millennium BC the once dominant south became weaker - they say that was due to increased salination of the soil;

The temple and palace economy seems to have grown less dominant over time, (especially since the end of the Old Babylonian Empire and the dark ages that followed) Since the end of the Bronze age private owners and the gentry seem to have gained in relative importance.

(My notes on “Collapse in Early Mesopotamian States: what Happened and What Didn’t” <a href=”#bum”>here</a>)

debt cancellation and renewal

Another peculiar feature is the tradition of debt cancellation; between 2400BC and 1400BC some thirty debt cancellations. (also in Jewish law there has been the feature of debt cancellation; this was also practiced in Egypt and rarely in Greece (by Sauron))

Michael Hudson sites the following reasons for this policy: * preservation of society; if all subjects end up as tax slaves then there would have been no army conscripts (need freeman for that) * to assert dominance of the palace/temple economy over emerging private owners Debt cancellation was practical when most of the debt was owned by the palace or temple; it was no longer an option once private owners began to dominate. * were explained as acts of renewal of nature (like the Shmita laws)

Institutions were aware of systemic dangers and took corrective actions; i guess that a general feeling of bronze age instability must have helped to develop these practices.

(my notes on ‘The lost tradition of Biblical debt cancellations’ by Michael Hudson <a href=”#dbtc”>here</a>)

(Interesting that this policy resembles Roosevelt’s New Deal ; also Michael Hudson who studied debt cancellations is no fan of the neo-con economists either)


periods of centralized rule were the exception rather than the norm; Centralized states introduced important innovations, like the unified system of measures and weights under the Akkadian empire (weights for silver were the precursor of money) + better roads and messenger service and more secure communications. (here they were similar to the Qin dynasty in China)

However trade was possible without centralized rule, as trade was in the mutual interest of all cities - due to the common lack of resources (there seem to have been norms to regulate trading). Centralized empires would impose tributes which were very much resented by dependent city-states, so that scheduled rebellions would break out at times of succession (no equivalent for the ‘Pax Romana’ in these quarters).

Social mobility

A significant portion of the rulers who made a big impact where of humble birth or non royal lineage; Sargon ‘Urukagina’ Ur-Nammu/Ur-Engur Tiglath-Pileser III ; it seems that there has been a significant degree of social mobility (probably this is another sign of general instability/uncertainty)

In early Mesopotamia the people could replace a ruler who was perceived to lack ‘heavenly sanction’ (that would mean famine or defeat); (similar: In Egypt the rulers derived their authority as the upholders of - Maat - the principle of law, justice and harmony where the goddess of Maat would have a continuous role of preventing a slippage of the world into chaos) In Mesopotamia heavenly sanction was to be endorsed by the Enlil temple at Nippur - so the priests there were of regional importance .

I would say that these are all signs of a deep rooted perception of insecurity that seems to have been an important feature of the bronze age.

Temple as the backup of civilization

The Temple seems to have been the backup plan for civilization, on the event of system breakdown the temple seems to have taken care of the continuity issue. For example the Old Babylonian empire was conquered by Kassites (and later Mitanni) the new ruler adopted part of the old system (like the Marduck cult) .

Compare this to states where the ruler claimed divine title (Akkadian empire, Ur III; also in Neo Assyrian times the crown became much stronger at the expense of temple (however Ashurbanipal is supposed to have been a pious ruler)) - when these states where defeated their culture was gone for good.


The reforms of Urukagina of Lagash: (my notes on L.W King ‘History of Sumer and Akkad’ <a href=”#lwk”>here</a>)

  • the big change came in the second half of the third millennium BC (the early dynasty III period); the writing system settled into syllabic cuneiform signs; historic events were now recorded.

  • The early rulers of Lagash were rather modest; they regarded themselves as the shepherds of the city deity and had a small household

  • Lagash turned into a regional power and tributes would prop up the business; as a result the temple and palace administrations became bloated as they filled up with ex-military personal.

  • harder times followed (marked by a quick succession of rulers), so these officials turned towards looting of their own population.

  • discontent grew and Urukagina gained power (an outsider of non royal linage, might have been voted in by the city assembly)
  • Urukagina started a staged reform program:

First stage of reforms: correction of ‘isolated shortcomings’; a tablet enumerates problems that existed “since the beginning”.

* Corruption from the top down, also the temple and crown - one hand was washing the other. * Natural that with extended power of Lagash came an elaborate court, lots of temples and an army of officials: “But with the growth of her power as a state, she lost many of the qualities by virtue of which her earlier successes were achieved. The simplicity, which characterized the patesi’s household at a time when he was little more than a chief among his fellows, was gradually exchanged for the elaborate organization of a powerful court.” in less fortunate times the taxes to maintain all this were quite a strain… “Urukagina records that his predecessors on the throne had appropriated the property of the temples for their own use. … The priests themselves grew rich at the expense of the temples, and plundered the people with impunity.” * Palace began to usurp/overshadow role of the temple - appropriate temple property for their use; Palace priests would steal from commoners and divide spoils with palace. Measures: * return palace land to temple. * installed cult of goddess Bau * proclaims that his own aim is to be administrator in the interest of the city god.

Second stage of reforms: “attack the abuses which existed among the secular officials and the priests” * Sacks officials/inspectors, sacks officials who accepted bribes from * priests; high burial fees were cut down by half (? fees include a kid a bed and a seat ??); taxes/fees were cut * in ancient regime extortion and robbery were practiced by the powerful - they could take anything at will ! ‘sought to protect by law the humbler classes of his subjects from oppression by their wealthier and more powerful neighbors’ The powerful now had to buy things for a price, and the owner could refuse and may not be molested (rights of property !) * Fees for divination were abolished (Shekel was the currency !) (Former; one shekel for diviner, one for priest, one for Patesi - cut down to one shekel) * abolished divorce fees (this measure protected women, as payment of five shekel (a shekel was a monthly salary in old babylonian times) was required to get rid of the wife (that would be quite a lot of money))

Laws of Urukagina are similar to laws of Hammurabi. Both drew legitimacy of laws on being given by the(pr local deity; both say said they were the champion of the poor against the strong. (well slavery was maintained by both of them) “In his reign, he (Urukagina) says, to the widow and the orphan the strong man did no harm.”

However few references to other city-states (except for ties with Nippur and rebuilding of Enlil temple); still the city walls were rebuild. clear that main interest were internal matters. Construction projects: temples, city walls; (? Wikipedia says that the temple of Bau increased its dependent from 50 to 1500 - so some heavy redistribution seems to have taken place ?) “The host of officials he abolished or dispossessed of office had belonged to a military administration” … “When war threatened he must have found himself without an army and without the means of raising one.”

Some points of interest:

  • only L.W. King describes the law codex as a measure designed to protect the poor against abuse

  • the King/palace seems to have tried to take away from the temple as the state became a regional power

  • the story of Pharao Akhenaten (about a thousand years later in Egypt) has similar themes with the Urukagina reforms; both cited disgust with corruption as triggers for reform, both seem to have neglected foreign relations in favor of internal reforms; both movements have alienated significant parts of the native establishment.
  • this description has some striking similarities with Perestroika, which also came in stages (1985-1987 correction of ‘isolated shortcomings’; 1987-1989 reforms with the aim of transition to ‘democratic socialism’; 1989-1991 destabilization) There seems to be nothing new under the sun.


The third dynasty of UR is often described as a very strict and despotic state with a huge bureaucracy (some 100.000 tablets of (mostly) administrative records have been found) where the economy was under exclusive state control. Nowadays this is not so sure - most of the patterns of Mesopotamian economy seem to have applied to UR III. Also prices of barley from private producers rose sharply when the empire was in the process of disintegrating, so there must have been independent producers.

  • Ur III turned into a regional power; King Shulgi declared himself a god (must have been part of a power grab)

  • they installed their own administrators in conquered cities (similar to the Akkadian empire)
  • there was a stress on ideology: the Sumerian kings list was compiled in order to justify the rule of the current dynasty and this is the first time that the Gilgamesh Epos was recorded.

Still the administration of Gudea would probably have been quite different from that of Shulgi.

Old Babylonian empire

The old Babylonian empire is often described as a high point of literacy and learning; Some say that it collapsed with a big crash: Samsu-iluna fought insurrections by diverting the Euphrates - this is said to have caused soil salinization in large areas so that southern Babylonia turned less important for centuries (? that does not explain how Babylon remained to be the religious center of the region?) Some say ( <a href=”#bum”>here</a>) during the bronze age they still lacked the capacity to change the environment in such a way)

Neo Assyrian times

What kind of place was the Neo-Assyrian empire? The first millennium BC saw the introduction of the ‘strong’ centralized state - with a standing army and strong bureaucracy the state would control all aspects of live directly, without the need for relatively independent vassals. it is sometimes seen to have been a very nasty place; (all ‘strong state’ seem to be like this); Heavily militarized with a standing army and heavy handed bureaucracy: land ownership was conditional on military service (ilkum service); women were now seen as inferior, locked up at home and had to wear veils (this feature stuck in the region) (here )

Heavy tributes/taxes would cause frequent uprisings, is the strong state really more stabile than loose alliances of states? Assyria was not densely populated; the successful rulers would therefore resettle a huge number of people by force (the Akkadian empire is said to have done the same) (in contrast to that: Neo-babylonian Nebuchadrezzar II deported the elites of Israel, not the whole population)

Others see it as a multi ethnic empire; a place of technological innovations and high culture/learning (the library of Ashurbanipal ) i guess a lot would depended on the personality of the ruler; the administration of Sancherib (who sacked Babylon) must have been quite different from that of Ashurbanipal.

Assyriology and modernity

The 1860ies saw a new interest in the ancient history of Babylon; from ‘Ancient Mesopotamia / New Perspectives’ :

“The later nineteenth century was a time of great intellectual upheaval. The developing science of geology was revealing the immense age and gradual formation of the earth, while Charles Darwin was showing how life had evolved in all its diversity. This new knowledge undermined the certainties of the Bible, according to which the world was created in immutable form at a date calculated by biblical scholars as 4004 B.C.E. In this epoch of challenge to established traditional views, many found it reassuring that archaeological research in the Near East was uncovering cities and records of individuals familiar from the Bible, thus confirming and buttressing its authenticity.” (notes on ‘Ancient Mesopotamia / New Perspectives’ Jane R. McIntosh ‘<a href=”#mod”>here</a>)

The early phase of excavation was also marked by an intense international competition for new findings; I noticed that L. W. King always refers to the ‘German excavations’ he does not refer to the respective scholars by name.

Up to the early twentieth century Assyriology seems to have had relied on the study of written records; also excavation techniques were rather crude. It turns out that an awful lot can be learned from studying auxiliary information derived from the style of pottery and layout of houses found at a given layer - the technique of Stratigraphy Robert Koldewey was the first one to adopt this knowledge in the region during his excavations of Babylon in 1899 here

Now thanks to this thorough approach the Pergamon museum can show off with the Ishtar gate, other museums have interesting exhibits, however this is all not quite the same experience.

(Modern archeological techniques were first perfected by Sir Flinders Petrie in Egypt and Palestine in 1890; a bit before Koldewey)

It is interesting to note how Archeology changed into its present state after the Second World War: it is an increasingly multidisciplinary field where each tiny piece of information is systematically analyzed,

  • all with the intention of understanding the given society as a system of related parts, as a whole. These changes originated from a perfection of excavation techniques; This trend also coincided with a major change in historiography (the way that History is understood); here there was a marked shift away from political history towards social and cultural history.

I may be wrong but there seems to be an additional factor that triggered these trends: the practice of military intelligence gathering during the war; Here the opposing armies turned into very complex systems, so it goes that Military intelligence would turn into the study of complex system; it had to * study the communications exchanged between enemy units of various sizes * deduce the operating procedures and the immediate intentions of the adversary from its pattern of activity and intercepted communications; here Operations research was invented quite a task given that an army consists of a hierarchy of units - lots of details here. * the Strategic bombing survey had to study the enemies economic system in great detail, so as to identify the set of targets that would cause maximum damage. Strategic intelligence would need to study the capabilities and intentions of the enemy from a global view. * every scrap of information would be used: see the German tank problem - here serial numbers of machine parts were used to create estimates of overall tank production. Electronic warfar/Radars turned into a complex beast ( here )

Many scholars from various fields of the humanities were also mobilized into the war effort, many were active in intelligence work, and it is possible that methods of systems research would show its influence on their field of study after the war ended.

It seems that our present day biases and preferences all have a strong influence on how we understand the past.


We do seem to know very little for sure - Mesopotamian tablets were often cryptic (lots of signs are not understood - or context is not known); most what is known with some degree of certainty comes from Old Babylonian translations into Akkadian; the that whole field is subject to endless interpretations. I found that is very easy to find points of contradictions between the different theories.

I think that the attempt of understanding the demise of ancient civilizations is similar to the ideas of how Dinosaur extinction: to some degree both are mirrors of our own fears. The impact hypothesis of dinosaur extinction became popular as we feared a nuclear winter At the present there is the fear of global warming so environmental factors are seen to have had major part in the demize of ancient civilizations (like the 4.2 kiloyear event and the role of the Hekla 3 erruption in the bronze age collapse )

Maybe all these data points will lead future observers to the conclusion that our age was one of deep rooted fears…

my notes on “Collapse in Early Mesopotamian States: what Happened and What Didn’t” ( “Source”: )

  • no common opinion on what is ‘state collapse’ (often there is a follow up order - like Rome transformed into the middle ages)

  • what caused collapse of URIII ?
    • Weiss: aridity caused migration of Amorites -> military challenge (climate confirmed by one source only)
    • Tainter: mismanaged of irrigation + abandonment of areas caused salination of soil + collapse of resource base
    • (author) other city states grabbed opportunity to shake of domination, they could do without the empire (and did not like to pay tributes at all)
    • still we don’t know much (tablets poorly understood)
  • collapse of Uruk (abandonment in late OBE)
    • Uruk was an important city in Mesopotamia, provinical capital in Akadian empire,URIII and OBE.
    • most of the Uruk temple staff moved to Kish (!)
    • the author doubts that: abandonment is NOT due to salination that was brought about by diversion of Euphrates during campaigns of Samsu-iluna (says they did not have the technology, only the early Kaliphs could do that, two throusand years later)
    • author speculates : elites of Uruk aligned with Babylon; disaffected lower classes aligned with Sealanders and these depopulated the city once they have won (???)
  • collapse of Assyrian empire Other societies were heterarchical - both temple/palace/gentry+merchants+assemblies were alternative power center.
    • Assyrian empire was highly centralized (around palace); (palace/military/gentry were interconnected not independent) once the power center was gone nobody would pick things up; (??? if they were so integrated then how comes that Sennacherib was killed because his sacking of Babylon was seen as impious ; also trading guilds seem to have played a major role ???)
    • wholesale deportations of populations would dilute the Assyrian base; so lower levels were no interest to re-create the power structure from bottom up (on system failure) ; no ‘re-generators’ left that could start regeneration of system (? in Persian times Assyria did revolt, but that was later ?)
    • Babylon was still seen as the religious/(cultural ?) center of Assyria.
    • still fall of Assyria did not lead to sharp reduction in population !
    • Kaufmann: tightly coupled systems are vulnerable because failure of one subsystem quickly cascades (loosely coupled system said to be more stable) Tight coupling led to the success of Assyria - it was also what led to the downfall. “scale-free/power law networks” : robust to random failure but vulnerable to attack on region with high connectivity

my notes on ‘Entrepreneurs: From the Near Eastern takeoff to the Roman collapse’ by Michael Hudson (Source “here”: )

first commerce: gift exchanges. subsistence/low surplus economies don’t like accumulation of personal wealth (this is seen to be at the expense of the community, and adversely affect chances of survival for the community) Public norms were to spent surpluses: via gift exchange; public festivals or burial offerings. Status was gained by giving away wealth. (However the chief is allowed to concentrate wealth; he is supposed to use it ‘on behalf of the community’ ) (? isn’t that bullshit ?)

Institutional temple economy evolved from the chiefs household in third millennium BC (palace came a bit later ?)

Max Weber: drive for social status motivates economic motives; traditional economists and Marx say that the reverse is true - they did not see that public institutions provided capital and acted as catalysts for production. The view was that money appeared spontaneously - to decrease transaction costs and as means of payment,value store and measure of cost. historically economists did not look at Babylonia as the source of modern business practices - it lay outside the ‘western continuum’ - which was supposed to have started with classical Greece. But now it is ‘ex oriente lux’ the light(culture) comes from the east. —

The economic practice of antiquity came from Mesopotamia: uniform weights / money as measure of wealth; interest lending and profit sharing agreements (beer selling concessions); account keeping and reports; : the long distance trader was the first entrepreneur. First used to accumulate surplus in order to trade for resources that were lacking in Mesopotamia (timber, stones, metals) Temple/palace did not levy taxes; they had own endowments; but they leased out fields and workshops; advanced goods to traders for later payment (upon return from journey)

  • the payment for lease was based on yield estimates; on success the surplus profit, on bad harvest the difference turned into debt. Therefore it was a mixed economy (as merchants and tenants were semi-independent); Damgar/tamkurum = merchant, entrepreneur; would accumulate their own capital Prices evolved as a book-keeping tool - to measure debt obligations; prices were administratively fixed - this actually helped trade (provided for stable context for business) Social status of merchants was high - well connected to temple/palace hierarchy. Debt cancellations (or agrarian - barley denominated debt, not commercial ‘silver’ debt) - to protect society from debt based forfeiture and to preserve the army (infantry was from among landed peasants) (Babylonian Even commercial law freed merchants from liability - on event of shipwreck or piracy (would not be compatible with Roman ideas of law)

In Assyria state institutions played a lesser role; Trade ‘houses’ were in charge; guilds represented merchants interests with the authorities.????)

commercial loans to finance trade: combined interest bearing debt (20% - due to high risk) with profit sharing partnership agreement;

Hammurabi’s laws: merchant were to split profits 50-50 with their backers in the palace/temple If a merchant pays advance to a trading expedition: if expedition makes a profit -> has to pay back advance with interest to merchant no profit -> pay back twice the advance loss -> still has to pay back advance shipwreck or piracy -> no liability ! Had promisory notes: (seem to have been transferable obligations; this would have been a complex instrument) OBE: Agricultural debt for rents of land or payment for concessions (for beer trade of ‘ale women’) was to temple/palace; Hammurabi’s law: if land was flooded then no obligation to pay rent !

(???? in Neo Babylonian times: in the next article they say that the Egibi famility did tax farming - exactly like the Roman outsourcing model ! maybe in succeeding times private owners gained in relative importance ????)

These commercial techniques were exported to Mycean Greece in second millennium BC; later reintroduced to the west around 750BC (standardized weights, financing/interest+debt, money) - the west had less institutional checks & balances (lack of debt cancellations - except for Solon). the Roman/Greek elites were detached/rent seeking + viewed commerce with disdain (delegated affairs to subordinates); also lack of debt cancellation led to polarization + debt dependency. Roman law held that property rights were absolute + were forfeited irreversibly; debt became mechanisms for centralization of land ownership (transfer from self supporting households to absentee owners); the law was creditor oriented. hereditary landed wealth + consolidation of big estates (due to debt forfeiture of small tenants) leads to corrosive forms of enterprise: the landed gentry gets detached from/above commercial activity. Money lending was looked at with disdain, but became a major tool that led to consolidation of estates.

In Rome the source of wealth were predatory practices, these were seen as noble. ‘the oligarchies ethic preferred seizing wealth abroad to creating it at home’ -> environment became less and less conducive to commerce and industry; Greece/Rome - lack of institutions led to low social status of merchants (foreigners, slaves or freed slaves did that) Cicero: ‘of all sources of wealth, farming is the best’ ‘business on a small scale is despicable’ (but on large scale to a lesser extent) Freed slaves also tried to turn into landed gentry -> so no class of entrepreneurs could form.

Lack of institutions -> state relied on private suppliers and subcontractors : provisioning of army and with construction contracts; mining and tax collection (all subcontracted to entrepreneurs - who took their share due to lack of oversight) also lack of oversight led to arbitrariness of Publicanus. Livy: “where there was a Publicanus, there was no effective law and no freedom for the subject”; Diodorus: Spanish mines were very cruel due to this. (? however: public contract were given only for five years ?)

still: Publiciani knights financed trade (but were excluded from senate, increasingly detested) - this had to be rich man with lots of land: in Rome only land could be offered as a security ! (in Greece that was different, so foreigners would take that role)

After first century a stronger imperial burocracy took over functions of Publicani; still instead of mutual control between senate and Publicani both colluded (oligarchic rule) By the time of Septimus Severus regional armies would battle for power; no family stayed rich long - it took lot of money to pay off the soldiers of their own private army. Commerce in third/fourth centuries was at standstill (lack of loans - no rich families left to provide securities + collapse of internal security) Lots of taxes: the rich gained exemptions and pushed the burden to the lower classes; this ate away the basis of the economy. Later times: much reduced economy centered around provisioning of army; less opportunity to pay for services with money -> non economic coercion becomes more important.

Economic reversal of end of Rome (beginning of feudalism) - industry moved to self sufficient estates - to escape the militarized state and to save on transportation costs (commerce becomes uncertainty because of instabilities) - everything made on spot - no need for trade; tie serfs to land - no migration. - rulers debased/diluted coinage; also money went eastwards (all bad for commerce; but did strengthen tendency in direction of autarky) —

Differences with modernity:


  • workshops were not autonomous - owned by temple/palace economy. All industry was self-financed; credit was for long distant trade only (?)
  • no land speculation based on rising prices ; property not bought on credit.
  • no banking intermediaries who would lend savings to entrepreneurs ; (commercial credit was granted among close circle of tamkaru merchants, at 20% interest - that was custom for many centuries; or Nadity/heiresses - they lent their inheritance and bought revenue yielding properties); (Actually in OBE - tamkarum merchant (synonymous) were also active as money lenders, but they managed their own money, not deposits of others);

West: In Greece/Rome : lending/finances was activity of low esteem - delegated to foreigners or slaves. In late Rome their were specialized investors into maritime trade (they had to know the details of shipping, from among retired captains)

  • no intellectual property protection

Finley (1973) says that in Rome and Greece (actually in OBE and Assyria things were more complicated)

  • no productive loans
  • credit did not extend beyond available money; no credit creation/fractional banking (Greek law: purchase complete only if full price has been paid) (probably this reflected the level of risk)
  • most loans were short term (for financing of a trading expedition)
  • Greek and Roman enterprises were organized as partnerships - each partner was liable for full amount of debt. This placed limit on size and financial complexity of enterprises. (Andreau 1999) (joint stock companies with limited liability were not possible)

‘the economic course of civilization has not always been uphill, as historians of technology seem to imply’

my notes on ‘Neo Babylonian Entrepreneurs’ by Cornelia Wunsch (source “here” )

King often the largest land owner (other land held by members of court “land of the crown prince”; “land of the treasurer”) New land along canals would be divided into parts(in return for military service) Administration: oversee lands (land rent based on estimates of yield/harvest); collect fees for irrigation and rent; oversee and provision corvee service (for canal construction)

Canal construction -> royal task; watercourses, dams, locks, roads -> Temple task.

Temple lands:

  • worked by un-free dependents (oblates - families were organized into plow teams)
  • worked by sharecroppers (share yield with temple)
  • later by rent farmers (had to pay fixed rent; had to invest into equipment for farming !, had to withstand risks - so these were entrepreneurs) was this all a matter of forced participation ? Known cases where rent agreement was revoked due to insufficient inventories; some rent farmers had large debts -> implies these were large scale operations !

After Persia conquered and imposed heavy taxes (-> intensivation of business)

  • moved to cash crops or husbandry; cattle was scarce resource (had to be fed in summer)
  • temples outsourced more tasks to entrepreneurs.


  • access to fishing & fowling controlled by licensing system
  • prebendary system: entitlements for temple revenue in return for services (requirement: cultic “purity” of holder + skills; later prebends could be sold - but only to peers)
  • prebends - similar to civil servants; (office was often hereditary, no risk involved ?, some functions were outsourced to commoners)
  • contrast to rentier prebends: entrepreneurs (did take risks) (still some prebend holders became entrepreneurs)

Social status of entrepreneurs

  • ‘was socially rewarded’ no stigma of ‘dirty business’
  • some rent farmers were from prebend holder families
  • most were ‘social climbers’ - did not have a family name (meaning were not from the elite); often married into prebendary families - and tried to gain connections to royal administration. (studied from archives of Egibi family)
  • Egibies invested in farmland and leased it to sharecroppers (provided benefits to tenants for planting date trees - cash crop)
  • opportunities: move to share crop/Niche products (like onions); transportation (to city) and org. of payment between tenant and temple/palace economy (tax farming did that - tax collector gets a share but has to deliver quota; also did go between between tenant and institution; for this you need a special relationship to the administration!)
  • also practice: the temple would advance payment (for seeds and irrigation); in term for debt obligations payed upon harvest (encourages market production - above subsistence level)
  • problem for producers: tax was payable in money (whereas transportation/distribution problems remain)
  • Egibi family operations (Neo babylonian empire + Persian empire (head of family had to make extended trips to Persia - to establish a special relationship with the Persian administration))
    • hire boats/boatmen to transport goods
    • supply landowners with money so they could pay for maintenance of canals (pay the temple)
    • debt contract with landowner: (lending / purchase and delivery agreement !)
    • toll/tax collection was part of the package (again advancing payment to landowners) (? principle similar in scope to how Rome contracted out state functions; but more elaborate in operations + higher self risk ?)


  • private lending to pay for taxes; to buy seeds; one could hire someone to do corvee or military service for oneself.
  • business lending: to increase liquidity, equipment, manpower, (seeds for farmer, or tax bridge) - for operations; (every loan had to be backed in full by securities) no purchase of land on debt (-> no inflation of property prices based on speculation); could raise price of property only by improving it.
  • vertical integration: date producers may have dependent date beer brewers (etc)
  • partnerships (harranu): senior partner brings in capital (at more than the usual 20% annually !); gains divided 50-50 (Hammurabi); junior partners would often be ambitious younger sons (with limited means) and would try to pay back the lease (to be independent) (Egibi’s started as junior partners; later they were the seniour partner in partnerships established for a business purpose (accounts were kept in archive) complex transactions: Egibi’s borrowed to buy prestigious house near some high official; and then rented it out to their creditor.
  • over two generations the Egibi’s established relations with tax collection officials; third generation -> got till governor of Babylon.

Inheritance - Oldest son got at least half of the money (this prevented a dilution of the assets and preserved core business) - concept of ‘undivided family’ - oldest brother represents all heirs collectively (this would delay split) (unlike in Islamic law - here succession would often break up the business as is)

Slaves partnerships could last for generations (unlike Rome where the partnership ended with the end of trading expedition)

  • in neo-Babylonian times - a scarce commodity (price; several years income of a hired worker) (no slave stocked latifundia) it made sense to raise the value of a slave by training !

my notes on ‘Debt vs. Barter Theories of Money’s Origins’ by Michael Hudson (Source “here”: )

  • payment for compensation of injury (most archaic); payment directly to victim or family (wergild); a debt synomymous to guilt (Shuldt->Shulden;einloesen); Greek timeE - ‘worth’, ‘esteem’ ; Homer’s usage ‘valuation of damage -> for compensation’ ; later (classical Greece) ‘valuation’ ‘wealth’; later ‘tax assessment’

    Polyani: also had exchange by reciprocal gifts; also among family members loans were made without interest.

  • Palace/temple economy: redistributive mode, prices set by institutions.

    The temple/palace often acted as creditor - advanced land/boats/workshops later respite on taxes; (also the origin of interest is probably here) Silver was used as a measure of these debt obligations; (also to denominate debts between temple and palace) ‘Inasmuch as the major resource flows within the public institution were rations to feed their dependent labor, while the major payments from communities to the palace and temples consisted of crops, silver was made co-measurable with barley’ Weight standardization: (1 Shekel == weight of 240 barley grains in silver) = one bushel of barley (monthly consumption)

    Temple/palace had its own land, cattle and dependent labour; developed account-keeping to plan activity; money as standard of value + mean of setting balances. Temple in third millennium was sponsor of trade: ‘The fact that Enlil, the chief god of Nippur, bore the epithet “trader of the wide world,” and that his spouse was called “merchant of the world,” is an indication of the role of the Babylonian temples in the exchange of goods’

  • debt came before money (geld->gild (gothic: tax)); Oldest form: fixed obligatory payment to religious institutions (Mesopotamiam temple/palace economy); later: taxes on conquered cities. payment was upon harvest.

    was usage of silver simple, could it be used to ‘minimize transaction costs’ ? In OBE one shekel was a monthly salary => of limited value for consumer transactions but good for value store. Problems: silver not uniform in quality (used 21karat); prone to manipulations -> need standardized weights + purity certification (need officials for both); many reports of transgressions. These problems solved by standardized coinage only in 8th century BC !

  • free market exchange; price set by market; both market and gift economy co-existed with the palace/temple economy. ‘when crops failed late in the Ur III period c. 2100 BC, the price of grain supplied by independent producers rose sharply (Jacobsen 1953)’

  • market that sets prices came later;

my notes on ‘The lost tradition of Biblical debt cancellations’ by Michael Hudson PhD ( Source “here”: )

Debt cancellations := policy designed to conserve the ‘self-sufficiency for the rural family-heads who made up the infantry as well as the productive base of Near Eastern economies’. ‘All these rulers seem to have recognized that if they permitted usury, debt-servitude and the sale of debt-slaves from one town to another to continue, much of the population would end up losing its lands and thus would be unable to pay duties or taxes, provide labor services or serve as a fighting force’ ‘stopped emerging oligarchies from enriching themselves at the expense of the palace (and of social balance at large) was the fact that rulers repeatedly acted to subordinate mercantile wealth (especially usury claims) in the interest of promoting general freedom. The Middle Bronze Age was still far from being ripe for oligarchies to break free of palace control, to say nothing of unseating rulers.’

Also says that palace rulers prevented ‘emergence of powerful rivals’ by means of debt cancellations.

Argues that it is debt cancellation were act of ‘cosmic renewal’ of order (also usually took place at new year festival (in spring)) The ‘idea of unrestrained wealth-seeking’ was not accepted norm during pre-modern times. (?? isn’t that and idealization ; i would argue that these were compromises out of necessity: bronze age order was more fragile so that they had to compromise out of necessity ??)

Mesopotamian/Babylonain law codexes ‘were limited to the public sector in its interface with the rest of the economy. Laws such as those of Hammurapi were not a society-wide code but a set of laws governing public sector relations.’ (??? but it contains lots of criminal law elements too ???) other cases (manslaughter,theft) were decided by oral common law (not by ‘eye for an eye’ !)


clean slate proclamations - amargi (also translated as liberty); canceled debts and freed debt slaves (but not slaves taken as prisoner of war). In Sumer these were Royal edicts, between 2400BC and 1400BC some thirty debt cancellations ;

Lagash: Enmetena in 2400BC - clean slate after big victory over Umma; Uruinimgina/Urukagina - as part of reform package (second year of office); also vows to protect ‘orphans and widows’ Gudea enacted clean slate on rebuilding of temple (start of reign)

Ur III (2112-2004 BC): Ur-Nammu and Shulgi - clean slate upon start of rule (usually Ur III is seen as ‘despotism with tighter military and bureaucratic control than Akkadian empire’)

Isin and Larsa (2000-1800BC) ; debt cancellation called andurar (freedom)

OBE: Hammurapi’s dynasty (1900-1600BC). debt cancellation = misharum declaration; Sin-mullait : inaugural debt cancellation (misharum) - to enable military campaigns: ‘ This gave them a stake in the society whose boundaries they were fighting to extend’. then repeated in 1803,16797 to ‘consolidate popular support’ Hammurapi - 1780 debt cancellation on eve of incursion to Tigris; 1771; 1763 - following victory over Rim-Sin. After Hammurapi : Ammisaduqa debt cancellation (1646BC) very detailed to forbid circumvention ! even undid land sales that were due to foreclosure on debt.

opposition to this practice becomes more sophisticated “The Danish cuneiformist Niels Lemche (1979:17) cites a document from the upstream town of Mari (ARM 8 33:13f.) dating from early in the eighteenth century BC when the city was ruled by one of Hammurapi’s contemporaries, Zimrilim. It stipulates that “this money shall not be released if a liberation should take place.” This meant “that a loan is not canceled in case an andurarum should be carried out.””

Practice of debt cancellation survived in Hurrian speaking north.

In Babylon: No debt cancellations in succeeding Kassite and then Elamite administrations; probably no centralized palace administration -> not many written records (dark ages). (however the Kassites kept other features of the old administration, like the Marduk cult)

‘Bronze Age rulers had pledged themselves to serve their local sun-gods by overseeing the rhythms of nature and society,’ these were replaced by ‘hereditary aristocracies and absentee ownership’ What happened was a ‘feudal-type privatization that spread from Mesopotamia through the rest of the Near East’.

Trade, land ownership + management of local temples were privatized -> increased monopolies lead to growth of Hapiru class (landless migrant labor) -> ‘new fugitives poured out of Mesopotamia’

“Whereas most debts in third-millennium Mesopotamia represented accruals of obligations to the palace and temples - and increasingly to their collectors “ - by first millennium debt was mostly to private owners.

Neo-assyrian empire: Andurarum debt cancellations seem to have happened by Sargon II etc: ‘its rulers consolidated their military strength by proclaiming andurarum to maintain a free (and hence, loyal) peasant army.’


‘The Israelites are portrayed as having made a covenant to protect the economically weak by holding the land as the Lord’s gift to support a free rural population. “Land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me and you are only strangers and guests. You will allow a right of redemption on all your landed property,” and restore it to its customary cultivators every fifty years (Lev. 25:23-28). Israelite bondservants likewise were to go free periodically in the Jubilee Year, for they belonged ultimately to the Lord, not to any person (Lev. 25:54).’

In Israel these were sacred commandments “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” - to be free and economically self-supporting. Also because of easier writing system (alphabet vs. cuneiform script) these laws were widely accessible (not restricted to the temple precinct as in Mesopotamia) Argues that following Bronze age collapse in 1200BC a ‘free for all approach’ developed that sanctioned private accumulation and resulted in ‘arrogance of wealth’

  • it was not clear if these commandments were followed; discovery of Mesopotamian debt cancellations (during Bronze age) made that credible. Nehemia upon returning from Babylonian captivity canceled debts; Shmita laws - ‘covenant with the Lord to promote economic justice in the land’.

Dror - the word for economic freedom (similar to Andurar). ‘The story of Israel’s divine punishment served as a parable of how it would be rewarded for following a regime of economic justice but punished for permitting the wealthy to oppress the poor.’

800-600BC backlash of social prophets - the social protest against privatization of land + debt servitude that comes with it (Jeremiah)

Upon return from Babylon: Nehemiah & Ezrah proclaimed debt cancellation + tax remittance.

By first century CE ‘Rabbi Hillel developed the prosbul, by which borrowers signed away their rights under the Biblical laws. Hillel explained that credit would dry up without such a clause.’ “The fact that Hillel could establish the prosbul waiver as part of Jewish religion showed how far Israel had moved with the same tide of privatization that was sweeping the rest of antiquity into a new Dark Age.”


Rosetta stone is about debt remittance by Ptolemy V in 196BC; proclaims “to let everyone return to his home” -> Similar to Amargi/misharum.

Debt slaves not mentioned until new kingdom (1552-664BC) (prior slaves were all prisoners of war); Pharao Bocchoris (717-711BC) freed debt slaves. Described as way to return control to the crown (over private debtors). Later ‘palace power waned’ and the big privatization happened in Egypt too.? (Still Solon seems to have learned the idea from his travels to Egypt)

Alexandria Alfrano “Oriental Despotism and the Asiatic Mode or Production: A Modern day critique” (“Source”: )

Marx: Oriental mode of production based on centralized despotism, bureaucratic administration, public ownership of land, large scale public works (via Corvee forced labor - this requires coercion); effective management is said to imply ‘supreme political power’. Wittvogel: a complex system of irrigation can only be met by concerted effort of a great number of people, this created a manager class who would gain monopoly status (‘hydraulic monopoly’) and grab unrestrained absolute power, leading to permanent despotism; total submission is characteristic (not contracts)

MC Adams (1981): ‘uncertainties inherent in irrigation provided stimulus of growth of cities and hierarchically organized institutions ? to husband and redistribute subsistence and other resources’. Surrounding desert ecosystem added to fragility’ (other risks: crop disease, pests, flooding, salinization, incursions);

big temple/palace households also important as ‘reserve dietary fund’ - in times of famine; Big cities mitigated risks with their reserves - exchange mechanisms were more important; working against an irrigation only monopoly. Adams: construction and maintenance done by semi-independent contractors ; Rulers boasted of initiative in canal construction but these were later left in local hands.

Power seems to have developed due to question or organization + redistribution of surpluses (less over irrigation). Patriarchal groups led to larger households, and larger temples (temple structures are the first ‘big’ structures; large communities are pre-prerequisite to complex social organization) First times of stratification in mid-third millennium (Feinman) ; however redistribution of surpluses happened on multiple levels (levels: palace and temple, traders were independent)

Upstream communities were better off in times of need (also were better off and developed hierarchies earlier) (? wasn’t Uruk further south, and the Euphrates too unruly in the north?)(in very early times the south would also get monsoon rains)

The result: surprisingly modern economy based on market mechanisms. (Marxist could not see that due to ideological constraints); Says that Marx/Wittvogel were ‘subconscious Orientalists’ (for lack of data and bias towards eastern cultures as being backward) (Wow).

my notes on: “A History of Sumer and Akkad” by L. W King

  • climate of Egypt was better at preserving sites then (former) wet climate of Iraq.
  • abstract writing system of Sumerians presupposes extremely long period of previous development.
  • Sumerian - seems to have been a non semitic race … don’t know where they came from (maybe Persia driven by climate change, less likely from across the sea) some suggest that the Sumerian language is a Indo-European language.

  • Sumerian script deciphered from Akkadian because the royal library of Ashurbanipal contained translation tables (for training of scribes) long dispute if this was a different language/race (not semitic) because Akkadian and Sumerian have many things in common (Sprachenbund)
  • The rivers changed course to a great deal (moved to westward direction); Bablylon and Ur stand relatively near the Euphrates, but rest of them (like Sippar )is far away. so canals had to supply the cities with water, ones the stream moved !
  • Almost all cities of Sumer and Akkad were on the Euphrates, not on the Tigris (??? what about Eshunna ???) Euphrates has slower stream and has lower banks, it floods the country and can be used for reservoirs and canals. Also Euhprat has high water levels till July (longer then Tigris); changed course frequently (generally moving westwards)
  • Akkad to the north of Sumeria; still adopted the culture/civilization of the south.
  • Names Sumer and Akkad where first used by kings of Ur III, they were the kings of ‘Sumer and Akkad’

  • main excavation sites: ancient city of Shirpula(Sumer name)/Lagash(later Semitic name) (excavated by M. de Sarzed de Tello) City was not inhabited after it was sacked in early babylonian times; so the site lay undisturbed.
  • most important finds in area of palace and temple; the city was walled
  • main oponent of Lagash was city of Umma (Neo-Babylonian word) ; Fara/Shuruppak big site.
  • other sides have early strata from Sumerian period, but these cities were not abandoned: Nippur; Mukayyar/UR ;
  • Eridu was on edge of persian sea, but it moved; sandstone was used as bulding material (not bricks)

  • Semites had long beards; had prominent nose. (Semites during first Babylonian kinds shaved mustaches) ; full and fleshy nose and lips; wore loin cloths.

  • Sumerians shaved head and face (called the Semites - the black headed ones - ); had thick wool garments - petticoat; later mantle.
  • however Sumerian gods had long hair (maybe these were the gods of the land that the Sumerians ‘took over’ once they came in) Sumerians at war: similar to closed Dorian phalanx. (also when they first came, they already had cuneiform writing system - even in early stage it already lost its pictorial form) Maybe they were few in numbers and would still need Semitic neighbors and subjects; so that the two cultures influenced one another. On the other side: early period the Sumerian god’s had shaved lips , in later times they had full mustache; also the central god of Nippur was Enil; not the Semitic Bel. Also early Sumerian text did not get any Semitic loan words - due to this lack of influence they infer that Sumerians came from the north.

  • they relied on genealogies of rulers taken from clay tables (often had their inconsistencies) (also they did not have radiological dating) also used chronologies of major events written by the scribes.
  • in later babylon they counted years from ascension of the local king; earlier they counted years since noteworthy event such as building of temple , problem: events only of local importance; different systems of dating; so date-list had to be used to resolve conflicts, some of them lists survived.
  • also relative depth of artifact indicates its relative age; also style of art and style of writing indicate age; also if a solar eclipse is mentioned then its date can be computed. (in Egyptology the chronology would be much simpler - the country was centralized most of the time).

  • art: early sculptures crude and in profile, later sculptures much more elaborate, full face. style perfected under influence from Akkadia. Sumerian statue of ruler “Gudea”: (from Lagash) are of a style that has not been matched in later periods. Also had figures cast out of copper; no two figures alike (the mold was broken to free the cast) Author says that this was the high point of art; later Akakdians were more repetitious and less bold.

  • Sumerians used copper (Bronze came later - first at 3000BC ?) ; For Bronze they need both copper and tin, tin is a relatively rare metal that has to be brought in from far away, requiring long distance trading.

  • Cities: at first a collection of huts with a temple at the center; each with its local deity (later local deity (with local authority only) becomes part of pantheon). this Probably happened as cities united into states: the main cities deity became the main deity.
  • the ruler Ensi/Patesi - rule of the city and representative of local deity. In Ur III the Ensi was a provincial ruler installed by the Lugal (king) or Ur (in early period Lugal was title of local king too - go figure)
  • all uncovered temples are of the later period (they were always extending it on top of earlier structures).
  • often the structures of the preceding period were used as foundations of structures build during later periods.

  • very early ruler of Kish: Utug (don’t know when he ruled); Utus deposited a vase into the temple of Enlil at Nippur (the religious center of Babylonia, cities sent offerings to Nippur on rating basis - under Shulgi); the vase deposited in commemoration of his victory over the land of Khamzi (as thanksgiving). this implies that Enlil was recognized as a central deity in all of Sumer.

  • later: city of Kish ruled Sumer; under king Mesilim the Lagash and others owed allegiance. (hegemony passed frequently between the cities)
  • Lagash and Umma were neighbors (on different shores of a stream); Mesilim mediates. The resulting treaty does not name the rules, it is formulated as treaty was reached between gods; the mediator being Enlil - the lord of the land (deity universaly recognized in Sumer) Mesilim is mentioned, but only as having written down the contract; local rulers were perceived as ministers of the deity. Stele was erected at the border as a symbol (first thing a subsequent raid by Umma did was to destroy it)

  • seems that Kish continued to rule after the death of Mesilim; there is a vase of later ruler Urzage found at Nippur;

  • Later Lagash (during reign of Eannatum) became stronger and took over from Kish. Lugal-shag-engur ruled Lagash comtemporary to Mesilim. Badu; Ur-Nina - rebuilt the city walls of Lagash but did not conquer, no wars with Umma were recorded, his offerings mention that he built canals and temples, not as a warrior. maintained relations with other cities by sending offerings: to Nippur; to city of Eridu and its deity Enki (prototype of Ea) He built many temples in Lagash: to goddess Nina; the temple E-ninnnu dedicated to Ningirsru (god of battle)…. fetched/traded wood from mountains for construction of temples. Canals: built a canal named Asukhur, seems to be a success - the economic basis of all this temple building. Ur-Nina - pacific monarch devoted to welfare of his people and his city gods; prosperity lay the foundation for next rulers conquests. Even the plaques depict him as laborer who is building ta temple or as carrying offerings (of course he is the largest figure)
  • The Plaques depict the king, next highest officials, next his sons (in order) Successor of Ur-Nina was Arkugal, the fifth son; so they infer that there had been an interregnum and succession conflicts. on other plates Arkugal had more prominent posture, so this theory is doubted. (like photo of a central committee, position and posture of a figure is used to deduce his standing); still no minor conflict with Umma (nothing definitive)
  • Ennatum, son of Arkugal; don’t know if he maintained independence of Lagash, as they used Patesi title (however might not been too consistent in early period) Lagash seems to have had allegiance to Akkad; renewed conflict with Umma (the god of Umma warred with Ningirsu - rulers still only the officials of their city deity)
  • Ush was the ruller of Umma started incursions and plundering of the lands around Lagash; Ennatum (at the instruction of the city deity Ningirsu) fought back and sacked Umma). All this is recorded on the steele of vultures - depicts vultures eating up the bones of the corpses of the defenders of Umma- as they were disposed outside the city.
  • peace was signed with Enakalli 0- the successor of Ush. A ditch/canal was dug as demarcation of the border (also some protection). also both rulers would swear by their gods that the treaty would not be violated: the net of enlil would bind Umm if it were to violate the treaty, etc. etc. (battle mace was also a weapon during this time) a net scene is depicted on the stele of vultures - Ningirsu clubbing the caught enemy; the net here looks more like a cage… ‘the meshes of the net may be in a sense regarded as the words of the oath, by the utterance of which they have placed themselves within the power of the god whose name they invoked’
  • stele of vulture depicts Sumerians in battle: advancing in phalanx, leading rank protected by shields coverying the whole body (one shield carried by two). lance bearers (standing in the gap between shields) also had an axe. When the enemy was broken the shield bearers would discard the shield and join in. King wore a royal helmet that covers the whole head and neck. Shields and helmet made of leather.
  • also depicts burial scene of the war dead - were buried in mounds; elaborate ritual with offerings (of a bull?); if they mention ‘heaped up burial mounds’ then that implies heavy losses.
  • last scene: Ennatum deciding on fate of POW’s.
  • also includes a list of other conquests of Ennatum (conquest of Kish, Erech and Ur and virtory over Opis and Elam) (most probably added at a later date); stella was probably in the temple of Ningirsu. Elam is mentioned first because it was the hereditary enemy of all cities (Elam described as the ‘mountain that strikes terror’)
  • how comes Kish in here? probably was drawn into the conflict by supporting Umma against Lagash.
  • uses title of Lugal (king) after conquering nothen Kish; achieved hegemony over Sumer. Expansion probably in stages stage 1) to the south; Ur, Erech Larsa Kesh stage 2) Kish and Opis from the north want to check Lagash; Umma - one of the episodes of this war. (chronology not always clear from the stele, different chronology in different records). sites that offerings (as suzerain) were made to Ninkharsag of Kish; Enzu of Ur - all in the south, infers from this that conquest of south came before north.

  • warriors were drafted from people of Lagash, but campaings could not have been long. also people got something from grain tributes that other cities had topay. also the lands of Lagash were not left un-tilled for lack of labor (otherwise prolonged sequence of campaigns could not have been). area of cultivation was extended during Ennatum’s reign; also canals and reservoirs were build during later, more quiet period. reservoirs would gather surplus water during spring, to feed the canals as constant source.

  • succeeded by Enannatum I - his brother. Umma was sem-independent but payed heavy tributes; as usual they rose upon the next succession. (under Urlumma) tries to assert its independence by repeating raids on Lagash territory these raids destroyed temples at the border stele - erected to symbolize prior treaties. Umma tried to retain territory (unlike previous raids)
  • Records of Enannatum I say that his campaign was a victory; (his son Entemena records do not mention a victory, probably the result was not quite clear, as Umma was not sacked)
  • Ennantum I sent his people to Elam so that they brought back cedar wood for temple construction.
  • next ruler Entemena: again start of the reign marks war with Umma - a new ruler is a good opportunity to test his power. unlike his predecessors he incorporated Umma into Lagash - and assigned his own official as ruler (not a native of Umma).
  • the priest Dudu was important - unusual inscription on a silver vase says ‘at the time that Dudu was priest of Ningirsu’ very unusual.
  • next ruler: Enannatum II - the last of the Ur-Nina dynasty. next comes a series of short ruling rulers Enetarzi, Enlitarzi, and Lugal-anda(seems to have been a period of unrest) Enlitarzi - the high priest during rule of Entemena is next ruler (!), is then suceeded by his (the former priests) son.

    (Sign of instability: dispatch of priest of Ninmar to priest of Ningirsu: the priest of Ninmar led army to fight Elamites and divided the spoils with the local Patesi - means the he in turn was not fully in charge !)

  • Urukagina reestablished strong administration - and based his support upon the people (!) “in usurping the throne, he owed his success to a wide-spread feeling of discontent among the great body of the people.” “His dropping of this time-honored designation may well have accompanied the abolition of privileges and abuses with which it had become associated in the mind of the people.” When recounting prior history of struggle with Umma he only mentions them as victories of Ningirsu - no mention of his predecessors, a clear break. also in first year of rule: discarded patron deity that old dynasty relied on for intercession with Ningirsu.

  • reforms of Urukagina: first describes abuses of the system: with conquests the rulers of Lagash changed a simple lifestyle (first among equals) to big palace and large courts. taxes were increased and bureaucracy grew.’“Within the limits of the territory of Ningirsu,” says Urukagina, “ there were inspectors down to the sea.”’ the Patesi&Palace began to usurp position of temple and temple god - and began to be resented; and appropriated temple property. Priests began to grow fat and plunder.

  • So after a years rule Urukagina is dropping the title of Patesi in favor of King(Lugal). This transition might have seen actions to correct misuses.

First stage of reforms: correct ‘isolated shortcomings’; ‘reform table’ enumerates problems that existed “since the beginning” : * misappropriation of temple goods as pretext for reforms; restoration of old order where “patesi only received his throne as a trust to be administered in the interest of the god” * Corruption from the top down, also the temple and crown - one hand was washing the other. * Natural that with extended power of Lagash came an elaborate court, lots of temples and an army of officials: “But with the growth of her power as a state, she lost many of the qualities by virtue of which her earlier successes were achieved. The simplicity, which characterized the patesi’s household at a time when he was little more than a chief among his fellows, was gradually exchanged for the elaborate organization of a powerful court.” in less fortunate times the taxes to maintain all this were quite a strain… “Urukagina records that his predecessors on the throne had appropriated the property of the temples for their own use. … The priests themselves grew rich at the expense of the temples, and plundered the people with impunity.” * Palace began to usurp/overshadow role of the temple - appropriate temple property for their use; Palace priests would stele from commoners and divide spoils with palace. Measures:
* return palace land to temple. * installed cult of goddess Bau * proclaims that his own aim is to be administrator in the interest of the city god.

Second stage of reforms: “attack the abuses which existed among the secular officials and the priests”

  • Sacks officials/inspectors, sacks officials who accepted bribes from
  • priests; high burial fees were cut down by half (? fees include a kid a bed and a seat ??); taxes/fees were cut
  • in ancient regime extortion and robbery were practiced by the powerful - they could take anything at will ! ‘sought to protect by law the humbler classes of his subjects from oppression by their wealthier and more powerful neighbors’ The powerful now had to buy things for a price, and the owner could refuse and may not be molested (rights of property !)
  • Fees for divination were abolished (Shekel was the currency !) (Former; one shekel for diviner, one for priest, one for Patesi - cut down to one shekel)
  • abolished divorce fees (this measure protected women, as payment of five shekel was enough to get rid of the wife).

Laws of Urukagina are similar to laws of Hammurabi. Both drew legitimacy of laws on being given by the(pr local deity; both say said they were the champion of the poor against the strong. (well slavery was maintained by both of them) “In his reign, he (Urukagina) says, to the widow and the orphan the strong man did no harm.”

However few references to other city-states (except for ties with Nippur and rebuilding of Enlil temple); still the city walls were rebuild. clear that main interest were internal matters. Construction projects: temples, city walls; (? “Wikipedia”: says that the temple of Bau increased its dependent from 50 to 1500 - so some heavy redistribution seems to have taken place?) “The host of officials he abolished or dispossessed of office had belonged to a military administration” … “When war threatened he must have found himself without an army and without the means of raising one.”

  • Lagash was sacked by Umma (under Lugal-zaggisi); unlike previously this time they sacked the city; Lagash was later rebuilt, but as a state it never achieved its previous power. (explanation for abrupt change: it seems that the elites - who were also the core of the army - were not ready to fight for the new order) They found lamentations that grieved the fall - this is one of the first literary texts ever.

  • for a time after the fall of Lagash: Sumer was governed by confederacy of states with Erech as capital.

  • Lugal-zaggissi then conquered all of Sumer and Akkad ; as written in offerings found at Nippur. ‘king of the land’ - ruler of all Sumer; later moved his government to Erech; Erech, Ur and Larsa - adjacent cities that formed the nucleus of the dominion. (? these southern cities would be a problem for an dominion that stretches into the far north ?, maybe its all about a successful raid only) ruled ‘lower sea to upper sea ‘ - may have raided as far as Syria (new policy! previously they did not venture that far)

  • seems to be that other rulers claimed to be ‘king of the land’ - from the same or similar time slice; go figure. Lugal-kigubnidudu - another one from the same period. Enshagkushanna - king of the land’; conqueror of “Kish the wicked” ; the north was probably under Semitic rule (mentions ruler “Enbi Ishtar” - Akkadic name)
  • Shar-Gani-sharri of Akkad has had a big empire.
  • King of Kish - Urumush - another semitic name; seems to have raided Elam (from inscriptions on his offerings sent to Nippur)
  • another ruler of Kish - Manishtusu : claims to have defeated the revolt of a confederacy of 32 city states; obelisk of Manishtusu had inscriptions in Semitic Babylonian - records transaction to buy land and tree cities (!) and resettled the territory (= drove out the old tenants) + installed new managers from Akkad + members of notable families from other cities (Lagash and Umma) ! policy of population transfer may have been due to political motives (one objective would be to weaken city of Akkad)
    • brought new workers to till the land. Another obelisk mentions vast expanses of his domain. Process of centralization started under the kings of Kish;
  • Also raided Elam - but also did not permanently occupy that country.

  • the rise of Akkad and King Sargon (Shar-Gani-sharri) Sargon was he called in later tradition (reference found in Ashur-bani-pal’s library) Sharru-Gi-NA - was he called in Assyrian and Neobabylonian texts; now they found old stella with name of Sharry-GI- who may have been a predecessor. (no this is later ruled out: art work of his period much closer to Sumerian period, less similar to Akkadian style) ? did later periods mix it up and identify other kings as Sargon ? nw theythink that same descriptions are just similar forms of expressions describing similar events. However events related to both Shar-Gani-sharri and Sargon are the same => the same one.
  • art from late rulers of Kish and Akkad is very similar; conventions based on prior Sumerian period; style of sculptures more varied and naturalistic.
  • Sargon was of humble birth; his father did not have any titles;
  • Sargon’s conquest of Syria was permanent - not just raids like his predecessors: position of capital made it possible to dispatch a quick punitive expedition if authority is questioned.. seems to have had all of Babylon + Syria and has crossed the Persian Gulf. A system of regular communications - that’s what made the empire permanent ! (not just temporary raids now and then, communications maintained effective control)
  • deification: from now on rulers refer to them selfes as gods; practice may have been adopted from Syria (originated in Egypt).

  • An system of regular communications between cities: lots of records of commercial exchange: Akkad sent grain and dates; imported sheep and oxen.
  • Deportation/immigration from Akkad may have had objective of building influence in the provinces (similar to Manishtusu’s policies) discontent over these policies might have caused revolt of all lands, during Sargon’s closing/late years.
  • revolts of all lands recorded during late reign (maybe backlash of policy of population transfer) the (later) Chronicle says that a great famine in all of Mesopotamia destroyed Akkad (ascribes this to his evil deeds - just like in the Chronicles of the Old Testament)

  • Naram-Sin - son and successor of Sargon; siege of city of Apirak; expedition against land of Magan (not sure where that was); says he won nine battles in one year; conquests of Armanu (in Elam) and Lulubu (north to Elam) calls himself “king of the four quarters” (of the world) - is this a claim of having had a world empire? - this title was no used by Sargon.
  • “Within the limits of Sumer and Akkad Naram-Sin appears to have followed his father’s policy of materially benefiting the provincial cities, while keeping their administration under his immediate control. “ rebuilt the temple of Enlil at Nippur and of Shamash at Sippar, temple of Ninni a Ninni-esh; votive offerings in Lagash. Diarbekr stele - found in upper reaches of Tigris; (tells us that administration there was permanent, not just raid) Stele of victory (in Tello/Lagash) - the enemy are Semitic, means that Sumerians were no longer present. Culture of Sumer was taken over/transformed by their conquerors. sculptures are then free of rigid conventions; Some of the rulers of Kish were deified; Naram Sin uses determinative for deity very often. Same cult for later rulers of Ur.

  • used archers to defeat Sumerians (Sumerians: spear bearers stand in phalanx formation; arrows can beat this up from distance)
  • Akkadians exerted strong influence upon Elam: here they adopted cuneiform writing and kept records in Akkadian language !

  • artistic style of Akkad was the fusion of Sumerian and Semitic influences. “When the impulse was exhausted and the dynasties to which it had given rise had run their course, little further development along these lines took place.” “Both in art and politics a Sumerian reaction followed the period of Semitic power”

In Lagash they found a long list of rulers from this time, some may have governed for only a few years; no mention of war/conquests and no use of ‘Lugal’ (only ‘Patesi’), might have been that Lagash was still under foreign domination. Ur-Bau - one of this list has left records - did a lot of temple building; some

  • Gudea - next ruler; does not mention geneaology (may be of obscure birth). Very prolific temple builder (seven stage Ziggurat) - no Idea where he got resources for that (no wars/campaigns that could explain for it (except for one campaign against Elam). Records vast operations for obtaining building materials; wood from Syria (means that Akkad was weakened); stones, copper, gold, etc. etc, got as far as the Mediterranean sea ! Trade between cities seems to have been unrestricted.
  • Seems to have coincided with progress in art of building: smaller bricks are used.
  • Big temple has two cylinders with inscription on building and decoration of temple: cause of building was after prolonged drought - so the temple was to atone for sins.
  • High point of art: big sculptures out of Diorite - very difficult to do that ; (also the stone were higher priced than silver!) ; later ones with a good sense of proportion.
  • Gudea built new canals and maintained the system of irrigation; his time was very prosperous; also big increase in amount of offerings.
  • Gudea upheld traditional privileges, such as the freedom from taxation ! (where did he get the money ??)
  • his “ideal of government was one of order, law, and justice, and the protection of the weak”.
  • during consecration of big temple “the maid was the equal of her mistress, and master and slave consorted together as friends … the rich man did not wrong the orphan, nor did the strong man oppress the widow.”
  • Rule of Gudea was regarded as golden age by later generation - he was deified by last king of Ur dynasty.
  • was this a peaceful time? Wiki says that emphasis on Ningirsu cult (god of war) would put that into question; also time following crash of Akkadia was full of conflicts.
  • Next ruler Ur-Ningirsu (son of Gudea); later he was high priest while the king or UR - Dungi ruled in Lagash ! (don’t know how Ur-Ningirsu was deposed); Lagash became a province of Ur.
  • Reasons for downfall? wealth from Elam introduced luxury and sloth; the empire surpressed local patriotism but did not create binding loyalty towards Ur; practice of divine rulers put them off too ! state was centralized but deification marks withdrawal of the king from administration.

After Akkad came the dynasty of Ur; political influence turned southwards as Akkad grew weak.

  • Ur-Engur founder of dynasty of Ur first he rebuilt temple of Nannar - the Moon-god (the famous Ziggurat of Ur), then city walls. first conquest - city of Erech; rebuilt the local temple (of E-anna of Ninni) and installed his son as chief priest. next conqured Larsa, then Lagash; Installed his own folks as Patesi of Lagash; ruled over a confederation of city states. rebuilt an Enlil temple at Nippur; expedition into Akkadian north, but no decisive victory. did some expeditions into weakening Akkadian kingdom. From now on: mostly uses Sumerian language (almost no Semitic inscriptions);

  • Next ruler Dungi(Shulgi): conquered the north too, unified Sumer and Akkad, ruled for 48 years (!)
  • reverses Akkadian tradition back to Sumerian roots: sacks Babylon; emphasises Eridu as center of worship; Only use of Sumerian.
  • adopts archery and the Akkadians way of war.
  • calls himself “king of the four quarters (of the world)” - like Naram-Sin of Akkad; rules over Elam - the source of great wealth
  • assumes divine status; renames seventh month in his name (first Sumerian to claim divine status)
  • empire of permanent status, like Akkad (not just raids) ; several expeditions to fight uprisings in Elam.
  • wiki: invested a lot to build roads; built rest-houses along the roads (the first inn)
  • commanded a large bureaucracy: couriers & messengers; collection + distribution of supplies; provisioning of slaves + oversee public works.
  • standardized weights and time keeping (official title of the year was fixed in Ur) throughout Babylonia !
  • tried to elevate the local deity Nannar - moon god; (like later Marduk - local deity of Babylon); but his dynasty was too short for that.

  • next ruler Bur-Sin; ruled only for nine years.
  • next ruler Gimil-Sin; ruled for seven years.
  • next ruler Ibi-Sin (last of dynasty) ruled longer - 25 years?. (all of them took divine status; continued policies of Gudea)

  • Omen tablet lists cause of downfall: probably an invasion from Elam. Ibi-Sin was captive and carried of to Anshan; (no confirmation from Elamite sources)
  • seems that Ibi-Sin gradually lost control of Elam, and that independent kingdom formed there.

  • the empire survived the fall of the Ur dynasty; the change: the center of gravity was the city of Isin. (Sumerians too)
  • Isin dynasty lasted for 256 years (16 kings), mostly know about them from Nippur king list.(excavations came later then this book was written)
  • Ishbi-Ura’ founder; calls himself “King of Sumer and Akkad”
  • continued UR tradition of assuming divine rank.
  • Disintegration: (wiki) problem with access to water; also governor of Larsa - Gungunum seized power and seized UR, which was center of Gulf trade; this crippled Isin economically
  • ? did end of Isis dynasty happened with the rise of Babylon? question was not settled at the time of this book (lengthy discussion follows)
  • end of Isis dynasty is end of Sumerian rule;
  • Wikipedia says that Sumerian “kings list”: was drawn up by king of Isis; it had a political aim: legitimize Isin’s claims to hegemony when Isin was vying for dominance with Larsa.

Next Babylon rules - center of power moves north. after waves of immigration Babylon became dominantly Semitic;

Sumeria and Egypt;

assumes some influence upon Egypt ; early Egyptians used stone cylinder seals (later discontinued); like in Babylonia during all periods. Other similarities: Slate carvings - same design; both used bricks for buildings; same wheat was planted in both places; Semitic element in Egyptian language was noted (similarity in names of gods Asuri->Marduk, Asar->Osiris); burial positions. Was the Sumerian system of writing the parent of the Hieroglyphs?

  • theory: semitic invasion of south Egypt during predynastic times; Semitic invasion was victorious (due to copper weapons) and the south conquered the north of Egypt (ascribed to Mena) the “blacksmiths” are said to have won battle after battle.
  • invasion theory would explain the break in culture between pre-dynastic and dynastic Egypt.
  • However more recent excavation put this theory in doubt, as there was more continuity between pre-dynastic egypt and later period.
  • early hieroglyps not that similar: only some self evident symbols sun - circle; mountains, sea; Cuneiform much more complex then early hieroglyphs - these were more pictorial.
  • also measured skulls of graves from predynastic and later times - and concluded that these are people of the same race (?) invasion theory was discarded.

  • form of bricks is different in both countries, may have evolved independently.
  • other influences such as crenelated form of building + round form of Gudea’s sculptures may have originated in Egypt and influence may have come via Syria.
  • still did not know how to explain other similarities: religion; presence of cylindrical seals + bulbous mace heads.

  • Elam. Akkadian invasion caused Elam to adapt Akkadian language and cuneiform scripts (even though thei had their own proto-elamite script). This might have been accompanied/or preceded by Semitic immigration;
    (strange picture: King of Elam writes in votive offerings to Babylonian deities in Akkadian language) Later they used the same script to write in Elamite language.

  • Akkadian influence onto Crete/Minoan civilization; they did not invade Cyprus (that was a misunderstanding); May be that clay table/stylus (not the script) reached Cyprus. Also in Knossos they have drainage systems that resemble those of Bablyon. Says its stange that Aegean culture has got so little influence from Akkadia via Syria.

Notes on: ‘Ancient Mesopotamia / New Perspectives’ Jane R. McIntosh

  • Mesopotamia: during ice age the sea levels were 100 meters lower; the whole gulf was dry; present levels reached by 4000-5000BC; 3000-4000BCE - water rises by 2 meters; present water level reached between 1500-1000BC. ; higher Gulf means more extensive floods of the rivers -> more alluvial grounds.
  • Farming concentrated around slow moving Euphrates; it was easier to harness for irrigation. Settlements were abandoned when Euphrates changed course significantly.
  • Western desert: were impenetrable until domestic camel developed around 1000BCE;
  • Assyria - to north of Mesopotamia: 1000-3000BC more rain than today; easier for agriculture (today semi-arid); Taurus mountains with much wood (valuable resource).
  • Elam and Zagros foothils: marshes when the rivers reach the sea; agriculture possible near foothils, has five rivers; high ground is rich pasture.

  • diversion of rivers was frequent source of conflicts.
  • problems: erosion of mountains due to deforestation; irrigation cause salinization of soil (irrigation raises water table and raises salt; water goes, salt stays. Second millennium BC: transition from wheat to barley (more salt tolerant) ; southern cities abandoned due to salt.

Respect for tradition:

  • Ashurbanipal restored Susa temple (sacked much earlier by Uruk) ; created a great library in Ninveh and could read “obscure and confused inscriptionson stone from before the flood”
  • Nebuchadrezzar II restored temple at Ur;
  • Babylonian rulers liked to collect antiquities; Other cultures
  • Israelites suffered from Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian expansionism - so the Bible portrays them as wicked and corrupt.. Also stories of delluge and tower of Babel are in the Bible. Babylonian exile (588BC)
  • Greeks gave them a bad press (Herodotus); Ctesias - skewed account of Babylon via later Persian conquerors. Berossus’s Babyloniaca - Bablyonian scholar writing in Greek (knew how to read cuneiform); Alexander the Great began reconstructing the ziggurat of Marduk (the Tower of Babel); hanging gardens of Babylon were counted as a world wonder.
  • Europe: interest kept alive by the Bible; first travelers since the 17th century. 1807 - East India company creates outpost in Baghdad; C. J. Rich - first collector; 1825 - British Museum collection initiated. 1850ies - cuneiform script decoded, great interest and intense international competition at excavations.
  • interest: at a time when Darwin and Geology seemed to question the Bible, people found it reassuring that excavations yielded places mentioned in the Bible / confirmed authencitiy of the Bible. Great excitement when George Smith found tablets in 1872 that mentioned the flood; 1870ies - greater care at excavations (prior to this they just plundered for antiquities)
  • Robert Koldewey perfected excavation techniques + studied sequence of construction (stratigraphy) now able to recognize and excavate mud brick buildings.
    Koldewey excavated the city of Babylon and found the Ishtar Gate (now in Pergamon museum) also excavated residential areas (new) Walter Andrae used these techniques while excavating Assur. (Wiki says that these techniques were first used in Egypt in 1880ies by Augustus Pitt Rivers and William Flinders Petrie )
  • After WW I Britain was in charge of Iraq; permits were required for excavation, a portion of the finds was to stay in Iraw for the Iraq Museum; archeology gets more professional; stratigraphic principles - differences in pottery used to assign finds to periods. Main problem of chronology is mostly solved; Leonard Wooley excavated at Ur. Discovered the royal cemetry - some graves with lots of objects; as if servants died with their masters. discovered thich layer without anything - said that this is evidence of the flood/dilluge.

    Stratography became standardized in thirties (from early to later) -Hasunna/Samara: (discovered by Seton Lloyd and Fuad Safar) -at Halaf: pottery with beautiful decorations. (discoverd by Max Mallowan) -Ubaid style pottery (discovered by Wooley) -Uruk style: unpainted, -Jemdet Nasr: geometric designs ;

    Chicago team works in thirties (Jacobsen) 1930: excavation of Eshunna ; tablets were baked to make them sturdier; also location and depth was recorded for first time. 1933: aqueduct by Sennacherib discovered that was designed to bring “clean water to Nineveh from the distant mountains” (clues found in tablets)

    Post WW II - Radio carbon dating in 1949; this helped to study the origins of farming and changes in the environment. Mesopotamia was inhabited around 7500BC; 6500BC farming and pottery sixties: archeology, studies contemporary population to shed light on ancient customs. more sophisticated techniques: study of chemical composition of bones and pottery residues landscape studies: settlement patterns, vegetation; 1956 Jacobsen says over irrigation and salination of soil responsible for shift of power northwards (2500BCE) 1948: Noah Kramer and Thorkild Jacobsen - scribal quarter at Nippur; tablets now backed + cast in latex to make a copy. sixties onwards: rescue and conservation efforts.
    2003 onwards; everything breaks down due to bad security situation. Looting everywhere.

    Languages: at 1800BC Mesopotamian died out as spoken language; Old Akkadian - around 2000BC; split into Assyrian (north) Babylonian (south); 900BCE Aramaic in the west (replaced Akkadian as lingua Fanca) Ideogram(Hieroglyphs) third millenium BC; cuneiform - syllabic script later in third millenium BC; was slightly adjusted for Akkadian; same script adapted for Elamite and Hittite. 11th century BC - Phoenicean alphabet - only took over when Persians took over Babylon.

    Archeological methods of dating :

    • dating by radiocarbon methods: problem: fluctuation of amount of C14 isotope in atmosphere; also imprecise for dates older then 1000BCE.
    • Dendrochronology - dating by analyzing patterns in tree rings allows for dating of timber - is used to calibrate radiocarbon method; still wood used in structures can be used only as an approx. date. also wood was reused as it was scarce;
    • Thermoluminescence dating: used for sediments or ceramics; energy from radiation decay is trapped by impurities in sediments; the older it is the more energy is absorbed. if heated to 5000C this trapped energy is released and measured. still imperfect method with 10% tolerance.
    • Dating by chronologies: list of kings (this one ruled for x years, etc); eclipse mentioned in text used as markers. less certain in second millennium BC; remaining problems: gap between Akkad and Ur III. very early chronicles unreliable: kings were said to have ruled for centuries (can’t be); King Ammi-saduqa of the first dynasty of Babylon recorded Venus table (first appearance of Venus in a year); three dates of accession would fit the curve (High (accession 1702BC), Middle chronology (accession 1646BC) and low chronology (accession 1582BC)

    Assyriologists like to rely on written records; later archeological methods would add to this knowledge, these are the only source for “finding out about the mass of the population generally ignored by the elite who ordered or produced the written sources.”

    systematical and multidisciplinary studies do add a lot of clues:

    • study of artistic representations adds detail -> knowledge of clothing and other aspects that have not survived; add data on available skills.
    • analysis of tools -> technological capabilities and how tools were used (from residues on them); this allows to infer practices.
    • composition of artifacts -> learn about patterns of communication and trade to get raw materials.
    • so they build a context of artifacts and use it to explain ritual practices and social organization.
    • modern ethnography adds how people would have lived in the past - given similar environmental constraints.
    • layout of houses -> learn about domestic organization; layout of public buildings -> clues about religion,politics and social practices.
    • regional survey studies: pattern of settlements / landscape; changes in course of rivers;
    • seeds and bones / remains of people -> what people ate, health & diseases; “patterns of birth and death, the gap between rich and poor, the activities performed by men and women”
    • nowadays they record position & context of tables -> system behind the records, relative importance . sources need careful analysis of bias; if records and events are not from the same time then distortions / errors in copying etc. Context adds a lot to the understanding

(History + politics)

  • between 11500-9500BC - sedentary communities: settled permanently near nut bearing trees (? what about olives?) and cereals (some say first for feasting / bear?); this as climate settled after ice age (our climate at around 8000BC) results in population growth; new tools and trading between groups - for what is not available locally.
  • colder an drier climate at 9000BC (?) and expanding of settlements into new areas forced them to plant seeds/agriculture starts (first in Israel and Nothern Zagros)
  • 7000BC farming widespread in Mesopotamia; Pottery; packed mud houses (several rooms with storage room); leather clothing + linen textiles (?)_
  • 6500-600BC Hasunah pottery style; self made, without ornaments; beginnings of irrigation; thirsty crops like flax required it. (partially at the same time: Samarra pottery style - found in wide range of places!)
  • 6000BC Halaf pottery style with geometric designs (thought to be done by specialist potters); some pots were traded over wide area (analysis of pots yields that)
  • 5000BC Halaf and Ubaid people interact - and exchange pots. Ubaid style becomes dominant.

Southern Mesopotamia;

  • 6200BC farming villages; earliest stage: building made of reed - did not leave traces ;
    Tell el-‘Oueili - mud brick buildings + Pottery similar to Samarra ; same culture ? later: Ubaid1 period: dark painted pottery (few examples) later: Ubaid2 period: more sites as farming expanded; boats used to communicate; six row barley planted - requires irrigation; later: Ubaid3 (sixth-fifth millennium BC) ; pottery made with “slow wheel” tournette (first use; that’s why it replaced Halaf pottery) -> larger communities + specialization of crafts.

    Ubaid4 same pottery in wider area ; south needs to trade to get copper; gold; timber from the north.
    at Tepe Gawra - stamp seals with linear patterns; signs of administrative control;
    Eridu - one of the first cities; tri party mud brick temples with offering tables - probably temples to Enki (god of waters and wisdom); o
    most ordinary houses in Eridu,Ur,Uruk out of reed; further north they used mudbrick for houses.
    at Eridu: family graves with some offerings; no graves singled out -> largely egalitarian society.
    "Professor H. W. F. Saggs argues that Mesopotamian religious myths reflect the social setup at this time: Decisions were made by  the whole community of gods in council together, and the voices of goddesses were equal to those of gods-a mirror of a society run by village assemblies, in  which men and women had equal status"  Also growing importance of temples, they are "the repository for its accumulated wealth"; also priests start to manage community affairs.

    Growing specialization: for pottery you need assistants to prepare the clay, etc. Copper foundry with forty workers found ! growing specialization + large number of workers -> need managers to ‘coordinate activities’. management centers around large temples (with large warehouses) . 3300BC in Uruk at the Eanna temple - beginning of writing (we can’t read it); cylinder seal appear; large number of bevel-rim food bowels - all of standard size (size of one daily ration for employees)

    Similar development in Elam (Beveled-rim bowls, cylinder seals, wheel-made pottery, writing) North remains fragmented and is less developed than Mesopotamia; still found trading outposts in the north.

    Kings (might have been elected by assembly) and Priest (high priest en - partner of goddess in marriage); Kings acted in the name of the city deity Uruk: Ianna - goddess of fertility; she made Enki drunk and stole the ME (attribute of civilization) - and brought it to Uruk. Management: organized irrigation; controlled trading, trade expedition; production supervision; still they say that assembly existed ! at around 3000BC: Uruk at 60000 people !

    4000-3100BC Uruk Period Uruk culture: increase in aridity caused marshlands to dry out -> lots of fertile land fit for agriculture; settlement density grew (exponential growth); specialization of crafts + social mechanisms to manage them: “proliferation of officially sanctioned individuals to administer them” here they had the first urban landscape in the world. Invented the ploughs and sledges; wheel invented - first for pottery then for transport. ‘“Secondary Products Revolution,” a quantum change in economic productivity and efficiency’ secondary products: Sheeps bred for wool; oxen used to carry ploughts (not just meat); cows, goats, milk used to do butter Late Uruk - (from ap. 3100BC) - beginning of bronze age (copper finds + cuneiform scripts). End might have been due to climate change: Piora oscilation

    “Here”: they say that society was quite egalitarian; however a permanent buerocracy existed.

    Big changes: during third millennium kinship based community changed to hierarchical society controlled by temple and King.

    3100-2900BC Jemdet Nasr Period; Proto-Cuneiform script (pictograhs);

    2900BC-2334BC early dynasties (ED) ED1: mythical times (kings list says rulers lived for century), depend on archeology to make sense of records.

    2800-3000BC changes in south: big floods around 2900BC (thick layer of silt in Ur) Rivers consolidate into big stream -> needs lots of work to maintain irrigation. 2500BC - 80% live in the cities (?); cities tens of thousands strong.

    ED2: 2500BC - evidence of wars over water rights; land, politics; temporary war leaders appointed by council turn into permanent Kings (though still governing in the name of city deity) source of Gilgamesh epos - approx. 2600BC; Gilgamesh built Uruk city walls; war against Agga - king of Kish.

    The temple administration dominates for most of the ED period (the kings only start to dominate at the end of ED period).

    ED3: the dawn of recorded history. Seals of other cities found at sites, some say that “indicate the existence of cooperative leagues of cities.” (upon evidence that seals of city A found in city B) cities would cooperate on irrigation projects and war; Royal cemetry of UR: increasing inequality with graves (rich graves with artefacts and tablets) also raw materials indicate trading links to India and Afghanistan First narrative texts that explain the action of Kings as being in accordance with divine will. Mesanepada, king of Ur - also had title king of Kish (as did Mesalim - king of Lagash) ; don’t know if this means full conquest (+ submission of defeated party) or hegemony (+ allegiance of defeated party)

    Nippur as center of spiritual authority - host of Enlil, don’t know when this started (some say ED1, some say ED3); by end of ED3 Enlil regarded as chief deity of Sumer, maybe earliere Nippur was regarded as seat of council of gods; Priests of Nippur had a political role in all of Sumeria. Eannatum of Lagash … “his victories nearer home may represent an early attempt to gain control over neighboring states rather than merely defeating them” (more details on Lagash in the first book)

    Akkadian empire (2334BC - 2000BC) (Semits take over); surprisingly few documents remain, what we know retold from later Ur III dynasty (with a skew to legitimize their own rule) Sargon (Sharrum-Kin) - from humble background; ‘he was the son of a priestess and a man from the eastern mountains. After his birth, the priestess cast him adrift on the river in a reed basket; he was rescued by Aqqi, a water carrier, who raised him as a gardener. In his youth he served Ur-Zababa, king of Kish, whom he succeeded…’ Took over Mesopotamia from Lugalzegasi; got as far as Anatolia. What kind or empire was his? Unified state in southern Mesopotamia (put in his own kind as local rulers, not leaving old establishment as vassals); extended influence due to control of trading route. Benefits of unification: standardized system of weights, the same calendar; Akkadian as official language. Trade flourished -> income enabled large standing army (also had to put down frequent rebellions) Daughter Enheduanna became priestess of moon god Nanna (first author known by name) New capital - Agade - (location now lost)

    another notable ruler: Naram-Sin (acession 2254BC. ) ; Claimed divine title (first); Empire disintegrated after Naram-Sin (due to Gutian invasions?)

    Revival of Mesopotamia after downfall of Akkadia. Notable figures: Gudea of Lagash (known for constructions of temples) rich temples - indications that trade still flourished.

    Ur III (third dynasty of Ur) 2112BC - 2004BC ; Ur-Nammu defeated Lagash and won hegemony. Son Shulgi focuses on internal matters; reorganized economy (strong state control); strengthened bureaucracy and weakened influence of temples - later installed standing army. Shulgi proclaimed himself god (like earlier Akkadian rulers - so this may be a feature of strong state power) ; perform ceremonial marriage to godess ianna (formerly the high priest did that) Propaganda: claimed continuity with first dynasty of Ur to strengthen their own legitimacy; as a measure recorded the Gilgamesh Epos; also wrote down Sumerian Kings list. Control: Shulgi installed military governors (shagina) from his own country - his job was to control the local civil governor. Governors had to pay rent for the land that they held (gun mada tax) (similar arrangement existed in Akkadian empire) Shulgi had his law code - mostly it invoked financial penalties ! Large sumerian speaking bureaucracy; strict state control of foreign trade and industry. State also maintained roads (with caravanserais) + royal messengers; canals; lots of scribes were needed, lots of accounting + new format for archives ! Decline: natural disasters; Amorite, Guti, Elamite attacks; inflation.

    Following: no central power over Sumeria; Akkadian has replaced Sumerian (which is not spoken any more); some rulers tired to imitate the Ur III system; strong Elamite and Amorite influence.

    Babylon: became important because the Euphrates moved westwards. First dynasty (1894BC) was Ammorite; Sin-muballit (father of Hammurabi) strengthened the cities defences Hammurabi (1792BC ascension) ruled quietly for twenty years; then took over the region (seems to be a common pattern) “Hammurabi was a strong ruler who took most of the business of government into his own hands, delegating little. His conquests coupled with major programs of land reclamation and irrigation gave him control of substantial lands,” Successor Samsu-iluna had to fight rebellions. “Samsu-iluna’s tactics involved diverting the Euphrates to cut off Nippur. This spelled economic ruin in an area already suffering decline due to salination. Within eighty years of Hammurabi’s death, the state of Babylon was reduced…” environmental pressures and raids of nomads lead to crisis of the whole system; Hittites sacked Bablon in 1595BC.

    Kassite dynasty ruled for 576 years (quite successfull); Kassites were assimilated into Babylonian culture and worshiped Babylonean pantheon; at this time Marduk gains position of chief deity. Later a Elamite dynasty took over;

    North mesopotamia: large Hurrian state in 17th century BC; by 15th century this state - Mitani - is a big power (up to Levant, where they clashed with Egyptian interests); swallowed up Assyria. Amarna letters - diplomatic correspondence (in Akkadian) ; marriages between rulers who called each other ‘brothers’; then Mitani state had problems with Hittites, that was when Assyria gained importance.

    Assyria: king Ashur-uballit ; in the east took territories from receding Mitani state; in south Babylon. Shalmaneser I defeated Mitani - now he was up against the Hittites; succeeding Assyrian rulers defeated the Kassite rulers of Babylon. Tukulti-Ninurta conquered Baylon but installed puppet king later (these were later deposed by restoration of Kassite rule) relative prosperity from 1178-1133BC; decline from 1076-1030BC; and won big in Adad-nirari II won (911BC-891BC)

    Bronze age collapse in 12th century BC: climate conditions caused famine; flow of streams was reduced until 950BC (Egyptians had their trouble with sea people) Aramean tribes raided Mesopotamia from the west (Aramean became the new lingua franca)

    Kassite rule collapsed in 1155BC; now second dynasty of Isin took over Babylon. Nebuchadrezzar I was defeating the Elamites and Assyrians.

    Ashurnasirpal II won big time ‘washed his weapons in the Mediteranian’; replaced local rulers with Assyrian governors. Shalmaneser III - aligned with Babylon - at end of reign fighting resumed, (King Jehu of Israel gave tribute and allied with Shlamaneser III)

    Neo Assyrian empire (780-605BC): Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745-727BC) - of humble birth, ascended in the wake of civil wars. reforms: professional army with Assyrian elite cavalry core, conquered people (Arameans) incorporated as foot soldiers; roads and messenger service. Conquered the whole middle east. Appointed eunuchs as governors (so they would not have their own dynastic ambitions) Deportations , more detaails “here”:

    • Israel aligned with Egypt and revolted after the death of Tiglat-Pileser III; this revolt was put down resulting in deportation of the elite. Sargon II (721-705 BC) of humble birth ‘He may have been the leader of a (successful) rebellion in Assur against Shalmaneser’s taxes’; 720BC peace with Babylon, expansions north and conflict with Egyptian interests; in 710BC conquered Babylon. Sancherib (705-681 BC): large revolts after death of Sargon II (Judea again aligned with Egypt; Babylon; Elam) - put down by Sancherib. rebuilt Ninveh, glorious palace ‘without a rival’; sacked Babylon in 689BC (after long war); this was sacrilege and unermined his authority.
    • Esarhaddon (681-669 BC) clemency of former enemies; rebuilt Babylon and encouraged worship of Marduk in Assyria. Defeated Egypt.
    • Ashurbanipal (669-627 BC); known for his famous library and benefactor of the arts; able administrator; conquered Egypt.
    • downfall (627-605BC); civil wars. Egypt conquered Judea (king Josiah);

    Neobabylonian empire (605-539BC) ; Nebuchadrezzar II fights Egypt and revolts in Israel/Levant; sack of temple in Jerusalem (589BC); in later years he built a lot (Walls of babylon; ziggurat of Marduk; Ishtar gate; hanging gardes; Median wall) Nabonidus; pious and ‘sought to uphold and revive ancient ways and practices’; also excavated ancient structures and built museums (!) Worship of Sin + plague and famine (+inflation ?) made him unpopular. Cyrus exploited these sentiments in his campaign; then displayed clemency over the defeated; continued to rule with the old administration + Marduk worship.

    “Here”: it says that they were quite nasty to women and very militarized; “women were forced to wear garments that covered them entirely, not for the sake of modesty but to symbolize their utter lack of worth”


Mesopotamia lacks resources like timber, metals, salt, precious stones, etc; so it had to trade; Kings and temples created demand and sponsored trading expeditions “Mesopotamian trade was never either wholly state-sponsored or completely private. Even under tight state control, merchants could undertake some trading on their own behalf, while private expeditions often had some state patronage and were subject to state taxes and regulations.”

most environmental constraints of the region did not change -> can learn from to days practices on how environmental constraints were tackled in distant past; However: Nature changed (man made: deforestation, salination due to irrigation; environment: rivers change course, climate change) -> patterns of economic activity changed; irrigation, barley and technological change enabled urbanization; however salination also brought ruin. Cuneiform records biased towards cities and public sphere, so much can be learned from excavated plants

Agricultural practice: sources “Farmers instruction” from 1700BC from Nippur;

  • Spring equinox, rivers flood the land and spread silt; water softens ground and leaches away salt; floods at harvest time! when it is not needed -> irrigation is a must. Canals need constant maintenance,supervision because of silt in streams.
  • when water recedes leases of land are negotiated (based on crop estimates), land now cleared with hoes and the wooden ard - simple type of plough.
  • Upon autumn rains: land ploughed and sowed (seeder plough - both ploth and seed dispenser, carried by oxen); high yields (1:10 - seed:crop ratio) Ploughing was labor and resource intensive; fields long and thin - better water utilization + “to increase efficiency since a field’s optimum length was the distance that a team could plough before requiring a rest, food, which were taken when the team was unhitched to allow the plough to be turned.”; Repeated surveying after sowing
  • after sowing the fields were flooded to top the furrow; again to remove salt; (then periodically flooded/irrigated for three/four times until harvest.’
  • harvest: barley in march (the main crop: tolerates salt and yields good); continued with veggies till june; harvesting by teams of three ! Then “the orphans, the widows and the destitute take their reed baskets and glean” (“The Debate between the Hoe and the Plough”)
  • threshing and storing of results in summer; land left fallow till next spring, grazing sheep and goats would fertilize with dung (?)

  • Crops were rotated: barley with peas (chick peas) (important to maintain nitrogen levels); crops had different water requirements; Sesame - maybe important from Egypt via Syria (argue that Akkadian shamashshammu derives from Elblaite) ; maybe imported from India (argue that same oil (Sumerian ilu, Akkadian ellu) derives from Persian word)
  • veggies: Shade tree gardens, veggies growing in shade of date palms (Hanging gardens of Babylon) Dates were important “Many surviving legal texts are concerned with the leasing and rental of date palms, estimates of their expected yield, their allocation to officials as part of their salary” Onion: “Seeds were issued by the Onion Office to specialist growers, and the harvested onions were sent to favored individuals.” (2300BC at Nippur)

Irrigation and flood control: Clash over water rights were reason for war between cities; and conflicts between neighbors. Kings were responsible for irrigation system (proud records of canal building etc); failure to attend to this duty could bring down a regime (?) Peasants were legally responsible for maintaining adjacent canals; stiff punishments for failing these duties. (but they had fishing rights for their portion of the canal)

in school they learned how much water must be released to irrigate fields of given size; Flood control: contain rising rivers and divert into reservoirs; canals with regulators to block/release water !

Excess water was ditched away (to prevent water level from rising, rising water brings up the salt); irrigation by flooding also removes salts. “Ironically, since barley required only small volumes of irrigation water, its cultivation increased salinization” ? Creation story Atrahasis; gods charged with canal works go on strike, so Enlil creates humanity to do the work instead.

Husbandry: Households had one or two cows/oxen (for carrying ploughs, not for meat); only temples & kings had large herds; Chickens introduced in 13th century BC from India ! Donkey as carrying animal; by UrIII Horse for chariots and elite. Camels around 1000BC; The rich: Falconry a sport in 2nd millennium;

Nomads; in peaceful time co-existed with farmers - exchanged produce (would also be employed as shepherds for herds belonging to kings and temples); in bad times they raided; Some rulers descended from Nomads: Assyrian king Shamshi-Adad and the Mari royal family; nomads were also traders (salt trade)

Meals: two meals a day; mostly barley meal cooked on a hot stone or in an oven-served with barley beer and a few vegetables. Ordinary people had meat for festivals or marriages - would have fish and pork; bureaucrats and the elite ate mutton, ducks, geese, pigeons, and partridges. Locusts were eaten (like in Egypt); Beer - consumed universally; “The daily ration issued to state employees was 1-4 liters”; the rich were drinking wine - chilled

Third millennium BC; Kings and Temples get large estates; early estates were regarded as property of city deity (King acted in the name of the deity); later the kings grabbed land ownership; bureaucracy turned into “shepherds of the people”; Height of this centralization: Ur III king Shulgi (2094-2047 B.C.E.), “when the state had almost total control over the economy” (also at that time the bureaucracy was recording everything; needed a large number of scribes) later private enterprise gained importance

State revenues: taxation, tribute, rent; booty from warfare; offerings to temples (bala); merchants paid export taxes; nomads would pay for grazing rights; conquered lands payed tax to the host; conquered lands had to pay taxes (gun mada) and could be claimed by the victor, who could install his people - in return for military service. Victor could claim ownership of defeated Kings estate. In Sumerian times land could be rented (for a quarter or half of annual yield) or bought (for a yearly yield) ; (sometimes complicated rules) They had loans with interest - for financing of trading expeditions; the temples traded futures for incomes.

Population had to do corvee - forced labor (for canal construction etc) + military service in wars. Industry: owned by temple, or kings palace ; private ; in UrIII there were textile works with 6000 people in it ! large number of professions. Blin people were musicians or raised water for immigration (captured solders would be blinded); Workers payed in rations (monthly pay or by the day), in first millennium BC - paid in silver shekels.

Units and measures: every city had its own; Akkadian empire and later UrIII standardize weights across the empire.

Trade: with Iran - across plateau (Gilgamesh epos: Enkidu expedition to mountains where he slays demon Huwawa whois the guardian of the cedar forest and ship the trees back to Uruk); around 2500BC across the gulf; Oman: copper; India: timer ivory gold After sacking UrIII trade became smaller scale (less financial security); at around 1800 power shifted north; that was very bad for the gulf trade. From 1750BC: coppery from Cyprus. Metals from Taurus mountains - the source of almost all silver.

Roads: Neo assyrians created network of ‘Royal roads’ with way stations; ‘Royal mail’ would swap horses here.

Only few sites studied organization/layout of homes; palaces attracted more attention. Area survey of Uruk, the first city: early period: 120-200 Hectars + 107 villages; ED1: 400 hectare + 4 satellite towns + 24 small towns + 140 villages; ED2-3: other cities in area compete with Uruk After UrIII the area decline; Old Balyonia took over -> south was abandoned ! (partly due to change climate); 9th century BC: Assyria settled the area with POW’s; later neo babylonian revival; In Assyria urbanization came later: majority of population was rural; fewer cities -> less competition between them. General trend: strong state -> more resources for irrigation; more financial resources + security/stability; Collapse of state -> smaller economy.

Towns: unpaved roads; houses with raised thresholds (so that garbage is not washed into the house); Houses according to plan: walled courtyard; rooms that face the courtyard: public room for guests; kitchen, bathroom (sometimes toilet); some houses with additional storie; in summer people slept on the roof. Roof covered with wood beams (very valuable); sometimes room for workshop;

Near a city gate there was an open area - used for market and assemblies; garrison stationed nearby. Outside the city walls: suburbs; also nomads/all visitors from other cities would be outside the city wall. Furniture: shelves built into the walls ; wood table & chairs; wood chests; Some houses had shrines; burial in the house floor (?);

Palace: was administrative,industrial, and economic center. In Mesopotamia/Baylonia temple an palace were far apart (temple at city center); In Assyria temple and palace were close together, both surrounded by the same inner wall; Cities in south more densely populate than in north; Hard to estimate size of city: census or tax records are missing (?!) Palaces also organized around court yards; set of public rooms adjacent an outer courtyard; big throne room; inner court yards - adjacent to residential + service area; rooms often with decorations; . Palace of Assyrian kings was very big.

typically >100 rooms; more than one store high.

Classes: who owned property (awilum); second rank - paupers (mushkennum), payed workers of the temple or palace estates, ‘their welfare was considered an important royal responsibility ; still could speak at assemblies; Slaves (wardum) In laws: compensation for injury: highest for awilum; lower for mushkennum; lowest for wardum. Scribes were both men and women; could be slaves (no high status associated with being a scribe)

Law codes: (from earliest) Uru-inim-gina of Lagash; king Shulgi of Ur III ; Lipit-Ishtar of Isin; Hammurabi. Early codes preferred compensation for punishments; Hamurabbi “an eye for an eye” seems to be influence of Ammoraites. Law codes where not comprehensive (!) so in many court proceeding were based on local customs and traditions (when?) Victim’s wish had weight; victim could ask for compensation or death as punishments for manslaughter. Often ‘divine trial’ was used for conflicting opinions (jump into the river, if you sink then guilt has been established) levels: local councils of elders/urban ward; Judge appointed by King ; the King as highest judge; Courts had to witness oral agreements (with witnesses) Judiciary also enforced contracts between individuals (marriage as form of contract); enforce government decree and punish criminal behavior.

Prior to second millennium extended families lived in one house (larger houses); later only nuclear families (smaller houses).

High child mortality (she-demon Lamashtu was invoked to protect the small children); two-three children would grow up in a family; live expectancy around 70 years (?) ‘120 stated as the greatest age that the gods would allow’ Children (boys?) of the well-to do would go to school - ‘tablet houses’, payd by school fees (lots of beatings as punishment); writing leanred by copying texts; later: both Sumerian (- dead language) and Akkadian was learned; teacher helped former students to get post in temple hierarchy.

Monogamy the norm; Girls married in their teens, boys in twenties - arranged marriages. If no children within three years -> ‘wife might then select a slave girl to act as surrogate mother for children that would officially be hers’ ; or second marriage. ‘A career as a prostitute was no bar to eventual marriage, although wisdom texts warned that ex prostitutes made inconveniently independent-minded wives’.

Men: role of patriarch; ‘Sons remained subordinate to their fathers even after marriage, and family property was controlled by the father until his death’; Majority of population had to do with agriculture; Property relations & inheritance is where things get complicated … had to do Corvee service (for canal construction) and take part in campaigns . In Assyria they had one year military service (ilku service) On death property would be divided among sons (first son gets double share (sometimes)); then dowry for not maried daughters ; land would not be split (impractical) and the family continued to till in joint ownership (!) Needed court approval to disinherit a son;

Women: wife (of well to do) confined to the house; ‘If things went badly, she and her children could be hired out to work, and in extreme financial trouble they could be pledged as slaves against unpaid debts.’ Poor mans wife worked in textile factory. Women could own property in their own right; could sue in court and act as witnesses; could have administrative powers - running estates in the name of the husband. Widows would have same rights as men. If husband is missing the women could marry for a second time, but had to return if former husband reappeared. Priestesses - daughters of well off; dowry they brought to the cloister would revert to family upon their death; in some places they were celibate (Nippur), others not (Sippar)

Slaves: early period: slaves are women, men POW’s are blinded to be kept as slaves (in most instances they were killed); Early Babylonia: slaves are important part of economy. POW slaves property of the state (late Assyria, neo-Babylonian empire - soldiers keep slaves as private booty) ; in times of hardship (such as caused by debt) a man could sell himself (or other members of the family) into slavery - for limited period (several years). Assyrian empire deported lots of people, from Sancherib onward they were royal slaves ! Temple slaves got same payment as free employees; ‘it was thought bad form to get rid of a long-serving slave’; ‘A slave girl who had borne a son to her master could not be sold, and she and her children became free on their master’s death’


Two centers of power: temple and palace; from Lagash records they learned that temple came first and that palace(secular) authority gradually became stronger at later time. excavations in the seventies showed that they both temple and palace developed next to the other. ‘In the Sumerian city states the loyalties of the people and their rulers had long been to their city and its god’ Temple (+palace) redistributed surpluses; had a great number of dependent households (widows, orphans, POW’s; debt slaves) Kinship groups (families) owned land of their own;

Bureaucracy; at Shurupak (2300BC-2600BC) they had units of hundreds, headed by department heads who where under head of state; Head of state was En (in Uruk - he was the spouse of the city goddess); Sanga - title of chief temple administrator. At some early time ‘the citizens may have played some part in selecting a king’s successor from among his sons or brothers’. In early times there might have been some form of democracy: also is learned from ‘Gilgamesh epos’ and Babylonian ‘Epic of creation’; in both stories collective assemblies had decission roles(“here”: ) ‘Misfortunes reflected divine disapprobation, and an unsuccessful monarch could be overthrown’ Nippur priests could provide ‘divine’ legitimacy (that was important) Might have been aliances between states in ED1-ED2; broke down by ED 3 (conflict of Umma and Lagash). ED III - kings had territorial ambitions (see Lagash)

Empires: Akkadia Sargon and Naram sin institute provincial governors (ensi) + military governor; From Akkadian times onwards - most of the time there is a political center. Role of temples is reduced - often appointed by the king (see Sargon’s daughter). A very strict buerocracy has been created - governs and records everything - the model for the later Ur III state.

‘Ur III kings created an ideology that helped win them support throughout Babylonia, claiming descent from Uruk’s king Gilgamesh. They made much of their piety and role as divinely appointed protectors of the people and promoters of their well-being.’ maintained Nippur as center - instituted rotation system of offerings to maintain Nippur

Old Babylonian Empire - Temples gained in powers; private entrepreneurship flourished. Fusion of nomadic people and city states; first: states with ethnic basis (ethnicity came first - prior the city deity came first)

Hammurabi - centralized state again became stronger, private enterprise weaker. former free agents joined the state bureaucracy. Babylon became political, economical and spiritual center (Babylon with Marduk cult in replaced Nippur and Enlil cult); held position for a millennium. Ilkum system - crown land granted (right of tenants?) in return for (military) service (later Assyria continued the same system)

Kassites took over but were assimilated into the system ; some commanders were granted land as recognition of bravery ‘Unlike a feudal system, moreover, the grant of land did not give the recipient control over the people living there.’ (longest ruling dynasty in Mesopotamia) Mittani took over after Kassites - strict hierarchy. all land belonged to the king (temple had nothing to say). Vassals had to obey the king.

Assyrian empire (14th c BC); continued Babylonian ilkum system; officials held civil and military posts. transfer from landowning elite to crown - gained control of land; everything directly answerable to king ? Governors installed fro among local elites who paid tribute to the center. Tiglat Pileser III - installs Assyrian governors everywhere (takeover upon rebellion) Eunuchs preferred for governors (don’t have dynastic ambitions). Temple integrated into power structure - acting as local judges; however temple subordinate to crown. Lots of taxes: provinces were drained in favor or center; conquered people made up large part of army -> downfall. Babylonia : special case; not administrated as province but treated as equal. Sancherib sacked Babylon, this was seen as impious hubris.

Local government - villages governed by council; Town assemblies (consisted of all free males ?), some matters overseen by assembly of elders. Big towns divided into wardens with own assembly - these local bodies dealt with divorces and inheritance disputes; law and order + sanitation; hearings on local matter. tribal groups were under authority of local sheikh/elder.

Professional associations
Trading quarters had their own offices outside the city - legally independent; would gather taxes, arbitrate in disputes; could call an assembly - to decide by vote. In small town under Mittani : the mayor (hazzanu, sometimes known as rabianum) would collect taxes and was responsible for defense; would lease local property.

Propaganda Role of a king : external: protect the realm (build walls, fight wars); ensure welfare by construction project for irrigation; promote trade (security along the roads; fix weights and measures, maintain roads) internal: Justice and care for widows and orphans (some kings canceled debts (misharum) !); Propaganda: grew more detailed; ED times - dedications of offerings or temples; UR III - the kings list, Gilgamesh Epos; Neo-Assyrian empire: detailed description of campaigns in inscriptions/reliefs

‘Success was in itself indicative of legitimacy and divine approval.’ no divine approval can lead to replacement Usurpation would be justified by misdeeds of the predecessor. Lots of things would serve propaganda: city walls, imposing temple/palace structures; inscriptions/stele; records of past rulers (to support the preset lineage).

Importance of trade (due to lack of raw material); traders had important role in diplomacy. Envoys carried messengers (were often illiterate); sometimes were Protocol for exchange of messages: sending party has to provide escorts for messenger (lack of escort is a grave offense) treaties were ratified by oaths; (invoked divine retribution for breach); sometimes sealed by royal marriage; sometimes prince hostages would be taken as securities.

  • Education system seems to have been based around copying texts, that was the way of learning; in post sumerian times Scribes learned both Akkadian and Sumerian. The height of literacy and literary accomplishments seems to have been the Old Babylonian empire (most Sumerian texts survived as copies from that period)