Guided Notes: Lesson 2

Sumer and Akkad

Mesopotamia, the first civilization the world had ever seen, occupied the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates River. Indeed, the word Mesopotamia itself literally means ‘land between the rivers.’ Thanks to the Tigris and Euphrates, the Mesopotamians were able to develop irrigation, thus allowing them to rise and prosper as a legitimate civilization. Early on in the history of Mesopotamia, there were two major city-states that dominated the area. The city-state of Sumer was located in the South and the city-state of Akkad was in the North. These two places had many similarities and differences. They were similar in that they both farmed, ran businesses, and had similar customs. One major difference between Sumer and d Akkad was language. This proved to be a major barrier in the two city-states trying to communicate. Both places were vying, or fighting, for the title of most powerful city-state of Mesopotamia. As a result, war was a common occurrence between Sumer and Akkad. The two major things they went to war over was water and land which are two major things in trying to farm and prosper.  Sumer was the most powerful city-state. Within the city-state of Sumer, there were about 50,000 people. They had mud brick walls which surrounded the city for protection. They also painted the houses white to keep them cool due to the extreme heat. Large irrigated fields surrounded the city of Sumer as well.  The link between Heaven and Earth for the people of Sumer was the ziggurat.

Religion and Government

In Sumer and other city-states of Mesopotamia, the people built huge temples to show the importance of religion to society. This is a quite common practice. If you think about it, it makes total sense. If something is really important to someone or someplace, it is usually the biggest thing in the area. The people of Sumer would not build tiny temples to show how important religion is, but large ones. Speaking of society, a society is an organized community with rules and traditions. Early in Mesopotamia, the people believed in multiple gods. For example, Anu was the god of heaven, Enlil was the god of wind, Enki was the god of water, and Ninhursag was the mother of the gods. These are just a few of the gods that the people believed in and worshiped at the Ziggurat. The people believed that the gods and goddesses were responsible for the well being of the people and the land. As a result, the people would worship and offer sacrifices, gifts, and food to try and please the gods. If there was peace and prosperity, the gods were happy. However, if there was war, drought, or drastic flooding, the people believed the gods were not happy. In the temple or the ziggurat, the priest worked to make the gods happy by burning incense and offering food and drink. This practice of believing in more than one god is called Polytheism.   In Mesopotamia, unlike in the USA, religion and government are closely linked. Like we have discovered already, this is a major difference between Mesopotamia and our country. In Mesopotamia, Kings are chosen by the gods. This practice is called “divine kingship” which means god choose the king. Kingship in Mesopotamia can be passed from father to son. Another difference between Mesopotamia and the USA is how the class systems are set up. In America, our class system is based on wealth. In Mesopotamia, it is based on jobs. At the top is the King. Right below the king on the second level is the wealthy business people which would include landowners and government officials. Underneath those people, the third level, is the artisans and farmers. At the bottom of the Sumer class system are the slaves.


One of the many significant things that were developed in Mesopotamia early on was writing. Around 3200 b.c., a writing system was invented to record business dealings. The first print was pictures that stood for objects or actions. This proved to be quite confusing, so it was simplified. Soon, a scribe, or someone who writes, began using reed and clay tablets to write. Shortly after that, Cuneiform was established as the new system of writing. In cuneiform, marks stood for objects or actions. The scribe would write on clay tablets, which when dried, would become a permanent record. Ultimately, Cuneiform proved to be too complex and ceased to exist.

Rise and Fall of the Akkadian Empire

Along with Sumer, Akkad was the other powerful city-state of early Mesopotamia. In 2334 B.C., Sargon, the king of Akkad, attacked Sumer and conquered all the city-states. Sargon united all of Mesopotamia, creating an empire. An empire is a large territory all under the control of a single ruler. Sargon’s empire would not last, however. Sargon’s dynasty, which is a ruling family, was constantly threatened by war and revolts. Sargon’s dynasty lasted 150 years before it fell to Sumer.

Sumer’s Final Days

When Akkad fell, Sumer was there to resume its status as most powerful. From 2100 to 2000 B.C., Ur in Sumer held control of Mesopotamia. The most successful dynasty in Ur was founded by Sumerian King Ur-Nammu. Sumer proved to be the most important city-state between itself and Akkad as it left the world with many important contributions such as Cuneiform, the wheel, and Ziggurats. The advancement of Sumer civilization was due in large part to writing, religion, and technology.