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14.2.1 The Sumerians

Figure 136

Figure 136: Sumerian Warriors in Phalanx

This alternation of settlement, conquest, refinement, fresh conquest, refinement, is particularly to be noted in the region of the Euphrates and Tigris, which lay open in every direction to great areas which are not arid enough to be complete deserts, but which were not fertile enough to support civilized populations. Perhaps the earliest people to form real cities in this part of the world, or indeed in any part of the world, were a people of mysterious origin called the Sumerians. They were probably brunets of Iberian or Dravidian affinities. They used a kind of writing which they scratched upon clay, and their language has been deciphered.[1] It was a language more like the unclassified Caucasic language groups than any others that now exist. These languages may be connected with Basque, and may represent what was once a widespread primitive language group extending from Spain and western Europe to eastern India, and reaching southwards to Central Africa.

These people shaved their heads and wore simple tunic-like garments of wool. They settled first on the lower courses of the great river and not very far from the Persian Gulf, which in those days ran up for a hundred and thirty miles[2] and more beyond its present head. They fertilized their fields by letting water run through irrigation trenches, and they gradually became very skillful hydraulic engineers; they had cattle, asses, sheep, and goats, but no horses; their collections of mud huts grew into towns, and their religion raised up tower-like temple buildings.

Clay, dried in the sun, was a very great fact in the lives of these people. This lower country of the Euphrates-Tigris valleys had little or no stone.

They built of brick, they made pottery and earthenware images, and they drew and presently wrote, upon thin tile-like cakes of clay. They do not seem to have had paper or to have used parchment. Their books and memoranda, even their letters, were potsherds.

At Nippur they built a great tower of brick to their chief god, El-lil (Enlil), the memory of which is supposed to be preserved in the story of the Tower of Babel. They seem to have been divided up into city-states, which warred among themselves and maintained for many centuries their military capacity. Their soldiers carried long spears and shields, and fought in close formation. Sumerians conquered Sumerians. Sumeria remained unconquered by any stranger race for a very long period of time indeed.

They developed their civilization, their writing, and their shipping, through a period that may be twice as long as the whole period from the Christian era to the present time.

The first of all known empires was that founded by the high priest of the god of the Sumerian city of Erech. It reached, says an inscription at Nippur, from the Lower (Persian Gulf) to the Upper (Mediterranean or Red?) Sea. Among the mud heaps of the Euphrates-Tigris valley the record of that vast period of history, that first half of the Age of Cultivation, is buried. There flourished the first temples and the first priest-rulers that we know of among mankind.

[1]Excavations conducted at Eridu by Capt. R. Campbell Thompson during the recent war have revealed an early Neolithic agricultural stage, before the invention of writing or the use of bronze beneath the earliest Sumerian foundations. The crops were cut by sickles of earthenware. Capt. Thompson thinks that these pre-Sumerian people were not of Sumerian race, but proto- Elamites. Entirely similar Neolithic remains have been found at Susa, once the chief city of Elam.
[2]Sayce, in Babylonian and Assyrian Life, estimates that in 6,500 B.C. Eridu was on the sea-coast.

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