Gilgamesh

In ancient times the land area now known as modern Iraq was almost equivalent to Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates (in Arabic, the Dijla and Furat, respectively), the Mesopotamian plain was called the Fertile Crescent.

This region is known as the Cradle of Civilization; was the birthplace of the varied civilizations that moved us from prehistory to history. An advanced civilization flourished in this region long before that of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, for it was here in about 4000BC that the Sumerian culture flourished.

The civilized life that emerged at Sumer was shaped by two conflicting factors: the unpredictability of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which at any time could unleash devastating floods that wiped out entire peoples, and the extreme richness of the river valleys, caused by centuries-old deposits of soil.

Thus, while the river valleys of southern Mesopotamia attracted migrations of neighboring peoples and made possible, for the first time in history, the growing of surplus food, the volatility of the rivers necessitated a form of collective management to protect the marshy, low-lying land from flooding.

As surplus production increased and as collective management became more advanced, a process of urbanization evolved and Sumerian civilization took root. The people of the Tigris and the Euphrates basin, the ancient Sumerians, using the fertile land and the abundant water supply of the area, developed sophisticated irrigation systems and created what was probably the first cereal agriculture as well as the earliest writing, cuneiform - a way of arranging impression stamped on clay by the wedge-like section of chopped-off reed stylus into wet clay.

Through writing, the Sumerians were able to pass on complex agricultural techniques to successive generations; this led to marked improvements in agricultural production. Writing evolved to keep track of property. Clay envelopes marked with the owner’s rolled seal were used to hold tokens for goods, the tokens within recording a specific transaction.

Later on, the envelope and tokens were discarded and symbols scratched into clay recorded transactions such as 2 bunches of wheat or 7 cows. As writing evolved, pictures gave way to lines pressed into clay with a wedge tip; this allowed a scribe to make many different types of strokes without changing his grip. By 3,000 BC, the script evolved into a full syllabic alphabet. The commerce of the times is recorded in great depth. Double entry accounting practices were found to be a part of the records.

This remarkable innovation has been used to this day, as a standard for record keeping. It was the custom for all to pay for what they needed at a fair price. Royalty was not exception. The king may have had an edge on getting a “better deal”, but it wasn’t the law as it was in Egypt where the Pharaoh was the “living god” and as such, owned all things. It seems that everyone had the right to bargain fairly for his or her goods.

Unlike their Egyptian neighbors, these people were believers in private property, and the kings were very much answerable to the citizens. In Egypt, all things, including the people and property, were owned by the pharaoh. Sumerians invented the wheel and the first plough in 3700 BC. Sumerians developed a math system based on the numeral 60, which is the basis of time in the modern world. Sumerian society was “Matriarchal” and women had a highly respected place in society.

Banking originated in Mesopotamia (Babylonia) out of the activities of temples and palaces, which provided safe places for the storage of valuables. Initially deposits of grain were accepted and later other goods including cattle, agricultural implements, and precious metals. Another important Sumerian legacy was the recording of literature. Poetry and epic literature were produced.