Hammurabi

The most famous Sumerian epic and the one that has survived in the most nearly complete form is the epic of Gilgamesh. The story of Gilgamesh, who actually was king of the city-state of Uruk in approximately 2700 BC, is a moving story of the ruler's deep sorrow at the death of his friend Enkidu, and of his consequent search for immortality. Other central themes of the story are a devastating flood and the tenuous nature of man's existence, and ended by meeting a wise and ancient man who had survived a great flood by building an ark.

Land was cultivated for the first time, early calendars were used and the first written alphabet was invented here. Its bountiful land, fresh waters, and varying climate contributed to the creation of deep-rooted civilization that had fostered humanity from its affluent fountain since thousand of years. Sumerian states were believed to be under the rule of a local god or goddess, and a bureaucratic system of the priesthood arose to oversee the ritualistic and complex religion.

High Priests represented the gods on earth, one of their jobs being to discern the divine will. A favorite method of divination was reading sheep or goat entrails. The priests ruled from their ziggurats, high rising temples of sunbaked brick with outside staircases leading to the shrine on top. The Sumerian gods personified local elements and natural forces.

The Sumerians worshiped Anu, the supreme god of heaven, Enlil, god of water, and Ea, god of magic and creator of man. The Sumerians held the belief that a sacred ritual marriage between the ruler and Inanna, goddess of love and fertility brought rich harvests.

Eventually, the Sumerians would have to battle another peoples, the Akkadians, who migrated up from the Arabian Peninsula. The Akkadians were a Semitic people, that is, they spoke a language drawn from a family of languages called Semitic languages; a Semitic languages include Hebrew, Arabic, Assyrian, and Babylonian (the term “Semite” is a modern designation taken from the Hebrew Scriptures; Shem was a son of Noah and the nations descended from Shem are the Semites).

When the two peoples clashed, the Sumerians gradually lost control over the city-states they had so brilliantly created and fell under the hegemony of the Akkadian kingdom, which was based in Akkad (Sumerian Agade). This great capital of the largest empire humans had ever seen up until that point that was later to become Babylon, which was the commercial and cultural center of the Middle East for almost two thousand years.

In 2340 BC, the great Akkadian military leader, Sargon, conquered Sumer and built an Akkadian empire stretching over most of the Sumerian city-states and extending as far away as Lebanon. Sargon based his empire in the city of Akkad, which became the basis of the name of his people. But Sargon’s ambitious empire lasted for only a blink of an eye in the long time spans of Mesopotamian history. In 2125 BC, the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia rose up in revolt, and the Akkadian empire fell before a renewal of Sumerian city-states.

Mesopotamia is the suspected spot known as the “Garden of Eden.” Ur of the Chaldees, and that’s where Abraham came from, (that’s just north of the traditional site of the Garden of Eden, about twenty-five miles northeast of Eridu, at present Mughair), was a great and famous Sumerian city, dating from this time. Predating the Babylonian by about 2,000 years was Noah, who lived in Fara, 100 miles southeast of Babylon (from Bab-ili, meaning “Gate of God").

The early Assyrians, some of the earliest people there, were known to be warriors, so the first wars were fought there, and the land has been full of wars ever since. The Assyrians were in the northern part of Mesopotamia and the Babylonians more in the middle and southern part.