They used the clay to make bricks, which they shaped in wooden molds and dried in the sun. These bricks were the building blocks for some of the world's first great cities, such as Ur and Uruk.

Trade brought riches to Sumerian cities. Traders sailed along the rivers or risked the dangers of desert travel to carry goods to distant regions. Although it is unclear where and when the wheel was invented, the Sumerians may have made the first wheeled vehicles. Archaeologists have found goods from as far away as Egypt and India in the rubble of Sumerian cities.

Sumerian Civilization Develops

By 3500 B.C., a number of cities had emerged in Mesopotamia, each numbering in the tens of thousands or more. Each city and the land surrounding formed a city-state. The Sumerians had few natural resources, but they made the most of what they had. They lacked building materials such as timber or stone, so they made bricks of clay. These bricks were the building blocks for some of the world's first great cities, such as Ur and Uruk.

Photo of an ancient ziggurat in a desert setting.

The Ziggurat of Ur is an ancient temple built by Sumerians to honor their moon god, Nanna. Ziggurats were part of a temple complex that usually served as the administrative center of the city.

The First Cities

Sumerian cities had broad avenues used for religious processions or victory parades. The largest buildings were ziggurats (ZIG oo rats), pyramid-temples that soared toward the heavens. On top of each ziggurat stood a shrine to a particular god or goddess. Each city had its own chief god or goddess, but it might have several ziggurats honoring other gods.

Rulers lived in magnificent palaces with spacious courtyards. Most people, though, lived in tiny houses packed in a web of narrow alleys and lanes. Artisans who practiced the same trade, such as weavers or carpenters, lived and worked in the same street. These workshop-lined streets formed a bazaar, the ancestor of today's shopping mall.

Economic Life

Trade brought riches to the Sumerian cities. Traders sailed along the rivers or risked the dangers of desert travel to exchange goods with distant regions. Archaeologists have found goods from as far away as Egypt and India in the rubble of Sumerian cities. Although it is unclear where and when the wheel was invented, the Sumerians may have made the first wheeled vehicles. Using wheeled carts, Sumerian traders were able to carry larger loads on longer journeys.

Government

Rival city-states often battled for control of land and water. For protection, people turned to war leaders. Over time, these war leaders became hereditary rulers, leading to the rise of monarchies. A monarchy is a form of government in which one person, such as a king or queen, has complete authority.

In each city-state, the ruler was responsible for maintaining the city walls and irrigation systems. He led its armies in war and enforced the laws. As government grew more complex, the ruler employed scribes to carry out functions such as collecting taxes and keeping records. The ruler also had religious duties. In the early city-states, rulers probably were priest-kings; that is, the ruler was seen as the chief servants of the gods and led ceremonies meant to please them.

Social Classes

Each Sumerian city-state had a distinct social hierarchy (HY ur ahr kee), or system of ranking groups. The highest class included the ruling family, leading officials, and high priests. A small middle class was made up of scribes, merchants, and artisans.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments