Later, the Sumerians developed symbols to represent more complicated thoughts. As their writing evolved, the Sumerians used it to record not only economic exchanges but also myths, prayers, laws, and business contracts.

Sumerian scribes had to go through years of difficult schooling to acquire their skills. Discipline was strict. Untidy copying or talking in class could be punished by caning. Students who did well often learned about religion, mathematics, and literature as well.

Sumer's Legacy

Beginning around 2500 B.C., conquering armies swept across Mesopotamia and gradually overwhelmed the Sumerian city-states. The newcomers built on Sumerian learning and advances in many fields. They then helped spread the Sumerian legacy across the Middle East.

Language and Culture

Newcomers to the region adopted many ideas and innovations from the Sumerians. The myths and gods of the newcomers became mingled with those of Sumer. In the process, names changed. The Sumerian goddess Inanna, for example, became Ishtar.

Infographic titled cuneiform stages of development, showing a winding timeline of various points.
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How did cuneiform writing allow Sumerians to communicate more effectively?

The Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians adapted cuneiform so it could be used with their own languages. These peoples then helped spread Sumerian learning across the Middle East. The river-valley civilization that began in Sumer featured a number of elements, beyond a written language, that reappeared in other, later civilizations. Sumer's patriarchal family structure, agricultural-based economies, government structures, and the beginning of a trade base influenced later empires and the rise of classical civilizations, such as Greece and Rome. Later peoples also elaborated on Sumerian oral narratives, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written down in cuneiform by both the Akkadians and the Babylonians.

Astronomy and Mathematics

Over the centuries, inventive Sumerians made advances in astronomy and mathematics. To measure and solve problems of calculation, they developed basic algebra and geometry. They based their number system on six, dividing the hour into 60 minutes and the circle into 360 degrees, as we still do today.

Priests studied the skies, recording the movements of planets, stars, and the moon. This knowledge enabled them to make accurate calendars, which are essential to a farming society. Building on the learning of the Sumerians, later Mesopotamian astronomers developed ever more accurate calendars and learned to predict eclipses of the sun and moon.


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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