Sumerian Civilization Essay Example

In ancient Mesopotamia there was no written language. This meant history could not be recorded. Historians would need to look for other ways to explore the history and culture of these ancient civilizations. One method of understanding the ancient civilizations was the use of ancient stories told by the Sumerians. One epic poem told by the ancient Sumerians was The Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh allows modern people to observe and analyze the ancient Sumerians. A lot of information about the Sumerians can be found within the epic poem. The Sumerian’s view on how a society should function, the roles of men and women, the concept of life and death, and religion can be found in the epic. These ideas have changed over time, but with the help of the epic, we can understand the ancient Sumerian views.

In the ancient world, religion played a major role. Every natural phenomenon that occurred, would be identified as the work of a god. The sun in the sky was not some star, but the Sumerian god of the sun Shamash. There was also a god of creation, storm, love, and war (Sandars 24-25). The people would pray to these gods and build grand temples for them. In the epic, Gilgamesh goes collecting wood specifically to build great walls and grand temples for the gods. He does this to appease the gods. Ancient Sumerian gods were often flawed. This can be seen within the epic when Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s love and points out her past failed relationships. Ishtar becomes anger at Gilgamesh’s rejection. She attempts to punish Gilgamesh by sending the bull of heaven to kill him, but her first plan fails. The gods killed Enkidu as punishment. The anger shown by Ishtar is a human quality. This human quality can be seen as a flaw because it signifies a short temper. The gods were more than likely given human-like qualities for the Sumerians to identify with them.

Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations were patriarchal societies. Men were warriors and leaders. Women were below men. They were servants who served men and cared for children. This excludes the female goddesses as they were still treated with great respect. In the epic women were treated as tools. This is shown in the Epic of Gilgamesh when Gilgamesh lent a harlot to the trapper. The trapper ordered her to seduce Enkidu (Sandars, 64). Her sole purpose was to seduce and tame Enkidu, who was still a wild man. She was not treated as an equal. The harlot was a tool to trap the wild man. Men were also in charge of the government. Gilgamesh was the king of the city-state of Uruk. He was able to do as he pleased, from starting fights, killing for entertainment and control over the women of his palace. The king of the gods, Anu was a male god. All gods follow and obey his command. This shows that even in religion, men were in charge.

The Sumerian people’s idea of friendship was shown in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was the king of the city-state of Uruk. At the beginning of the epic, he was a cruel king whom the citizens hated. The gods also saw Gilgamesh’s actions as troublesome. The gods created his equal a wild man named Enkidu. The two men would form a strong bond between each other. The friendship among the two is described to be a brother like relationship. Their relationship reveals how the Sumerians viewed the friendship between two men. A strong and good friend would have to be loyal, be willing to fight by one another’s side. They must view each other as equals. The sibling-like relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu shows the ideal friendship in ancient Mesopotamia.

The concept of mortality and immortality was a very important topic in ancient times. The concept of death was too abstract for the Sumerians to understand. People were afraid of it, and many wondered why humans died. The fear that Gilgamesh felt showed that there was a great fear of dying. His fear is so strong that he searches for immortality. On his journey he finds an answer to the importance of death. He is told to think of a life where there is no end. Would he be content with that life? Would he still be motivated to do anything with his life? These questions allowed Gilgamesh to have a greater understanding of the meaning of life (Sandars, 107). Death makes the time used in life much more important.

In this epic, a lot is shown about the society of the past. From religion, gender, and their view on life and death are revealed in the epic. The events from the Epic of Gilgamesh shows that the people prayed to many gods, Ancient Sumer was a patriarchal society and that many people had little to no knowledge on the process life and the purpose of death.


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