The ancient civilization of Sumer evolved in the Mesopotamia region cradled in the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in modern-day Iraq. Known for their innovations in language, governance, architecture and more, Sumerians are considered an advanced civilization, thriving between 4500 and 1900 BC.
An overview of the Sumerian civilization will help draw interesting parallels and obvious differences between the lifestyles of the Sumerians and ours in UAE today. The achievements and advances of the Sumerians are classified as follows.
Sumerians’ contributions in the field of hydraulic engineering and agricultural tools have shaped agricultural techniques, used even today. Systems of ditches to control flooding, irrigation, mono-cropping, and large-scale cultivation of land were all solely their benefactions. In addition to this, archaic pictograms inscribed on royal tombs depicted that the Sumerians had domesticated many animals such as pigs, goats, cows, and sheep. Furthermore, they invented, arguably the most influential invention, the wheel.
The Sumerians developed and innovated the earliest form of writing called cuneiform. Excavated clay tablets of cuneiform reflect the evolution from an unintelligible row of characters to a defined script of an arrangement of wedge-like strokes. The language spoken by the Sumerians was Semitic and highly resembled modern-day Arabic with its grammar somewhat similar. It is an isolated language, meaning that no other languages relate to it ancestrally.
The Sumerians believed in an anthropomorphic polytheism, meaning they worshipped 2 or more gods of a human form. Their primary god was Gilgamesh, who was their example of wisdom, strength, bravery, and greatness — reflected in the Story of Gilgamesh.
The lawmaking of the Sumerians was done by a two-house legislature, the Upper house consisting of Elders, and the Lower house consisting of free male citizens who were part-time soldiers. Citizens generally knew what was expected of them, and were also aware of punishments following rash or irrational behaviour.
Pottery was initially made by the Sumerians, who used this medium to express religious thoughts and to depict pictograms on general aspects of lifestyle. Precious stones were converted to jewellery such as necklaces, rings, bracelets by craftsmen. This would eventually be bought by the upper class and the Royal family, as they were the only ones able to afford it.
The society of Sumerians was structured into 7 distinct hierarchic categories — the Royal Family, Government officials (Priests, Nobles), Soldiers, Scribes, Merchants, Craftsmen and, Peasants and Slaves. For each community or geographic region, there would be one priest-king who would be the doctor and in charge of all political affairs. His head would be shaven so he could be distinguished.
The Sumerian civilization thrived in the fertile land between the two Mesopotamian rivers of Tigris and Euphrates, which fostered the development of agriculture. The rains being scarce, necessitated agricultural and hydraulic innovations to channel the limited water for cultivation.
Four millenniums later, it is with keen interest that we draw parallels and differences between the impressive Sumerians and our current-day UAE communities
UAE is globally acknowledged as being a leader in urban innovation and technologies with its ‘Smart City’ initiatives. Harnessing nature’s resources through technological and engineering has been a common thread between both societies, albeit the level of advancement in contemporary UAE is information-technology based and highly sophisticated.
Parallels can be drawn in the Governance structure with the Sumerian’s ‘Upper House’ comparable to the UAE’s Supreme Council as well as the core Councils of each Emirate.
Culturally, the use of precious stones converted to jewellery such as necklaces, rings, bracelets by Sumerian craftsmen reminds me of Dubai’s Gold Souk and the continuing role of jewellery in current society.
The obvious differences between the Sumerians and the current day UAE community include demographics — wherein UAE’s multi-nationality and multi-cultural population stand in contrast to the ‘pure breed’ Sumerians, devoid of any Chinese or Aztecs amongst them.
The evolution of script and language was in its nascent stages in Sumer, while communications and teaching are currently multi-lingual in UAE, also a consequence of the sizable expatriate residential population in UAE.
Importantly, the advancement in the culinary arts and variety is just phenomenal in the current UAE. With people coming from remote lands, have come their foods and spices — creating a vibrant ‘melting pot’ of a variety of food offerings available to us, as opposed to a much more restricted menu of the Sumerians.
Sumerians were a ‘settled’ civilization with minimal influence from other distant civilizations at the time. UAE is at the other end of the spectrum with dynamic ever-changing communities with diverse influences and contributions.