A culture brings together people by sharing social habits, language, religion, behaviors, and interactions. The Epic of Gilgamesh introduces us to the magnificent Sumerian Civilization. They invented and gave meaning to the idea of what a “civilization” truly consisted of; however, to create a well-functioning civilization, values, moral ideas, and social behavior rules need come to together as one and be practiced by the people. I will be expanding on the moral ideas that Sumerians believed in such as religion, strict social hierarchies, and assigned tasks and responsibilities according to gender.
Sumerians are believed to have arrived before 3000 B.C. Villages consisted of reed-huts and sun-dried brick houses which they inherited from the illiterates who lived there before. They were the first literate inhabitants of Mesopotamia and were gifted people who influenced laws, language, and ideas. Worshipping the gods and religion were important rituals in their lives. They were strong believers that prayer and sacrifice would bring them closer to the gods. It was crucial for every city to have these beautiful buildings decorated with mosaics and reliefs called ziggurat, strictly dedicated to worship. In relation to religion, divine kingship was a sacred moral idea that they practiced as well. Sumerians had set expectations for their rulers to live up to; this was known as the ideal Shepherd Kingship. Rulers were expected to protect civilians from invasions, provide safety and well-being to their people on behalf of the gods.
A social hierarchy was another important idea in Sumerian culture. An individual’s rank was a sufficient way to determine what was proper and ethical in society. The top of the social triangle began with the upper-class nobles such as priests, government officials and most importantly warriors. Then followed skilled workers like merchants, traders, and artisans and at the bottom of the triangle were slaves. Priests and upper-class men would often give work to the poor and hire slaves to maintain their crops and give them responsibility on all manual labor. Those at the top of the social structure had the idea that slaves were given by the gods to give people with more power victory to have control of those inferior to them.
As mentioned before, social hierarchy was crucial and important to Sumerians. Within the social structure, believe it or not, some wealthy with a higher economic status had the opportunity to learn how to read and write for them to represent their families in business and legal matter. Lower-income women were held responsible for the maintenance of households and child-care. They could not attend school; instead, they stayed home, learned household chores and as they got older, prepare themselves for marriage.
As for the male population, power was given to them much easier because of their gender. They were in power of their wives’ actions; they could sleep with other women that weren’t their wives and dominated their lives. Here is an example of King Gilgamesh mistreating women’s values and still being considered a king in The Epic of Gilgamesh, anonymous author states, “His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute.” In current times, there is a high chance a ruler or a man with higher power doing something like this could create chaos and debate but it’s important to remember that ancient times held different values than the ones in society now.
Despite the differences between our engraved values, the Sumerian culture deserves respect and appreciation for their incredible inventions gifted to modern society. Some being fundamental like writing, geometry, and architecture, others being inventions that have changed the way people see the world in modern time. Sumerian’s successful developments formed an organized civilization along with innovations that are used even in our world today and will continue to influence future civilizations decades and decades from now and beyond.