The Sumerian civilization was an extremely
advanced and complex society situated in
modern day Iraq. Lasting for some four thousand
years, the Sumerians were among the first
cultures to develop most of what we now take for
granted, from complex economies to advanced
record keeping, literature, international trade and
recorded mythologies. Thanks to the Sumerian
habit of recording everything on clay tablets
using cuneiform – one of the first complex
writing systems – we can infer a great deal about
their society. We know that Sumer was
characterized by various city-states, running in
competition with one another for wealth and
conquest, while sharing similar characteristics
and material goods. They used slave labor, based
around large temples and palaces, and were keen
to form alliances and thus push out the
boundaries of their nation into Central Asia and
Turkey. Their trade networks were extensive, and
colonies of Sumerian peoples have been
identified all across the region. Rule was by
kingship; rulers varied considerable in their
methods although extreme cruelty and martial
law (such as that exercised under Eannatum of
Lagash) was the exception rather than the rule.
Temples were the mainstay of local economies. It
was here that produce was brought as tax, legal
proceedings carried out and deals were struck.
Records of this period are almost exclusively
written by scribes who lived within the temple
walls and worked under the auspices of the
administrators, who were themselves under the
authority of the priests.
Context scene: Bull man, horned animal, two
crossed lions, two crossed horned animals, bull-
man. Terminal: disc above double ruling.
Interpretation and dating by Prof. Lambert.