Sumer (Sumerian: ki-en-ĝir "Land of the Lords of Brightness", Akkadian: Šumeru; possibly Biblical Shinar) was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, Iraq. It is the earliest known civilization in the world and is known as the Cradle of Civilization.
The Sumerian civilization spanned over 3000 years and began with the first settlement of Eridu in the Ubaid period (mid 6th millennium BC) through the Uruk period (4th millennium BC) and the Dynastic periods (3rd millennium BC) until the rise of Babylonia in the early 2nd millennium BC.
The cities of Sumer were the first to practice intensive, year-round agriculture, (from ca. 5300 BC). By perhaps 5000 BC, the Sumerians had developed core agricultural techniques including large-scale intensive cultivation of land, mono-cropping, organized irrigation, and the use of a specialized labour force, particularly along the waterway now known as the Shatt al-Arab, from its Persian Gulf delta to the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. The surplus of storable food created by this economy allowed the population to settle in one place instead of migrating after crops and grazing land. It also allowed for a much greater population density, and in turn required an extensive labor force and division of labor. This organization led to the development of writing (ca. 3500 BC).
By the late 4th millennium BC, Sumer was divided into about a dozen independent city-states, who were divided by canals and boundary stones. Each was centered on a temple dedicated to the particular patron god or goddess of the city and ruled over by a priestly governor (ensi) or by a king (lugal) who was intimately tied to the city's religious rites.
The Sumerian city states rose to power during the prehistorical Ubaid and Uruk periods. Sumerian written history reaches back to the 27th century BC and before, but the historical record remains obscure until the Early Dynastic III period, ca. the 23rd century BC, when a now deciphered syllabary writing system was developed, which has allowed archaeologists to read contemporary records and inscriptions. Classical Sumer ends with the rise of the Akkadian Empire in the 23rd century BC. Following the Gutian period, there is a brief "Sumerian renaissance" in the 21st century BC, cut short in the 20th century BC by Semitic Amorite invasions. The Amorite "dynasty of Isin" persisted until ca. 1700 BC, when Mesopotamia was united under Babylonian rule. The Sumerians were eventually absorbed into the Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian) population.
The most important archaeological discoveries in Sumer are a large number of tablets written in Cuneiform writing. Sumerian continued to be the language of religion and law in Mesopotamia long after Semitic speakers had become the ruling race. The Sumerian language is generally regarded as a language isolate in linguistics because it belongs to no known language family; Akkadian, by contrast belongs to the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Understanding Sumerian texts today can be problematic even for experts. Most difficult are the earliest texts, which in many cases do not give the full grammatical structure of the language.
The five "first" cities said to have exercised pre-dynastic kingship were:
Other principal cities were:
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