MESOPOTAMIA AND SUMERIA

 

Lecture notes by Eric Snow

History begins with written documents being available c. 3100 to 3000 b.c.

Shift from pastoral nomads (more militaristic, aggressive) to agricultural life, settled villages (more peaceful, passive).  Before 3000 b.c., cows/oxen, plows in Neolithic villages.

 

Conventions from Sumerians in math:  Created multiplication, division, and square and cube roots.  They used a 10-base/decimal system of math plus a 60-base system to use 60 seconds/minute, 60 minutes/1 hour.  Used 60-base system in geometry to make a circle of 360 degrees.

 

 

Division of Labor:  Not fully possible in villages, need cities, coordinating class at top that doesn’t farm for a living.  Peasants had to cooperate.  Priests guide, administer:  masses of men labor to build ditches, cities, temples.  Sumeria religion centered, work done for gods.

 

Why did civilization begin in river valleys?  (Put up overhead)

Rich soil, silt automatically deposited, so didn’t need to know about rotation, irrigation provides water.  Denser population resulted, also need more coordination between stock raisers, hunters in bayous, farmers with complicated ditch systems (organized community effort needed to maintain them).  Plowing easy in Mesopotamia’s (land between rivers, Greek) alluvial soil, easy to create a surplus to support a managerial and artisan class in cities.  Flooding fertilized the soil, silt in both Egypt, Mesopotamia.  Boats could move goods.  Mesopotamia’s lack of stone, timber, metals, encourages trade, travel.

Floods as dangers, politics of controlling upstream water:  Cyrus at Babylon example, diverted water to take it.

Sumerians priests:  calculated seasons, kept accounts, laid out canals.

Achievements:  writing, form of money used in trade, bronze (copper & 10% tin), irrigation works, religious literature, schools, medicine, lunar calendar (like Jewish some, Muslim).

Bronze age (3000-1000 b.c.):  Sumerians invented this metal also.

Sumerians:  12 city-states, waged war over land, water rights (anything new?)

 

Sargon the Great:  c. 2350 b.c., Semitic Akkad, city to north.  First Empire, Persian gulf to Mediterranean, lasted to 2180 b.c.  (Sumerians not Semites, unknown language family).  Gutian attacks end.

 

Assyria:  Compare to Klingons, Kardessian Empire in Star Trek:  Would skin people alive, impale those who revolted.  Put on wall reliefs in palace for propaganda/intimidation purposes (ambassadors from other kingdoms, etc.)   Ashurnasirpal (r. 884-860 b.c.):  “I flayed the chief men of the rebels and I covered the walls with their skins. . . . Some of them were enclosed alive within the bricks of the wall, some were crucified with stakes along the wall . . . From some of them I cut off their hands and fingers, from others their noses and ears, of many I put out their eyes.”  Calculated terror policy to intimidate, discourage revolts.  Used prisoners of war to build capital at Calah.

 

Egypt vs. Sumeria/Mesopotamia:  Egypt’s natural environment much more predictable, less change, flooding seasonally.  Egypt more protected from attack, due to deserts, mountains in south, better natural resources (such as having stone, copper, gold).  Gods of Mesopotamia seen as more capricious, whimsical, unpredictable.

 

Nabonidus vs. Belshazzar error (text, p. 26):  Error exposed, archeological investigation has found.  At Ur, an inscription found in which Nabonidus prayed for himself then his son, “Bel-shar-usur,” a type of prayer only offered for the reigning monarch.  Gleason Archer:  “Still other cuneiform documents record how Belshazzar present sheep and oxen at the temples of Sippar as ‘an offering of the king.’”  Only third place in kingdom offered (Daniel 5:7) by Belshazzar as a reward for reading the writing on the wall shows Nabonidus was still alive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EGYPTIAN CUSTOMS, CULTURE

 

Much more stable politically, geographically protected against invasion more.  “Challenge response” idea of Toynbee:  This culture had fewer challenges in the long run, so it eventually succumbed to outsiders despite literally millennia of glory.

 

Two crops/year, Nile’s overflow fairly predictable.  White Nile:  Vegetable matter, from central Africa (Lake Victoria); Blue Nile, Potash, Ethiopia.  Khartoum, Sudan, where two come together.

Flood then retreat, seasonal/yearly. 

Mostly desert, but Nile the salvation, “Egypt the gift of the Nile,” according to Herodotus.  Good climate, not cold.

Theocracy:  Pharaoh a god-king, somewhat different from Mesopotamia often, since for Assyria/Babylon, the king intercessor between God and the people, but not a god himself.

 

Principle of Maat:  order, truth, justice, righteousness, “right order” or “just state of things.”  Existed if ordained as gods said.  NOT tied to a specific god.  Optimistic view of afterlife, relatively speaking, compared to shades in dark view (found in Homer’s Illiad).  Highly religious, more ethically motivated compared to Mesopotamia, more legalistic, worshiped gods for protection, what could get more.  Mesopotamia:  Polytheistic, more struggle, self-seek, since had to figure out unpredictable gods more.

 

Pharaoh:  unchanging, timeless order, tradition:  makes art solemn, massive, sacramental.

 

Hykshoes:  Chariots, aggressiveness increases in response.

 

Re:  Amon-Re:  sun-god.

Osiris:  vegation god:  killed—thrown into Nile after brother Set and 72 others soldered him into a coffer.  Isis:  Left body to see Horus, Set found it, cut up into 14 pieces.  Isis found them one by one, buried them.  Revived, didn’t regain kingdom, just became god of underworld:  p. 37 in text mistaken.  Son & heir took place as king.  Wrong to see Osiris death and revival as promise of resurrection, personal immortality.

 

Gunter Wagner:  Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (p. 117):  Isis cult:  gain only protection, not immortality.

“There are thus two traditions about the manner of Osiris’ death—that he was murdered; that he was (perhaps criminally) drowned—but in neither is his death regarded as involving atonement or salvation for other men.”

 

Hieroglyphics:  Egyptian writing, “Sacred carvings.”  Cuneiform might have influenced its creation.  Pictorial initially, later became phonetic.  Ra:  “mouth” and “R” sound.  Pictograms and alphabetical.

 

Egyptian art:  Tied to religious beliefs—Mummification done since believed had to preserve the body to preserve the soul.  Ka & Ba:  Reanimate the body.  Brains taken out the nose, vital organs put into jars.

 

Sculptor:  “He-who-keeps-alive.”

To make extra sure, made an image of the king, out of granite.

 

Kings, then nobles, then average people would prepare for death, stock tombs with food, mummy, likeness if could afford it.  Pictures of servants replace real ones.

 

ART conventions:  Not fully-life like, always from standard angle:  Heroic—broad shoulders, narrow hips.

 

Solemn, simple, rigid, focused on essentials, regular, cubic form.

 

Geometric regularity:  Keenly observed nature, but filtered through conventions.  Not meant to be seen by anyone but soul, not to be enjoyed by public, etc.  Art done for the dead mainly.  Not haphazard drawn from a particular randomly chosen angle.  Individuality sacrificed since not permanent, immortal.

 

Drew from memory, following strict rules to picture is totally clear in intent.  Perspective ignored.  All objects:  trees, fish, birds from side; lake, pond from above.

 

Examples:  Full eye seen from side, feet seen from inside foot’s side, so often big toe on outside.  Torso seen from front, but face from side.  Arms and legs in movement shown from side.  No foreshortening.  Both shoulders shown, regardless of position of arms.  Hips and legs drawn in profile, but navel also shown.  Standing man with left leg forward.

 

Artists followed rules, not how literally saw nature or people.  Big people vs. small:  not literal, but societal importance dramatized.  Man larger than wife or servants.  Gods drawn in certain ways.  Horus:  sun god, falcon or falcon’s head.  Anubis:  god of death, Jackal.  Still accurate in ways:  Can recognize bird or fish species.

 

Conventions followed:  seated gods have hands on knees, men’s skin darker than women’s.

 

Originally not a virtue—little change (one exception) for 3000 years.

 

Kings:  Profile view of head, legs, arms; front views of eyes & shoulders.

 

King Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten):  Amarna Style (1379-62 b.c.).  Nefertiti, wife.  More relaxed, “homey,” informal, not as rigid.  No solemn and rigid dignity.  Worshiped god of Aten, attacked priests of Amon-Re.  Examples:  daughter on Pharaoh’s knees, walked with wife in garden, leaning on stick, even portrayed as ugly.  “The Horizon of Aten,” Akhetaton, new capital.  People prayed to him, not Aten:  Not true monotheism.  Moses issue:  influenced by or from?

 

Post & Lintel:  Flat hewn rock put on top of columns.  Doesn’t distribute pressure as effectively as arch, need more stone to use.

 

Senmet, mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, female pharaoh for 22 years, Thutmose III her son, “Napoleon of Egypt.”  Luxor temples.

 

The Book of the Dead:  Collection of purchase prayers.  Deceiving gods to let dead into salvation—passage of dead.  Priests sell magical charms.  Amenhotep IV:  drove priests from temples, took property, possessions, removed names of gods from land.  Aten—sun god, worship directed to him (Pharaoh), the god-king.

 

Tell El-Armana:  New capital.  Tablets for Biblical history found here.  Shifted back to Thebes, old gods.  Diplomatic correspondence:  King of Byblos asks for military help 60 times.  Cuneiform tablets.  Canaanites kings:  Hebron, Tyre, Hazor, Jerusalem, Megiddo.  Shows background of trouble during Joshua’s invasion.

 

Pyramid building:  Mastabas:  Brick-lined pits covered by a superstructure.

 

Pyramids (text, p. 38):  symbol of god Re, pyramid, frozen burst of sunlight.  The pharaoh was believed to be the incarnation of Re on earth.

 

 Pyramids:  Imhotep, first architect known.  Step Pyramid:  For Zoser (c. 2686-2613 b.c.).  Bent Pyramid:  54 degree angle, changed to 42 degree part way up!  Seneferus’ at Sahsur.

Cheops (Kkufu) (r. 2590-2568 b.c., 4th dynasty):   481.4 feet originally, now 450 feet.  13.1 acres, 2.3 million stone blocks, some up to 15 tons each, hewn from quarries without explosives or iron tools.  755 feet wide on each of four sides, no more than 8 inch variations on each (nearly perfectly square).  Large, yet precise, engineering feet.  Alpha Draconis, pole star then, northern shaft of Great Pyramid very nearly in alignment at 30 degree angle.

Chephren (Khafra):  447 feet high presently, was 471 feet.  Only about 48 feet shorter on each side.  4000 man barracks found by Flinders Petrie.

Mycerinus (or Menkaure, smallest of three at Gizeh).

 

Sphinx:  Pharaoh Khafre (fl. c. 2869 b.c.)  now 66 feet tall, 240 feet long, carved from hill, not built up.

 

Herodotus:  100,000 men to build over 20 years?  1 man can push a 1 ton block of limestone over ground of mud (modern experiment).