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The Sumerians (or Sumer) are widely regarded as the first civilization to develop real cities, as well as the wheel and a writing system. The Sumerian civilization was based in southern Mesopotamia, or what is today known as southern Iraq.

The origins of the Sumerian people are unknown, they settled 5500 – c. 3300 BCE during the Uruk period, and their language is called Sumerian. Located along the Tigris and Euphrates valley, the Sumerian hegemony had its initial beginnings under the leadership of a conqueror by the name of Lugal-anne-mundu sometime around 2900 BCE. During his time the power of Sumer extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. He seems to have lacked heirs for the empire collapsed upon his death. It wasn't until the high priests of Lagash set themselves up as kings that the Sumerian Empire was re-established on a more long-lasting basis.


The history of the Sumerian people can be divided into following periods:

1. Uruk period or the Protoliterate period (4000 – 3100 BCE)
2. Jemdet Nasr period (3100 - 2900 BCE)
3. Early Dynastic Period (2900 – 2350 BCE)
4.1. ED I (2900 – 2750/2700 BCE)
4.2 ED II (2750/2700 – 2600 BCE)
4.3.1 ED IIIa (2600–2500/2450 BCE)
4.3.2 Ed IIIb (2500/2450 – 2350 BCE)
5. Akkadian Empire (2334 – 2154 BCE)
6. Gutian dynasty (2141 BC– 2050 BCE)
7. Third Dynasty of Ur or Neo-Sumerian Empire (2112 BC – 2004 BCE)


Uruk period[]

The Uruk period also known as the Uruk expansion refers to a protohistoric Sumerian period between 4000 – 3100 BCE. It is named after the city of Uruk located in southern Mesopotamia, which at that time experienced a massive increase in urbanization and settlement, Uruk is one of the first archeological sites that can be considered an actual city. Due to this and its enormous innovation in administration and society, it is often considered one of the most important periods in Mesopotamian and even human history. In this period we see for the first time the organization of a military, the invention of the wheel, casting, and scripture. Another thing that is special about this period is the mass production of pottery, which where less decorated and served a more functional use.

There is not a single trigger that caused these rapidly expanding cities, it is rather believed that it is a result of multiple factors such as trade, increased population, and possibly climate. A majority of the population continued working in agriculture, however, a small group of people began to work in non-agricultural professions such as pottery, this division of labor required an administration to organize, which meant that there was a need for political authority. The temples which were built in the cities imply some sort of theocracy.

Jemdet Nasr period[]

The Jemdet Nasr period named after the site where the pottery has been found, is hard to identify, modern scholars assume that it has no independent existence at all.

Early Dynastic Period[]

The Early Dynastic Period is subdivided into three different subperiods which are identified by unique pottery, but this period as a whole is marked by its shifting of political power between the cities, which were ruled by a city prince (Ensi), king (Lugal) or a priest.

Akkadian Period and the Gutian dynasty[]

In 2334 BCE, the Lagash dynasty gave way to Sargon of Akkadia, who hailed from the Semitic Akkadians who came from the Arabian Peninsula. Sargon took over and started his own dynasty that gave rise to the first empire, the Akkadian Empire, which lasted until about 2193 BCE or thereabouts. It's not entirely clear what happened except that the Sargonian dynasty appears to have suffered decay from within. Suffice to say, it was unable to adequately respond to the Gutian Barbarians, and like Rome over a thousand years later, it was overrun and collapsed. Notwithstanding the resulting chaos, Sumer was not done with being an empire.

Third Dynasty of Ur or Neo-Sumerian Empire[]

Circa 2112 BCE, it is recorded that King Utukhegal of Ur finally got rid of the Gutians and effectively establish what would be the third dynasty of Ur. This lasted until about 2002 BCE, when the Elamites finally put an end to Sumerian influence once and for all.

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