Mesopotamia, also known as the land between two rivers, became the grounds of many ancient civilizations that we know about today. Perhaps one of the most famous is Sumer. Sumer was a civilization that thrived off of the two river, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Using irrigation systems, the Sumerians used the floods of the rivers produced to grow crops and support the growing population. This civilization grew into an early form of a modern city, with things like business, jobs, currency, and social classes.
How were the Sumerians able to keep track of money and payments and when floods happened without a writing system?
Eventually, the Sumerians were able to create to world’s earliest writing system to keep record of all this. Later, that system evolved and became what we know as the Sumerians predominant style of writing, cuneiform. With all the money transactions and trading going on, people needed to know and keep record of how much the transaction was and keep record of what was being traded.
The Sumerians started very simply and began trying things like using pictures to be representations for different items and animals. This was what the earliest form of a writing system was.
Using that style hey could tell exactly what things were. Over some time, this system developed into using those same pictographs, but now having certain symbols for certain words. This was established by 3100 B. C. However, as more complex ideas than keeping track of trades arose, a demand for a more complex system of writing had also risen. As time progressed, s system of writing known as cuneiform or “wedged-shaped” began to develop. This system of writing developed by about 2900 B. C, used symbols to represent ideas, sounds, syllables and objects.
The symbols were pressed into tablets of wet clay which later, were dried in the sun preserving records and ideas and their history. This very long lasting style of writing became popular among the Babylonians and the Assyrians began using it for their own languages. The writing style cuneiform began to affect the lives of the Sumerian people. It created more specialized jobs and opened the door to education. Education expanded from learning to do manual tasks into learning how to be a scribe. Being a scribe was an important thing because teaching to write back then is not like it is now.
It took a lot of effort and was very time consuming. Being a scribe was what everyone wanted because it was the door to government positions, religious positions, and also got professional jobs. These jobs included architects, engineers, and scientists. What cuneiform really did for Sumer was establish a culture beyond agriculture. Citizens could now express ideas about the world and the deities who ruled it. Besides that, their realm of knowledge increased immensely because since there was now a writing system, the scribes who became scientists were able to study astronomy and record their findings.
They discovered the pattern of the earth and that allowed them to accurately predict when to expect flooding from the two rivers. They also developed mathematics for the use of dividing the lands among land owners and also with math were able to establish a time system. Writing also developed into a way to express things more than knowledge. People could now write down and share very intelligent ideas and also could now write stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. If not for writing, the ancient civilization of Sumer might now have turned into what it did.
Writing did more for them then allow them to keep records of money transactions and trade, it allowed them to turn into a more intelligent civilization and also a more expressive civilization. It created more education and jobs and showed them into a realm of knowledge which was once unreachable but thanks to writing was within their grasp. Writing allowed them to preserve the information that was passed down from generation to generation which allowed later civilization to expand on that knowledge. Their writing system not only changed their lives but also the lives of the people to come.
You may also be interested in the following: comparison between harappan and mesopotamian civilization