The Sumerians, Akkadians and Assyrians
  1. The Sumerians have been called, by many, the first true “civilization.” Discuss the many accomplishments of the Sumerians which earned them the title of the “first true civilization.”

For a thousand of years, the Sumerians were the main and only people in the ancient Near East. Due to their numerous accomplishments, they are rightfully considered to be the first true civilization. Primarily, the Sumerians created such phenomenon as a city-state with its administrative system and specialization of the society. Furthermore, the invention of writing was another significant Sumerians’ contributions into the world history. The first writing characters were pictographs, which reflected the overall content of the message in the form of a single picture or sequential images. Later, it developed in cuneiform that spread to the whole Mesopotamia and became the main writing system of the ancient states of the Near East. Writing allowed people to create the first works of literature the most striking of which is the Epic of Gilgamesh that narrates the story of the King of Uruk seeking for immortality (Kleiner 32).

In the artistic culture, the architecture had the leading position with its main representation in religious and monumental buildings. Among the constructions that have at least partly survived to the present days, White Temple in Uruk is considered to be the most impressive. It was a rectangular mud-brick building dedicated to the god Anu (Kleiner 33). In addition, the Sumerians succeeded much in sculpture, as evidenced by the saved artworks. The need to commemorate the victories in the ongoing struggle for power between city-states led to the emergence of the appropriate motif in reliefs. One of the most striking examples is the Stele of the Vultures some fragments of which have survived. The sculpture was dedicated to the victory of Eannatum, the Sumerian king of Lagash, over the city-state of Umma (Kleiner 36). When the phenomenon of the Sumerian civilization had become an admitted fact, many scientists recognized its right to the cultural primogeniture as well.

  1. How do the Akkadians differ from the Sumerians?

The Sumerians and the Akkadians were two ancient populations who created a unique historical and cultural face of Mesopotamia of the IV-III millennia BCE. However, some aspects of their life had significant differences. Although Akkadians borrowed the Sumerian cuneiform, their languages varied greatly from each other. Besides, they had a different form of rule that is also evident from their artworks. For the Sumerian civilization, the decentralization of power was inherent: each city-state had its governor and deity. On the contrary, the characteristic feature of the Akkadian civilization was the creation of the first large state with a strong centralized rule and a monarch-despot. The stability of despotism was based on the belief in the divine origin of the ruler. The king Naram-Sin achieved the highest power for Akkad and people had to worship him as a god. The Stele, which portrays his victory over the Lullubi, the mountaineers of eastern Iran, also shows him being treated as a godlike: Naram-Sin is depicted climbing the mountain over the bodies of defeated enemies (Kleiner 40). The horned helmet on his head symbolizes his divine power.

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Sumerian kings were much more loyal rulers than Akkadian ones. They never pretended to be divinities and just showed the devotion to their gods. For instance, the Warka Vase from Uruk, which is the first narrative relief, depicts a procession with offerings to the goddess Inanna (Kleiner 35). However, there are not any Sumerian artwork that would depict the king as a godlike.

  1. What was the great contribution of Hammurabi?

Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, became known as a skilled ruler, politician, military leader, and an intelligent person who brought his country exaltation and glory. Furthermore, he ordered and centralized the administrative system. However, Hammurabi made a particularly valuable contribution to the history with his legislative activity. The king was the author of the first set of laws kept to nowadays in details, which included punishments and penalties for breaking them. Hammurabi ordered to cut them on a black basalt stele. The laws were carved with cuneiform characters, the ancient way of writing, in the widespread dialect of Babylon used in those days. On the stele, there is the image of the king praying to God, who gives him the laws (Kleiner 43). Consequently, people would hold the view that these are God’s laws that the king declares to all of them. In the new law code, different aspects of life and social structure of the ancient Babylon were reflected. Severely punished violations were causing damage to the irrigation system, encroachment on someone’s property and the power of the father in the family. The code also regulated trade relations, and much attention was paid to the debt slavery (Hammurabi).

  1. Discuss the Assyrians and the empire they amassed.

Assyria was the region in northern Mesopotamia located along the middle reach of the river Tigris. Over the millennium, it passed a long way from the early proto-state to the world empire. The Assyrian empire was formed as a result of numerous conquests. Eventually, by the force of arms, it united people with different languages, religions, and cultural traditions. Valor and the courage of Assyrian warriors found the reflection in the art. Sculptors pictured military campaigns of the Assyrian army, capture and destruction of enemy cities, ruthless executions and taking captives on their works. For example, a relief depicted on the wall of the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Kalhu demonstrates a scene where Assyrian archers pursued foes fleeing through the river. As historians suggest, it could probably be the event of 878 BCE, when Ashurnasirpal drove enemies into the Euphrates River (Kleiner 46).

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Besides, Assyrian sculptors depicted wild animals, for which Assyrian kings liked to hunt, with much truthfulness and great force of expression. It can be evidenced by reliefs on the walls of the Nineveh palace of the king Ashurbanipal. One of the most impressive examples is the image of dying lions shot by the king, performed with a good understanding of nature and great artistic skills (Kleiner 47).

  1. What was the great achievement of Nebuchadnezzaz? Comment on the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great.

The rule of Nebuchadnezzaz was the time of the economic and cultural revival of Babylon. Its Hanging Gardens, constructed by the order of the king, were recognized as the one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The whole structure based on the high stone walls that supported the soil and exotic trees (Kleiner 48). During Nebuchadnezzaz’s rule, the Ishtar Gate was built as well. It was a huge semi-circular arch, framed on both sides by giant walls with reliefs of animals and the opening onto a long processional way (Kleiner 47). The construction was rather impressive, so that there is no wonder that King Nebuchadnezzaz was very proud of it. Moreover, the famous Tower of Babel was erected in the time of Nebuchadnezzaz as well. On its top, which one could reach by an outer stairway, the temple of the supreme god Marduk was constructed (Kleiner 48).

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However, the walls built around Babylon did not save the city from the conquest by the Persian king Cyrus in the VI century BCE. After the defeat of Babylon, the Persian Empire became the largest and the most powerful ancient state ever. Its culture represented the variety of people living there. In particular, The Gate of All Lands in Persepolis was constructed by Assyrian motifs. It was a large square-shaped hall with four carved columns, guarded by the sculptures of winged bulls with human heads (Kleiner 48).

In the IV century BCE, the Persians encountered a formidable enemy in the person of Alexander the Great, the young king of Macedonia. In 330 BCE, he took Persepolis and the city was sacked and burned. Thus, under the blows of Alexander the Great, the large Persian Empire fell, and its lands became the part of a new empire of the powerful conqueror.

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