The Sumerians built the first human civilizations; located in southern Mesopotamia, they invented all the major aspects that would be adopted by the later Semitic Mesopotamian civilizations: monarchy, record-keeping, writing, science, mathematics, and law.
Among the rivers the Sumerian people built the first cities along with irrigation canals which were separated by vast stretches of open desert or swamp where nomadic tribes roamed. Communication among the isolated cities was difficult and, at times, dangerous. Each Sumerian city became a city-state, independent of the others and protective of its independence.
The states of Sumer seemed to have been ruled by a type of priest-king. Among their duties were leading the military, administering trade, judging disputes, and engaging in the most important religious ceremonies.
At times one city would try to conquer and unify the region, but such efforts were resisted and failed for centuries. As a result, the political history of Sumer is one of almost constant warfare. Eventually Sumer was unified by Eannatum, but the unification was tenuous and failed to last as the Akkadians conquered Sumeria in 2331 BC only a generation later.
The social institutions of Mesopotamia were permeable and that individuals played multiple and varied roles, reducing risks, cooperating, and competing as political fortunes changed over time. The interaction of autonomous city states within a Mesopotamian cultural sphere has been fore grounded in certain work.
Textual evidence indicates that they had a form of congress or assembly for making key political decisions using a consensual approach; and that they held courts to make legal judgements over such things as house ownership, divorce and inheritance settlements, and slave rights. This legal and political system was at least in later times enshrined in a regularly published Law Code – effectively the earliest ‘bills of rights’ – which formed the prototype for later Greek and Roman systems. That they also developed some understanding of economics is attested by evidence of price-setting agreements.
Despite their military prowess, Akkadian hegemony over southern Mesopotamia lasted only 200 years. Sargon’s great- grandson was then overthrown by the Guti, a mountain people from the east. The fall of the Akkadians and the subsequent re-emergence of Sumer under the king of Ur, who defeated the Guti, ushered in the third phase of Sumerian history. In this final phase, which was characterized by a synthesis of Sumerian and Akkadian cultures, the king of Ur established hegemony over much of Mesopotamia.
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Political Structure in Ancient Mesopotamia